Catch

Reads: 71  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Ninety minutes before my father's funeral, I struggle to remember him alive. In my mind, I see only the cold, green face from his hospital bed. I need to picture him differently before saying goodbye.

Submitted: June 12, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 12, 2011

A A A

A A A


Dad died last Saturday. His heart failed once, recovered and then stopped forever. He crushed a black, wooden end table somewhere in the process. Ninety minutes from his funeral, standing in front of his bathroom mirror, I struggled to remember his face. I closed my eyes and tried to picture him with color and warmth, without the bruised forehead and green shade of our last meeting.
 
I was twelve again, waiting on Dad to play our Sunday football game. I watched him descend the concrete steps connecting our brick home to the backyard. He smiled his mischievous, toothy grin, enjoying testing my patience. The thick muscles of his thighs and calves contracted with each deliberate step. Pale scars decorated the front and sides of both knees. They stretched and relaxed with each step. A decade later, I would cringe watching him walk, but for now, his powerful legs had yet to fail him. He clutched white, grass-stained Nike running shoes between his left forearm and bicep and sat on the second step from the bottom. He dropped the shoes on the bottom step near his feet and stared in my direction. Still grinning, he raised both hands, calling for the football I held. For a moment, I marveled at his hands. Strong, broken and arthritic, they mocked God’s vision of perfect creation and defied Darwin’s deliberate natural selection. His left pinky shot sideways at the second joint, and his index finger pointed in the opposite direction. Somehow, he could still slide his gold wedding band over the swollen mountains of his knuckles.
I threw the brown leather ball. He plucked it from the air using only his right hand. A moment ago, his hand looked incapable of holding a pencil, now he tossed spirals into the air with a slight twist of his wrist, catching the ball every time using only one hand. He knew I wanted the ball; the longer he waited the more fun it was. I finally ran across the small yard to him and jerked the ball from his hand.
“About time,” he laughed.
I threw the ball into the Sunday October air, mostly straight up, but partially ahead of me. A soft breeze blew into my face as I ran through the damp morning grass to catch it. My shoes were already wet and stained green. The air felt crisp, not cold enough for long pants. I wore my faded blue Denver Broncos sweatshirt.
“Dad, did I tell you about the catch I had at recess on Friday? I looked like Jerry Rice. And it was against the older kids. I caught it over the middle like this.” I threw the ball into the center of the yard and caught it with my back facing the house. “Are you watching? See, I knew RJ was chasing me, so I spun back the other way, like this.” I turned 180 degrees to face the house. Out my right eye, I saw Dad watching. “Then I ran, probably five yards before Tom and Marco were about to tag me. I stopped, juked to the right and scored. You should have heard the cheers.” I stood in front of Dad at this point, poking the ball in front of his face, making sure he understood my playground greatness.
“Did you celebrate? Remember what I told you. Act like you’ve been there before.”
“Dad, watch this one.” I threw the ball ten-yards across the backyard, catching it while keeping both feet from touching the cement outline of our patio. “Did you see that catch? I had one of those at recess last week, too. Not for a touchdown though.”
“Did you read the book I left on your desk?”
“I haven’t finished the last one yet!”
Dad left a new book on my desk on the first of every month. He wrote a short passage, usually just two or three sentences, on the inside cover in his choppy, cursive-print handwriting. The notes never discussed the book, he expected me to understand it independently. Instead, he detailed some positive moment from earlier in the month, usually an item that seemed insignificant to me at the time. Growing up, I found this habit peculiar, since he rarely read and never wrote; however, I finished each book, unwilling to disappoint him.
“How’s school?”
“Good. Watch this play. It’s what the guy did for Michigan yesterday.”
I carried the football in my left arm and stiff-armed the air. Spinning, I moved to the middle of the yard and dove into an imaginary endzone. The first spots of green formed on my bald kneecaps and a streak of fresh brown dirt ran across the top of my right shoulder.
“One day I’ll make that same play in Michigan stadium and all the fans will cheer. I’ll wear your number.”
“Your mom says you didn’t turn in your Math homework last week?” Dad always seemed less interested in discussing my athletic career than discussing my last science project or history test.
“Dad, did you see the Colorado and Texas game last night?”
“Math homework?”
“I forgot,” I said, and threw the ball in the opposite direction of the steps and sprinted away. With my back away from him, I lied, “I didn’t think it was due till Monday.”
“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you,” Dad said. I turned and marched towards him, wishing I could disappear down a non-existent hole in our yard. Dad’s eyes narrowed their focus on me. I lowered my head to avoid his stare.
“Keep your head up and look me in the eyes.”
“I know you didn’t forget,” he began, his eyes fixed on mine. “Remember, all this comes second.” He jabbed his hooked, right index finger towards the football in my left arm. A smile formed across my face. “Got it?”
“What comes second Dad? Football or the garage? I can’t tell where you’re pointing.”
“Football, smart guy. Besides, you know what happens when you mess with me.” He stood and playfully grabbed the top of my head. His strong fingers rocked my body from side to side. “But seriously, homework and school first. Be smarter than your old man. Now, come on, let’s get out of here before your mom sends us to the grocery store!”
The grin returned to his face.
 
