Stymie: Spring & Summer 2011
The Baseball Issue! Featuring work from Stephen Graham Jones, Claire Novak, Todd Zuniga, Aaron Burch, Nick Ripatrazone, Jon Morgan Davies and many more.
Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Stymie Magazine a journal of sport & literature :: volume 4, issue 1 :: spring & summer ‘11 STAFF Erik Smetana, founding editor Sara Lippmann, nonfiction editor Kari Nguyen, nonfiction editor Julie Webb, fiction editor Nickolas Butler, poetry editor Courtney Davison, poetry editor Matthew Ferrence, web editor Margaret LaFleur, social media editor Casey Clabough, contributing editor COVER ART Jason Crayton: “Josh Gibson Silk Screen” NOTES All works – art, fiction, nonfiction and poetry – contained herein are copyright of the respective author and/or creator. ETCETERA Stymie Magazine is published online, bi-annually. Archives, guidelines and other related information is available for review at www.stymiemag.com. FICTION S. Graham Jones’s “Rocket Man” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 M. Roback’s “The Warning Track” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 R. Goity’s “Separate Negotiations” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 R. Busby’s “The Agony of Bo Rutherford. . .” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 K. Weene’s “Horatio at the Game” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 R. Collins’s “Things that Go Poink” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 P. Smith’s “Holy Ghost” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 J. Wilker’s “Danny” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 K. Pisani’s “Man v. Machine” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 S. Akalis’s “The Catch” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 L. Lefkowitz’s “Naked in Center” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..68 L. Gaglia’s “Butch” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .70 C. Novak’s “Cry” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 POETRY L. Dolan’s “The House that Ruth Built” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 W. Huddleston’s “On the Wings of a Baseball” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 . W.F. Lantry’s “Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart” . 55 P. Pines’s “Baseball” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 K. Waarala’s “Southpaw” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72 G. Percesepe’s “Little Street in Brooklyn” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 NONFICTION G. Percesepe’s “A Boy’s Life in Yonkers” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 C. Duggan’s “Still Life in Gray” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 A Review of Jenny Shank’s The Ringer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 An Interview with Chad Harbach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 FEATURE—The ESPN & Stymie Short Fiction Contest Finalists T. Zuniga’s “Hand Ball” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 N. Ripatrazone’s “Bully” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 A. Burch’s “Backswing” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 J. Morgan Davies’s “Your Life in Packaging” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 ISSN 2154-753X  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Rocket Man Stephen Graham Jones T ________________________________________________________________________________ he dead aren’t exactly known for their baseball skills, but still, if you’re a player short some afternoon, just need a body to prop up out in left field—it all comes down to how bad you want to play, really. Or, in our case—where you can understand that by ‘our’ I mean ‘my,’ in that I promised off four of my dad’s cigarettes, one of my big brother’s magazines, and one sleepover lie— how bad you want to to impress Amber Watson, on the walk back from the community pool, her lifeguard eyes already focused on everything at once. Last week, I’d actually smacked the ball so hard that Rory at shortstop called time, to show how the cover’d rolled half back, the red stitching popped, seemingly from impact. “You scalped it,” he said, kind of curling his lip in awe. I should mention I’m Indian, except everybody’s always doing that for me. The plan that day we pulled a zombie in (it had used to be Michael T from over on Oak Circle, but you’re not supposed to call zombies by their people names), my plan was to hit the ball even harder, so that there’d just be a cork center twirling up over our diamond, trailing leather and thread. Amber Watson would track back from that cracking sound to me, still holding my follow-through like I was posing for a trophy. And then of course I’d look through the chain link, kind of nod to her that this was me, yeah, this was who I really am, she’s just never seen it, and she’d smile and look away, and things in the halls at school would be different between us then. More awkward. She might even start timing her walks to coincide with some guess at my spot in the batting order. Anyway, it wasn’t like there was anything else I could ever possibly do that might have a chance of impressing her. But first, of course, we needed that body to prop up out in left field. Which, I know you’re thinking ‘right, right field,’ these are sixth graders, they never wait, always step out, slap the ball early, and, I mean, maybe the kids from Chesterton or Memphis City do, I don’t know. But around here, we’ve been taught to wait, to time it out, to let that ball kind of hover in the pocket before we launch into orbit. Kids from Chesterton? None of them are ever going pro. Not like us. It’s why we fail the spelling test each Friday, why we blow the math quiz if we’re not sitting by somebody smart. You don’t need to know how to spell ‘homerun’ to hit one. You don’t have to add up runners in your head, so long as you knock them all in. Easy as that. As for Michael T, none of us had had much to do with him since he got bit, started playing for the other team. There were the lunges from behind the fence on the way to school, there was that shape kind of scuffling around when you took the trash out some nights, but that could have been any zombie. It didn’t have to be Michael T. And, pulling him in that day to just stand there, let the flies buzz in and out of his mouth—it’s not like that’s not what he did before he was dead. You only picked Michael T if he was the only one to pick, I’m saying. You wouldn’t think that either, him being a year older than us and all, but he’d always just been our size, too. Most kids like that, a grade up but not taller, they’d at least be fast, or be able to fling the ball home all the way from the center fence. Not Michael T. Michael T—the best way to explain him, I guess, is that his big brother used to pin him at recess, drop a line of spit down almost to his face, the rest of us looking but not looking. Glad just not to be him. That day, though, with Amber Watson approaching on my radar, barefoot the way she usually was, her sandals hooked over her shoulder like a rich lady’s purse, that day, it was either Michael T or nobody. Or, at first it was nobody,  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 but then, just joking around, Theodore was pretty sure he’d seen Michael T shuffling around down by the rocket park anyway. “Pretty sure?” I asked. “He still can’t catch,” Theodore said. “That was before lunch, though, yeah?” Rory said, socking the ball into his glove for punctuation. It was nearly three, now. “Can you track him?” Les said, falling in as we rounded the backstop. “Your nose not work?” I asked him back. Just another perfect summer afternoon. We kicked a lopsided rock nearly all the way to where Michael T was supposed to have been, and then we turned to Theodore. He shrugged, was ready to fight any of us, even tried some of the words he’d learned from spying on his uncles in the garage. He wasn’t lying, though. Splatted all over the bench were the apples he and Jefferson Banks had been zinging Michael T with. “Jefferson,” I said, “what about him?” “Said he had to go home,” Theodore shrugged, half-embarrassed for Jefferson. “His mom.” Figured. The one time I can impress Amber Watson and Jefferson’s cleaning out all the ashtrays in the house then reading romance novels to his mom while she tans in the backyard. “Who then?” Les asked, shading his eyes from the sun, squinting across all the glinty metal of the old playground. None of us came to this one anymore. It was for kids. “He’s got to be around,” Theodore said. “My dad said they like beef jerky.” I seconded this, had heard it as well. You could lure a zombie anywhere if you had a twist of dried meat on a long string. It was supposed to be getting bad enough with the high schoolers that the stores in town had put a limit on beef jerky, two per customer. I kicked at another rock that was there by the bench. It wasn’t our lopsided one, was probably one Jefferson and Theodore had tried on Michael T. There was still a little bit of blood on it. All the ants were loving the apple leftovers, but for them, there was a force field around where that rock had been. Until the next rain, anyway. “She’s never going to see me,” I said, just out loud. “Who?” Theodore asked, studying the park like Amber Watson could possibly be walking through it. I shook my head no, never mind, and, turning away, half-planning to set a mirror up in right field, let Gerald just stand kind of by it, so it would seem like we had a full team, I caught a flash of cloth all the way in the top of the rocket. “It’s not over yet,” I said, pointing up there with my chin. Somebody was up there, right at the top where the astronauts would sit if it were a real rocket. The capsule part. And they were moving. “Jefferson?” Theodore asked, looking to us for support. Like monkeys, Les and Rory crawled up the outside of the rocket, high enough that their moms had to be having heart attacks in their kitchens. When they get there, Rory had to turn to the side to throw up. It took that loogie of puke forever to make it to the ground. We laughed because it was throw-up, then tracked back up to the top of the rocket. “It’s Michael T!” Les called down, waving his hand like there was anywhere else in the whole world we might be looking. “What’s he doing?” I asked, not really loud enough, my eyes kind of pre-squinted, because this might be going to mess our game up. “It’s Jefferson,” Theodore filled in, standing right beside me, and he was right. Instead of going home like his mom wanted, Jefferson had spiraled up into the top of the rocket, probably to check if his name was still there, and never guessed Michael T might still be lurking around. Even a first grader can outrun or outsmart a zombie, but, in a tight place like that, and especially if you’re in a panic,  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 are freaking out, then it’s a different kind of game altogether. “Shouldn’t have thrown those apples at him,” Gerald said, shaking his head. “Shouldn’t have been stupid, more like,” I said, and slapped my glove into Gerald’s chest for him to hold. Ten minutes later, Les and Rory using cigarettes from the outside of the rocket to herd him away from his meal, Johnny T. lumbered down onto the playground, stood in that crooked, hurt way zombies do. “Hunh,” Theodore said. He was right. In the year since Johnny T had been bitten, he hadn’t grown any. He was shorter than all us now. Rotted away, Jefferson’s gore all drooled down his frontside, some bones showing through the back of his hand, but still, that we’d outgrown him this past year. It felt like we’d cheated. It was exhilarating. One of us laughed and the rest fell in, and, using a piece of a sandwich Les finally volunteered to open his elbow scab on—we didn’t have any beef jerky—we were able to lure Michael T back to the baseball diamond. After everybody’d crossed the road, I studied up and down it, to be sure Amber Watson hadn’t passed yet. I didn’t think so. Not on an afternoon this perfect. So then it was the big vote: whose glove was Michael T going to wear, probably try to gnaw on? When I got tired of it all, I just threw mine into his chest, glared all around. “Warpath, chief,” Les said, picking the glove up gingerly, watching Michael T the whole time. “Scalp your dumb ass,” I said, and turned around, didn’t watch the complicated maneuver of getting the glove on Michael T’s left hand, and only casually kept track of the stupid way he kept breaking position. Finally Timmy found a dead squirrel back in the weeds, stuffed it into the school backpack that had kind of become part of Michael T. back. The smell kept him in place better than a spike through his foot. He kept kind of spinning around in his zombie way, tasting the air, but he wasn’t going anywhere. And then—this is because my whole body was tuned into it—the adult swim whistle went off down at the community pool. Or maybe what I was tuned into was the groan from all the swimmers. Either way, this was always when the lifeguards would change chairs, was always when, if somebody was going off-shift, they would go. “Amber,” I said to myself, tapping my bat across home plate, waiting for Les to wind up. “Am-what?” Theodore asked from behind his catcher’s mask. I shook my head no, nothing, and, because I was looking down the street, down that tunnel of trees, Les slipped the first pitch by me. “That one’s free,” I called out to him, tapping my bat again. Licking my lips. Les wound up, leaned back, and I stepped up like I was already going to swing. He cued into it, that I was ahead of him here, and it threw him off enough that he flung the ball over Theodore’s mitt, rattled the backstop with it. “That one’s free,” he called out to me, and I smiled, took it. Just wait, I was saying inside, sneaking a look up the road again, and, just like in the movies, the whole afternoon slowed almost a stop right there. It was her. I smiled, nodded, my own breath loud in my ears, and slit my eyes back to Les. He drove one right into the pocket, and if I’d wanted I could have shoveled it over all of their heads, dropped it out past the fence, into no man’s land. Except it was too early. After it slapped home, I spun out of the box, spit into the dirt, hammered my bat into the fence two times. And it was definitely her. Shoes over her shoulder, gum going in her mouth, nose still zinced, jean shorts over her one-piece, the whole deal.  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 I timed it perfect, getting back to the box, was wound up to launch this ball just at the point when she’d be closest to me. So of course Les threw it high. I could see it coming a mile away, how he’d tried to knuckle it, had lost it on the downsling like he always did, so there was maybe even a little arc to the ball’s path. Not that it mattered, it was too high to swing at, but still—now or never, right? This is what all my planning had come down to. I stepped back, crowding Theodore, who was already leaned forward to catch the ball when it dropped, and I swung at a ball that was higher than my shoulders, a ball my dad would have already been turning away from in disgust, and knew the instant my bat cracked into it that there wasn’t going to be any lift, that it was a line drive, an arrow I was shooting out, blind. One I was going to have to run faster than, somehow. Still, even though I didn’t scoop under it like I would have liked, and even though I was making contact with it earlier than I would have wanted, I gave it every last thing I had, everything I’d learned, everything I had to gamble. And it worked. Les, being Les, of course bit the dirt to get out of the way, and Gerald and Rory— second and short—nearly hit each other, diving for what they knew was a two-run hit. A ball that wasn’t even going to skip grass until— Until left field, yeah. Until Michael T. And, if you’re thinking he raised his glove here, that some long-forgotten reflex surfaced in his zombie brain for an instant, then guess again. Dead or alive, he would have done the same thing: just stood there like the dunce he was. Only, now, his face was kind of spongy, I guess. The ball splatted into his left eye socket, sucked into place, stayed there, some kind of dark juice burping from his ears, trickling down along his jaw. For a long moment we were all quiet, all holding our breaths—this was like hitting a pigeon with the ball—and then, of everybody, I was the only one to hear Amber Watson stop on the sidewalk, look from the ball back to me, like I’d planned. I smiled, kind of shrugged, and then Gerald called it in his best umpire voice: “Out!” I turned to him, my face going cold, and everybody in the in-field was kind of shrugging that, yeah, the ball definitely hadn’t hit the ground. No need to burn up the baseline. “But, but,” I said, pointing out to Michael T with my bat, to show how obvious it was that that wasn’t a catch, that it didn’t really count, and then Rory and Theodore and Les all started nodding that Gerald was right. Worse, now the outfield was chanting: “Mi-chael, Micheal, Mi-chael.” And then my own dugout fell in, clapping some Indian whoops from their mouth to memorialize what had happened here, today. How I was the only one who could have done it. But I wasn’t out. Michael T wasn’t even a real player, was just a body we’d propped up out there. I looked back to Amber Watson and could tell she was just waiting to see what I was going to do here, waiting to see what was going to happen. So I showed her. I charged the mound, and, when Les sidestepped, holding his hands up and out like a bullfighter, I kept going, bat in hand, held low behind me, Rory and Gerald each giving me room as well, so that by the time I got out to right field I was running. “You didn’t catch it!” I yelled to Michael T, singlehandedly trying to ruin my whole summer, wreck my lovelife, trash my reputation—‘Even a zombie can get him out’—and I swung for the ball a second time. Instead of driving it off the T his head was supposed to be, I thunked it deeper, into his brain, I think, so that the rest of him kind of spasmed in a brainstemmy way. And, because I hadn’t planned ahead—charging out of the box isn’t exactly about thinking everything through,  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 even my dad would cop to this—the followthrough of my swing, it wrapped me up into Michael T’s dead arms, and we fell together, me first. And, like everything else since Les’s failed knuckle ball, it took forever to happen. Long enough for me to hear that little lopsided plastic ball rattling in Amber Watson’s whistle right before she set her feet and blew it. Long enough for me to see the legs of a single fly, following us down. Long enough for me to hear my chanted name stop in the middle. This wasn’t just a freak thing happening, anymore. We were stepping over into legend, now. Because the town was