by Ted Lietz
Daffodil and I never married, but we’ve been together since our arrest at a sit-in forty-five years ago. She wore tiny, tinted lenses as a fashion accessory and I looked like the darkly dangerous Elliot Gould of M*A*S*H.
We raised our son, Karl, to think independently.
Now, Daffodil actually needs glasses. I resemble the harmlessly graying Gould who guested on Friends.
And Karl …The most positive thing I can say about Karl is that he hasn’t blindly embraced his parents’ values.
He’s married. And he has what he calls a real job. As opposed to being a potter, like me. Or a poet, like Daffodil.
“Without real jobs,” I once said, “we have time for things that matter. Love-making. Arts festivals. A night in jail for a just cause.”
“I understand your perspective,” Karl said, “but I respectfully differ.”
Using pleasant language to tell people they’re full of shit? Karl learned that from Daffodil and me.
One other thing, too. Karl and his wife have yet to christen our grandson. As we had with Karl, they intend that Michael decide about religion for himself when he’s older.
Michael is nearly seven now, what some religions call the age of reason. In all those years, this is the first time Daffodil and I have been asked to babysit. Given Karl’s respectful differences with our perspective, we know we were a last resort. To ease his mind, we make a point of studying the pages of data he hands to us. Things Michael cannot do. Must not eat. Names and numbers of doctors and helpful neighbors.
About to leave, Karl says, “It’s lunch time.” He puts money on the kitchen table. “You guys can all go out.”
“Grandma, can I get a hamburger?”
“It’s not on the list of things you can’teat,” Daffodil says. She shoots a glance toward Karl. “It looks like that would be okay?”
Our son knows we’re vegans, and there’s a pained look on his face. Daffodil says, “Relax, Karl. Your father and I will have salads.” She takes a plastic bottle from her bag and shakes it. “I brought nutritional yeast.”
The restaurant parking lot is crowded, and we find a space at the far end. Near the door, Michael notices a pick-up truck in a handicap space. No special license plate or tag. He says, “Whoever parked there is bad.”
Quite possibly. But, to teach Michael the pitfalls of moral statements framed in absolutes, I say, “Maybe the driver just forgot their tag.”
A man with biceps like tattooed telephone poles strides from the restaurant and gets into the truck. Michael says, “Did you forget your tag?”
“The sign,” Daffodil says. “This is a handicap spot.”
“I was in a hurry.”
“Does that make it right?” I ask, demonstrating for Michael a strategy to engage without overtly confronting.
The man ignores me, puts a key in the ignition.
I position myself a couple of feet behind the truck. Daffodil and I usually do things like this as a team. But there’s some risk, so she takes Michael to a spot where he can observe in safety.
“Old man! Move. I can’t back out.”
“Unless someone with a right to park here comes by sooner, I’m going to block your way for, oh …” I look at my watch. “Two minutes. Probably twice the time you saved by parking here.”
“You want the shit kicked out of you?”
“Beating me up would delay you even more.”
He honks. Seeing that I haven’t moved, he pounds the steering wheel three times. Now he’s out of his truck.
Our noses nearly touching, the man says, “Last chance, asshole. Move!”
He must’ve eaten onion rings.
I look at my watch. “Forty-two more seconds.”
I bounce off the side of a Prius, recovering in time to see the man gesture obscenely and drive away. I look at my watch and smile. I’ve delayed him by two minutes and three seconds.
My nose hurts, and I notice a few drops of blood on the pavement. Daffodil is beside me, holding Michael’s hand. He’s crying. She takes a tissue and dabs blood away from my nose. “Should we go to the ER?”
“Remember Chicago in ‘68? I know what a broken nose feels like. This isn’t it.”
I make a silly face. “See, Michael? Grandpa’s okay.” He stops crying and laughs. Daffodil gives me a clean tissue, and I use it to put pressure on my nose.
Michael changes his mind about the hamburger and orders a salad. Fascinated, he watches Daffodil sprinkle nutritional yeast. While he’s distracted, she whispers to me, “We won’t be asked to babysit again.”
“Right. We have to tell Karl what happened. But he won’t understand. That hurts worse than my nose.”
After gorging on endive and arugula, Michael wearily crawls into my lap. I set down the tissue I’d been holding to my nose, and look out the window toward the handicap space. “Michael,” I say, “Sometimes, standing up for what you believe means taking a risk. Maybe even getting hurt. When your grandma and I were in Chicago—”
Daffodil clears her throat and says, “Lover?”
“Oh ... Maybe he’s too young to hear about Chicago?
“Michael’s asleep. And shouldn’t we honor Karl’s wishes about christening?”
“Your nose is still bleeding a little. You dripped on Michael.”
Daffodil dips a tissue into a glass of water, leans across the table, and wipes my blood from Michael’s forehead.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A slightly different version of this story was originally published in Flashquake.
© Ted Lietz 2020. All rights reserved.