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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Short story

Gary drove down the familiar twisted dirt roadways that snaked through the back woods of North Carolina. It reminded him of when his dad Rick first taught him to drive when he was 16. It felt so far away now in both years and location. A half century ago he thought, and a totally different world from the frenetic life he has long lived in LA. He regretted not coming back sooner, but there was always something preventing the trip and relations with his father cooled in recent years. The phone calls had become less frequent and they always seemed to end in a fight. Rick had become even more stubborn and set in his ways as he became an old man, with his old-fashioned views becoming even more out of step with the times. Gary always intended to come back, to have this big reconciliation, but he ran out of time. He got the horrible news that dad died of a sudden and massive heart attack the day before and that was that. There had been no warning. Sure, dad was 86, but he seemed so healthy and strong, hardly ever sick a day in his life and longevity ran in his family. Both of Rick’s parents lived to their late 90’s. Gary hopped a flight the next day with his wife Peg and left her in the hotel so he could make this trip alone one last time. It would be just him and his younger brother Jim to go through the house and decide what to take and what to give away to the neighbors or throw out. It would be too painful for them to spend the night in their childhood home.

In the distance Gary could make out the small frame house at the end of a leafy street, the place he called home during his formative years. Dad was born in Kentucky and after working the coal mines there and West Virgina, he had saved enough to buy this small, but cozy house in Pittsboro, North Carolina when Gary was eight years old; dad was living there alone for the past 20 years, ever since his mom died. Gary pulled up to the driveway and could see Jim’s car was already there. When he opened the front door, he saw the furniture in disarray and piles of the family’s belongings on the floor. Jim came out of the bedroom when he heard the door open and embraced his brother. “I see you got off to a good start here,” said Gary. “Yes, I have two piles so far. One to throw out or give away, and another I want to take. Start with the drawers in the bedroom and see if there is anything there you want to take,” replied Jim. Gary started with the top drawer. He took off a pile of clothes and noticed a ticket at the bottom. He picked it up and silently read the face of it.

Railsplitters Vs. Miners
May 17, 1972
Section D, Row 36, Seat 23

In small letters on the bottom, it said “Unused tickets cannot be redeemed after the game.” Tears streamed down Gary’s cheeks as the memories flooded back to him. “Hey Jim! Remember how much dad loved to go to the Railsplitter games? How he loved that team. Believe it or not, I found the ticket he bought for me for my eighteenth birthday. He secretly bought us two tickets for my birthday, and then I blew him off because it wasn’t cool to be seen with your parents at that age. I yelled at him for assuming I didn’t have other plans when he presented me with the ticket. Then I went off to a party with my friends. I was so stupid. I didn’t think how much it would have meant to him. All I thought about is my selfish pleasure. How I wish I went with him.” “Hey, don’t beat yourself over it,” replied Jim with a pat on the back. You were just a dopey kid. We all are like that at that age. Dad wasn’t mad at you. He understood and you made it up to him by going to other games.” Yeah, I guess you’re right,” replied Gary. I’m going to take this ticket as a souvenir and as a reminder to never be that selfish again.” With that, Gary put the ticket in his pocket and continued his explorations.

At the end of the day Gary and Jim packed their respective boxes of things they wanted to take and got into their respective cars with plans to return the next day to continue on their quest to empty the house. Gary rode down the narrow street that led to the highway that would take him back to the hotel. His mind wandered until he saw the bright lights of what appeared to be a stadium down the road. He was puzzled as he knew the old stadium was torn down ten years ago when the Railsplitters left town. His dad told him about it when it happened on the sad day that the team left town for a new stadium in another city. Gary slowed down to read the sign in front of the stadium. It said “Railsplitters Vs. Miners 7:10 PM.” Below that there was a sticker with the words “sold out” written on it. Gay checked his pocket and found his ticket. “Could this be the right ticket for the game? There is only one way to find out,” he thought. Gary parked his car in the lot across the street and stood at the back of the line in front of the entrance. When he got to the front, the man in front of the turnstile took his ticket, glanced down at it, then tore off the stub and handed it back. Gary walked in and found an usher. The usher looked at his stub and told Gary to follow him to section D. “Um, what day is today?” asked Gary. The usher replied, “It’s May 17, sir.” Gary hesitated and then asked, “What year is it?” The usher looked puzzled and then said, “Nineteen seventy-two.”