always on alert these days, Amber Watson’s whistle was going to line the fence with people in under five minutes, and now everybody on the field and in the dugout, they were going to be witness to this, were each going to have their own better vantage point to tell the story from. Meaning, instead of me being the star, everybody else would be. And, Amber Watson. It hurt to even think about. We were going to have a special bond, now, sure, but not the kind where I was ever going to get to buy her a spirit ribbon. Not the kind where she’d ever tell me to quit smoking, because it was bad for me. If I even got to live that far, I mean. If the yearbook staff wasn’t already working my class photo onto the casualties page. I wasn’t there yet, though. This wasn’t the top of a rocket, I mean. Sure, I was on my back in left field, and Michael T was over me, pinning me down by accident, the slobber and blood and brain juice stringing down from his lips, swinging right in front of my face so that I wanted to scream, but I could still kick him away, right? Lock my arms against his chest, keep my mouth closed so nothing dripped in it. All of which would have happened, too. Except for Les. He’d picked up the bat I’d dropped on the chalk between second and third. I know it had been there because when he slapped it into the side of Michael T’s head, a puff of white kind of breathed up. At first I thought it was bone, powdered skull—the whole top of Michael T’s rotted-out head was coming off—but then there was sunlight above me again, and Les was hauling me up, and, on the sidewalk, Amber Watson was just staring at me, her whistle still in her mouth, her hair still wet enough to have left a dark patch on the canvas of the sneakers looped over her shoulder. I put two of my fingers to my eyebrow like I’d seen my dad do, launched them off in salute to her, and in return she shook her head in disappointment. At the kid I still obviously was. So, yeah, if you want to know what it’s like living with zombies, this is it, pretty much: they mess everything up. And if you want to know why I never went pro, it’s because I got in the habit of charging the mound too much, like I had all this momentum from that day, all this unfairness built up inside. And if you want to know about Amber Watson, ask Les Moore— that’s his real, stupid name, yeah. After that day he saved my life, became the real Indian because he’d been the one to scalp Michael T, he stopped coming to the diamond so much, started spending more time at the pool, his hair bleaching in the sun, his reflexes gone, always thirty-five cents in his trunks to buy a lifeguard a lemonade if she wanted. And she did, she does. And, me? Some nights I still go to the old park, spiral up to the top of the rocket with a ‘Bury the Tomahawk’ or ‘Circle the Wagons’ spirit ribbon, and I let it flutter a bit through the grimy bars before letting it go, down through space, down to the earth, miles and miles from here.  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 The Warning Track Missy Roback T ________________________________________________________________________________ he Warning Track Smooth dirt, reddish brown, the warning track runs parallel to the outfield wall of the baseball park. It’s there to protect the outfielder. When he races to catch the fly ball, eyes skyward, the change in terrain beneath his feet — from soft-trodden grass to flat dirt — tells him he’s about to hit the wall. It is not a foolproof system. The World Series, October 2004 I watched the games with strangers, at a sports bar in Potrero Hill. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t know any Red Sox fans in San Francisco. I found them all at this bar, the Connecticut Yankee — an ironic name, since we’d beaten the Yankees to get to the World Series. Seven months earlier, I’d found a crack pipe in my apartment. No, it was still our apartment then. Richard and I lived there. The pipe was between the cushions of the couch. I held it up to the light. It was smoky brown, broken and sharp, something black and gnarled still inside. I’d never seen one before. The Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in eighty-six years. There were handmade signs posted all over the bar. The signs said “We Believe.” I needed something to believe in. The Baby Parade, 2005 A desirable neighborhood, Noe Valley. Good weather, sunny, not much fog. Safe and clean. Family-friendly. We moved here, Richard and I, in 1992. Our apartment was large and inexpensive. I live here still, in the same apartment. I pay the same rent we paid thirteen years ago. I can’t afford to leave. My neighbors have all bought twins. Every day at eleven, the Baby Parade begins on 24th Street. Twins in thousand-dollar strollers pushed by smug, middle-aged mommies — or sometimes, their underpaid Latina nannies. What they have, I can’t have. A baby, a husband, a Golden Retriever named Rex or Charlie or Marley. Perhaps Daddy beats Mommy. Perhaps Mommy throws Baby’s bottle against the wall after Baby refuses it yet again. But oh, the sight of them. Will you look at them? Manny Ramirez, Former Red Sox Left Fielder, May 2009 Oh, Manny. I could have sold you my hCG. I have vials, vials of it in my kitchen closet. I hardly got the chance to use it. One injection a day, the needle piercing my belly fat. It didn’t hurt that bad. Getting tested for a blockage, my tubes filled with dye. It didn’t hurt that bad. Having to ditch infertility treatments after two months because Richard wasn’t really on board — kind of like that time you left the bat on your shoulder, Manny, when Mariano pitched you three strikes at Yankee Stadium last summer, the top of the ninth, the game on the line. That hurt bad. I left Richard because I couldn’t compete with a drug. The Red Sox traded you because you stopped competing. Why you quit on us, we’ll never know. More money than God, the adoration of fans and sportswriters, a manager that forgave your many quirks — you had everything. We looked the other way when you were indifferent, when you forgot there were three outs in an inning, didn’t hustle to first base, fielded like you didn’t mean it. You were playful, boyish, a free spirit, a liar, a fuck-up, a brilliant hitter, one we hadn’t seen the likes of since Ted Williams. You led us to our first World Series in eighty-six years in 2004. Another one in 2007.  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 one in 2007. But love has its limits. Richard went to LA. You went to the LA Dodgers. He kept smoking crack. You, at some point, started juicing. And when you got caught, it wasn’t steroids they found, but hCG. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin. My fertility drug. It helped you deal with the lowered sperm count, the shrunken balls — those nasty side effects you get when you come off a steroid cycle. Thousands of dollars worth of hCG, just sitting in my kitchen closet, next to the red sharps container I’ve never been able to throw out. All paid for out-of-pocket, the health insurance company unwilling to help me buy my own set of twins. The drugs haven’t expired yet. You wanted hormones, Manny? We could have had a deal. The Dealer, June 2004 She was one of the numbers, the numbers on Richard’s cell phone bill. So many unrecognizable numbers, calls placed at all hours of the night. I called the numbers Richard called most often. I used the pay phone at Bell Market so the people I called couldn’t hit *69. I didn’t enjoy playing detective. I would have rather been enjoying a quiet evening at home with Richard, but that would have required him being home. Later, months later, after Richard moved out — “kicked out” he says; “asked to leave,” I say — the dealer came to my door with her boyfriend. No, her creepy boyfriend with his biker tats came to my door, banged loudly on the glass, looking for Richard. Said the check bounced, said he wanted his money, said Richard paid him for house-sitting, and from my side of the glass I had to stifle a scream because Richard and I had not gone anywhere, not even a daytrip, in years. I never saw her, but I heard that voice, that unmistakable crack-selling voice, down on the sidewalk, just out of view. I know you, you fucker, I wanted to tell her, I know you. I know who you are. At Night, 2005-2007 At night, I used to go to the alley across the street from my apartment. I went there to breathe the night-blooming jasmine, to touch the purple flowers on the tree behind the weathered fence. I went there to smoke, a habit I’d just started. I went there to drink, red wine in a coffee cup — sturdier, less prone to tipping over than a wine glass. I went there because I couldn’t stand to be alone at night. My cat friends visited me, kept me company. Not all at once, for there would be fights, but one by one, on their own schedule. Ozzie, Bindi Boots, Kiwi, Lucy. I petted them, I talked to them. They wound ‘round my legs, nuzzled my palm. A damaged Snow White surrounded by forest animals, my own fractured fairytale. Sometimes I lay down in the alley, the better to see the stars. Cars rarely drove there at night, and even when one did, I had time to get out of the way. I didn’t want to die, not really, not always. Sometimes. Sometimes, when the night was too long, when I was lying in bed with my own two cats — one on my pillow, the other beside me — and the wine hadn’t fully muted the voices and images that haunted me, sometimes, I took a sleeping pill. An Ambien after a few glasses of wine was nice. I might get out of bed then, turn on my computer, listen to iTunes. Music always sounded good through the muffle of a hypnotic. Or I might stay in bed, my guard cats around me, their paws on my face, their purrs in my ear while my breathing slowed, while I slowly breathed, “Thank you.” The SF Giants vs. the LA Dodgers, August 2009 It’s been seven years since I’ve seen Calvin. The last time was here, at AT&T Park, or whatever it was called then. The three of us that day, Cal and Richard and me. We sat behind home plate — the same seats we’re in today — compliments of Cal’s accounting firm. This morning when Cal called — “Manny’s suspension is over, don’t you want to  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 see him?” — I said okay. I don’t care about the National League, but it was a day game, and oddly warm by San Francisco standards. Beyond the outfield wall, the bay spreads out, sailboats dotting the blue. The game is quiet, a pitcher’s duel, perfect for such close seats, but the couple next to us couldn’t care less. They’re loud, animated, babbling through the entire game. They barely look at the field. The girl — an artist? — has paint on her fingertips. She cackles at everything that comes out of the guy’s mouth. Cal leaves to get more beer. Alone, it’s hard to ignore those two. Even harder to listen to them without remembering seven years ago, Cal and Richard and me in these same seats, loud, animated, unable to focus. Before the game, on Cal’s sailboat, we’d done line after line of coke off a paper plate. Later, during a pitching change, Cal and Richard went to the men’s room, and I knew they were going to do a bump without me, and I was jealous. “Let’s not do that again,” I said to Richard later that night. I loved coke — the soaring euphoria, the false camaraderie, the numb lips — but I never wanted it around. It was too easy. Cal returns as Manny approaches the plate. “Sterrrr-oids, sterrrr-oids!” the crowd jeers. “You still mad at him?” Cal says. He hands me a Sierra Nevada. “Not anymore. We’re on different teams.” Manny settles into his stance. He’s oblivious to the catcalls, the insults. I admire his focus, his ability to shut out the world. “I never thought that would happen,” Cal says. “Me neither.” Manny hits one far into left field. The outfielder turns, running, looking over his shoulder, tracking the ball. He leaps up, in front of the wall, arm outstretched. The ball falls into the bleachers. But I imagine that ball arcing, soaring, above the bleachers, over the giant Coke bottle, the giant old-school fielder’s mitt, farther still, past the kiddie playground and the miniature baseball diamond, over the parking lots and into the bay, where Cal’s boat is docked. The Red Sox 2004 Season We watched the games, the kitties and I. All season long we watched them, from May to September, a lifeline, a way to mark the days. No, not all season long. We missed the first month, April. Richard left in May. In May, I bought the kitties. Tiny ones, a boy and a girl. My own set of twins. All season long, I stood in front of the TV, yelling at pitchers, fur soft in my arms, come on, come on. We counted the balls and strikes. We forgave the errors made. It’s only a game, we’d say. There’s always tomorrow. Creditors sent letters. Dealers banged on doors. Richard called, crying. He called and he was raging. The games I could depend on. Three strikes, four balls. Nine innings. Predictable. When I answered the phone — I didn’t always; I couldn’t always — at some point I would ask, “Are you all right?” At some point I would say, “Are you clean?” I wanted to believe him. Ferberizing, November 2008 The baby in the building across the street is crying again. I thought it was a cat at first, but now I know better. We keep the same hours, the baby and me. Up every night, from two to five. I heat up milk, brew chamomile tea, draw hot baths, read history books. The sleeping pills no longer work. Nothing does. Across the street, the baby cries. At work, I close my office door, nap under my desk. I smoke to stay awake now. Sometimes, I faint from lack of sleep. My doctor won’t give me any more pills. He refers me to a sleep disorder clinic. They can’t see me for three months. Please, I say, I’ll be dead by then. One morning, I sit on a bench in front of Martha’s Coffee. I’m on my third cup. A fat  Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 pigeon limps by, a bit of croissant in its beak. My neighbor with the baby approaches, pushing a stroller. She looks like hell. I look worse. I stub out my cigarette when she reaches my bench. “I hope Augie isn’t keeping you up at night with his racket,” she says. “We’re Ferberizing him. It shouldn’t be much longer.” I shrug, smile. “I’m up anyway. Ferberizing?” “The Dr. Ferber method, to get babies to sleep on their own. You have to let them cry it out. It works, but it’s hard on everyone.” I lean over and look at Augie. He’s sleeping soundly beneath a blue blanket. He has the world’s fattest cheeks. I want to pet them. Instead, I admire his perfect skin, his tiny, closed eyelids. I hope his brush with sleeplessness is the most discomfort he feels for a long time. That night, I begin my own Ferberizing. It takes me two weeks to learn how to sleep on my own again, but I do it, and without crying. Separate Negotiations 7 Roland Goity__________________________________________ :15 am in the chilly kitchen, the radiant heat just kicking in. His wife cleans dishes in the sudsy sink. His son slurps away from him across the table, slowly draining the leftover milk from a bowl of Cheerios. And Avery? He sips down his coffee, nibbles on his heavily buttered toast, and shakes out the sports section from the morning paper. “Jeeezzzusss!” He barks, slamming his cup. “Negotiations have stalled with Gilmore. Pay the man, goddamit!’ Neither his wife nor his son have a clue what he’s talking about. Avery Hodges—Born and raised in the area. Once a weekend warrior, now the Prince of Paunch. Tool and die worker at the local auto plant, and union member. Attended State University half a lifetime ago…as did his father, as did his wife, as will his son. Cherishes his season tickets for State football games. He truly cherishes them. *** The Warning Track, 2009 “Back’s killing me today, but I jes cain’t What makes you ignore the change of afford to see my doc,” Sampson says, plopping terrain beneath your feet? What makes you dare his big ass down in the chair next to Avery’s in to hit the wall at full speed? Pride or stupidity, the break room. “We needs somebody like Hadenial or desire? A love of danger, an absence of zeltine, serve as our rep. Smith’s just another fear? union head shill, selling us out to take care o’ his You won’t get hurt. You’ll make the own self. Forget about benefits, Smith be telling great catch, you’ll hear the crowd roar, you’ll feel us we lucky to still have jobs. He ain’t fightin’ loved, you’ll feel good. for us.” You’ll feel good. Avery has got his head cocked back and Some crash and fall. Some bounce back. Some is staring at the room’s TV set, which is never feel a thing. mounted high in the corner. “What’s that?” “Smith gonna cave! Negotiations ain’t goin’ so hot…” “Yeah,” Avery says. “Just like State. They’re saying Gilmore’s asking price is too high. They’re haggling over just a few million. Spread out over several years even.” “You talkin’ that football shit again?” “State football, buddy boy. I was hoping there’d be something on the news about it, but no such luck,” Avery says, pointing at the televi sion and then rising from his chair. He gives Sampson a friendly pat on the shoulder in pass[ 10 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 ing. “See you back on the floor.” Neil Gilmore—Born and raised in the area. Once a football god on the field, now a football god on the sidelines. Attended State University half a lifetime ago, as did Avery. Quarterbacked State’s Orange Bowlwinning team the year Avery was put on academic probation. A Heisman Trophy finalist the year Alpha Sigma Phi booted Avery once and for all through its beer-stained doorway. Nine-year NFL career included two pro bowls, after which he served as NFL quarterbacks coach for two teams, before being named head coach at Western U. Has turned program around, this year guiding Western to its best gridiron finish in school history. Currently coveted by athletic directors of leading college programs and general managers of NFL teams. *** Lights gone out, Avery lies on his back while his wife inches closer, beneath the sheets. When the cold palm of her hand graces his chest, he shudders. “You alright?” she asks, turning fully onto her stomach. “Got things on my mind.” His wife pecks him on the shoulder, and wedges a hip over his. “Well…this proposed union deal with the plant...it’s critical…I realize…” she says in a sultry voice, between kisses on his neck and chin and cheek. “No, it’s not that.” “Then what is it?” “Negotiations have gone on for days now, but State still hasn’t given Gilmore a decent offer,” Avery says. “If the school fucks this up I may not renew our season tickets. I’m dead serious.” His wife reaches under the band of his boxers only to find a droopy, mollusk-like stem of flesh. “I can tell,” she says, rolling back to her side of the bed, realizing she’d have a better shot at seducing a corpse. Neither sleeps for several hours. They simply stare into a silent darkness, their thoughts in separate places. *** The