There was an old record player there.
He’d never made the transition from vinyl. The turntable rested on an ugly sepia sideboard by the window. The curtains hadn’t been opened for months. The drawer sideboard had chunks taken from it — probably from when the grandchildren had been over, but he didn’t remember them much and couldn’t put it down to that.
The couch was where he sat.
Really, there was no need for any of the other furniture but he hadn’t considered getting rid of it.
A few months back he’d found himself looking through photo albums. Then, about three weeks ago, he decided to stop looking at the pictures. There was one which had belonged to his mother, and in it he posed next to his sister. They had been swimming in a lake somewhere upstate and he was only wearing shorts and his hair was wet, as was hers.
He’d studied the picture intently: there was a cut on his left kneecap but he couldn’t remember what had caused it. His face was untouched by time and his body was firm. From what he could remember he was twelve that summer, or thereabouts.
The lake had small fish in it and they weren’t shy. He had tried to catch them with his hands but they were always too fast; too slippery. They always swam in groups. He thought that their swimming together would make it easier, but it didn’t. He never caught one.
His sister would’ve been fourteen if he put himself at twelve, and she was smiling. The two of them were.
That was the last picture he’d looked at.
He wanted a drink.
He slid his feet into his slippers and stood up, then ambled into the kitchen. Beside the refrigerator were four crates of beer stacked atop one another; two of them empty. There were no cold ones in the fridge. He’d forgotten to fill it, so he took one from the stack and cracked it, taking a sip, took three more and put them into the freezer, before taking another three and placing them in the refrigerator door. He walked back into the living room with his beer in hand and sank into the couch, catching a glance of the photo album as he sat down.
He grunted, took another sip.
In the past he had enjoyed silence but now he would rarely leave the TV off. It would be low so you’d barely notice, but there was something. He picked up the remote and switched channels, then got back to his beer, again catching a glimpse of the photo album in the corner of his eye.
When he took his second from the freezer he sat at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. He looked around and the glow from the TV was prominent in the living room. He didn’t want to think about the photographs. The problem was that they made him think, and he was tired of that.
He tried to take his mind off of it so he sifted through the build-up of mail on the table. There was more in the hallway that he had failed to pick up. He simply hadn’t bothered. Most of them were old bills and those promotional ones that annoyed him. The telephone had been cut off almost seven months ago. He didn’t use it so he didn’t care. He wouldn’t throw the mail out, though; he’d just leave the envelopes on the kitchen table or on the floor in their pile.
Something to do, eventually.
After he finished his cigarette he got back to the couch with his beer, flicked the station again. He wasn’t watching anything in particular.
There was a knock on the door.
He waited a moment until another knock arrived. He hadn’t removed his slippers so it saved him from sliding them back on, and he stood up, pulled the curtain slightly and peeked out at the overgrown lawn. He couldn’t see who was knocking until they took a step back and looked up at the upstairs windows. Then they looked in his direction and he quickly removed himself from view, but it was too late — the kid had already seen him.
A knock on the window followed.
“Hey mister, I know you’re there. I saw you looking out,” the kid said as he shaped his hands in front of his forehead and around his eyes and stared in the window.
He was standing by the curtain, separated from the kid by an inch of glass.
“Come on, mister. Open up!”
“What do you want?” He wanted to sound grumpy so the kid would go away. He didn’t need to put much effort into it.
“My ball, mister,” the kid said. “It’s in your backyard. Marshall has a really bad throw.”
“My friend, Marshall. He has a really bad throw.”
“Well, tell him to practice.”
There was no response. He stood at the curtain, using his finger to move it a little and stared furtively at the kid who was looking around outside.
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
“Get it, duh!”
He sighed, and as he walked to the door he kicked one of the photo albums out of his way.
He hesitated, turned the latch and opened the front door.
The kid was probably twelve or thirteen. His hair was like a bird’s nest and his face was covered with freckles.
“Well, what kind of ball is it?” he asked from a crack in the door. He didn’t want to let too much light in.
“A football,” the kid said.
He looked to the kitchen towards the backyard.
“The grass is a mile high out there, I’d croak before I found it.” The kid didn’t respond. “It would take me too long to fish it out.
“I can get it, mister. I’ll be quick. I saw which direction it went in.”
“Why would I let some kid into my house?”
“I just want to get my ball, mister. I’m not going to rob you.”
He took a moment before he opened the door fully, squinting at the light.
The kid brushed past him and on into the kitchen. He tried to follow him as quickly as he could and left the front door open in case people were watching and started talking like people tend to.
When he got into the kitchen the kid was waiting by the back door.
“It’s locked,” the kid informed him.
“I know it’s locked,” he grumbled.
He felt around on top of the refrigerator where his wife had always kept the key.
“You’ve got a lot of mail, mister,” said the kid as he stared at the stack of envelopes on the table.
He didn’t respond as he took the key and opened the back door.
“Be quick, now,” he ordered.
The kid was, and came back with the football in a matter of seconds.
For some reason, he felt a little embarrassed by the overgrown backyard. He hadn’t felt embarrassed in a long time. He closed the door after the kid had re-entered the kitchen, and locked it, placing the key back on top of the refrigerator.
“Is your wife coming home?”
“Why do you wanna know?”
The kid shrugged his shoulders as he gripped the ball with both hands and looked around the kitchen without much regard for the old man’s privacy.
“That’s a lot of beer,” the kid said.
He didn’t respond, instead he opened the freezer and took his third can. It sprayed a little and he tried to catch the trickling alcohol with his mouth before it made a mess. He was usually to be good at this maneuver, but this time the beer spilled onto the floor.
The kid just looked on.
“Well get me that towel over there, will you?” he barked as he motioned with his spare hand.
The kid handed him the already damp towel. He shook his head as he looked at the kid and placed the can on the kitchen table before slowly kneeling down to clean the spillage.
“I’ve never seen your wife, mister.”
“I’m sure you haven’t seen Mars either.”
He held out the towel and the kid looked at him.
“Well, take it!”
The kid did.
“Help me up will you?”
He used the kid’s shoulder to pick himself up. He considered how difficult the simplest things were now. He looked at the football resting in the kid’s hands and he momentarily recalled his childhood.
Feeling a little out of breath, he picked up the beer and took a sip, then proceeded to walk the kid to the door. In the hallway the kid noticed the photo album by the living-room door. The earlier kick had opened it.
He looked at the kid, who was staring at the photographs, and he waited for him to say something, but the words didn’t arrive. Then the kid looked up at him, and he was looking at the youngster for longer than he had looked at anyone in what seemed like years.
The kid squeezed the ball with both hands.
“Well thanks, mister,” he said as he left.
He closed the door and went back into the living room, stepping over the photo album. He stood by the curtain and looked at the grass and tried to think of the last time he had mowed the lawn. There was no one outside, and he couldn’t hear the kid or his friend. He sat back in the chair and drank from the can of beer. He looked across at the photo album and he thought about the picture of himself with his sister at the lake. He looked away, changed the station on the TV and hired the volume.