I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is P for the past.
Herman and Raul sat on the park bench, in the spring sunshine, in companionable silence, content to take in the activity around them, without having to make empty conversation. They met together every day but Sunday, to wile the time away, no longer having the energy nor the desire to spend time in the work force. They read their respective newspapers, sipped tea from their thermoses, and watched the seasons change and the patrons of the park walking, running and laughing. Herman’s cane resided alongside them, used only for the occasional trip to the concrete restroom, located a short distance away. They sat in the sun and they watched what was going on around them. Isn’t that what oldsters are supposed to do?
For the most part, the park produced no surprises. It was predictable, lightweight and served as the perfect backdrop for two old guys who had spent a lifetime at the grindstone. Herman had worked as an automotive repairman, and Raul had worked in a factory. Herman still carried the same satchel that he had taken with him every day to work; it sat beside him on the bench. Neither man was made out of money, but neither one would starve. As they watched the parade of activity stream past and around them, they felt a certain protectiveness over the youth who shared their spot.
There was a basketball game over on the blacktop; there were younger kids on the swings and slides, and there were couples strolling along, hand in hand, arm in arm, pausing now and again to revel in each other’s company, and there were various others there, enjoying the same spring sun.
This morning brought a new element to the park. A car, metallic green, polished and shiny, souped-up engine throbbing evenly, on the other side of the park, drew their attention. Neither had ever laid eyes on it before. Four doors opened, four young men emerged and four doors slammed shut, as the quartet made its way into the center of the park, seeking out one of the many picnic tables, where they perched themselves, not on the benches, but on the table itself.
They lit up a cigarettes, puffed away, and made raucous conversation, the sound of their laughter drifting across the park, mingling with the rest of the hum of activity, no one paying particularly close attention to this arrangement.
Today, there was a touch football game in progress, the participants somewhere around middle school age, with the kind of limitless energy this age group was want to display. The game was lively, the passes heaved well down the field, and the players greeted each successful play with hoots and hollers of delight. This is exactly why this park was built; it gave so many people the option to create their own diversions, without having to resort to hanging on street corners, brewing up trouble, because there was nothing better to do.
What drew Herman’s attention to the scene was an errant ball, which had been kicked by one of the scoring teams, but had been shanked to one side, ending up taking a crazy bounce, and striking one of the four young men, right on the side of the head. This wasn’t a case of the ball causing pain; it was merely that it startled him, and drew the derisive laughter from the other three. Without preamble, the guy who had been hit, jumped off the picnic table, ciggie still dangling from his lips, and pounced on the ball, retrieving both it, and his former spot on the table. He held the football, without any indication that it was not his, ignoring the pleas from the kids whose game had halted uncertainly, waiting for this new development to play out.
One of the kids hollered out, “Hey! Give us back our football.” There was no response from the guy on the table.
The players gathered together for a quick conference, before one again shouted, “Hey that’s our ball! Give it back!” They waited expectantly.
“Make me.” It wasn’t shouted, just put out there in little more than a conversational tone, and the two words hung heavily in the air.
“Uh oh,” muttered Raul. “Trouble in the attic.”
Beside him, already sitting upright taking in the new development, Herman grunted, spat, and said, “What those creeps want to go and hassle those kids for? All they doin’ is playing some ball. I got news for them scumballs. This park don’t belong to them; it belong to us.”
Raul nodded in agreement. “But who’s gonna stop ‘em? Us?” He laughed. “Maybe in our younger days. But those days is past. And we ain’t gettin’ any younger.” He smiled ruefully.
Herman grunted again, and just for good measure, spat. “Ole Hank gonna stop ‘em. You know, Hammerin’ Hank.” He nodded. “Yep, it may just be time for Hank to lend a hand.”