break room is so cold that Avery thinks he can see breath clouds from the pair of women sharing a bag of cookies at the table across from him. They’re assembly line workers he figures, and he hears them discussing the latest drivel they’ve learned from recording the afternoon talk shows. Avery paws through his jacket pocket for the transistor he’s brought along. He wiggles its earpiece until it’s comfortably lodged into his ear, then turns on the radio. He stares down at the acid-stained concrete floor and listens carefully. State’s press conference is scheduled to start any minute and Avery’s overcome with a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. He feels his heart race; his blood pumps hard and his pulse throbs all the way to the tips of his fingers. Some co-workers he knows file into the room talking loudly, so Avery raises the volume, leans away. They seem perturbed, and while Avery would like to lend a sympathetic ear, he can’t afford to divert his attention from State’s impending announcement. The radio station has gone live to a hotel ballroom in town and the school’s athletic director is now speaking. Today is an important day in State’s football program... Avery’s got a leg right-angled over the other, and his foot taps away over his knee like a punk band’s metronome. He turtles himself into his jacket shell to shut out everything around him, devoting himself to the AD’s every word. His season tickets hang in the balance. As he’s doing so, Tavaris Sampson thrusts open the door, mouth agape. He’s shaking his head like a man in disbelief or denial. But it isn’t long before his eyes narrow and his nostrils flare. “Word’s come in!” Sampson bellows. It is with great pleasure that I now introduce you to our new head coach… “We got played for fools! Wages, benefits, vacation time, every damn thang…” Neil Gilmore… “Fuck Yeah!” cries Avery, popping from his chair. He jumps so high in a fit of pure unadulterated joy that he nearly sends a hand through the dimpled ceiling. [ 11 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 A Boy’s Life in Yonkers Gary Percesepe B ________________________________________________________________________________ oys of summer in Yonkers played stickball against the brick wall of P.S. 13, the "Annex," where one of us would free-hand a kid-sized strike zone with white chalk, a neatly drawn box that went from our skinned knees up to the "letters" (though no one wore uniforms, unless you count the plain white T-shirts our mothers purchased at Robert Hall). Stickball was mercifully free of adult supervision, which was the point—how could you have any fun with adults around? The kids on our block—me and my best friend David Martin, Fat Sam (nicknamed Yogi, because he had the only catcher’s mitt on the block, and looked like a natural backstop), Kenny, Dean, Tony, and the rest—had the good sense to recruit, organize, and police ourselves. If we fought, we fought. Blood and stickball seemed to go together, and we always made up before we went home. Little League? We hadn’t heard of it. Playing stickball was cheap. You got one of your mom’s old broom handles, cut it down to size with your dad’s saw, and you were good to go. No gloves were required, you played barehanded. The biggest expense was a Spaldeen—a small pink rubber ball that cost a buck-ninetynine at Charlie’s corner store. When new, a Spaldeen bounced like a pink demon; smacked with a broom handle in the summer heat, it took off like an Apollo rocket. Hitting a Spaldeen with a one-inch broom handle took the eyesight of a young Ted Williams and the courage of Mickey Mantle—a fastball taken in the neck could leave a welt for days. A bigger danger was losing the ball. Outfielders were under a lot of pressure. If the ball was hit over the fence you had to somehow keep an eye on it as you scrambled over the fence (there was no time to run all the way around the yard to the gate), before it went down the sewer or got knocked clear out of sight by passing cars on McLean Avenue, which was thick with traffic even then. If you lost a ball it meant the end of the game, which made for a long walk home. None of us had the money for another ball. We’d have to wait for someone’s allowance to kick in, or worse, beg a parent for a new ball, which would prompt the inevitable questions, "What the hell did you do with the last one I got you? You think I’m made of money? You think money grows on trees?" When we didn’t feel like walking over to the schoolyard we played a modified form of street ball on Saratoga Avenue. There were two ways to play. The first involved bouncing the ball off the one-inch ledge that ran the length of the firehouse at the bottom of the hill. This version could be played with just two guys, making it popular during holidays, when a lot of the kids on the block were gone with their families somewhere, or grounded, or both. By varying the angle that you threw the ball against the facing of the ledge you could produce a line drive, a grounder (automatic out) or a fly ball. If you shot one over the old lady’s hedge across the street and into her yard it was a home run. Of course, it also meant the game was over, since the old lady had forbidden us to go into her yard, and asking her to retrieve it for us was out of the question. Go for the home run for yourself or keep the ball in play for the two of you to play another inning, another day? The benefit of the individual or the group? We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the classic risk/reward scenario, and my first introduction to the troublesome field of ethics. The second version (my favorite) involved pitching the Spaldeen downhill on one bounce to a batter who stood beside home plate (a sewer cover). First base was the back bumper of the Martin family’s Chevy; second was a large tar spot in the middle of the street up the hill; third was the corner of the curb in front of Kenny’s house. What to do if the ball hit a car [ 12 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 and bounced up in the air? This was a weekly dispute. We invented our rules on the fly. Once we made a ruling that lasted an entire summer: Catching off cars was allowed. This became a specialty of mine. I liked cars. Judging the angle that a Spaldeen would bounce off the hood or windshield and lunging to make the catch before the ball hit the ground was all about good hands, impeccable timing, and measurement—good preparation for tenth grade geometry. If the ball bounced up high in the air there was time for your teammates to scream out the agreed upon rule, "Catching off cars!" as you camped beneath the ball, picking out the tiny pink orb against the morning sun. Can of corn. The biggest annoyance was the constant stream of cars going down Saratoga Avenue (it was a one way street). When we spotted one at the top of the hill a chorus of boys would shout, "CAAAAAAAAR!," and we would flatten against the cars on the street to get out of the way, waving to the passing neighbors in their long-finned Chevys and Fords (there were few Cadillacs or even Pontiacs in our neighborhood). On the opposite side of the street from Kenny’s house was a junk yard run by a mysterious man named Izzy, who traveled up and down the streets of Yonkers in a horse-drawn cart, collecting, I guess, junk. I mean, to others it might have been junk, but to us kids it all looked like cool stuff. Izzy’s yard—what we could see of it through the tiny peepholes in the tall fence that guarded his property—was filled with white appliances and toilets and car engines and the odd piece of furniture, piled high and guarded by a fierce German Shepherd. It seemed odd to have a grown man in the neighborhood who collected junk for a living. Was this something adults did? Our parents didn’t know much about Izzy either, though it was rumored he was rich. This made him even more fascinating. You could get rich on junk? It seemed like a kid’s fantasy. All that — and you got to have a horse. Izzy had his name stenciled in yellow on the back of his cart. His horse, whose name we did not know, wore black blinders, and was never seen unless harnessed to his cart. Presumably, he lived some- where in Izzy’s yard, though we could not make out a barn or anything suitable for a horse to live in. Granted, we were city kids and didn’t know much about horses. From time to time, playing stickball in the street, we could hear him nickering in the yard. After a while, the big gate would swing open and out would come Izzy driving his horse, cowbells mounted above his head, ringing as he drove down Saratoga Avenue. Izzy would nod at us—we never heard him utter a word— and we would all nod back. After they were gone we would pick up the game, on the alert again for cars. *** I don’t know what happened to my boyhood friends from Yonkers, or to Izzy for that matter. When I was in middle school my family moved north to Peekskill, where the boys didn’t know anything about stickball. Years later, in college, I borrowed my father’s station wagon and drove south on Route 9, cut over to the Saw Mill River Parkway, and exited at McLean Avenue. I found my way to the PS 13 Annex. It was a Saturday. The playground was smaller than I remembered. I walked to the wall of the old building and placed my hand against the brick, in the place where memory had drawn the strike zone of our homemade stickball games. But of course, there was no chalked-in strike zone. Kids had stopped playing stickball. I looked out across the playground where we used to play kick the can, and chased the girls during ring-a-levio. A few years ago, I returned to Yonkers again. The old playground looked even smaller. There were no kids around. Were they in their bedrooms playing Nintendo on a beautiful sunny day? Or were they out at the parks of Yonkers with adults playing “supervised sports” with real uniforms, adult coaches, adult rules, adult parents fighting with coaches about their kids’ playing time? What we did in that playground was play. We were kids. I worry that today’s children are over regulated, and worse, “made to play” by parents who fear allowing them out of their sight. Freedom from parental supervision is [ 13 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 where free play begins. The other day I saw a father scolding his son on a ball field in Georgia. The kid was dressed in a snazzy new uniform, and stationed in right field. He left his post and wandered off the field to throw rocks into a puddle, beyond the foul line. His father ran him down and dragged him, screaming, back onto the baseball diamond. The kid was four years old. When I was twelve, the adults in my life tried to put me in Little League. They dressed me in a white uniform, marched me to the mound and made me a pitcher. I tried to play but I hated it. The next year I refused to go back. Play creates an alternative world and sustains it through a magical time of flow, when the world stands still for you. I can still visualize that Spaldeen against the summer sun, on Saratoga Avenue, as I position my body and will it down to earth, until it comes to rest in my grateful hand. In the Yonkers of my youth play was a suspension of time and the rules of ordinary life. We grudgingly re-entered the adult world only when our mothers called us to dinner. But then, that wasn’t so bad. *** I miss stickball, and, living now in the heart of the country, I miss the beach. When I was a boy my father would sometimes pile us into the family station wagon on summery Saturday mornings and drive us from our apartment in the Italian-American Park Hill neighborhood of southwestern Yonkers to the IBM Country Club on Sands Point, Long Island. For a kid who grew up playing on hot city streets, where the only relief from the heat came from an illegally opened fire hydrant or a visit from the Mister Softee ice cream truck, the prospect of a day at the beach was indescribably delicious. How we looked forward to these drives! How long it took to get there! It was a short trip through the Bronx—over Robert Moses’ Whitestone Bridge to the Northern Parkway (25A), then Searington Road to the country club—but weekend day-tripper beach traffic could be fierce; the trip could take well over an hour. My sister and I, riding across the Whitestone, would stop fussing with each other and count the lampposts on the bridge, singing out the numbers with glee. When we got to the other side, out of the Bronx at last, we knew we were close. Many memories of my father involve him, driving. My father had done a lot of driving during the war in Europe, as part of an advance team that sniffed out enemy land mines. It was a harrowing life. Driving at night to his next assignment, away from help and always in harm’s way, he had navigated by the light of moon and stars; on moonless nights he watched the tops of trees to feel his way on the narrow roads. When I turned sixteen he taught me how to drive. We drove together all over Westchester County, mostly at night. It was strange to see him seated on the passenger side. In fact, it is the only memory I have of my father seated on the right side of a car. We rarely talked; driving was a serious business. We drove in the rain to the steady drone of the wiper blades, we drove in winter with studded snow tires that whirred on dry pavement, we drove and watched the changing of the seasons, but always we drove in silence. I don’t ever recall my father giving me much in the way of advice, except once. After a long stretch of night driving on the Taconic Parkway using my low beams, perhaps remembering his wartime driving, but more likely thinking of the deer that were thick in the woods along the Taconic, he said simply, "Don’t be afraid to use your brights." My father’s education had been interrupted by the Great Depression, and after that the Great War. An excellent student in high school, he nevertheless missed the chance to go to college; though he was offered a generous scholarship, he was unable to use it. In the early years of my parents’ marriage, we lived with my grandfather on the second floor of a large house at 32 Prospect Drive. The beautiful stone house with its wraparound front porch, built in 1898, had a commanding view of the Hudson River. On clear winter days, looking south, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty were [ 14 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 visible, twenty-five miles away. At the time of my birth my father had a small business as a moving man, hauling appliances in a cab-over-engine truck. He caddied at the local golf course to make extra money for his young family. Later, he was happy to get the job at IBM, which carried with it country club privileges. The country club at Sands Point was one of several perks that helped keep the burgeoning IBM work force from unionizing. Once a year IBM hosted a company picnic at the Sands Point club, which was formerly an estate of the Guggenheim family. Workers were invited to tour the Guggenheim mansion and the graceful gardens, complete with statuary and flowing fountains. It was like walking through the pages of The Great Gatsby. The house was light and airy, with exquisite views of Long Island Sound and a constant ocean breeze. Each year we would walk the shaded grounds on the hill near the beach in search of the perfect picnic table. While my mother laid the table, my father would start the fire for the grill, then hit the links with his buddies. He was free too—free to play, not carry someone else’s bag. We’d moved up. The beach was narrow and pebbly, and the water calm and warm. We were made to wait one hour after dinner before being allowed to swim again. No matter. There was always something new to do. There were day friends to be made, kids I would never see again, ItalianAmerican kids like me, whose fathers drank beer, unlike mine, and spoke in booming voices. Day passed into night. The table would be emptied, and leftovers placed into the wicker picnic basket. Slowly we would make our way in the dark to the car, the lights of the yachts and fishing boats on the Sound behind us. As we drove out past the lighted mansion I would take a long look back at the world I was leaving, a magical kingdom filled with everything I wanted, but given only once a year. My cup was small in those days, it was not so difficult to fill. There was much to miss. Missing, I came to understand, was what I did best. We rolled off the grounds back onto Searington Road, where my father would stop the car for one last treat, a custard at the Carvel stand. Then it was back over the Whitestone, the water dark as midnight and menacing beneath our gaze, up the Major Deegan, through the Bronx, and back home to our apartment building, where we would wait until next year. [ 15 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 The Agony of Bo Rutherford, Husband and Former High School Baseball Coach, Current World Champion Bodock Fence Post Tossing Hopeful Robert Busby B ________________________________________________________________________________ o Rutherford, from a semi-squat position, holding the fence post between his legs with both hands, chunked the six-foot-length of bodock wood into the yard before him, the bark-covered post wobbling its way up through the wet August air before reaching the climax of its trajectory where the post’s backend mule-kicked midair and sent the post in a nose-dive into the ground behind the storage shed. It’d rained the night before, and so when the post landed it carved a heavy slab of sod from the ground. The tuft of grass clung to the wood as the post bounced end-over -end, and on the second revolution the clump was slung out from behind the veil of the shed where it landed in the yard with a heavy, wet plop. Rutherford looked back at where the post had originally landed, the red clay beneath the grass exposed like a wound. It was as if the earth was coughing blood. Rutherford wasn’t sure at all what to make of that. Rutherford hadn’t been sure what to make of several things lately. This was Friday, the first day of the annual Bodock Festival, which was held each year during the first weekend in August in honor of the bois d’arc tree for which the town was colloquially named. While Chickasaw Indians found earliest use for the bois d’arc tree in Mississippi, borrowing from their Osage kin in Oklahoma who used the wood for durable bow staves, early European pioneers with their black powder and muskets found more use for the tree as fence posts, the decay-resistant wood proven to last longer than the hole it was set in. To honor that tradition, the Saturday afternoon of the festival played host each year to the World Bodock Fence Post Tossing Championship. Rutherford had been determined to place first in the competition since the end of June, when the high school athletic director called Rutherford into his office during the summer break to tell Rutherford that, while the school would