the hose is dripping on my feet. i look him square in the eyes, and i can see that he’s been crying. i haven’t seen the old man cry since kennedy went down in dallas….”
by ed markowski
saturday morning. 80 degrees. bright sun. a few dragonflies zig zag through the tomato plants that i’m watering in the yard, when my father pulls into the driveway in his antique 68 lincoln.
before i can walk to the front of the house, the old man limps to the back.
“i’ve got bad news. i’ve got some real bad news about the family.”
the hose is dripping on my feet. i look him square in the eyes, and i can see that he’s been crying. i haven’t seen the old man cry since kennedy went down in dallas. i was nine then.
i wonder if something happened to my mother, or one of my sisters. no, i decide. he would have called first.
before i can ask, the old man says, “aunt rose sent your cousin joey out for a gallon of milk. she gave him a hundred dollar bill. he took her buick. the goddamned kid went to a crack house on second street. he smoked the c note, then the spook says, ‘you owe me two hundred from the last time. i’m taking the car.’ joey told him to fuck off, and the spook shot him in the head.”
i notice there’s one ripe tomato, and my shoes are soaked. “are you surprised,” i ask. “joe’s been a crack head for ten years. He outlived most of his running buddies.”
the old man blows up. “is that all you can fucking say? he was your cousin goddammit. joey was one of the nicest guys anyone could meet. i’m sorry i came over here. go ahead, keep watering your goddamned tomatoes.”
i turn off the hose. ” joe was a junkie. yeah, he was a nice guy, but he was a junkie. there’s a price to pay for everything. look, i’m just saying that’s what…”
before i can finish, the old man says,”you’re still jealous. i can’t believe that your still jealous after all these years.”
my wife walks onto the deck to water the flowers in a stars and stripes bikini. i watch the breeze ripple the stars that cover her breasts. “jealous of what?” i ask.
my old man wipes his nose and says, “do you realize how good of a shortstop your cousin was? huh? did you forget how great of a fucking shortstop he was? you couldn’t hold a candle to him when you played second base. i haven’t forgotten how you fucked up that double play in the catholic league championship.”
i pick the ripe tomato and throw it at an apple tree. it sails wide, and splatters on the grass.
i remember that day. i remember how joe and i stole a whole box of baseball cards from russian mike’s corner store after the game. i remember how joe bought me time, and the way that he smiled when russian mike said, “you didn’t lose that game son. you’ve got what it takes to be a pro shortstop. jesus christ, you’re the envy of the whole fucking neighborhood.”
my father limps off toward his car. my wife asks, “why’d you smash the first ripe tomato?” a dragonfly buzzes past my head. and from the leftfield side of second base, i can hear joe shout, “come on man, get your shit together.”
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
Ed Markowski lives and writes in Auburn Hills, Michigan. More of Ed’s stories can be found in the Vault of Smoke.