Grandpa shrugged on his wool coat. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, plucking his derby from the hat stand.
“What?” The chair in the kitchen squeaked against the linoleum tiles and Todd’s swift stride took him to the front hallway. The front door gleamed as the sun poured through the frosted glass.
“Where are you going?” asked Todd.
“To the store,” said Grandpa, donning his cap. He made sure the brim was level with an extra tug.
Todd glanced back at the kitchen where stacks of unattended reports threatened to topple and then scrubbed his hand through his hair with a sigh. “What do you need? I can go.”
“Nonsense. It’s my errand and you’ve got work to do.”
“Yeah, but Dad…” Todd reached the key basket before Grandpa and plucked the glittering ring out from the array of odds and ends once cluttering jacket pockets. “It’s getting dark.”
“It’s four in the afternoon, Todd.”
“You might hit traffic.”
“So? Not like I’ve got a hot date.” Grandpa scowled and held out his wrinkled hand. “I’m a big boy, son. Hand over the keys.”
“Don’t you remember last time?”
Grandpa’s sloped shoulders rose like the haunches of cornered cat. “That wasn’t my fault. She was the one who backed out of the stall without looking.” He waggled his finger. “The police even said so.”
“Yeah, but you weren’t exactly on the ball with the brakes.” Todd rubbed at his temple while looping the key ring around his finger and clutching the bundle into his fist. “I don’t mean to sound patronizing here, but you’re not the driver you used to be.”
“What are you talking about? I’m a perfectly good driver. I taught you didn’t I?”
“Forty years ago.”
“And so? Car’s haven’t changed that much.”
Todd heaved a sigh and held up both hands in a placating wall. “Indulge me, would you? Just let me drive.”
“I need a break.”
“I’m not a child.”
“I know. But I have a stack of tickets and scrapes on that rust bucket of a car telling me that you driving just isn’t the best idea anymore.”
Grandpa folded his arms across his chest and turned to talk to the coat rack. “Do you hear this? My own son telling me what I can and can’t do.” A pair of dangling jackets drooped in silent agreement. “You’ll see, next he’ll try to keep me from mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk.”
“Maybe I will,” said Todd.
Grandpa waved his hands in dismissal and yanked off his cap. “I didn’t really need to go anyway,” he confided to the derby.
“No, Dad. Come on.” Todd grabbed his jacket from the rack and slipped into the sleeves. “We’ll go together. I’ve got to get more paper for the printer anyway and Julia and the kids will need milk for breakfast.”
“Then go, go. Don’t let me stand in your way.” Grandpa hung his cap back onto the bare hook.
Todd zipped his coat and caught his jowl in the teeth. He winced and heat laced his tone. “Dad.”
“I don’t need a chauffeur, Todd.”
“Je…” Todd swallowed the curse beneath Grandpa’s cautionary, ice blue glare. He drew a deep breath and tried mellowing his voice. “I’m not trying to be your chauffeur. I just want to keep you safe, keep the other folks on the road safe. Imagine if the last accident had been on the highway instead of a parking lot. You could have gotten hurt. Those kids could have gotten hurt.” Todd laid his hand on Grandpa’s shoulder. The bones poked through the wooly padding and the thinning muscles, making the body beneath seem frail, like an oak in winter. The weary stoop in Grandpa’s shoulders nearly had Todd’s palm slipping off. “I don’t want to be the bad guy here,” said Todd. “But sometimes-.”
“Sometimes you have to do what’s right, not what’s nice.” Grandpa snorted and shook his head. “Your mother raised you right you know that?”
“You didn’t do so bad a job either,” said Todd.
Grandpa harrumphed and plucked his cap. “So what’s keeping you?”
“The door,” said Todd. He opened the front entrance with a jangle from the bells looped on the knob and strode outside. Grandpa followed and buttoned his coat over his ample belly as Todd locked the door. They strode along the brick walkway, heads bent at matching angles against the crisp autumn gusts coursing down the street and swirling in the cul-de-sac.
“Hey Mr. Taylors!” cried the Anderson kids. The two boys waved from their bikes as they raced past with snapping gears and whirring tires.
“Hi boys,” said Grandpa with a wave.
“Good afternoon, Todd. Gerald,” said Mrs. Jones as she shuffled along the sidewalk after her leash-free mini poodle, Curly.
Todd watched the dog sniff at his lawn as Grandpa waved again while plodding at his side.
They reached the rusted sedan perched at the curb behind a gleaming SUV. Todd strode around the hood to the driver’s seat of the vintage car. Popping the locks, he hopped inside and leaned over, pulling the latch on the opposite door. Grandpa plopped into the bucket seat and slammed the door with a bang.
“Buckle up,” he said, pulling the strap across his chest.
“Yes sir,” said Todd. After clasping the belt, Todd inserted the key and the engine stuttered once before turning over.
“Watch the clutch,” said Grandpa.
“And the brakes are loose. Give yourself some extra space.”
“I know, Dad.”
“And don’t forget your blinker.”
Grandpa held up his hands in defeat and then clasped them in his lap before staring serenely out the windshield.
Todd shook his head, closed his eyes for a moment and gripped the leather wheel. Drawing a deep breath, he put the clutch in reverse, grasped the passenger head rest, peered through the rear window, and backed them away from his SUV’s bumper.
“Dad!” Todd clenched his eyes closed as he swiveled forward. After a grinding shift of gears, he smashed down on the gas.
The tires thumped and a barking yelp squealed from beneath the hood of the car.
“Curly!” cried Mrs. Jones.
“Safe driver, huh?” asked Grandpa.
Mrs. Jones scurried toward them in a little old lady shuffle, clutching her coat against her sunken chest. Meanwhile the Anderson boys shouted to one another and wheeled around, eyes gleaming with curiosity.
Todd stared out of the windshield, various levels of guilt rising.