When I was a kid, my dad wasn't around all that much, so I learned most of what I know about life, being a man, etc. from my grandfather. How to treat people. How to throw a baseball. And, on summer days, how to find joy in the simple things in life—a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream (the cheap kind, sold in a block at the grocery store) with Hershey's from the can and a Cardinals game on his 1950s-era transistor radio were all we needed.
One night, we sat in our usual spots on the porch—him on the glider and me on the cinderblock front steps—listening to the Cards playing the Reds. The lightning bugs had just started to come out, and between innings I would run off the porch and run around and catch as many as I could, peering into the cage I made with my hands just a bit to see how many times the rhythmic yellow-green glow would flash before grandpa would holler, "Come on back, boy, the game's back on!" Then I would open my hands and wave them around until the lightning bugs flew free into the night and run back to the steps, back to the game, back to the growing pools of condensation under my bowl of ice cream and little bottle of Coke, back to grandpa.
It was during the seventh-inning stretch, when the break was longer and I had more time to run around catching lightning bugs, that it happened. I was just a kid, and I was so excited about the haul that I didn't hardly notice the car coming up the drive, or the men getting out. By the time I looked back, they were already—all four of them—on the porch. I didn't know any of them, but I could see they were all in suits, even though it was in the summer, and I didn't know what those funny bulges under their jackets were. I started back to the house, not brushing the lightning bugs out of my hands, so one or two stayed on, walking around, flashing on and off, on and off.
"What is it, grandpa?" I asked, when I got back to the porch.
"Don't you mind, boy," he said. "We was just talking, these men and me. Looks like I'll have to go with them for a while."
"But you'll miss the rest of the game."
He looked at me and smiled, weakly. "That's all right, boy. You can tell me what happened when I get back."
One of the men looked at me. He smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile. "That's right. Maybe you should come over here and sit by the radio—pay attention to it, and stop looking at us so hard."
They—the men and grandpa—were already up and walking toward the car. I ran up to them, even though grandpa was shaking his head and trying to wave me off.
"What's happening?" I asked.
"It's nothing you need to worry about," grandpa said. "Go back and listen to the game. You'll need to know what happened so you can tell me later."
"That's right, sonny," the man with the unhappy smile said. "Listen to your baseball game." He got into the driver's seat.
"Shut up, goddammit!" He had never told me to shut up, and I'd never heard him use that word. "Just—just get back on the porch. And when your grandma comes up, tell her...tell her I had to go away for a while, and that I lov—tell her I had to go away for a while." He was already crouching down to get into the back seat. Two of the men in suits got in to the back as well, sitting on either side of him. They all looked cramped back there, but none of them as much as grandpa, his shoulders hunched up with men on either side.
As the car backed down the driveway, grandpa gave me another weak smile and winked. I could see a tear roll down his cheek.
I went back to the porch. The eighth inning was just starting. I sat down, took a bite of ice cream, and waited for grandma.
What kind of ice cream do you think Hellephant serves when company comes over?