I arrived at the nursing home with a cupcake and candle, and two pointed party hats. My father was sitting outside in the shade, staring at the parking lot. I crouched in front of him and slid the hat's elastic strap under his chin.
"Dad, guess what? It's my birthday. I'm fifty today." I put on my own matching hat.
He scowled at me, or through me.
"Fifty years ago, you were in the Air Force and Mom's doctor wanted to play golf, so he induced her."
My father's pale eyes found mine. "He did?"
"Yes. There was a tornado that day and everyone was terrified. Do you remember? In Sherman Texas. Perrin Air Force Base."
"I was carry corry carry curry..." his voice stuttered over the repeated sounds.
"You were a captain," I said, placing the cupcake in front of of him. I put the candle into the stiff chocolate frosting and reached for my lighter. When I turned back, he had frosting on his palm and the cupcake was gone.
"Where is the cupcake?"
His pant leg was streaked with frosting.
"Dad. What did you do?" I stood over him. There was a blob of chocolate frosting on his waistband. "Did you put the cupcake into your pocket?"
"Four. Nine. Three and sixteen." He sat still as I felt around his legs and back. The aide came to take him back inside.
"There might be something sticky in his pocket," I said. As they walked away, I snatched off his party hat. It was a ridiculous idea, like dressing your dog for Halloween. I realized, I had stolen some of his dignity. My throat burned with dismay.
I would never, ever do that again.