retain his contributions as sixthgrade geometry teacher, his services as head coach of the Bodock Warriors high school baseball team would no longer be needed. The director would make a formal announcement as soon as he decided on a replacement. The previous coach had already ascended into the ranks of local legend even before his retirement, having led the squad to the playoffs twenty of the twenty-two years he’d coached. Not to mention three state championships. In the three years since Rutherford had moved to Bodock from Cleveland, Mississippi—where he’d coached at a small Delta private school—Rutherford had failed to take the Bodock Warriors to the playoffs even once. But the boys he’d coached in his three-year tenure lacked the ambition, the drive. They wanted pussy and good grades, which Rutherford wouldn’t deny them, sure, but they didn’t even want to chance titting-up on a renegade ground ball in the event it messed up their pretty boy faces. He’d needed more time to get the turd-tappers to see that such early regret would outlive their youth. They’d been as soft as the wet ground before Rutherford now but without the scars. Rutherford’s ankle-high hunting boots squished and sloshed through the damp turf on his way to retrieve the post. The concept of bodock fence post tossing was simple: participants were allowed three attempts to toss a bodock fence post six feet long and weighing no less than fifty pounds as far as they possible could. Last year’s winning toss had been a distance of twenty-five feet. Borrowing the chalk machine from the baseball field house, the keys [ 16 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 to which Rutherford hadn’t surrendered upon being fired, he’d chalked off two lines twentyfive-feet apart in the swatch of grass behind the aluminum shed, spent the next month back there hurling the post from one line, then the other, to save time walking back and forth. He’d been steadily increasing his distance until he hit a plateau a week ago, and he didn’t bother unclipping the tape measurer from his belt now to determine exactly how short the post had landed from the line. Instead of repairing the divot, Rutherford placekicked the grass clump into the chain-link fence at the back edge of the yard. When the fence quit rattling, he heard Norah say, “What’re you doing?” Rutherford turned around to see his wife on the concrete patio. He was surprised to see her home: she was a secretary at Graham Fitness Equipment, a welding shop out by the highway that supplied public gyms and high school athletic departments across the entire Mid-South with bench presses and squat machines and all manner of circuit equipment. Standing next to the gas grill, her soft shoulders framed like a swimmer’s in her striped tank top, her legs oozing like firm caramel from the cutoff jean shorts her tank top was tucked into. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and Rutherford admired the tan-lined border and deep cleavage of her breasts. He wondered both of these things: how someone as fine as her could end up with him, and why she’d come home during her lunch break to change, when she’d just have to put her work clothes back on when her break was over. She walked barefooted towards him. Something else different about her he couldn’t quite run down. “What’re you doing home?” Rutherford said, wiping his hands on his cargo shorts. He put his arms out to hug her, but she stopped short of him. “When was you going to tell me about this?” “About what?” She handed him an envelope, its flap torn open. Printed in blue ink was the Bodock Agricultural High School return address. Inside the envelope was a formal letter detailing the terms of his revised teaching contract. He had until Monday to sign and return the contract to the central office. But the only reason Rutherford had even taught angles and circumferences and pointless concepts to twelve-year-olds for the six periods before baseball each day was because coaches were required to teach. Which was why he hadn’t signed the new contract yet, had instead been sending his resume out to some schools in the area, in the hopes he’d find something before he had to inform Norah. But no schools in any commutable proximity were currently in the market for a new baseball coach. “You opened my mail,” Rutherford said. “I thought it was your paycheck.” “I could’ve told you it wasn’t.” “Obviously,” she said and crossed her arms across her chest, tan flesh there folding into her cleavage. “When was you going to tell me you was fired?” Rutherford said, “It’s only been a couple of weeks.” “Try a month, Bo. We’ve got a mortgage and you’re out here throwing a damn stick across the yard.” She grabbed the envelope from Rutherford and pulled the papers from it and located the contract. “You’re going to sign this right now and run it up to the school this afternoon.” “The competition’s tomorrow, Norah.” “So sign it and I’ll run it up there.” “If I’m contractually obligated to the high school, I can’t take another coaching position elsewhere.” “Do you have another coaching gig lined up elsewhere?” Rutherford wished his wife knew something about it. He’d turned thirty-eight that year, same age his old man was when he collapsed dead on a scrimmage field down in Pensacola. Even before Rutherford was fired he’d spent waking nights with the denim curtains drawn over their windows and Sunbeam bread crumbs collected in his chest hairs and every light in the house off in anxious expectation of that hereditary heart disease that would surely seize him in is La-Z-Boy. Sometimes he swore he could feel [ 17 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 its presence there in his chest, the pain like several weighted donuts, the ones ball players used to increase bat speed, had been hung from his sternum. He wished he could tell Norah that now, that the only relief from the throes of his failure as a coach was with that old determination and drive he’d found once again in his pursuit of becoming the next World Champion Bodock Fence Post Tosser tomorrow. But even that was now becoming more and more of an impossibility each time he released the post to the cruel, unrelenting gravity. “I’m working on it,” Rutherford said. “Jesus H. Christ.” “At least I have goals, Norah,” he said, not even sure of what to make of the statement himself. “Your goals have always been individual goals, Bo. They’ve never included me. I see that now.” She folded the forms and slapped the envelope on the grill on her way back to the house. “I’m going to Graham’s.” “I thought you wasn’t going to work today.” Norah turned at the patio door. “You just realize that?” She began to slide the glass door open, then stopped. “I told you last week I was going to be off today in the event that maybe we could do something. Head up to the Bodock Festival this morning, go by the fire station for their pancake breakfast. But you haven’t minded me once today.” “That’s not true.” “Bo, you got up this morning and came right out here to practice before I could even entice you to fucking me which, might I remind you, you ain’t done in weeks. You don’t even keep me in the loop anymore, and you was FIRED FROM YOUR JOB without even telling me!” “Jesus, Norah,” Rutherford said. “The neighbors.” She glared at him. Then she took a deep breath before continuing. This time a strange calm in her voice that sent goosebumps down the backside of Rutherford’s pale arms hanging bare from the cut-off Warrior t-shirt. “I just want the old Bo back. We don’t even talk anymore. I wake up mornings to see you didn’t even make it to bed that night. You even practice behind the shed there so I can’t be a part of what you’re doing.” Before Rutherford could correct her, she picked at the ends of her hair, and he saw then what was different about her: her hair was short and precisely cropped around her face. It looked all right enough, but he preferred her hair long, past the shoulders. In the summers, sunlight would seduce fainter brown strands of hair halfhidden among the dark waves like vines spiraling down cedar trunks in the woods behind his childhood home. He’d often look forward during long bus rides home from one more disappointing division game to getting lost in her waves same as those woods not long after his father had died. Why did he not go there anymore? “You did your hair,” he said, pointing at her head. If he would think enough on that question, he’d know he hadn’t buried his head in her hair in a long while because he felt undeserving of that refuge, felt like he was breaking the contract that defined their relationship. They’d only even gotten married because he was a coach. What else could explain why he kept noticing her in the stands throughout the first half of the season? Would she have ever approached him, this man she’d never spoken to, to inquire of his post-game plans after their division home opener—a loss—if he hadn’t been a baseball coach? Would they have eloped to Gatlinburg in the Smokies a month after that first season, the first losing season Bodock had seen since prior to the previous coach, a season that Rutherford had defended to everyone—including Norah— as a period of rebuilding, if he’d never moved to Bodock to coach Warrior baseball? The answer to all those questions was no. And now Rutherford was no longer a coach. He was inadequate and undeserving and in need of proving himself all over again before obliging any refuge she offered. “See, I pay attention to you.” “Bo.” Norah forced a smile. “I went to the beauty shop last week.” She slid the patio [ 18 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 door open. “I don’t know why I thought today was going to be any different with you, but something has to change.” She looked up at the sky. “I’m going to work now. I’m going inside to change, and then I’m going to work, and I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be home.” *** Even when he heard her car start thirty minutes later, the chassis whining as she backed down the incline of the driveway, brakes squealing some as she came to a stop in the street and the exhaust backfiring when she shifted into drive, even then, Rutherford didn’t know what to make of Norah’s behavior. He knew he should’ve told her about his fear of dying in his sleep and having accomplished nothing in his life, but how do you go about telling your wife something like that? Rutherford felt guilty that he’d been the reason she needed to cool off in the first place, but there was the task at hand. He figured, at worst, she’d go into Graham’s and be back by five-thirty, which was when she usually got home from work, and so for the rest of the afternoon he chunked hell out of the two-yardlong fence post from one end of the yard to the other. He experimented with different release points, the post held at varying angles to test trajectory. Somewhere around sixty, seventy degrees worked best, the post when released always appearing as if it’d go the distance. But each time it landed just short of the line like so many moon-shot fly balls he’d sent sailing with promise to left-center that spring at the farm league combine in Birmingham, Alabama, fresh out of college and in his prime, only to have the shots die at the warning track, in the glove of some future or present minor leaguer. Even at six o’clock, he explained away her tardiness on the fact that she hadn’t gone into work until after lunch, had been swamped with managing employees’ paychecks or something and wanted to catch up so she wouldn’t have to go in on Saturday. It wasn’t until he looked at his digital Timex slipping down from the sweat on his wrist, the heat of the aluminum shed breathing on him even now, three minutes after seven, that he became worried. Rutherford heard the house phone ringing impossibly loud from where he stood at the back of the yard. It sounded as if they’d ran a line out to the shed until it cut off in the middle of the second ring. Around him fireflies pulsed, crickets fiddled. He thought it could’ve been Norah checking in, or even a high school in sudden desperate need of a baseball coach. He wasn’t sure why either of them would’ve hung up so soon and decided it was best to wait in the house for either to call back. Inside, Rutherford couldn’t find the cordless phone. It wasn’t docked on the port hanging on the wall in the kitchen. Rutherford took a seat in the La-Z-Boy next to the phone in the living room and helped himself to the Styrofoam box of tacos Norah had left him in the fridge as she said she would: his favorite, a double order of six barbecue chicken tacos from Mi Pueblo, the Tex-Mex place they both loved even though Rutherford had to be cautious of what he ordered, on account of his vicious reflux. She’d even written DINNER on the box in blue Sharpie, and the series of small gestures broke Rutherford’s heart a little. Working on his fourth taco, Rutherford became too distracted with thoughts of what Norah was doing for dinner to note the mound of jalapenos, the fiery tomatillo sauce. He pictured poor, beautiful Norah, sitting alone at Mi Pueblo, munching on complimentary nachos smothered in house-made salsa or queso while waiting on her order. All this time he’d been consumed with rectifying his failure—first as a baseball player, then as a coach—and the question he never thought to ask himself was, when had he ever had to prove himself to Norah? It wasn’t like the Bodock Warriors had a viable shot at the playoffs that first season, too many games behind second place, by the time he and Norah had become serious. And she still married him. Even now, failing as a husband, she demonstrated her love to him. His mouth and sinuses pulsed with heat and guilt. Bodock was small, only so many places to look, and Rutherford abandoned the fifth taco and left the tray on the side table and picked up his keys on the kitchen counter. [ 19 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 On his way out the door he ran into Gray Sherman on their doorstep. Gray’s arm was raised, anticipating the knock. “Hello, Glad Gully neighbor,” Gray said. Glad Gully was the name of the neighborhood, which was dropped down appropriately in several acres of cleared-out hollow just off Main Street. Gray lived a half mile down, in the cove at the end of the street. Cul-de-sac, Gray insisted on calling the particular geometry of road, as he did now, his arm still cocked, as if refusing to give up on the knock just yet. “It’s me, Gray Sherman, from the cul-de-sac.” The porch light threw strange shadows on Gray’s face and physique. He was wearing a pair of jeans cut off at the knee and a faded Bodock Warrior Track-and-Field t-shirt. Skinny, with a thinly-manicured mustache, the only kind the small surface area of his upper lip allowed. Gray was a considerable enough queer who’d gone to high school with Norah, although Rutherford didn’t know many homosexuals to compare him to. Owned a little sandwich-and-soup diner on Main Street as well as the floral shop next door. Called them Sherman’s Chowder and Flowers. The men who steered clear of his restaurant, joking that Gray jacked-off into the homemade mayonnaise, could still be seen there buying roses for their wives on the occasions of birthdays and anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and general fuck-ups. “Um, sorry, Gray,” Rutherford said, “Norah’s out.” He wondered whether to ask about some flowers to take to Norah now. “I’m actually on my way to meet her.” Grayson retired his arm. “You mean she’s not here?” Rutherford shrugged. “That’s strange. I called a little while ago, but the line was cut off. Sounded like someone answered and hung up.” Gray looked down the street, as if reminding himself or Rutherford where he came from. “So I walked down here to see if everything was all right. Her car’s parked in front of my house—” “What’d you say?” “What’s that?” “About her car?” “Oh, it’s okay,” Gray said, holding his hands up in defense. “I mean, she can leave it there all she wants. It’s not hurting anything and besides, it’s the least I can do. Probably the car just went dead, right?” Rutherford said, “Perhaps.” “Probably she was just making the loop or something so she could park in front of y’all’s house facing with traffic and it just happened to go dead in front of my house. Not that I mind it being there, like I said. Happens all the time. Well, not all the time, but it definitely could happen. Is definitely in the range of possible things to happen, you know.” Gray furrowed his brow. “But you said you were going to meet her.” Rutherford didn’t respond. The street lamps ignited in the dying light, their electric hum as they pitched shadows off parked cars and the piles of leaves spilling out into the street at the end of yards. The air filled with the leaves’ sweet rot, roasting all day beneath the sun. “Coach?” “What’d you say?” “I asked if you were going to meet her. That’s what you said, right?” “I meant at work,” Rutherford said. “That’s what I meant. I meant I figured she was still at work, was going to surprise her there and walk her around some of the booths and stuff uptown.” “That’s sweet,” Gray said. “Did she not call to tell you she was on her way home?” “Might’ve. I’ve been in the backyard all evening.” Gray offered a reassuring smile. “You know what I bet happened? Probably the car died and she walked home to change and get a jog in before it got too dark. You know how fit that woman likes to be. Ever since high school when she was on the track and field team.” “Norah ran track?” “And field.” Grayson pointed at his shirt. “We both did. Well, I was on the boys’ squad, she on the girls’, obviously. She was something, I tell you. Her senior year, college coaches scouted her something fierce, wanted [ 20 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 her for the decathlon before she blew out her knee.” Way Norah had explained the injury to Rutherford was that she’d torn her ACL sliding into second while playing for the Bodock Baptist Brawlers in church league softball. Wasn’t sure what to make of the apparent lie. Gray sighed and wiped his forehead. “Never going to cool off, is it? Oh well. I bet you just missed Norah is all, Bo. She’ll probably be in soon and y’all still have some time to mess around at the festival tonight. Y’all should come by my shop tomorrow. I’m going to have a little stand on the sidewalk, selling cold cuts.” Grayson laughed. “It’s kind of funny, you know. Norah’s car parked there, in front of my house of all places. I mean, if it was in front of any other man’s house, you’d have to worry about people talking. But I’m the gay man on the block.” Gray gave Rutherford a friendly punch on the arm. “See y’all tomorrow. Don’t forget to tell her to call me when she gets in, let me know everything’s all right, which I’m sure it is.” *** When Gray left, Rutherford stepped back inside the house. While he wasn’t sure what to make of it all, he knew Gray had been right