"Gee, Grandpa. What was it like when you were young?"
Joe shifted his grandson to his other leg, and smiled at him.
"Oh. The world was very different, Billy. We didn't have cable television or wi-fi. The only phones around were connected to your house, by wires and chords. And you couldn't play games on them at all!"
"Gosh, Grandpa. That sounds really fucking boring."
"Well, it didn't seem that way." Joe turned and looked out the front window of his small house. Through the bars, he could see smoke rising in the distance.
"There weren't all these riots and shootings either," the old man continued. "And no reality television. People used to have standards."
In the distance, Joe heard the sudden pop-pop-pop of gunfire. He didn't even flinch any more when he heard gunshots.
He looked at his 'grandson' and sighed.
"People still had hope for the future," he said.
Billy stared up at Joe with bright, button eyes. His wooden jaw worked up and down.
"Wow, Grandpa. I guess people were pretty stupid back then, huh?"
"I guess so," admitted Joe. "I just thank God you're not a real boy, Billy."
He drew his hand, wrinkled and arthritic, from the back of the puppet. He considered Billy for a moment; the blank, bright button eyes, the cherubic cheeks, dabbed with red paint; painted dark hair.
If I'd had a boy, would he have looked like this? Joe wondered.
Would he be here, at this moment? Or would he be out there somewhere? A policeman. A soldier. Trying to hold everything together.
But it was a moot question. Joe hadn't had children. He'd never fallen in love.
Oh sure, there had been a couple of ladies that he could have married. In his forties, he'd thought about it. But forty was too old to start a family and, well, he hadn't been in love. He didn't want to get married out of desperation, just because some imaginary clock was ticking down the minutes of his life.
He stood and carried Billy back to the closet, where he stowed the puppet. Outside the house, a fire engine screeched past.
Returning to the front room, Joe pulled the blinds and turned off the light. Grateful it was just him.