Sunday, March 2, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Twenty: Epiphany

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 The lies we tell ourselves. That one thing will not lead to another. That meetings by chance will not progress to meetings by plan.
            “You’re sure?”
            “Come on, Dad. Have you seen anything resembling business? Go ahead! Build up some bulk so you can throw those slow pitches even slower.”
            Pablo flashes his goofy grin – the one that erases all the flaws in his face – and David is on his way. As always, he feels conned. The kid is too smooth. He’s probably slipping pot brownies into the mudslide ice cream.
            Like I’m one to talk, thinks David. As soon as he pulls onto Chance La Mer he’s on his cell phone, conjuring faeries: Gym 2 p.m. He has completed a dozen half-hearted bench presses when Abbey enters, casually tosses her shirt and bends over to offer him a breast: apple-size, spiced with cinnamon freckles, a nipple the color of croissant. A minute of suckle, sigh and catch-breath, he smiles. “Dispensing with the preliminaries.”
            “What if I just sat on your face?”
            “Nope. Still married.”
            “Short-sheeted by ethos! Just for that, I will work out topless and drive you insane.”
            She begins by touching her toes, which leaves her small, ripe ass inches from his face.
            “Where’d you meet her?”
            “Spanish class.”
            “Classmate. Her parents were from that strange generation that decided they should raise kids that weren’t too obviously Mexican. You’ve seen Elena – how was that supposed to happen?”
            “Dios mio!”
            “At home, they spoke nothing but Ingles. Elena got tired of not being able to speak to her abuelita, so – Spanish class. She assumed it would be in her blood, kept trying to skip the hard steps – conjugations, genders, vocabulary. So it was up to the gringo in the next desk to act as her speedbump, tutor, novio, esposo, padre de sus hijos. I still speak better than her. You should have seen our trip to Cabo. How about you? You and Randy.”
            Abbey spreads her legs and moves her face to one knee.
            “I don’t know if I should tell you, Man Who Does Not Screw.” She smiles between her legs, her breasts dangling like water balloons, her crotch covered by bare millimeters of lycra.
            “Look at it,” she whispers. “It’s all yours. You could reach right up there and grab it.”
            David takes the bar and goes back to pressing. “Domine deus, agnus dei, salvet factotum Erin go bragh…”
            “Asshole.” She grabs a foot and holds it behind her back, which causes her breasts to point to the ceiling.
            “Randy liked you. He’d be telling you to go ahead. He’d be happy for us.”
            David lowers the bar till the weights click back in.
            “Randy’s not the issue, honey. My family is. Now let’s enjoy what we’ve got and stop getting ahead of ourselves.”
            Abbey drops her foot, lowers her head in a posture of shame and says, “I’m sorry, Professor Falter. But sometimes I get nasty thoughts.”
            She cups a breast and begins a self-massage.
            David closes his eyes and reaches for the bar. He is going to explode.

            Billy in the bleachers is not the same as Billy in the field. The team has lost its fire; they’re not doing the small things, they’re not playing smart. Batting in Billy’s number-six spot, Pablo comes up with bases loaded and two outs and can’t resist the big jackpot. He yanks the ball to left, a deep fly that accomplishes a big fat zero. Maintaining a life-long pledge to not become his father, David says nothing.
            Their opponents begin the next inning with a grounder to second and a fly to short. The next batter lifts a fly to right and Derek reveals the dark side of his nickname, clanking the ball off his glove for a double.
            It starts to rain. On the Rain Coast, in the sixth inning, this changes nothing. Down by eight runs, facing a cleanup hitter who looks like Paul Bunyan, David is tempted to serve up a gopher ball and send everybody to their nice dry homes. Mr. Bunyan has the same idea. He coils like a python and unleashes a windmill swing. The ball goes straight up. The spin carries it behind the backstop, where it smacks the cement and takes a high hop. It’s about to clear the bleachers when Billy, seated at the top left-hand corner, reaches up for a barehand grab.
            David expects a quick throw-back but Billy is frozen, staring at the ball as if he’s expecting secret messages.
            “Yo, Billy!”
            “Last ball,” says the ump. “Need that one.”
            Oh well, thinks David. Homeless ballplayers – gotta expect the occasional flashback. He jogs to the bleachers and slaps his glove on Billy’s shoe. Billy looks down like he’s seen a ghost.
            “Billster! Can I get the ball back?”
            Billy looks at the ball as if it has just appeared in his hand.
            “Oh. Sure.”
            He drops it into David’s glove, then stares toward right field, his eyes all spacey. David’s relieved to see Abbey returning from the truck.
            David takes the mound and finds that now he’s distracted. Something about the high hop, the barehanded catch, looping through his head like an instant replay. He shakes it out, taps the rubber and delivers the pitch. This time, Paul Bunyan doesn’t miss. He crushes the ball, a majestic drive toward the spruce trees in left. It’s the drive that killed Larry. David summons his superpowers and blows the ball toward the woods. A name pops into his head.
            Although the ball is forest-bound, so is Pablo. Merzy shouts a warning, but Pablo seems to know what he’s doing. He finds a treeless gap and bounds into a patch of ferns. He’s a freakin’ explorer.
            Twenty feet along, his eye still on the ball, Pablo comes up against a broad spruce. He’s out of room. He takes hold of a low branch, digs his cleats into the rough bark and launches himself. At the apex of his leap, he pockets the ball, slams against the tree, and lands with his armpit firmly wrapped around the branch. Dangling there, he discovers that his glove is pregnant, and holds up his trophy.
            On a night when nothing else is going well, Run Like Hell goes nuts. For that matter, so do their opponents. People will talk about this play; no one’s seen anything like it. Kirk Gibson’s home run, Willie Mays’s catch. Pablo jumps into the ferns and takes a theatrical bow. Paul Bunyan makes a comic show of slamming his bat to the ground. Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World. Don Larsen’s perfect game. Babe Ruth’s called shot.
            The Curse of the Bambino. Bucky Fucking Dent. Bill Buckner. The Curse of the Billy Goat. Moises Alou. Alex Gonzalez. Steve Bartman. The Memphis Blues. Big John’s Curse. Duffy’s Drop. The Grand Fool Double.
            Billy Saddle.
David’s spell is broken by Pablo, who slaps him on the arm.
“Geez, Dad. What’d I do? Put you in shock?”
“Oh, um. Yeah. Great catch, Pablo. Wow.”
They jog to the dugout, where Run Like Hell has vowed a comeback that will not materialize. David looks to the bleachers, where Abbey and Billy are huddling beneath an umbrella.

Photo by MJV

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