The Old Golden Ball
It’s my dad’s birthday today. I sit in the car in front of his house, rolling a small little ball between my thumb and forefinger. It’s heavy, made of chrome with some sort of chipping gold lacquer on it, and in the center there is a spindled hole where a screw can go in. I turn the car off and walk into the house with the old ball in my jacket pocket.
“For a while there I was going to see your brothers everyday,” he says with a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. “But since the accident, I mainly stay here and look after the house.” I use the ice cream scooper to plop out half spheres of honeydew into a white popcorn bowl. “Do you ever see your brothers anymore?” He asks me. “Only on holidays, since the funeral at least.” I say. I try to make eye contact with him, but he gets up and walks into the bathroom. There are a bunch of stickers and magnets and silverware from our old house in this kitchen. My mom and dad moved in here after all of us kids left, but they took a lot of the old stuff with them. Above the stove is a framed piece of sheet music with a flattened petunia enclasped on top of it. I take the frame off the hook and read the some of the lyrics to myself. Ave Maria, it says. I realize that only now am I wondering where this came from, even though it’s been hanging above the stove in our old house for my entire life. “That was your mother’s,” my dad says, coming back into the room. “She used to sing that with her church choir every Sunday when she was a little girl.” He stumbles a bit on his way to the table. “Pop,” I mumble as I go over with my arms extended. “I’m alright,” he retorts, brushing me away.
We watch the big sheepdog from next store run circles around the grass through the fence in the backyard. “I got this for you,” I say, and hand him a little white envelope that says Dad on it. “What is it?” He asks. “Open it,” I say. He rips the ridge off the flap in the back and pulls out a yellowy old state-issued driver’s license. “What’s this?” He says. “It was mom’s,” I reply. “They found it at the crash but the Police Chief forgot to get it to me. He brought it over a few weeks ago, I thought you’d like to have it.” My dad’s eyes blink in confusion, and then water over when he realizes what he’s was looking at. “Alright,” he says. He puts the license in his pocket and frowns.
Now that the sun is setting and we’ve moved onto beer, he’s starting to get drowsy. We’re sitting with our feet up in the foyer, and he’s slurring his words a little bit. “Your brother told me that she struggled, in the end,” he says. “Who?” I ask. “Your mother,” he responds. I take my feet off the coffee table and feel my backside run over with sweat. He goes, “your sister said that she didn’t die instantly. That she actually choked on her own blood.” I look over at him and say, “dad.” He turns his head to look back at me. “You were there. You drove the car.” I say, “come on, dad.” I can see that his ears have turned red from the empty Heinekens on the table. He clears his throat and garbles, “you know she was my wife, too. She wasn’t just your mother.” Now, I get up to grab my coat. But he keeps going. “How did it happen? I deserve to know! Was it peaceful? Was it bad? Nobody even told me!” My coat is halfway zipped up when I spot the open screw-hole on the top-rail of one of the pressback chairs in the dining room. “You damned fool!” He yells. “Some fucking son you are! Who the hell crashes into a parked fire truck! How’d I turn out with a son who’s two times as dumb as I am!” I make my way to the door, but before I go I make sure to screw the old golden ball back onto the pressback chair, putting it back where it belongs, back where it was when we all lived together, back when we were a family, when mom was still alive, and I could still look my dad in the eye.
Photograph by Leeroy