about one thing: if Norah was parked in front of another man’s house, it would inspire folks to talk. But Norah wouldn’t be dumb enough to park right out in front of the man’s house she was having an affair with. If anything, she would park in front of the gay man’s house, as if she was only paying a visit to an old homosexual friend and not sneaking off through backyards to rendezvous with her lover nearby. Rutherford felt a kick in his chest. It pushed him to the carpet, brought on not so much by his usual paranoid delusions of mortality, but by the sudden presence of Norah’s nonpresence in the house. A tremor of pain shot through his chest again, and his mind perused its modest medical dictionary before landing on the entry: palpitation. All he could imagine right at that moment was Norah beneath some gentleman friend, her gorgeous legs parted and the man’s body perpendicular to hers, her fine, half- dollar-sized areolas under his microscopic gaze and her tan flesh the receptacle for his sweat and other, more despicable vehicles of DNA. Until just now Rutherford had enjoyed the stares Norah commanded from men, something of a prize when his players couldn’t help stealing glances at her in the bleachers during all those home baseball games and some away ones and even when she just made some unexpected visit to the field house or practice. Until five minutes ago, Rutherford had been gracious that her job offered her a free gym membership, something he reaped the benefits of without every stepping foot in Art Graham’s gym. Art Graham who, back in the Sixties, had competed on the semipro bodybuilding circuit, had even taken Mr. Mississippi in 1968 and 1969. Graham, who, while in his fifties, still held remnants of its former glory: chest thick, his upper abdomen protruding with dense muscle and the sleeves of his every polo shirt slit to accommodate the grotesque musculature of his biceps and triceps. Graham, who had easily conquered his latethirties a decade ago and who had found every success he wanted in life. Who lived with the financial comfort that came with owning a business distributing weight lifting equipment to high schools in a region of the country obsessed with Friday night football. Graham, who Norah saw almost every day. Who only lived a few streets over. Rutherford was sprawled out on the carpet, legs splayed and hands clutching his chest, the knot there compounding itself exponentially, when he heard the patio door open. Saw Norah appear standing above him. “I’m dying, Norah.” “You’re not dying.” “I thought it’d be heart disease,” he grunted. “Well, it might still be. If it is it’d be that and my heart breaking with grief simultaneously.” “Get up,” Norah said. “You’re not having a heart attack. You’ve just got a bad case of indigestion.” “Not this time,” Rutherford said. He saw Norah’s hair and clothes matted with sweat. [ 21 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 They were the same clothes she was wearing that afternoon. From his position on the floor he admired the glisten of her deep cleavage under the ceiling fan light and feared it’d been on display for Graham all day. “Please tell me you didn’t go to work in that,” he said, not sure he wanted the answer. “I didn’t go in to work,” she said. In her hand was the cordless phone. Grass clippings clung to her bare ankles and feet. “I’ve been in the shed all afternoon.” She glanced towards the recliner. “I see you’ve eaten the tacos already.” “Not all of them.” The pain in his chest was still present, but it had subsided enough now that Norah was here. He propped himself up on his elbows. “What was you doing in the shed?” “Watching you practice.” “What?” Norah leaned back against the couch and explained. She told Rutherford all about how she’d had every intention of going to work and then staying the night at the Bodock Inn. But standing in the bedroom, over a Bodock Warriors duffel bag packed with a pair of pajamas and toiletries, Norah realized she shouldn’t be the one spending all evening staring at a thirteeninch television in a room at the Bodock Inn worrying and waiting on Bo Rutherford, for whatever damn reason it was she loved him—the bald, potbellied bachelor who had going for him an adorable pudgy face and striking grin—to come around. So, she explained, she hatched a plan to corner him into signing the contract and kicked the duffel bag under the bed, picked up dinner at Mi Pueblo and parked in front of Gray’s before sneaking up to the house. Unsure of where to hide until Rutherford had eaten his dinner while still being able to observe that he’d eaten dinner, she decided in a split second on the shed, not realizing she’d forgotten to call Gray until she was already seated on the riding lawn mower facing out the back window of the shed, the cordless phone there in her hand. “Let me get this straight,” Rutherford said and leaned his weight on one elbow. “You basically poisoned me because you couldn’t think of a better way to get me to sign the contract.” “If you want to call giving you spicy food ‘poisoning you.’” “Do you know how crazy that sounds?” “Is it really all that much crazier than not telling your wife you’d been fired from your job?” The air conditioner kicked on. Whirling of the ceiling fan. “That Gray guy came by,” Rutherford said. “Said to call and let him know everything was all right.” “I guess I should go move the car.” “He said you’d torn your ACL running track,” Rutherford said. “Said you had scouts looking at you and everything. Why’d you tell me you’d blown your knee out playing church league softball?” “It was actually on the pole vault,” she said. “I guess it was easier to say I’d failed at something as trivial as church league sports. Besides,” she said, taking the carton of leftover tacos to the kitchen, “you’re a baseball coach. I figured softball would give us a point of reference or something like that.” She closed the lid on the tacos and returned them to the refrigerator, took a bottle of antacid from the cabinet above the fridge and walked it over to Rutherford. She squatted over him. “Sorry again.” She dropped a Tum’s into Rutherford’s mouth. “It was insane, I know. I just thought, if I cornered you while you was down, I could get some face time with you. Get you to sign the contract while you was at it.” Rutherford crunched on the medicine. “I’ll sign the contract,” he swallowed. “Shit.” “That’s not the point, Bo.” She swatted him, not too hard, on the side of the head. Twisting the cap back on the bottle, she said, “I was being selfish. Not anymore selfish than you’ve been, but still.” She stood, her knee firing off a quick succession of pops, the thick scar etched there elongating as her leg stretched. “I knew all along you’d been fired. Graham asked me about it. I told him I hadn’t heard. It was embarrassing.” [ 22 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 “How’d he know?” “Bo, he donated every piece of weight equipment at that school,” she said. “Of course he knows. I’m sure everyone knows by now. I just wanted to see how long you’d go before telling me.” She shrugged then shook her head. “I really was toying with the notion of leaving you for a while, Bo, and seeing you out there today hurling that fence post didn’t help matters. It was like I’d been allowed admission to this thing you insisted on keeping private and ended up feeling more distant from you than ever. Because there you was, unable to get the post past the white lines you was tossing from and towards, like you was unable to escape the box you’d drawn yourself in—” “Thanks.” “—and I couldn’t think of a damn thing to do to help you.” Rutherford wasn’t sure what to say. Norah swiped a thumb below her eye, her triceps not yet the sling of loose flesh typical of middle age. He imagined those arms docking a pole hard into a vault while in mid-sprint or flinging some shot put into a gravel pit. His mind wrapped around an idea. “What’s the track event,” he asked, “where you spin around with that shot put on the chain or whatever the hell it is?” “You mean field event.” She wiped below her other eye. “The hammer throw. Why?” “That’s the one,” Rutherford said. “You do that one?” “I would’ve if I’d made a college team,” she said. “It’s not a high school event. Neither is the javelin. Too dangerous.” “You do any events where you had to spin?” She looked out the patio door at the fence post leaning against the grill. Her face released its tension, as if she’d caught Rutherford’s idea. “I threw the discus.” Rutherford gave a half-grin. “You think that’d work throwing a fence post?” “Perhaps.” Norah smirked, chewed on her jaw. “You want me to show you?” “Sure.” She unfolded the contract. “Sign this.” “Norah. I’m a coach. Not a geometry teacher.” “I know you want to coach, Bo,” she said. “But I want to not lose our house. And if you want me to help you with that,” she said, pointing through the patio door, “then you’ve got to sign this contract. And there are other ways to coach, you know. You could put in for the junior varsity squad, or junior high.” “You want me to go from varsity,” Rutherford said, “to junior high?” “Varsity softball then,” Norah said. “Ah, shit.” “You want to coach, Bo, you’ve got to compromise. You want to win that competition tomorrow, you’ve got to compromise. So sign the damn contract. And in the meantime, you can keep applying for other coaching jobs. I don’t want to move, but I will. That’s the best I can do right now.” She raked her fingers through her hair. “If nothing else, you can coach little league next summer.” Rutherford anticipated her segue from little league to having kids. When she didn’t, he pulled himself to his feet with the help of the couch. Joints echoing Norah’s. “Okay,” he said. “All right. I’ll sign it after we practice.” “Nice try,” she said and reached for the Sharpie on the dining room table. *** For the remainder of the evening Norah coached Rutherford beneath the motiondetector floodlight mounted on the side of the shed. Because of the time constraints, Norah suggested they focus on just the three-quartersturn throw: first, she told him, stand with your right shoulder facing the throwing area, like so. Hold the fence post out in front of you as so, she demonstrated, holding the post at one end with both hands like a baseball bat. Then, she said, slide your left foot behind you, pivoting on your right foot, just like so, until you’ve spun 180 degrees. She mock-released the post as she planted her left foot and followed through the momentum of the spin with her right foot. All this in slow motion. She said, Nothing to it, and [ 23 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 told him to give it a try. But Rutherford’s body was tired at first and clumsy, his feet uncooperative as they tripped over each other. He released the post and followed his own momentum all the way to the ground. Landed on his back. The post landed over the fence. “Close,” she said, laughing. Rutherford shot her the bird and watched as she turned and, favoring her right leg, hopped the fence, the bottom half of each of her butt cheeks alternately winking at him from beneath her cut-offs. He imagined her twenty years earlier in track shorts doing hurdles. When she hopped back over the fence, she took her position behind Rutherford and guided him through the process a couple of times. Then, after thirty minutes, Rutherford began to get the hang of it, his tosses improving first on accuracy, then on distance. An hour in and he still stumbled with general fatigue on some throws, but the posts were traveling at least five feet past the twenty-five-foot marker. Sometimes farther. “Probably should save your energy,” Norah said on his last throw. “We’ll get up early and warm-up. Then you’re taking me to breakfast.” In the morning, they would walk the quarter mile up the hill to downtown Bodock, the fence post propped on Rutherford’s shoulder like a rifle. They’d buy pancakes at the fire station before walking around. A miscellany of booths would be lining the street, food vendors offering barbecue emu and pork ribs and fried catfish, homemade Butterfinger ice cream.Folks peddling jams and jellies and goat milk soap, quilted purses and tin picture frames. Bowls hand-carved from bodock horse apples. At noon, Rutherford and Norah would catch Gray Sherman outside his diner selling summer flowers and smoked-turkey-and-pickled-vegetable sandwiches. Then they’d make their way to the vacant grass lot between Stafford Grocery and Cummings Drug Store, where the competition was being held beneath the largest bodock tree in the state. Just across the street the old Civil War cannon and the granite pedestal holding the statue of Col. Claygardener, the founder of the county, presiding over the day’s events. The turnout for the World Bodock Fence Post Tossing Championship would be large for competitors and spectators alike. Rutherford would end up taking second to some former All-American bruiser who played ball under Bear Bryant. Afterwards, he and Norah would stick around for the street dance that night, the second place medal around Rutheford’s neck bouncing between them while the Appalachian Rhythm Bums provided bluegrass song. But right now, in the backyard, Rutherford would take advantage of his rejuvenated confidence and convince Norah’s body to follow his to the ground. He still wasn’t sure what to make of things, couldn’t see himself coaching some little league team sponsored by Sherman’s Chowder and Flowers. But maybe Norah would give him an all-state short stop one day, and at least gravity was working in his favor now, her body following his to the ground, the air around them like a lukewarm bath and the chorus of crickets and locusts alike in the surrounding woods. The floodlight above them blinking against their tired movements. Horatio at the Game H Kenneth Weene_____________________________ ___________ oratio tries to chew his gum in a manly way. He wants desperately for the other boys to think him one of them, to count him a teammate. They do not. He doubts they ever will. It would help if he could blow a bubble – not a puny popper, but a real bubble – the kind that would leave a skein of pink gum to peel from his pasty face. Horatio hates his face. He hates the nickname, Ghost, it has earned. In fact, there is little in his life that Horatio doesn’t hate. For the moment, sitting in the dugout knowing that the coach, Mr. Leven, will reluctantly put him up to bat for a certain out and even more reluctantly order him into the outfield with a muttered prayer that no balls will loft in his direction, for this moment all that hatred is focused on the three sticks of Bazooka that he knows will never [ 24 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 yield to his tongue, will never smoothly expand into a giant chicle ball, and will certainly not burst in a moment of ten year old hilarity. In the bleachers his mother, determined to humiliate him, waves and points as if his brother – only seven and already a better athlete – cares what Horatio might be doing. Albert is as dismissive as his teammates. He would rather be out on the field throwing and catching and hitting. Horatio knows that his team would prefer Albert out there with them, and Horatio though he hates to think it – knows that he too would be happier if he were in the stands watching sturdy, muscular, dark-tanned Albert playing for the Steinhartz Cleaners’ Braves. Horatio had not wanted to play Little League. He knows and fears his limitations. He knows and fears the derision of other kids. That his teachers love him for his reading and arithmetic does nothing to reassure; adults - other than his father and Coach Leven – are easy. They do not require running and jumping; they make believe that throwing and catching are unimportant. His mother waves again, this time with more energy, more feigned excitement. Without raising his arm, he gesticulates and hopes it will be enough. Why did she have to come? he asks himself already knowing the answer. Part of him wishes that his father, too, were in the stands. Another bigger part is glad that he is not. On his right are the other benchwarmers. They sit in the order of their uselessness – Tony closest to the empty space where the nine boys now on the field will sit. Next to Tony – shoulder-to-shoulder – a boy whose name Horatio still doesn’t know. That boy, too, gives a half wave, an embarrassed acknowledgment. Horatio sees the boy’s mother somewhat higher in the stands and somewhat to the left of his own. She is waving, but her movements seem more appropriate, less dramatic, less demanding of attention. Next to that boy, Roy, blond and heavyset, lots of power at bat but slow as a freight train. The coach calls him Tubby just to watch his cringe. Roy talks about quitting the team, but something keeps him coming back – practice after practice, game after game. Perhaps it is the dream, the fantasy that the moment will come, that he will hit the game winning homerun, that someday he will be the hero. Any boy can dream. Between Roy and Horatio sits Scott. Scott is new to America, new to baseball. He grew up playing something he calls rounders. The coach keeps saying, “You’ll get the hang if it. