Joscelyn Willett

Fly Ball

Joscelyn Willett

             “Tell me about yours,” he says, quietly now because he wants my dark, undivided attention, wants me to follow his words on the balls of my feet, edging closer to catch the last one before it and he falls off. Then we will walk the street to the ballpark, hand in hand though it is too hot to hold, and I will tell him half-truths about my past as other men and women stride in their own small squares, speaking in various stages of hope and resignation, oblivious to the birth of us.
             At the ballpark I am in front of him walking down the concrete stadium steps that are too long to take with a single foot but too short to fit two full steps in-between. The awkward shuffle they force me to fall into leaves me unsteady, my $8 beer spitting quarters to the ground. At our aisle he is close behind, holds my shoulder as he glances at our tickets, the row of seats, our tickets again. His hand is warm and stuck on me like metal. I suddenly think of my father and go someplace else. I am seven years old and Dad holds my shoulder as though it is the bony round knob of the gear shift on his ’62 Chevy truck, turns me with a slip of the wrist this way and that as we snake through the line at the post office on a Monday morning in summer. It is sweltering already, both of us in shorts, my father’s hair drying fast, freshly combed but failing in the heat; and me, controlled beneath his palm, feeling both safe and scared, daydreaming of the pool I will meet later that day, and of swimming beneath the intermittent breeze blowing through a line of eucalyptus, floating.
             We find our seats and an announcer begins reading the names of each player. I know none of them but I like hearing them rattled off; I feel that this is an important part of what is about to happen. Maybe because I think there might be a quiz later I say each name again in my head, try to remember their corresponding positions. The stadium is humming, everyone chomping or sipping on something and having a real good time doing it.
             He takes a picture of me and I bashfully with a bit of suspicion ask him why.
             “You looked so serious,” he smiles. “What are you thinking about?”
             “Middle school. I played co-ed baseball,” I say over the first pitch.
             One and oh.
             “The boys were better, naturally,” I go on. It’s still early enough for this obvious a trap. He nods yes and I laugh a little at his giant leap right into it.
             “I was deep in the outfield one day, talking to myself.”
             One and one.
             “Bobbie Ingersoll steps up to bat. I’m picking a scab off my knee and the ball goes flying.” He smiles as though he’s heard this one. He can see it, wants to. “It’s coming to me, straight up in the air.”
             Two and one.
             “I’m panicked. I start tripping backwards. My knee is bleeding. I can feel it dripping down my leg. The sun is in my eyes, so I raise up my mitt to block it and I pray to God. I’m praying for my life. It’s catch this ball or die.”
             There is a crack and the crowd wakes up; we stand with them for a second and sit back down as if we were all snagged on a fishing line, then promptly released. The foul ball doesn’t sit well. They’re eager for a run.
             “I remember thinking this is it. This is my fate. This is everything.”
             Three and two. Full count.
             The chatter gets heavy. He is looking at me through sunglasses, turning deeper shades of pink behind the glare, and I am getting beer dizzy with him, feeling things lighten a little, wanting him to kiss me because I know in this exact instant that this is it. This is my fate. This is everything.
             Whack.
             This time everyone stays up, follows the spinning white circle with their spinning white eyeballs till it falls from the sky into the soft leather spot it belongs with a firm and final smack.
             We groan in unison as the batter resigns to the dugout.
             “So what happened?” he asks though he already knows.

***

             Later we will go downtown and for a moment the way the tall buildings eclipse the low evening sun, dropping shade all around us, it feels as though I’ve lived this day a thousand times and never before. 

JOSCELYN WILLETT‘s likes include her children, road trips, and nail polish. Her dislikes include other people’s children, excessive wind, and splinters. Find out more at joscelynwillett.blogspot.com.

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