My father came back to me as a bobble head. I was getting ready for work and there he was in my closet beside the box of old bobble heads that used to line the windowsill of his office. When I was eleven, he coached my little league team and custom ordered bobble heads of all the players and coaches. They looked nothing like us, but they had our names and numbers on the back, and each was positioned in some dramatic baseball action. In his bobble head likeness, my father leaned on a baseball bat, right foot crossed over left. The back of his jersey said “Dad” above the number 1. He’d been dead for over a year.

“Hi, Little Man,” he said, “I’d like to celebrate with you today.”

At first I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I remembered it was the day of the Chicago Cubs victory parade. I hadn’t planned on going. That little league team was the last time I cared about baseball.

“I’ve got to go to work,” I told him.

“Work? You think this kind of thing happens every day?”

I picked him up. His eyes were not the dead eyes of a bobble head, but watery and blue, like the lake, like mine. I missed seeing how proud they could be of me.

We squeezed on the El with the rest of the city, everyone smiling and holding open beers like the law no longer applied. I kept my father in the front pocket of my hoodie, but I could hear his muffled complaints about how hot it was and how he hadn’t come all this way not to see, so I took him out and held him close to my chest like an ice cream cone. He smiled and bobbed his head along with the rhythm of the train, but now he complained it was too crowded and that he couldn’t see out the window. I told him he’d seen it all a million times. Nothing had changed.

“Why don’t you spend some time dead and then tell me there’s nothing to see,” my father said.
We followed the crowd down to Grant Park, to the end of the parade route. All the people made it difficult to get close, so I held my father high in the air like a torch so he could see the ceremony projected on the big screens and listen to the speeches. My arm got tired. When it was over, and the players hoisted the gold trophy, “Go Cubs Go” blasted through the speakers. I got caught up in the moment and pretended my father’s head was a microphone and sang the words I remembered into his cap.

“Your breath stinks,” he said.
We scoured the souvenir shops looking for World Series gear, but most of the stores had already been cleaned out, nothing but baseballs banging around galvanized buckets, a few keychains and bumper stickers. At the last store we went to, my father made me buy a pair of decals, white with a blue W, a replica of the flag that flies above the scoreboard after a Cubs’ win. My father flew the same flag off the front of our house all season, win or lose. When the clerk wasn’t looking, my father told me to stick each of the decals over a mannequin’s bare breasts.

“Winners,” he said. “Just like Melinda. I want to see Melinda. Text her.”
Melinda told me to meet her at a wine bar near her gym because she had yoga that afternoon. I set my father on top of the table next to my water glass. He told me he’d like a California zinfandel. The glass he wanted cost eighteen dollars. “You can’t even drink,” I said.
“I can smell.”
I told him I didn’t want to pay eighteen dollars for him to smell a glass of wine.
“Who’s the dead guy, here?”
I ordered the wine.
I remembered the way the room smelled after Melinda had come to see my father for the last time, after I’d helped her by taking my mother to the movies, convincing her it was a good idea to get out of the house for a while. I told the hospice nurse a friend of my father’s from work was coming by. My mother cried through the whole movie even though it was supposed to be funny. I felt sorry for her, guilty for what I’d done, what I knew. I listened to her cry while another woman sat by her husband’s side, stroking his cheek, wetting his lips with ice chips. When we got home, I could smell Melinda’s perfume in my parents’ room. It was spicy and exotic, not like my mother’s rosy aroma. It smelled like another language.
Today she had her yoga mat strapped to her shoulder, and she was wearing a white zip-front hoodie, not fully zipped. I waved and she came over. She stood for a second with her arms out, expecting me to stand up and hug her, but when I didn’t, she sat down, the full glass of wine in front of her.

“Is this a California zin?” she asked.
My father and I both nodded.

“Get me closer,” my father said.
I pushed him closer. Melinda looked down at him, then up at me. “How about the Cubs?” she said. “Your father would’ve been beside himself.” She flicked his cap and his head went wild.
“She’s got a ring on her finger,” my father said.
She caught me looking at the ring and splayed her fingers on her chest, showing off the diamond. “I’m getting married,” she said.
“Tell her I wish things could’ve been different for us. That we had more time.”
“He wishes things could’ve been different,” I said.   
“Oh, he does?” She laughed and picked him up and held him in her left hand. “What else does he say?”
“Tell her I miss her.”
“He misses you.”
She turned him around so she could see the back of his jersey and lifted him close to her ear. “I can’t hear him,” she said.
“Ask her to go back to your place and take a bath with you.”
“Would you like to take a bath with me?” I said it, but I didn’t feel like I was the one saying it, and after I said it, I wasn’t certain I had.
Melinda set my father down on the table. “Would you like the number of my therapist?” she asked.

I reached for my father, and when I did, I knocked over the wine glass and spilled red wine all over her. She jumped out of her chair and took off her hoodie. She wore a black, athletic tank top underneath, the straps crisscrossed over her muscular back.

A waitress came over and handed her a wad of napkins. “I can get you another,” she said.
Tears gathered in my father’s blue eyes. “She’s already got another,” he said. “Let’s go, Little Man.”
He asked me if I’d take him to a strip club. I told him sure, but instead we got on the El and rode it to my mother’s house in the burbs, what had been their house together, our house. The white W flag was still flying out front. “You tricked me, Little Man.” I shoved him in the front pocket of my hoodie. “Now wait just a second, Little Man.” I pressed my thumb against his grinning mouth.
My mother was surprised to see me, but she wasn’t busy. Lately she’d been thinking about moving to Florida where my aunt lived. I knew she wanted to sell the house. It was too big for her all by herself, and she said she still felt like she had a lot of life left to live, and it would be fine with her to live that life without winter.
“Don’t leave,” I said.
“I haven’t decided.”

“Please stay.”
I hugged my mother and she felt the bobble head in my pocket. I pulled it out, my thumb still covering his mouth. “He wants to say he’s sorry.”
“Never too late for that,” she said.
I thought about taking my thumb off his mouth so I could hear those words for myself, but he’d said enough. I tightened my grip and ripped his head off. He didn’t come back again.

# # #
Jeremy T. Wilson is the author of the short story collection Adult Teeth and a former winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award for short fiction. Recent stories have appeared in The Atticus Review, Hypertext Review, The Masters Review, Pithead Chapel and will be forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions Anthology 2020. He holds an MFA in fiction-writing from Northwestern University and teaches creative writing at The Chicago High School for the Arts.