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.” He never says anything like that to Horatio, which is just as well – Horatio would never believe him. Horatio watches the sweat on Roy’s temple. It is trying to escape from beneath his robinblue cap – just like the one on Horatio’s head. When the season started, when the regulars and the benchwarmers had first been sorted, Horatio and Scott had sat shoulder-to-shoulder; over time – as if by some mysterious process – a space has grown between them – a space big enough for another boy, a player to be named later. In the moment - as often when they are sitting on the bench waiting for their moments of play - the boys – as boys do – tease and hit each other in a playful way that says we are together in this boat called baseball and that makes us a unit, a team, a possibility. The moment flows downhill – starting with Tony - a whack to the next boy’s shoulder and so on until it comes to rest on Scott, who is tempted to pass it along to Horatio but stops to think and decides to not. As Tony squirms his failed attention and tries to decide what silly thing to next send down the bench, the inning mercifully ends. The Blackbird Chevrolet Panthers have only scored four runs; the game stands at nine to four favor to the Panthers; two innings are in the books. Four more innings to play; it will be a long afternoon. Coach Leven is yelling, “Hustle, you guys, hustle.” His son, Alex, the pitcher, leads the Braves from the field. He jogs as his father expects. Alex spits as he runs. Alex spits a lot; so do the other boys. Horatio spits sometimes; he [ 25 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 would spit more often, but he knows his mother does not approve. He knows that he doesn’t spit well, that he doesn’t spit like a real baseball player. The other kids do not call the coach’s son Alex; his nickname is Jughead, after the Archie Comics he loves to read and after his loose-jointed way of walking when his father is not present. The coach doesn’t like his son’s nickname; he takes it as a personal affront so the boys don’t use it on the field. Jughead prefers the moniker to Alex, but he has never said that to his father; he knows he was named for his father’s father’s brother, a man he never met but who died earning a medal in a place called Vietnam. The medal sits in a plastic case on his dresser. Jughead would love to put it away in a drawer, but Alex leaves it where his father wants. As the other team takes the field, the benchwarmers stand up and twine fingers in the chicken wire fencing that protects the dugout. They are glad to have a moment when they are allowed to stand; they are glad to be yelling. They yell encouragement to their teammates and taunts at their rivals. Even Horatio yells. For the moment his bubblegum is forgotten. Scott, too, yells. His words sound strange to the other boys; his accent is from far away. Sometimes they tease him about it; sometimes they try to copy him. One time Ray, the regular second baseman, asked, “How do people say ‘fuck you’ in your language?” Scott thought for a moment and replied, “They say ‘Go Ray yourself,’” and laughed. Everybody except Ray had laughed, too. Ray was pretty pissed, but the other kids all slapped Scott on the back or hit him in the arm. Even Horatio had slapped Scott that day; he had slapped him and wished that the other kids were slapping his back and giving him shots. “Go Braves,” the boys yell; “Yay team.” Their high-pitched voices are excitement more because they finally have a chance to stand than from any involvement in the game, which has already exceeded their attention spans. Other teams’ benchwarmers are less orderly than the Braves’. Other coaches are less in charge, less demanding than Coach Leven. He has made it clear to the boys that they will behave themselves on his team. At the beginning of the season he had written a letter to all the boys’ parents. “Baseball teaches boys how to work, how to take life seriously. It prepares them for growing up. That is why I expect so much from all our sons.” Most of the parents – especially the fathers – told their sons Mr. Leven would be a good coach. Most of the parents, especially Horatio’s father, thought it was just fine that their sons learn how to work, how to take life seriously. The boys are not so sure. They see the other teams having fun. They see the other teams playing just as well as the Braves. They wonder why they can’t have more fun. But, like Roy, they keep coming back. Horatio has asked his parents if he can quit the team. His father told him that he has to play out the season. “You wanted to play. You made a commitment. Now you should be a man and keep your word.” He knew there was no point in reminding his father that he had not wanted to play, that he had not made a commitment, that it had been his father’s choice for him to be in Little League. He wanted to remind his father that all he had said was that he wished he had more friends. He had said it hoping to find a book club, an activity at the library, maybe something at the science museum. He wanted to remind his father but knew that would only mean a yelling. Horatio had nodded his head in unhappy submission. The players sit; the regulars sit in batting order. Only Tim is still standing. He is just in front of the dugout swinging a bat and waiting for the umpire to call “Play ball!” Coach Leven checks the team with a jaundiced eye – ready to yell at a squirm, at a show of disinterest. The boys are still so he turns his attention to Tim. “Challenge him,” the coach instructs. “Crowd the plate. Make him pitch.” Tim nods his head [ 26 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 the way children do when adults talk at them. Tim grounds out, but the team manages to close the gap. It is nine to seven, two outs, nobody on base. Coach Leven sends Horatio to bat. He knows it won’t matter if he strikes out. He will have had his one required at bat. He will then go into the field for his one required inning in the field. He feels like a fool, but Alex shouts encouragement. Of all the kids sitting behind him, Alex is the only one to shout. “Go, Ghost,” he yells, Suddenly the nickname doesn’t seem so bad. Horatio takes a couple of practice swings. He feels awkward, he handles the bat badly, and he is afraid of the ball. But Alex has yelled encouragement, and that makes the moment worthwhile. Horatio takes his place in the batter’s box. He taps the dirt from his shoes and twists and scrapes his feet the way he has seen ballplayers on TV do it, the way the other kids do it, as if he is digging in, as if he expects to use the torque of his entire body to belt that scuffed white ball into long flight. He copies the big leaguers and the other kids even though he knows it is a lie. “Strike one,” the umpire, who is himself no more than fifteen, shouts with a pumping motion. He, too, is mimicking the big leagues. “Strike two.” This time Horatio has swung late and without real effort. “Keep your eye on the ball,” Coach Leven yells. “Hit it, Ghost,” Alex calls. “Go, Ghost,” another boy. “Ball.” There is a moment of relief. At least it isn’t three straight strikes. He almost wants to run out to the mound and thank the dark-skinned boy who is staring past him at the catcher, who is in turn signaling as if the next pitch will actually matter. “Ball two.” “Good eye,” one of his teammates hollers. Horatio is almost happy. He digs in once again. Lifts his elbows the way the coach has taught them, cocks his bat the way he has learned. The pitch comes in; he starts his swing. It is, he is sure, the greatest effort of his life. He feels the jolt of metal against ball. It isn’t a solid bang - not the sound of a hit. Rather it is the muted sound of … “Foul,” the umpire yells. He can hear his mother cheering. “Go, Ghost.” Is that Tony’s voice? “Strike three. You’re out.” Another pitch has flown past him. Dejected yet triumphant, Horatio heads back to the dugout. Alex meets him at the bats, which are leaning against the protective fencing. Alex is carrying Horatio’s glove. “Good at bat,” he says as he hands Horatio the glove. Horatio can feel his chest swell. The game is kind. No balls are hit to right field where Horatio tries to look ready. But balls are hit. It is Alex’s last inning to pitch; those are the rules - only 85 pitches. Alex struggles. Walks, a hit batter, and a number of solid hits: an eight run inning. The Braves are at the edge of the mercy rule when they return to the dugout. If they had given up one more run, the game would have been called. As it is, they will play on. The other boys know that Alex is not a good pitcher. They know that he really shouldn’t be in the starting nine. With a different coach he probably would sit in Tony’s spot on the bench, maybe even in the spot of the kid whose name Horatio does not know. But Mr. Leven is the coach, and no other parent wants the job. So Alex pitches and plays third base when he isn’t pitching. Sunday afternoons he plays catch with his father. His father crouches like a catcher and flashes signs. Alex throws and wishes he were reading Archie comics or watching television. Greg, whom the kids call Mr. Cool, is easily the best player on the team. He is the second pitcher; he should be the first. When Gregg isn’t pitching, he plays first base. He’s good at first, but he is awesome on the mound. Behind his fastball, the Braves battle back. [ 27 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Alex, like the rest of the team, knows that Mr. Cool should pitch as often as possible. He knows that Tony should be on third instead of him. He wishes his father would be fair. He doesn’t think the other kids resent him; he knows that they resent his father. He resents his father, too. Sometimes he wonders if he’d like playing baseball on another team. He knows that he hates playing on the Braves. He has tried to talk with his mother about it, but she doesn’t want to listen. She is busy taking Marie, his older sister, shopping. Marie likes boys and clothes; she watches TV shows about dancing and cooking. She and their mother spend a lot of time together. “Talk about it with your father,” Alex’s mother had told him. He knew that he would not. Alex’s birthday is in September, long after the Little League season ends; but the professional season, the real season, is still on. Every year Mr. Leven takes his family to a game to celebrate Alex’s birthday. Alex would prefer to go to an amusement park, but he is not given that choice. His father has already purchased the tickets. They are excellent seats. Marie has a party that evening. Her mother insists that a teenaged girl’s parties are more important than baseball. Mr. Leven doesn’t argue; baseball is – after all – for boys. There has been some discussion of letting girls play Little League, but at the organizing meetings he has consistently voted against the idea. He tells Alex that he can bring another boy with him to the game. Mr. Leven has Greg or possibly Ray in mind. He wants Alex to invite a kid who will be interested in the fine points of the game – not in the hotdogs and peanuts and doing the wave. He wants to teach the boys how to keep score. He wants to give them tips on batting and fielding and especially on strategy. Alex invites Horatio. “Hey, Ghost, it’s me, Jughead. My dad is taking me to a ballgame this Sunday. It’s for my birthday. Want to come?” “Who else is coming?” “Nobody. Why? Do you want to come?” “I figured he was taking the team.” “No, just me. My sister doesn’t want to come this year so he said I could bring a friend.” “Me?” “Yeah, sure. I bet we’ll have a good time.” “Yeah, a great one. Let me ask my mom.” “OK.” “Hold on.” “Yeah, sure. Go ask her.” Moments later. “She said sure.” “Great.” “I’ll see you Sunday.” “Yeah, we’ll pick you up at 10.” “Great. See you then.” There is a pause. “Hey, Jughead.” “Yeah?” “Thanks. Wow, really, thanks.” “Glad you can come.” Alex hangs up. He has a smile, almost a smirk. Boy, will this piss him off; and he can’t say anything. He told me I could invite another kid. That Ghost is the worst player on the team; well whose fault is that? His parents are going out. Marie will be at a friend’s. Alex’s mother calls to him, “What do you want to eat tonight. You’ll be home alone. I can order you a pizza if you want.” He thinks for a moment. “No, how about a couple of hotdogs?” “Sure. I’ll get them set up for you. All you have to do is turn on the microwave and take them out when the bell goes off.” “Great.” He knows that he’ll do them right, in a frying pan. She doesn’t have to know. I wonder how many dogs Ghost can eat. We’ve got to have a dog eating contest. He’s sure his new buddy will like the idea. Better, his father will hate it. The ballgame may be fun. Horatio slurps a long piece of spaghetti. It whips about, hits his nose, and leaves a brand of bright marinara. His mother smiles knowing that her son is, for an unexpected moment, happy. Albert, her younger boy, his face a mask of sauce and a small strand of pasta clinging to his chin, complains, “I want to go. I want to go, [ 28 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 too.” “You can’t,” their father explains for the fifth time. “You weren’t invited. It’s one of Horatio’s friends.” He turns to his older son. “What did you say his name is?” “Jughead. I mean it’s really Alex, but that’s what we call him.” “I meant his family name. What’s his family name?” “Leven.” “Leven, Leven?” He is searching for a connection. “Yeah, my coach, Mr. Leven; he’s Mr. Leven’s son.” “Yes, Leven. He’s an insurance man, isn’t he?” “I don’t know.” Horatio really doesn’t care, but he doesn’t say that. He feigns interest because he needs something. He needs money for the game, and he needs money for a present. “He used to play second,” he adds as if the information will mean something to his father. “Yes, I’m sure he’s in insurance.” Horatio clears his throat. “Dad?” “What?” “I need to get Jughead a present.” “What?” “He’s right, Dear,” his mother adds. “Yeah, sure. What are you getting him – a game, a model?” “What about a nice sweater?” his mother suggests. “No,” Horatio answers emphatically, “I want to get him something he’ll really like.” Albert snickers in the way seven-yearolds can, in the way that says, “You’re just stupid.” “I’m going to get him a box of baseball cards,” Horatio says triumphantly. Things that Go Poink T Ramon Collins ________________________________________ he black sedan did bumps and grinds up the Wilson Hill Road, then skidded to a stop in a cloud of gray-clay dust. A well-dressed young man climbed out, gave his suit sleeves a couple of quick brushes, reached back into the front seat and emerged with a briefcase. He opened the gate and hurried up the path toward a weathered house, where an older man sat on the front porch and whittled on a stick. "Cyrus Sloan?" He stopped whittling and gave a suspicious squint out of the corner of his eye. "Could be." "Name's William Mason. You can call me Bill." Sloan stopped whittling and looked at the stranger, then fished around in his left nostril with a broken-knuckled finger and deposited the find on his pants leg with a slow swipe. Mason looked away and grimaced as Cyrus went back to whittling. "Mighty warm today, Mister Sloan -mind if I take off my coat?" "Yer coat." Mason stood, removed his suit coat, folded it and placed it on the brief case, next to the porch post. He loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt sleeves, folded the cuffs up two turns and sat back down on the upper step, just out of the shade from the porch. "Man, it's a hot one. You wouldn't have a spare drink of water, would you?" Cyrus nodded toward the side of the house where the hound scratched an ear with a hind leg. "There by Roamer." Mason looked over at a rusted tin cup wired to the pump, flinched, then looked back. "You played a lot of baseball in your day." "Some." "You're being modest -- baseball records show you had several close contacts with a product I represent." [ 29 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 "That so?" Mason reached over to his inside coat pocket and drew out a business card. "I represent the Louisville Slugger Company, makers of the finest baseball bats in the world.” Cyrus glanced at the card. ”Before I headed up here, the boys dug out a Cy Sloan model bat from the storeroom. Got it down in the car -- you like to have it?" "Nope." Mason frowned and placed the card by Cyrus's shoe. "I happened to notice a mighty fine stand of ash trees up behind the house. That your property?" "Could be." "How many acres?" "Twenty." "Old growth in that patch?" "Could be." "I can tell you're a man of few words, Mr. Sloan. Mind if I call you Cy?" "Cyrus." "Well, now, Cyrus, I won't beat around the bush and waste your time. You willing to sell those trees? I mean if the price is right?" "Nope." A blackbird in the distance and Cyrus's knife scrapes on the stick were the only sounds. Mason sighed, fidgeted and scanned the valley. "You watch much baseball these days, Cyrus?" "Down at Hiller's Tavern." "Notice all the broken bats in games today?" "Yep." Mason spread out his arms. "Man, splintered wood's flyin' around infields today like shrapnel. Been able to figure out what causes it?" "Bad wood." William Mason's eyes lit up and he leaned on an elbow toward Cyrus. "You got it. Young-growth ash wood is so bad these days the Major League owners might change over to aluminum bats. Metal bats! Like they use in Little Leagues, slow pitch and high schools. Ever hear a metal bat hit a ball? 'Poink!' Just imagine sittin’ in a big league stadium and hearing that awful sound.” “Do you wanna sit in Hiller's Tavern watchin' the Cardinals kick the Chicago Cubs a new butt and hear that terrible sound, 'Poink!' Bottom of the ninth, score tied, Albert Pujols is up -- 'Poink!' Is that what you want to hear, metal bats?" Mason stared at Cyrus's eyes to see if the the message got across. No sign. "And how about our kids? Will the children of our great nation live with a disgusting 'Poink!'