by Ted Lietz
From across the street, Phil watched the wind blow Stanley’s few downy, white hairs horizontal. It yanked open his union-logoed jacket and flapped the sides like the wings of a flightless bird.
Stanley’s son—Bobby? Billy? Barry? Something like that. Stanley’s son zipped up the older man’s jacket, took his father’s arm and guided him toward a car.
A foreign model. The son’s, of course. After forty years of building Chevys, Stanley never would own any vehicle made outside the U.S.A. Were Stanley his old self, he probably would’ve refused to get into this one.
From a hook near the door, Phil took a slightly larger version of the jacket Stanley wore. He mindfully pulled up the zipper, opened the door and walked toward the car.
Stanley looked straight ahead, expressionless, as his son buckled him in.
“Morning, Phil,” the son said.
“Morning. A word with your old man?”
Quietly, the son said, “This isn’t one of Dad’s better days. That bagel he’s holding? He threw a fit until I got it for him. Wouldn’t let me put cream cheese or anything on it. And now he won’t eat it. Just holds it like it was a communion wafer.”
Suddenly smiling, Stanley held the bagel toward Phil.
Phil laughed hard. “Asshole!”
“I don’t get it,” the son said.
“That bagel. After we retired, your old man and me used to go for breakfast. He made fun of me, because all I ever ate was a dry bagel.”
Turning to Stan he said, “No thanks, pal. I already ate.”
Stanley contorted his face and made a sound halfway between a scream and a shout.
His son said, “Phil. Maybe you could just take it?”
Phil slipped the bagel into his jacket pocket.
“Nice of you to come over and say goodbye to Dad.”
“I’ll be over to visit.”
Stanley was moving to an assisted living center a few miles away. Besides, Phil had been saying goodbye for weeks during the rare, brief moments when the Stanley he knew showed up.
One of those times—last week? No, a few days ago. A few days ago, in a hoarse whisper Stanley said, “The worst part is coming out of it. Realizing what a liar my brain has become. And knowing that bigger lies are coming.”
“Not goodbye,” Phil said. “More like solidarity.” He reached into the car and clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Solidarity. Right, Brother Stanley?”
“See you in a few days, buddy. Sunday, okay?”
Phil eased the car door shut and took a step back. Stanley’s son double-checked his father’s seatbelt. With a click, he engaged the child-lock and drove away.
On Sunday, Phil went to see Stanley. It was cold again, so he threw on his union-local jacket.
He stopped to buy chocolates. Real sweetness Stanley could savor, even if his brain lied about other things. Phil set the box on the seat next to him.
Parked in the assisted-living center lot, Phil reached for the chocolates. They weren’t on the seat. Or the floor. He went outside to check the trunk.
Phil thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket and tried to think. Something was in one of the pockets. The bagel Stanley had given him a few days ago. Phil smiled. Still wondering what had become of the chocolates, he absently bit into the bagel.
Stale. He tossed the rest into a trash can. But the taste in Phil’s mouth—something besides staleness. Sweetness?
Phil had eaten a couple chocolates while visiting Stanley.
While visiting Stanley.
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.
This story was originally published by Every Day Fiction.
© Ted Lietz 2020. All rights reserved.