When Gary got to his seat, he saw his dad Rick sitting next to him. Rick looked up with a broad smile. “Gary, I didn’t think you were coming,” he exclaimed. What happened to your party?” Gary smiled back and said, “Dad, I wouldn’t miss this game for the world. There is no place I would rather be on my birthday than with my dad watching our favorite team.” Rick looked more pleased than Gary could ever remember. His dad’s face turned slightly red as he beamed. “Did I miss anything,” Gary asked. “Only one batter,” Rick replied. “Don Cardwell struck out on an inside fastball. That boy has to get better on handling inside fastballs. He did a good job on fouling off two wicked curve balls on the outside corner that were impossible to hit. Then he gets overpowered on a mediocre fastball inside that any decent hitter would pull to left field. He has to get better or they should send him back down to a lower minor league.” Gary could always see the passion in his dad’s eyes when he talked about baseball. “Hey, now that I’m legal we should get some beer and Cracker Jacks,” Gary said. His dad chuckled and waved over a vendor. They leaned back in their seats with a can of Budweiser in one hand and a box of Cracker Jacks in the other. After a loud crack of the bat, the ball soared up to their section, just to the left of Rick. There was a mad scramble of fans after the ball and after a few moments, Rick emerged triumphant with the ball in his hand. “This is perfect Rick said,” as he returned to his seat. “I’m going to write something on this ball and give it to you as part of my birthday present.” Then he took out a pen and wrote something on the ball before handing it over to Gary. Gary just glanced at it and put the ball in his coat pocket.

Gary woke up groggy and with a headache, like he always does after a night of drinking beer. “What a vivid dream,” he thought to himself. Just then Peg walked into the room. “Where were you out so late lats night?’ she demanded. Joan told me that Jim got back from your dad’s house at 8 pm. “You did not come back to the hotel until after midnight. And you smelled like beer. Were you hanging out with some floozy in a bar?” Her voice sounded more strident as she went on. “You have some explaining to do buster!” Gary got up to splash cold water on his face in the bathroom. “My memory is that I came right back to the hotel after leaving dad’s house. Then all I remember is this crazy dream. I don’t know what happened between leaving the house and having this dream. I better call Jim and see if he knows anything.” Gary pulled out his cell phone and called Jim. “Hey buddy. Believe it or not I just woke up and I’m not sure what happened. What do you remember about last night?” Gary asked. “I was worried about you,” Jim replied. “First of all, you left in the wrong direction. Instead of taking the road that would lead you back to the hotel, you took the highway that leads to the old stadium. I thought maybe you wanted to see the old stadium, but then I realized you knew that stadium was torn down. There is nothing to see there. Then Peg told me you weren’t back yet at midnight. You really had us worried there. Where the hell were you?”

Gary was confused and he held his head which was now throbbing in pain. He was worried that he had some sort of blackout. Then he remembered he had parked his car illegally in the street as there was no room in the hotel parking lot when he got back. “Jim, I’m going to have to call you right back. I just remember I parked illegally last night and I have to run out and move it before they give me a ticket.” Gary reached in to his pocket to fish out the car key. Out dropped a ticket stub. “That’s odd,” he thought. “I’m sure I took the whole ticket as a souvenir, not just the stub.” Then he ran out the door down the steps, and out the lobby to his car. Ater starting the ignition, he had some sort of premonition that he should open the glove compartment. He did not know why. It was almost like some invisible spirit from above whispered into his soul that he needed to open it. Maybe it was a faint whisper from his dad that impelled him. It was an eerie feeling that he never experienced before. He reached down and opened the compartment. A baseball rolled out and hit the floor. He picked it up and noticed it was yellowed with age. Through the scuff marks, he could barely read the faded print. “Carolina League 1972” it said. Gary then turned the ball around and there was the faded writing of a ballpoint pen. Gary squinted and could barely make out the print. It said,

To my son Gary,
Congratulations on your 18th birthday. I will cherish this day forever. There is nothing better than spending a day with you at the stadium watching our favorite team.

Gary put his head on the steering wheel, bawling his eyes out with a mixture of grief and joy. Maybe unused tickets can be redeemed after all. After composing himself, Gary looked up and mouthed the words, “Thank you dad. I love you too.”

Submitted: July 05, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Larry-Lutsky. All rights reserved.

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