Wheels Family Fun Park
Aunt Carol paid some tree choppers to cut down grandpa’s oak tree because its roots were coming up under his carport. Us kids said it didn’t seem fair to cut down a hundred-year-old tree on account of someone’s carport even if it was grandpa’s, but Aunt Carol said grandpa was almost a hundred years old too and if he wanted to cut down the oak tree in his own yard, that was his perogative. But then it was mid summer with no shade and the yard was miserable when before it’d been cool. If grandpa was sorry, he didn’t let on. He just sat in his same old lawn chair chewing on boiled peanuts and sweating.
But us kids had had enough of scorching sun and peanut shells so we hiked the two miles of blacktop to Wheels Family Fun Park which was off the highway exit up the road from grandpa’s house. We pooled our chore money just to be let in. This meant we had to share a single set of skates between us, taking turns on the rink. We always got them in Chrissy’s size, which meant they were too big for Danny and too small for me, but Chrissy liked skating the most anyways. In just a couple weeks, she was good enough to do heel-toes and jumps and even the grapevine and the moonwalk. Me and Danny mostly sat at the metal tables and watched the other skaters. Sometimes, the lady at the concession stand would give us a cup of ice to chew. Other times we had enough extra money between us for nachos.
Aunt Carol keeps a sweater buttoned over the back of her rocking chair and she only wears that sweater when she’s rocking on the porch in the evening, so when we got home from Wheels one afternoon late August and saw that the sweater was gone and Aunt Carol wasn’t in her rocking chair, we knew something was wrong. We looked for Grandpa out back but his chair was empty and tipped over sideways, like maybe he’d gotten out of it in a hurry. “Or like he fell,” Chrissy said, and we all stared at his chair for a minute, its red and white vinyl stripes shredding at the edges, the metal frame glinting in the sun. We checked the bedrooms and both porches again, and that’s when Chrissy noticed Aunt Carol’s car still in the driveway. Danny started crying. Chrissy shook her head and said she told them they shouldn’t have cut down that damn tree. Then Danny cried harder ‘cause Crissy’d said a cuss word. But we were all wondering what it meant, grandpa and Aunt Carol disappearing along with the oak.
Eventually, when we realized Aunt Carol wasn’t coming home to make us supper, I took ten dollars from the emergency fund in the freezer and we walked back up to Wheels. But then it turned out none of us was hungry, so we took turns whacking balls in the batting cage. Danny told the lady selling tickets that Aunt Carol had cut down grandpa’s oak tree and now the both of them had disappeared. “Well,” she said, lighting a cigarette she’d pulled from behind her ear, “you know what they say about killin’ an oak tree.” Danny shook his head and said no, he didn’t know. The lady shrugged and dragged on her cigarette, “Always takes something with it,” she said.
Later we’d find out that grandpa’d had a heart attack and Aunt Carol’d called an ambulance. She’d been scared right out of her mind and so out-of-sorts she hadn't thought to leave a note until it was too late. Once she got back from the hospital, she apologized more times than the three of us could count, though we couldn’t tell if she was apologizing for not leaving a note or for killing grandpa. Finally Chrissy told her to cut it out and Danny said what did it matter anyways, when grandpa went off and died without telling him the end of the story about the Irish fighter pilot.
The night after grandpa’s funeral the three of us went out and sat on the stump where his oak tree used to be and considered the obvious: that if the tree was still there, grandpa would be too. I thought about the night at the batting cage, how I hadn’t understood what the ticket lady meant about grandpa’s tree, but I’d wondered about it each time I hit the ball and felt the vibration of the bat run up through my arms. And when the ball sank into the net and another one appeared, I remembered the summer when grandpa taught me to pitch, his bat hitting the ball so hard I’d lose sight of in the sky, and then, how I’d run through that green field in search of that small spot of white, and how once or twice, I never did find it, and I’d go to bed wondering how something you were holding in your hand one second could up and disappear in the next.
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