I massaged my smooth chin with my left hand. The face in the fog-stained mirror resembled my father’s face in my daydream. We wore the same brown, bushy eyebrows over blue-green eyes. Our dimples collided with light freckles during a smile; our noses, which shared a slender beginning and mushrooming bottom, lacked distinction. The faces differed in color. In the mirror, mine looked cold and pale, expressionless, waiting for the life drained from it three days earlier to return. In the daydream, Dad’s peach face smiled and laughed, his cheeks kindled in the fall breeze. I missed this face.
To my right lay three typed pages littered with red bookmarks, a sad mix of humor and hyperbole. The speech would last for seven minutes and twenty-three seconds, double-spaced, if I could stomach it. Two rooms away, my two-year old niece was laughing, the one person brave enough to puncture the silence of our dead family. I suppose her youth said that life goes on.
My black, loafers, cracked and faded along their sides, needed a shoeshine. Nobody would pay mind to them today, unless I tripped walking to the podium or threw one in frustration. I tied the yellow and blue striped tie stolen from Dad’s wardrobe in a knot around my neck. It stretched past my black and silver belt-buckle, halfway down the zipper of my navy suit pants. My hands pulled the knot apart and I held the opposite ends in my right and left palms. I doubt that Dad would screw something so simple.
 
Dad and I walked from the back steps towards our mustard and rust colored jeep. Dad bought it last April, from some man wearing a jean jacket and beard. Its soft, brown top was a poop-stain on our driveway according to Mom. ‘It’s for the kids,’ Dad would say as a reminder to her of how much my friends and I loved riding in the backseat, the sides removed so the wind crashed against our bodies. Our deaf Dalmatian, Wyatt, always sat in the front seat, waving his tongue at passing cars. It was too cold to have the sides off today, but I had already helped Wyatt into the front seat.
Dad opened the driver’s side door, pushed the seat forward so I could crawl into the back and climbed onto the leather seat. I scooted to the middle of the backbench. Wyatt’s tongue wagged while I scratched his neck, please that I understood the jeep’s pecking order. Dad started the car and shifted into reverse. We drove two blocks, just outside the reach of Mom’s eyes from our back porch, and settled into a familiar parking spot on the street. He opened the glove compartment with his right hand and pulled out a familiar yellow-brown pouch. Large, black letters spelled Levi Garrett-Chewing Tobacco across the front. I inhaled the rustic scent while Dad reached into the pouch with his thumb and index finger, shook away loose debris and placed the black leaves and twigs inside his mouth. He chewed lightly six or seven times, never swallowing. Eventually, he pushed a golf-ball sized lump into his right cheek and squirted a thick, dark liquid through his lips out the window.
“You and me, pal,” he said. “Mom doesn’t know.”
“Know what?” I grinned.
Dad kept his right hand on the stick shift, occasionally lifting it to scratch the top of Wyatt’s head or the black spots behind his ears. I watched his feet dance between the gas and brake pedals, and the clutch. Every few minutes he stretched his head out the window and shot black spit from his mouth, indifferent about most of the juice landing on the jeep.
We had a short, ten-minute drive through town to the park. Out the window, I saw lines of two-story homes littered with swing sets and resting orange and blue Fisher-Price toys. Green and brown yards looked weary from the constant traffic of playful feet. We drove past three little league fields, a public swimming pool and a want to-be Dairy Queen, never topping 30 miles per hour. There were no stoplights, only stop signs.
We parked the jeep near the six large maple trees lining our field. The red and yellow leaves crunched beneath our shoes and Wyatt’s paws as we jumped from the jeep. Wyatt sprinted in the direction of the park’s trash site. He would hunt for scraps of discarded food for ten or fifteen minutes, before returning, usually with a red ketchup stain somewhere on his mostly white coat.
“Dad, can you smell that?”
“You fart again?”
“No! Breathe. You can smell it if you try. All the hot dogs and ‘burgers. The fried chicken and chili!”
“What are you talking about?” He eyed me strangely.
“And the sounds. Over there you can hear the kids. They’re all about my age, playing catch, wearing the jersey of their favorite player. Maybe mine. And over there, that’s the adults.” I pointed in the opposite direction from before. “The men are opening their beer cans. Kwish! They’re talking about the coach and how he makes fine young men out of these boys.” I stood straight and marched in place to add effect.
“I’m lost.”
“Use your imagination! It’s the tailgate party for our game. Everyone’s coming to watch me play. Like they did for you.”
“Is that right? You think people are gonna come watch you play?”
“That’s right.”
“And what about that math grade? Bring home more reports like that and you won’t be playing anything.”
I had no response. Once again, Dad succeeded at reminding me of my place.
We walked from the car to the center of the field. I jogged ahead, until we stood about ten yards apart. Dad waved his left arm like a windmill. Naturally right-handed, he learned to throw with his left after misplaced screws and failed surgeries froze his right shoulder. Although the unnatural, shot put like throws wobbled at best, it was better to have these half-spirals than nothing.
At the time, I thought I was the one who wanted to play these games the most. Looking back, I see that he needed them as much as me.
Dad pressed his hands into a triangle and held them in front of his chest. I delivered a perfect strike. He squeezed the ball in his strong left-hand and repeated the windmill several more times.
“Before we start, how should we surprise your mother for her birthday?”
 
I pulled the knot of my tie snug against my neck, checked my teeth in the mirror and grabbed the loose pages off the counter. Before flipping-off the bathroom light, I jammed a stack of tissues into my right pant pocket. My navy suit jacket dressed the green antique hallway chair nobody used. I removed it by the collar and folded it over my left arm.
Ahead of me, my niece walked to the door. Her black buckle shoes clicked against the hardwood floor. Her mother and grandmother flanker her, each bent slightly to hold one of her fragile hands. All three wore black dresses. I followed several feet behind, unprepared for the upcoming goodbye.

At the door, my niece stopped and twirled to face me. She cocked her head sideways and our eyes met. Then, she smiled.


© Copyright 2017 Kelly Lytle. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

Booksie 2017-2018 Short Story Contest

Booksie Popular Content

Other Content by Kelly Lytle

Shelly Atkins

Short Story / Other

Tomorrow Comes

Short Story / Other

Catch

Short Story / Memoir

Popular Tags