Ricky snatched the keys from his father’s hand and ran to the car. Roger silently watched his foolish son struggling to unlock a door that wasn't locked. He wondered if he wasn't a fool himself, because only a fool would let Ricky drive his '67 Firebird. Roger winced as Ricky backed down the driveway, veering onto the grass, over a few sprinkler heads, narrowly avoiding the mailbox. Eventually he maneuvered the Firebird into the street, threw it into low, and laid down a long strip of rubber. A thick cloud of black smoke swirled from the squealing back tires, quickly enveloping the back end of the car. Roger, teeth clenched, watched the lunatic race his beloved muscle car up the street and fishtail around the corner. This had been a bad decision.
He went inside and grabbed a cold beer. Several deep swigs, finished. Though the smell of burning rubber hung thick in the air like smog, Roger began to relax. Perhaps Ricky would bring the car home in one piece, after all. He wasn't a bad kid, not in the traditional lying and stealing sense. The boy just had a toxic mix of wildness a nd thick headedness coursing through his veins like snake venom. Roger himself had been a bit wild in his youth. The Army would straighten Ricky out. In two days, he would leave for basic training. For that reason, Roger let him use the car.
Grabbing another cold one, Roger turned on the game - goddamn Yankees pummeling the Red Sox again - and got comfortable in his recliner. The recliner was massive, wide enough to fit two people, but only Roger used it. Next weekend it would be moved, along with a desk and large screen tv, into his new den, formerly known as Ricky’s room. Marcia was against the conversion, but Roger was adamant. He'd wanted a den for over twenty years - a man cave, his son called it - and now was the time. Not even his wife could deny him this.
He shifted in the giant chair, happy as a toddler in a beanbag. He quickly lost interest in the Yankee massacre and closed his eyes. Marcia was shopping, wouldn't be home for a few hours. He enjoyed his alone time. With Ricky leaving and retirement fast approaching, there would be plenty of it. Four hundred and eighty days. He smiled. The number shrunk every day. Less than a year and a half, he'd be fifty-five. His retirement from the post office would begin that day. A knock on the door. Roger sighed and heaved himself up, his tired joints cracking harshly from the effort. Opening the front door, he found a scraggly-looking young woman standing on his front steps. Her eyes were glassy with heavy, red-rimmed lids. Roger stared at the sleeping baby held in the girl’s heavily tattooed arms. No way was he giving this drug addict money.
“Hi, Dad", the girl said in a soft, hoarse voice.
Roger stepped back, startled. Sandra. He hadn't seen her in three years. One morning they'd woken up and she was gone, along with cash from the safe and most of Marcia’s jewelry. She'd left a note saying she needed space.
“How are you?" Sandra asked. “Is Mom home?"
Thankfully, she wasn’t. Roger couldn't deal with the tears.
“No," he said stiffly. “What are you doing here? Did you spend our money on tattoos?"
“I’m sorry about stealing from you. I just needed to go, you know?"
“No, I don’t know. You left home without the decency to even say goodbye to your mother. Do you have any idea how difficult this has been for her? You never even finished high school. Look at you. You're on drugs, aren't you?"
Sandra looked down, not answering. Her bottom lip quivered. For a quick moment, Roger saw his little girl again. That trembling lip always meant tears, and Roger hated seeing his little girl cry. He looked at this derelict - the vacant eyes, the ink-covered arms - and no longer pictured his little girl. A wild river of anger flowed through him, building tension behind his forehead. His hands balled into fists, his breathing increased. He was about to lose it.
The baby unleashed a rising wail. Surprised, Roger looked into the furious, crimson face. It seemed impossible that such a piercing sound came from something so small. The baby didn't have the shriveled raisin appearance or floppy neck of a newborn. Two to three months old, Roger judged, though it had been years since he'd had experience with a baby.
“It’s crying," Roger said. For the first time, Sandra smiled. At least her teeth looked good, Roger thought.
He'd spent a small fortune on her braces.
“This is your grandson, Dad. Roger Richard Hudson."
“You named him after me," Roger said. He wasn't particularly pleased. “Who is the father?"
“It doesn’t matter, he’s not involved."
“He was involved enough, I’d say. Do you even know who the father is?"
“So my honor-roll daughter has become a tattooed, drug addicted single mother.Great. I suppose you want to move back in with us?"