“Are you crazy?” his friend asked. “Hank Aaron? What’s he got to do with the price of chickenfeed?” Raul was shaking his head slowly, from side to side, thinking his old buddy had been dipping into the meds a little too liberally. Or something, anyway. He voiced his opinion. “Have you been smoking the shit? You rambling like you got the Alzenheimer’s crap.”
“It’s Alzheimer’s, and I may have it, but I also have Hank.”
“Whatever. Wait...what they up to now?”
The guy with the football had tossed it to one of his pals, who had flipped it back to the first guy, and they kept that up for the next couple of minutes. The kids had gathered together in a group, talking amongst themselves, but doing absolutely nothing. After watching the older guys, one of the kids, the one with the strongest arm, approached and asked, “Hey, can we have our ball back, please?”
The guy who had been hit, said, “Please? Do I look like your grandmother, that I’m going to be impressed with the word ‘please?’”
“Look, Mister. We just want to play ball.”
“Well, maybe you should have thought about that before you started hitting bystanders with the ball. So, no. You don’t get the football back ‘cause it’s mine now.”
With that, Herman stood up, grabbed his cane, and headed over towards the picnic table. “Hey, Raul. Bring my satchel.”
Raul shrugged and stood up. “Yes, Master, whatever you say.” He followed Herman, gradually catching up to him.
Herman wished he could sprint over to where the football was, but he told himself that he was moving as fast as he could and that everything comes to him who waits, especially old age. As he neared the table, he caught the eye of the guy who was causing the trouble. The guy asked, “What do you want, old-timer? You coming to take this here ball from me?”
“No, I won’t need to do that, because you’re going to give it back on your own.”
Whatever the guy had thought the old man would say, when he saw Herman come up, it was not that. “Now why would I do a dumb-ass thing like that? Oh, I see, your friend is going to make me.” He snorted with contempt.
Raul had stopped beside Herman, offering him the satchel. “Actually, no,” said Herman. “Raul, here, is not going to make you, but my friend, Hank, is. I call him Hammerin’ Hank, and he’s very persuasive.”
The guy laughed derisively. “Hammerin’ Hank? We ain’t playnig baseball; we playin’ football. Go back to your bench.”
Standing where they were, the kids who had been playing football, could not see what was going on, because the table with the three others still sitting on it, blocked their vision. So they did nor see when Herman reached into his satchel, pulled out a .357 Magnum, and pointed it right at the guy with the football. There was no doubt that Herman had his undivided attention.
“My bench will be there when I get back. But you may not be. Now, you’re going to return the football to those kids, you’re going to get into your Shiny green slime-mobile, and you’re going to leave. If you don’t I will put a .357 slug right into your gut. I may not kill you, but I damn sure will put you out of commission. Do I make myself clear?”
“If you shoot me, then you’re going to end up in a world of hurt.”
“That’s not your problem. Hammerin Hank is your problem.” Herman kept the weapon trained on the guy’s chest.
Trying once more to bluff his way out of it, the guy said, “Why would you do something like that? You’ll spend what’s left of your life in prison.”
“I’d do something like that because I don’t like your kind. You come here, you bully kids, and you think you can call the shots. But you’re wrong. And you may be right about me spending the rest of my life in prison, but since I got less than six months to live as of two months ago, nothing scares me right now. Just give me a reason to shoot you, and see how long I hesitate. Now give the football back to the kids, get in your car, and leave.
Apparently Herman had made his case. The guy shrugged, threw the football in the general direction of the kids, and started walking away. The others rose, one by one, and followed him, without looking back.
The kids were ecstatic. “Hey, thanks, Mister. How’d you get him to give us back our football?”
Herman smiled and said, “I told him Hammerin’ Hank would not appreciate it if he kept your ball.”
The kids looked around and asked, “Hank Aaron is here?”
Herman laughed and said, “Well not anymore. He left when the creep did. After all, you’re playing football, not baseball,” and he turned and headed back to his bench. Raul followed, shaking his head in amusement. “You’re something else,” he said. “I’m not sure just what, but you are something else.”