Over the following weeks, their partnership becomes a “thing.” Zarita shoots their routines and posts them online, where they receive an impressive number of hits. The most popular is a riff on Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing.” Gigante runs on-field in a red leather jacket and single sequin glove and does an amazing job of replicating all the MJ classics: the karate kick, the Elvis toe-stand, the J5 spin and, of course, the moonwalk. The PA announcer has christened Zelda with the name Gigantina, and she has worked up a sort-of costume, featuring an orange shirt with a big spangled G.
Mid-July brings German Heritage Night, featuring bratwurst, sauerkraut, and lots of German brews. During the seventh-inning stretch, Gigante marches from the dugout in a black cape, produces a baton and conducts the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth. Zelda skips in from the bullpen wearing a Bavarian dress, looking like a refugee from The Sound of Music. She stops at the forbidding sight of Maestro Gigante, but then the PA blares forth with “Roll Out the Barrel.” Gigante throws his baton to the ground and whips off his cape, revealing suspendered shorts and lederhosen. He and Zelda begin a mad polka around the coaching box.
As the music speeds up, the choreography gets more athletic. They do an alternating spin – one partner anchoring while the other whirls their feet into the air – then Gigante grabs Zelda by one foot and one hand and flies her around like an airplane. Unfortunately, his Gigante gloves are ill-suited for the task, and he loses his grip before the dismount, sending Zelda hurtling through the air. She lands hard, but recovers quickly, popping to her feet to strike the final pose. This brings an unexpected response: the sound of 3,000 people gasping. After two long seconds, Gigante guides her toward the dugout as a gray-haired man in a team jacket trots her way with a towel. He presses it to her face; when he pulls it away, it’s covered in blood. He seats her on the bench and uses a damp towel to clean her face.
“Holy shit, I am so sorry. Dammit! I should have taken my gloves off. I am so sorry.”
These words come from Gigante, who isn’t supposed to talk, and Edward, who usually doesn’t. The trainer finishes with the damp cloth and hands her a dry one.
“Here. Keep this pressed to your nose. Pinch the bridge – not too hard. I’ll be back to bandage you up. Hey, Monkey Boy, for God’s sake, get out there and give them a thumb’s-up. They probably think you killed her.”
Zelda sees Gigante’s head and arms disappear over the dugout roof and hears a familiar sound: the applause one gives to an injured player as he’s carted off the field. As the game gets back under way, one of the players sits down next to her. With his freckles, he looks like he’s barely out of high school.
“Man! I haven’t seen a face-plant like that since Martinez tried to slide head-first.”
“Hey!” says Martinez.
“My BFF is a war hero,” says Zarita, on the drive home. “God, you scared the hell out of me.”
Zelda looks in the visor mirror and sees what looks like a Batman villain, a broad bandage over her nose, rolls of cotton stuffed into her nostrils, a field of angry red dots across her temple.
“No dates for me for a while. Did you see Edward after the… incident?”
“Just doing his job, working the crowd.”
“I hope to God this doesn’t drive him back underground.”
Zarita adopts a motherly tone. “I told you that big gorilla would end up hurting you. But did you listen? Did you listen?!”
“Please, Z, please don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”
“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”
Zelda spends the next morning alternating between pain and the mental fog created by her pain pills. She’s not sure which one she prefers, but she knows what’s worse: the steady stream of inquiries and dumb jokes. “I told you, man, a match with Pacquiao is just not wise!” “You look like you were attacked by a very tall pit bull.” “I knew those glass doors were gonna get you someday.”
One lady got downright intrusive. “Is it the booze? Does he do this when he gets drunk? ‘Cause you don’t have to put up with it, you know. They got shelters, and the cops have new regulations, they can take him away just on your say-so. It’s not the Stone Age anymore.”
On the other hand, it makes for a great story. Zelda had always sworn that if she ever suffered some lame-ass bathroom accident, she would fabricate a sexier story to tell people. With this one, she felt like she had to do some editing just to make it seem plausible. “Well, a team mascot was flying me around in a helicopter spin when he lost his grip and I landed face-first in the coach’s box.”
Zelda turns around to fetch some cream from the mini-fridge. When she turns back, she is greeted by a dozen lemon-yellow faces, oval petals with brown checks, their pink tongues extended in her direction. Or perhaps this is the pain pills. She looks up. Edward flinches.
“Edward! It’s not nice to make that kind of expression when a woman looks at you.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that the blood has traveled to your eyes. God, I’m such an idiot. I should have taken my gloves off. I am so sorry.”
Zelda is stuck for what to do. She feels that Edward has become a sea anemone, and if she touches him he will fold back in on himself. And this new brightness is unsettling. The British cap is gone. He’s wearing colors – blue jeans, a green T-shirt.
“Alstromeria,” says the anemone.
“No!” He laughs. “The flowers. I saw them at Trader Joe’s and I couldn’t resist.”
Zelda stares. “Oh! For me. That’s so nice. Thank you.”
“Whenever I give a woman a bloody nose, I apologize with flowers.”
“A joke,” says Edward. “I was telling a joke.”
“Oh. Um. Okay. You want your Sinatra?”
“Um. Sure.” She takes his money, makes up his brew, and finds a vase for the flowers.
The rest of her shift is an attempt not to look like she’s spying on Edward. Jackson shows up, and the gloomy little corner rings with laughter and guy-talk. Zelda punches out, and is about to start for home when Jackson stops her in the courtyard.
“Does your face hurt?”
“It’s not too…”
“’Cause it’s killin’ me!” He lets out a wheezing laugh. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”
Zelda smacks him on the shoulder.
“Oh! Tough girl, eh? Hey, um, I don’t know how to explain any of this, but my friend wants to show you his secret hideout. You free, like, tomorrow evening?”
“Seven o’clock, here?”
“Bitchin’! This is a rare opportunity, you know. Phantom of the Opera stuff. Wear camping clothes. Oh and, kidding aside, sorry about the wipeout.”
“Yeah. See you then.”
Zelda heads across the lot. Her face hurts.
Photo by MJV