“Not me. Roger," Sandra said. “I know I’m not fit to raise him. I'm leaving him with you, at least until I can handle being a mother." She placed the baby, in his blanket, on the ground.
To her father she handed a grimy backpack. “Tell Mom I’m okay and I love her. I’m sorry, Dad."
Roger looked at the baby squirming helplessly at his feet. His daughter was already heading down the drive. “I’m not raising any goddamn bastard baby!" he called to her. “Your mother and I are done with kids! Get back here!"
Sandra stopped, turned, and shrugged. “Then give him to somebody else. I’m done." She walked away, disappearing down the street.
The baby continued crying. Roger bent down stiffly and opened the dirty backpack.
There was a full bottle, a small can of formula, a couple of diapers, and nothing else. Great. He picked up the screaming baby boy and stuck the bottle in his mouth. Within seconds his hard gums clamped onto the rubber nipple. Silence, cut only by small moans and gurgles. I've still got the touch, Roger thought sardonically.
He needed to act quickly. Darkness was falling, and his wife would be home by eleven. If Marcia found out about this kid, he'd be stuck with it for the next eighteen years. Still holding the baby, he got into his rusty Chevy pickup. Almost two hundred thousand miles and still going strong, he bragged to friends. He threw the backpack onto the seat next to him, then realized he had no car seat for the baby. He tried strapping the baby into the stained, torn passenger seat, but he was too small and kept falling over sideways. Eventually he sat little Roger on the seat beside him, holding him up with one arm while driving with the other. Child endangerment, he thought, backing carefully down the drive. The baby felt warm and soft against him.
Within minutes the old truck sat in the hospital parking lot. Roger parked near the exit, far away from the massive building. Grabbing the baby and backpack, he walked toward the front entrance. Somewhere he'd read of babies being abandoned at hospitals. The hospitals accepted the babies, no questions asked. Roger wasn’t sure if it was legal in his state, but if he was quick about it, he needn't worry.
By the time he reached the entrance he was breathing heavily, soaked with sweat. He sat on a nearby bench to catch his breath. In his arms the baby slept snugly, oblivious to the shame of being abandoned twice in one day. Roger gazed at the soft bundle in his arms and, tentative at first, stroked the soft wisp of hair atop its tiny head. A grandson, he mused. It wasn’t possible that he was old enough to be a grandfather. A tiny spit bubble blew from the baby’s lips, and despite himself Roger smiled.
Suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He leapt to his feet, nearly dropping his grandson. This is it, he thought. Heart attack. I’m a goner. But it went away as quickly as it appeared. He sat back down, trembling, holding little Roger tightly to him. Minutes passed before he dared move. His breathing returned to normal, his heart no longer pounded furiously. By now it was dark. He grabbed his namesake under the arms, holding him up to his face. He could leave the baby, hurry home, have a few beers, and fall asleep in the recliner before Marcia got home. Perfect. The little baby hung from his hands, snoring lightly. Roger stared at him. He'd forgotten the sweet, pleasant smell of a baby. What if nobody wanted little Roger? Worse, what if he was taken in by an abusive foster family? His chest began to ache again, and he realized it wasn't a heart attack. Groaning in defeat, he kissed his little grandson on the forehead. He slowly walked back to the truck, gently cradling his grandson.
The deep rumble of the Firebird crawling up the driveway woke him. He was in the recliner, under an afghan. Light from the television dimly lit the room. Within seconds Roger smelled shit, then remembered the baby lying on his chest. A minute later Ricky strolled in.
“Hi, Pop. Car’s home, good as new."
“Nope. Did you know the firebird will break a hundred in the quarter mile?"
“Don't tell me that, Ricky."
“Have you been eating beans? It smells like a fart in here."
Roger rubbed the baby's back. “It’s him. Hey Ricky, I want you to know I'm going to miss you."
“I'll miss you too. Cute baby. Goodnight,
Roger watched his son leave the room, footsteps fading down the hall. He smiled. Ignorance would carry that boy far in the military. Laying his grandson on the floor, he removed the dirty diaper, wiped him with a couple tissues, changed him into the last diaper from the backpack. In the morning he’d buy diapers, wipes, formula, and a car seat. He sat back on the recliner, holding his grandson tightly to his chest. He absently flipped through the channels. Marcia would be home soon. They had a lot to talk about.