? We have an obligation to all future baseball fans." Cyrus snorted: "We? You gotta horse turd in yer pocket?" Mason looked at the bottom step, then turned his head up and gave his brow another mop with the handkerchief. "Truth is, Cyrus, the Louisville Slugger Company is fresh out of oldgrowth ash trees." Cyrus stopped whittling and glared down at Mason. "Sonny, I remember my ol' grand daddy, the good Lord rest his pure soul, tellin' me he could shinny up a tree an' walk all the way to the capitol buildin' in Lexin'ton on the tops of ash trees -- never touch the ground." "Long gone now," Mason said. "You should know." Mason’s head jerked up. "I should?" "Yer company cut 'em down." "Sure, we cut our share--" "Yer share,” Cyrus curled his lip. “How many new trees did the Louisville Slugger Company plant after they butchered the woods?" Mason looked worried, squirmed on the step and glanced at his briefcase. "I don't have the exact figures with me." "I'll tell you. None. Knock 'em down, boys -- there's more over the next ridge." Mason studied the tops of his shoes, wiped a speck of dust off with the not-so-white handkerchief. Roamer gave the porch a sad-eyed survey, yawned before lowering his head back on his paws. Cyrus went on whittling. "How many trees do you figure you have in an acre, Cyrus?" "Depends." [ 30 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Mason's eyes swept across the wooded valley. "There's probably an average of thirty or forty ash trees to the acre in these parts." "Could be." "You own around eight hundred to a thousand trees and you know, yourself, it's a good idea to thin them out once in awhile." Cyrus leaned forward and spit tobacco juice over the porch railing. Mason moved his folded coat and briefcase closer toward his leg. Cyrus ran the brown-stained back of a left hand over his chin. "My ol' daddy, Lord bless his good soul, once told me, 'Don't you ever trust them goddam flat-landers. They ain't comin' up here 'less they want somethin'. Yer wantin’ my trees." "Tell you what, Cy--" "Cyrus." "Tell you what, Cyrus, I’ll cut a deal. You cruise the trees and mark one or two old-growth per acre for cutting. Just one or two trees to the acre. I'm able to offer you five hundred dollars a tree. Over twenty thousand dollars a cutting, cash on the barrel head.I left my card by your shoe." "No deal." Mason frowned, looked down and picked at a splinter on the step. "Let's face it, Cyrus -- somebody, some day, is gonna buy those trees." "That so." Mason's brow glistened again. He didn't bother with the handkerchief, but dragged a shirt cuff over his forehead. "Tell you what -- I'll go on back down to the city and have our lawyers draw up some legal papers. We'll form a Sloan Family Trust. Either you or your survivorkinfolk will have the final say about what and how much is cut on your twenty acres. How's that sound?" Cyrus peered down, hesitated, then answered, "I'll think on it." "Five-fifty a tree and we'll throw in a real big, TV -- one of those bran’ new highdefinition models. Let’s say a 50-inch job.” Mason looked at his watch. “What do you say, Cyrus?" "Dammit -- I'm thinkin' on it." Cyrus shaved a long strand off the stick, stared at the clouds. A light plane buzzed overhead, heading west toward the Mississippi River. Roamer chased raccoons in his nap with muffled grunts. Finally, Cyrus gazed back at Mason for a long minute. "I love the game of baseball. Loved to play it and now I love to watch it." He leaned forward and spit again, wiped his chin and studied the wisp of a cloud on the other side of the valley that dissolved slowly. Mason changed position on the step. After a few minutes Cyrus looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Now I'll tell YOU what, Sonny. Bring them legal papers back on up here, go to the tavern an' ask for Rags Ragsdale. He's jus' a plain ol' country lawyer, but he's got the discernin' eye of an eagle. I ain't about to trust no damn flat-land lawyers." Mason stood on the top step and grinned. "All right -- I'll do that! Tomorrow I'll bring a contract and a brand new television set up for your trouble today. Why, it'll be just like you are sitting in a box seat in Busch Stadium." "Okay, William-- " "Please -- Bill." "Okay, William. Rags gets to the tavern ‘bout one o’clock in the afternoon. You can drop that new TV off there, too. I need my daily walk." Mason stood, straightened the crease in his pants, rolled down his shirt sleeves, slipped on the jacket, picked the briefcase and stuck out his hand. "Cyrus, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I'm sure we'll get along just fine." "I ain't shakin' hands, just yet. Up here a handshake is a contract. You bring those papers up here tomorrow to Rags. If'n he says so, we'll talk some more. And show Miz Hiller how to turn on that TV set." "Tomorrow afternoon, Cyrus. We'll watch the Cardinals whip the Atlanta Braves." Cyrus returned to whittling. Bill Mason did a Fred Astair dance down the steps and bounced across the yard with a light step. He stopped and turned. "Tell me, what changed your mind, [ 31 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Cyrus?" He met a stony stare. "My mind? The only thing I changed today is my underwear. Bring the papers on up, you hear?" Mason smiled, gave a little wave and flittered down the path, toward his car. "By the way, William. You can leave that wood bat with my name on it by the gate." Cyrus turned toward the well and winked. “Roamer, it looks like we got the tavern new high-dollar TV.” Holy Ghost W Patricia Smith _____________________________ ___________ ait. Where was that at? Sheeeeeeee, wasn’t no ball one, that was my sickest, most filthiest Lord Charles, man, completely unhittable pitch, kisses the corner; come on, Harvold, seriously? Okay okay, suck it up, suck it up, like Skip says, demeanor on the mound, no flouncin’ around flinging daggers like that head case Freddy, it’s just ball one…. The arm sure feels strong, supercharged. And look at that twink Gonzales, jerkin’ his bat around like he’s trying to put out a fire. Scared, bro? You should be. Morales throws down the signal, twoseamer, away. You think, catcher-man? If that tick-shit Gonzales catches up with a two-seamer in this damn bandbox it’ll be gone. No, uh-uh. No. Oh, shit, Skip. Elbow on his knee, just staring out here—was it Skip’s call? Oh man, that’s what it is, your own Skipper don’t trust your number one pitch—well why’d he run you out here in the rubber game? Dude, bottom of the ninth in the goddamn onerun rubber game? Because Bobo couldn’t get it done, that’s why, two blown saves in a row and now this—two on, no out—now you are supposed to try to pull it out with Gonzales, Cedeno, and Davis coming up, Jesus H. Christ— wait wait wait. Head Doc says don’t think like that. Nothin’ negative. I will destroy that pussy Albert Gonzales. Two seamer, away. Right, Morales, I got it, I love a challenge. But what is that? Down the right field line—is it a cloud? Frickin’ lights, can’t see nothin’, oh man, now zzzzzzzzzzzzz, like a goddamn mosquito in my ear, can’t get it—oh crap. Can you go to your ear? You can’t go to your mouth, but what about the ear? They even got ears in the damn rule book? Morales’s showin’ again, dude’s about to blow, okay, that’s three; I can see, man: two seamer away, fine. But you do realize—no no no no no. Let it go, blow it out, allow your shoulders to grow warm and soft—Head Doc is such a fruitball—and now feel-up that little cowhide, sweet, small, smooth like Jamie’s little titties—not supposed to think about that, either—whoof, whoof, focus: roll it around, find the seams… come set…into the wind-up…and a rocket to the plate, strike one, yeah! Ball two. Ball two? Mister Har-vold, Umpire, sir— are you shitting me? That pitch did not catch any of the black? Who throws meatballs down the chute, man, come on, get yourself some eyewear. Bald old blind Porkster with a two-inch strike zone to go with his two-inch pecker. And Morales did not frame that pitch at all, not at all. Stupid bastard. Wait. Do not approach, do not come out here, goddamn it Morales, do not say... You okay, kid? And he hands me the ball. Don’t look. Stone face, like you’re workin’ your plan in your mind. Morales says, not the curve. Right. Your own damn catcher don’t trust your best damn pitch either. And what’s with Harvold? Morales just got here, man, you gotta talk things over, you gotta settle on a strategy, man, two-and-oh. Shit. Rubber game. Morales says, no, amigo. Bust him in. That conyo don’t take his bat off the shoulder, man—bust that pinchero. Up and in. Wo…Morales is some serious meat. Two ball count and you go ahead and bust him? Serious, man? You look at Skip to see if it’s from him [ 32 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 or what, but he’s granite. He spits. Morales pats my butt—homo—and trots back to the plate. Okay. Okay, okay, now. Go: mow ’em down, mo-fo. Ball three. Well, yeah. But that was so worth it, deep-fried twinkie diving like he was ducking monkey shit. Maybe it is time to swing the wood, Al-bert. What kind of name is Albert, anyhow? What? What was that, Morales-my-man? I can’t… Maybe it’s the lights, this old park is one sad sack—but I can’t see, lights, sweat in my eyes—what’d Granny used to say, sweatin’ like a whore in church?—something-or-other, dust or something in my face, zzzzzzzz in both ears now, I can’t see what Morales is putting down. Shouldn’t of wasted that last pitch, goddamn it, now I’m gonna walk fuckin’ Gonzo and set the table for fuckin’ Cedeno—chill chill chill chill chill, dawg-boy, yakker-man, cut that out, come on, you are the world’s baddest—you’re moving your lips. It looks bad, bro. Just grab the rosin, dab the hand…and don’t go throwin’ that rosin bag down, mister, and especially don’t go throwin’ the rosin at that piece of pork … Dirt-bag Gonzales holds up his hand and steps out to fuss with his gloves and now the Porkster’s working on the plate, busier’n a cat covering crap on a marble floor, and Morales is throwing his sign again. High heat? Oh shit oh lord. High heat down the middle? Oh man, but it’s the Lord Charles they can’t hit, that 12-6 curve drops right out of sight, it is a thing of beauty, I been foolin’ batters with that pitch since I was frickin’ ten-years-old— no. Gonzales catches up with the heater he will send it to Mars, three-run dinger, all she wrote, game over, series done, we go home. Morales shows again, no mistake, high heat, middle, and he pounds his fist in his glove. That’s it. Shit, shit-crap, okay. Gotta settle now, need a little help now, little prayer, chin up, little man, rosin up, grip up—sheeeeeee. I get it: Albert’s taking. Morales knows Albert won’t swing on a three-oh count. Okay, why didn’t you just say so, my man, no problemo, I just gotta keep it simple, just rifle one over the plate, simple, simple simple, simple, and we roll. Ball four. Oh, goddamn it, Mr. Snappy, goddamn it, got away from me, I’m lucky Morales blocked it, and now we got ducks on a pond, no place to put another one and Cedeno’s stepping up and oh, shit, now we got Mazzone coming at me, Captain Hook himself hiking up his saggy-ass britches…. Take off your hat, little buddy, it’s all good, pitcher-man, Yakker-dawg, wipe your brow and do not turn your back, do not look at the scoreboard, it’s okay, baby, just even out the mound, kick a little rubber, get yourself straight…. While Hook fucking saunters from the fucking dugout and what is that fucking zzzzzzzzz? And crap in my eye, goddamn it, some bug or something, shit’s everywhere, here he is, goddamn it, do not ask… Whatchya got, kid? Harvold’s squeezing me pretty good, coach. Gotta play the hand you’re dealt, kid. Little shrug. Toe the mound. Please please, for god’s sake, puh-leeeeze do not say … Just throw strikes. Kid? You’ll be okay. Throw strikes. I knew it. Like they think pitchers come out of the bullpen with a plan, no, with a god damn sacred mission to throw nothing but damn balls. Christ. Christ, like you are tryin’ to tie it up. Throw strikes, he says again, that’s three, and he pats me on the butt—homo—and starts back to the dugout. Oh, okay, you didn’t hear him the first two times, good thing he repeated himself, right on, Captain Brilliant, sure will throw strikes, why didn’t anyone tell me that was the plan? ...but the thing is, can I even throw a damn strike? Because when the arm’s this strong I got no control. That’s it. Goddamn, Hook’s sure taking his sweet time sauntering back to the dugout, two guys warming up in the ’pen, who is that? Oh lordy, sweat, lights, buzzing and now look at Cedeno, leering at me, the bastard—wish I could just vaporize, just fuckin’ disappear. That’s it. Or wouldn’t it be sweet if I had a little time-machine [ 33 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 and we could all just go back and start this baby over. Or maybe I could go way back, back to the Mudhens, I owned those triple-A crackers. Now I really gotta whizz—but what the hell is this? The cloud-thing again, Jesus, it’s moving in, is it a duster?—now what’s the Pork doing? Cedeno’s bent over and slapping himself on the head and Porkster’s waving his arms at something and damn, now I can’t hardly see the plate, can’t hardly see nothin’ through this dust or whatever the hell—aaaghh, it’s bugs, in my mouth, up my nose, in my ears, and the little fuckers bite, too. Shit, things get any better, I may have to hire someone to help me enjoy it. Sorel’s running, Gonzales is off, Garcia’s headed in through the bug cloud slappin’ and jerkin’ like a kid with cooties. Wait. Pork’s waving in the field. We’re suspending play? Hoodoo, Mama, wishes really do come true. *** Oh, Granny, it’s hotter’n Satan’s housecoat in here. Dead quiet, just like after we let one get away. I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ and no one talks to me, not in the dugout, not when I’m pitching—but am I still pitching? Skip’s staring at the field like he’s hypnotized, Mazzone too, and Morales is wiping out his helmet, his leg jumping the way he does. Are we going back out? Look at all the black shit on my towel, bugs, everywhere. The giant cloud out there, thing reminds me of one of those magnet dealies with steel specks for hair—except this one’s millions and millions of specks, all shimmery, and it’s so big… You all ever seen anything like this? Junior says in that gentle voice to no one in particular. Of course it’s Junior breaks the silence. Naw. Nope. Dios mio. Umm-mm. Malo. Crazy. Yo. Gnats, Bones says. I love Mr. Bones. Bench coach, one of the best, been around baseball all his life, great guy. Them’s gnats, he says. More mumbling: gnats? Ay que la verga. No shit. Zat right? Bunch of horny bastards, too, Bones says, and he snorts a wicked lugie. He spits. Someone laughs and Bones says, All them’s males—it’s a mating swarm. Moto conjero? Crazy, all over that. Wo, horn-dawgs… A mating swarm? I can’t hardly believe that shit. Bones says, called a ghost. He snorts again. Then he grins like some crazy bastard and looks right at me and says maybe it’s the goddamn holy ghost, and he spits. I kinda nod. But—does that mean we’re done? Or what. Guys all stare out, not sayin’. They know. I’m the fuckin’ rookie. Way I see it, you got yourself a little breather, son, Bones says, watching the field. Oh shit. So let me give you a piece of advice, he says, looking over his shoulder. Shit. Cedeno? He’ll swing at anything in his area code, boy, sucker can not lay off. So when you go back out there, just go ahead and throw— Shit —that nasty, nasty curveball. No shit? Oh man, I just about want to wrestle Mr. Bones to the ground and plant big juicy smackers all over his ugly mug. Get out my Lord Charles, here we go. I nod like that was my plan all along. Damn straight. Throw the yakker, mow ’em down. [ 34 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Still Life in Gray Christopher Duggan T ________________________________________________________________________________ he sky was gray and the air crisp. It was close to 1 p.m. on a Sunday in late October and the temperature hadn’t made it out of the 40s all day. On the Metro platform, my kids stood and waited with me as the wet wind whistled past. We are alone on the platform. Laura, my 10-year-old, turned up the collar of her coat against the elements while 3-year-old Nick stood quietly, looking off down the tracks. We shivered. After a wait that seemed like hours an eastbound train arrived; we rushed in through the accordion doors, took our seats on the mostly empty car and watched through rain-streaked windows as the urban landscape slid by. The trees had been making a slow turn to their fall colors and were mostly a greenish yellow along the tracks toward Downtown St. Louis. Laura kept careful track of the stops as Nick sat contentedly looking out of the window, and I checked over my old Pentax K-1000 to make sure the film speed was set right. The old camera had seen me through hundreds of jobs as a journalist and public relations professional, and I trusted it to handle this day the way you want your best friend at your side in trying times. That morning, I had loaded it with a roll of Tri-X black and white. I didn’t have any color film, and black and white seemed appropriate. This was my first weekend with the kids since Sharon and I had separated. Had we still been together, I doubted we would be doing this. Or, if we had gone, she surely would not have come with us. She was never one to appreciate the sentimentality of baseball, and in recent [ 35 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 years, there seemed to be fewer and fewer things we both found important, our children being the notable exception. The 2005 baseball season had ended for St. Louis a couple weeks earlier with the Cards’ loss to the Astros in the National League Championship Series--dashing our dreams of one last World Series at the old place. Albert Pujols’ titanic homerun in Houston in game five had brought the series back to Busch for one last game, but a 5-1 loss in game six ended the season and sealed Busch’s fate. Busch Memorial Stadium was among the last of the old cookie cutter stadiums from the ‘60s. As a child, when we drove past it on Highway 40 I thought it looked like a spaceship with its smooth contours and the set of arches cut out of its concrete crown. In college, I thought it resembled a bottle cap more than a spaceship, possibly from one of the products of its namesake company. Most of the time, when they take down a stadium, the demolition crews blow out the structural supports, sending it falling in on itself in seconds. You can watch from hundreds of angles on the evening news as the structure disappears in a cloud of brownish gray dust. Busch would not be going out that way; the experts were afraid that the stadium coming down all at once would damage or even collapse the Metro tunnel that ran right past it. Instead, they were going to do it the old fashioned way, by wrecking ball, slowly over the course of weeks. This seemed to be the way of things that year. My marriage had not ended all at once in one fiery, climactic confrontation, but slowly over many years, bit by bit, cut by cut, argument by argument. Also, my mother had died from Alzheimer’s disease just two months before this trip after gradually losing her memory, along with the basic things that allowed her to continue living. It was the cruelest of fates. Busch’s slow demise would be a sad reminder of them both. “Next stop,” Laura announced brightly as we rolled past the Savvis Center. She had [ 36 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 been taking the separation hard but was putting up a brave front. Nick was too young to understand what was happening, adapting as he went. Years later, he would not remember the marriage, just as he would retain no memories of the ballgames he had been to at Busch. We filed out at the stadium stop onto the platform below street level and into the bracing air that whistled through that little man-made canyon. Up at street level, I could see that the cranes had already started knocking away the elevated walkway that circled the stadium at the gates. From the crossing at Clark Street, I snapped a couple of shots and we took Nick’s hands and crossed the street closer to the stadium. Its gray concrete pillars faded away against the enveloping sky. We circled around the building to where Jack Buck still sat, smiling with his hand to his ear, surrounded by notes on the wall from his many admirers. I thought of those nights when I was a kid, lying awake in the dark of my room, long after lights-out, listening to Buck’s voice on my radio, turned down low so my parents couldn’t hear. As if just for me, he crisply laid out the play-by-play of some late night West Coast game. For a young kid who loved baseball, Buck could weave a bedtime story like no one else. He died a few years before the stadium demolition, his voice drifting off into the warm air of a summer’s night. A little farther around the stadium, where the Cardinal Hall-of-Famers once stood, there were only battered concrete pedestals behind a makeshift chain link fence, surrounded by a sea of faded red seats that had been dismembered from their places in the stadium’s upper decks. The heroes that had once stood there– Mize, Gibson, Dizzy Dean, frozen in mid-throw, swing, or catch–had been moved to a warehouse, where they awaited their new home. I wondered if Stan Musial was with them, “baseball’s perfect knight” in a warehouse, but when we made our way around the ballpark to where his larger-than-life statue had always stood, there he was—tall, relaxed in the batter’s [ 37 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 box, and ready to swat one into the gap or over the opposite field fence. I saw him once in 1982 with my mom and dad at an NLCS game against Atlanta. As a 61-year-old spectator seated eight rows in front of me, he calmly speared a screaming line drive into the stands, saving the lives of untold numbers of fans, and casually tossed it to a kid sitting across the aisle from him. All around the stadium, couples and families were milling about, taking pictures, touching the walls reverently and writing things on them wherever they could find an open space. I thought about my own family and the shards of it that we would try to rearrange into some other shape. I thought about my mother. A devoted Cardinals fan, she used to talk about how she remembered this park being built. I was almost glad that she would not be around to witness its destruction. Holding tight to my kids’ hands, I moved numbly from place to place, not really feeling anything. It had been a terrible year. I wondered if I had simply taken as much as I could, with new tragedies spilling away from me like water over the edge of a glass that is already full. At one spot we could look through the grate onto the field inside, where in the early ‘70s I saw Lou Brock in my first Cardinal game lead off the bottom of the first with a clean single up the middle. My father had leaned over to me and said in my ear, “He’s gonna steal.” And he did. It was the field where I saw the “Go crazy folks” game in 1985 with my mother and my sister and a sea of umbrellas in the field boxes down below, where my parents watched Bruce Sutter get that last strikeout in game seven of the ’82 series, and where Sharon and I took Laura and Nick to their first ballgames. This place had been one of sunshine, blue skies, and joy. I borrowed some guy’s Sharpie and wrote on the wall, “Chris, Laura and Nick Duggan. Thanks for the memories. 10/23/05.” I wanted badly for the destruction of this year to be rebuilt with something new and good. I [ 38 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 wanted sunshine, blue skies, and joy. I knew that, for now, I was on my own. Ready or not, I was going to have to let go. The three of us made our way back to the Metrolink station. From the bench where we waited, I found myself looking up at old Busch where it sat, imposing and still, its red brick usurper next to it, waiting to take its place. Our train glided up and its doors slid smoothly open. As we took our seats, the driver’s voice came over the intercom, “Next stop, Civic Center.” We rolled away from the stadium. I looked back once more, wanting to watch as long as I could before it disappeared behind the concrete supports that hold up Interstate 64. Then, it was just the gray pillars and the gray sky and the rain and nothing else. [ 39 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 A Review of Jenny Shank’s The Ringer Sara Lippmann I ________________________________________________________________________________ t’s baseball season, and Jenny Shank steps up to the mound with her carefully structured, dramatically paced first novel in which two families are destroyed by tragedy but bound together by a love of the game. With little wind-up Shank throws her first pitch and it’s a whammy – Ed O’Fallon, Denver cop, father, and hotheaded tee-ball coach shoots and kills a Mexican immigrant during a botched raid. This terrible misdeed sets the narrative in play, catalyzing an emotional, ethical and political fallout that traverses disparate lives and calls upon humanity if there is to be any chance at hope or reconciliation. Told in alternating chapters between Ed’s point of view and that of Patricia Maestas, estranged wife and instant widow of slain Salvador Santillano, the novel hinges on the question – Where does one go from here? No one’s life will be the same. Haunted by his actions, O’Fallon undergoes an existential crisis, which leads him to the Moab Desert for some serious soul-searching. What will become of his career? His marriage? Wracked with guilt and dread in the aftermath, the O’Fallon clan cannot escape a nagging sense of “what if.” If only things had been different. “If one change had been made in the events of that March day, one tiny change – if Springer had written the right address on the warrant, if Santillano had gone out to the store, if Ed had turned down the SWAT assignment just that once – then they would still be strangers to each other, two Denver fathers on opposite sides of a ball field, rooting for their sons.” Maestas, on the other hand, finds herself thrust in the political spotlight. Buoyed by a community that rallies around her, Patricia emerges as the mouthpiece against injustice and racial profiling with her sights set on city hall. On the news and in the headlines, she faces the possibility of a trial and the opportunity to bring about policy reform. Her adolescent son, Ray, however, resents the political appropriation of his family’s plight, “Why does everyone act that what belonged to us belonged to them?” As Patricia navigates this new and unfamiliar territory, she must also patch together an unknown mystery about her husband; in so doing, she learns through death what he was in life, and discovers a renewed closeness to him. Grounding each family is baseball. O’Fallon’s two sons play on a strong, spirited league, while Patricia recognizes her son Ray’s natural gift and allows him to switch from his recreational league to a more competitive one, with the added hope that it will keep him off the streets and out of trouble. The season rolls on through summer. The boys’ teams are rivals. There is a sinking sense of inevitability that permeates the novel, as Shank tracks these polarized lives with a keen eye. Of course, it is only a matter of time before the families collide. When O’Fallon’s sons’ baseball team qualifies for the state championship, it is allowed to bring along a powerhouse player from another team. Ray Maestas (Santillano) is chosen for his fast arm, coming aboard as the “ringer” of the season. “Hidden connections between everyone” are unearthed as everything lines up over the plate. Juggling such different vantage points is not easy but Shank pulls it off, handling these parallel narratives with compassion and equanimity. But it’s tricky. On the one hand, Shank does an impressive job of maintaining the novel’s organization; elsewhere, however, the tight frame prevents the novel from leaping off the page. I found myself wishing Shank had loosened her grip at times, to allow the characters and story some breathing room, so that certain plot points wouldn’t feel contrived. In addition to writing fiction, Shank is also an essayist and reviewer and the Books & Writers Editor of NewWest.Net. I mention this because this winter, in a terrific essay on Why [ 40 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 We Write for Poets & Writers magazine, Shank employed the term “ham-and-egger” to describe her prose style. She wrote, “I’m not going to dazzle anybody with lyricism or structural ingenuity. But I put my head down and work and sometimes a story comes of it. I ham-and-egg my way through.” It is a poignant and humorous piece on humility and determination and above all perseverance and I recommend everyone read it. My favorite part is her description of Johnny Business, the gritty, practical-minded side of her brain that keeps plugging away and submitting her work and progressing her career, and who “looks like a member of the 1993 Phillies: bearded, mulleted, carrying a little extra around the middle.” The truth is, her novel does have a workman like quality. Shank steers clear of major styling and poetic high jinx in favor of story, a choice that serves her well. In fact, her few attempts at flowery often feel forced, as in Ed’s rather pat description of his wife, Claire, “She smelled like rain on a summer afternoon.” Functional prose propels the narrative forward. That said; there are moments throughout that rise up from the ordinary and truly startle. When Patricia thinks back on her sex life with Santillano, “she couldn’t recall their last time. She hadn’t paid attention to it. Lasts could sneak up on you in a way that firsts never did.” The simple grace and power of lines like these are proof that Shank’s earned her spot in the starting lineup. I look forward to what she throws at us next. The House that Ruth Built I Liz Dolan _____________________________ ___________ n front of a hole in the right field wall my father spreads the tarpaulin to protect the grounds from a sudden downpour. His once slender waist now bulges like the Babe’s, too many center-cut pork chops and home-grown spuds. On his forearm, a tattoo, Hands Across the Sea, two hands shaking over the red, white and blue, the green, white and gold, a tryst between Ireland and America. With a North-Irish brogue, he’d tell us they lament the loss of the old country where they hadn’t a flute to jig to, this is the greatest country in the world and don’t you forget it. As if forgetting how he’d gotten these afternoons at the stadium: the truck owner, a wellconnected Yank, one hand washing the other, I guess, who bestowed that job upon him after its wheels crushed his five-year-old son’s head, a job he kept through the Golden Age of Baseball ‘til the New York, New Haven and Hartford, a pensioned position, beckoned. In lieu of his son’s blues he saw Lou Gehrig’s weep, his cracking voice bouncing off the bleachers and Dimaggio’s velvets The Ringer Jenny Shank The Permanent Press, $29 ISBN: 978-1-57962-214-5 squint in the two o’clock sun, his hands sheltering them as though he were saluting. At home, thirty blocks south, we baked scones to the tattoo of the kettle and the drone of Mel Allen’s loamy Going, going, gone. [ 41 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Hand Ball Todd Zuniga M ________________________________________________________________________________ y hand’s lopped off in a car accident, a clean cut sutured bloodlessly shut. But what I’m good at is soccer, so I don’t even bother with the hospital, it’s not the biggest deal. I head right home, juggle my hand like a soccer ball in my bedroom to relax. My housekeeper walks in, sees my hand flopping in mid-air, hitting my knee, flopping in mid-air, off the instep of my shoe, flopping in mid-air, off my head, and faints. She’s like that, the big baby. After a shower, I duct tape my hand to my wrist, drive over to the house of the girl I’ve been fucking. She likes when I call it that. She likes for me to call it fucking. Once there, we go at each other like horned-up llamas. To play a joke, I put our interlocked hands above her head, wriggle my wrist free from the duct tape. I start touching one of her boobs with my nub. She moans with her eyes closed. Then I put my working hand on her other boob. When she realizes she’s holding my detached hand, she freaks, bucks me off and yells, “Porter!” which is my name. She flings my hand away with an expletive. When it hits the wall I say, “Hey, careful,” like it hurts. But I don’t feel a thing. The hand’s dead, and I’m a soccer player who doesn’t need it, so whatever. She’s colored ghost white, presses into the wall’s corner to get away, so I apologize. To calm her, I reach over to touch her hair, but accidentally lead with my nub. She screams like it’s my fault—but this onehandedness is so new! “Just go for now, okay?” she says. I scoop my hand up with my toe and start juggling it. “God!” she hollers. “Grow the fuck up.” “Up fuck the grow,” I say, to make her laugh. “Off fuck,” she says. I juggle my way out the door. My cell phone rings and it’s my dad saying my mom’s dead from cancer. Just kidding. He really says, “I saw the game last night, you played great!” “I played okay,” I say because my mom, who doesn’t have cancer—at least not yet— always told me to be humble. “You had two goals!” my dad says. He talks in exclamation points, since his hearing is busted from Vietnam. I buy him all of these high -powered hearing aids, but they all go missing. “My hand fell off.” “Your man sell cough?!” When my dad mishears, he repeats what he’s misheard, without even trying. “My hand fell off!” “Like you need it! You scored two goals last night!” After practice Coach tells me that I made the All-Star team, along with my teammates Devenpeck and Ruiz. “But yer a fockin’ starter, Porter,” he says, and tells me ESPN will announce it later on. Coach is from Switzerland, so he cusses like its punctuation. “Now let’s go celebrate by eatin’ a fat fockin’ stack of pancakes.” I untape my hand and hold it in my other hand, like my right hand is shaking my left only upside-down. Just to show him. “Well,” he says, scratching his gray beard, gauging it’s effect on my future. So, I start to juggle it: knee, foot, knee, chest. He says, “Haha! Brilliant! Now let’s fockin’ eat!” At the restaurant, Coach orders pancakes for every table in the restaurant, even the empty ones. He shouts, like he’s drunk, “We got a goddamn All-Star soccer player in our midst, and I fockin’ bet he’s willing to sign anyone’s fockin’ flapjacks with maple syrup!” I sign eight stacks of pancakes. One kid puts a syrupy pancake in his pocket, and his [ 42 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 mom looks at me like it’s my fault. A day after the All-Star Game announcement, I’m asked by a man named Sandy to be the featured cover athlete for FIFA Soccer 2011, a video game made by Electronic Arts. They fly me to Vancouver to get my face scanned so my doppelgänger in the game looks as real as possible. While there, I see Luke Skywalker, which is so unbelievable, I can’t help but go over to him. “Luke Skywalker!” I say. He laughs, shakes my good hand, and says, “Hey, Porter, nice to see you,” like he’s known me his entire life, even though, of course, we’ve never met before. “Quite a grip,” I say, “I guess that’s the benefit of getting a mechanical hand after your father cut off your real hand with a lightsaber.” His head wrinkly and old from the Tatooine sun, he laughs again, asks why I’m in Vancouver. I tell him, “I’m on the cover of their next soccer game, and they’re pretty much scanning everything but my cock. You here doing Jedi shit?” “I’m here to record a voiceover for Medal of Honor: Stop the Genocide. I’m playing the part . . .” “Luke fucking Skywalker,” I interrupt. “I mean, I can’t believe it.” Which is true; he’s like royalty! “Call me Mark, please,” he says, kind of serious. “Right, code names. Then call me ‘Bag of Dicks.’” He excuses himself and walks off. I look at his hand while he walks away, imagine the metal inside, moving when he uses it. The media build up to the All-Star Game means I get lots of attention. People are freaking out about my hand. The newspaper headlines make me into a virtual hero: STAR PLAYER FACES TOUGHEST CHALLENGE HEAD-ON WITH HAND OFF COURAGEOUS ATHLETE HAS ‘HAND’ DO ATTITUDE SOCCER PLAYER ‘HAND’LING OF ADVERSITY MAKES HIM ROLE MODEL I like the idea of being a role model, so on my day off during the three-day All-Star break, I agree to give a talk to a group of one- or no-handed kids. At the event, I tell a group of children, “I used to avoid handless or one-handed people. But now here I am, standing in front of an entire room full of you!” and wave my non-hand in the air. “What I’m here today to tell you is that you can live a full life! I mean, don’t try to be a mechanic, or a jewelry maker, or a secretary. Try to be a professional soccer player, an Olympic runner, or a Jedi—something accessible. What I’m saying is you might not have hands, but it’s not like you’re retarded!” I’m disappointed when there’s no applause, but, duh, they don’t have any hands. I walk out feeling pretty good. That night my publicist calls and says, “Wow, thanks.” “What?” I ask. She reads me two headlines: SOCCER PLAYER TAKES LOTS OF CREDIT FOR OVERCOMING A MALADY HE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE HAVING A PROBLEM WITH GIVE HIM A HAND: SOCCER STAR MAKES ROOMFUL OF KIDS CRY “Some people just don’t get it,” I say. She tells me, “That’s exactly right.” My only brother, Alvin, calls me. Alvin uses Jell-O in the place of hair gel, paints his fingernails with deer blood and eats his own shit. So, yeah, he’s pretty awesome, but in some ways he’s a total downer. Maybe I’d be a downer too if I wasn’t a celebrated athlete who almost everyone loves, who gets to autograph pancakes with maple syrup, and can get freaky with his hot girlfriend whenever he wants. Over the phone Alvin says, “Are you coming to my new exhibition?” “Is it in LA or New York?” [ 43 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 “No! It’s here, in Kansas City—” “Oh, then yes.” “I’m a failure,” he says. He takes a bite of something, and I wonder if it’s shit. “Are you still eating your own shit?” “Dude, I was two years old! Like I knew what the fuck I was doing! Are you telling people that?” Tragedy has a sort of way of striking when you don’t expect it. My girlfriend breaks up with me on the phone, and says she’s sorry she’s not doing it in person. I thank her for not doing it in person. “Why?” she asks. “Why do you say that type of shit? That’s so you, encapsulated in that sentence. You’re such a coward. And how could you say those terrible things to those children? My brother has Down’s Syndrome! Like you care. I just . . .” I hang up on her because, whatever, right? We’re broken up. Life is for the living! A week later, we’re playing in snowy Chicago against our most hated rival. Whenever I touch the ball the crowd claps for me. It’s fantastic that my stardom has risen above this bitter rivalry. “Man, all this attention is great!” I say to Chicago’s center back, Ben Jenks, and pat his shoulder. “You dumb turd,” he says. “They’re clapping because you only have one hand.” “Oh!” I say, glad that the mystery is unraveled. Later in the game I’m slide-tackled, and take a while to get up. While I’m down a bunch of people in the crowd roar with applause, throw fake hands onto the pitch. The hands are flexible and rubbery, but they still hurt. EA cancels my appearance on the cover of their game because of “budgetary problems.” “They’re the richest company on the planet,” I say. “But problem solved—I’ll do it for free.” “I’m sorry,” my agent says. “Their decision is final.” “There has to be a way.” She tells me the truth: the Canadian government thinks I’ve faked the loss of my hand, and because of this, they’ve banned me, or any images of me (posters, digital photography, etc.) from entering the Vancouver city limits. “Whoa, really?” “No,” she says before she hangs up, “not really.” Back home in Kansas City, I see a girl in a bar. She makes my heart hurt she’s so pretty. When I sit on the stool next to her, she says, “No thanks.” “I’m not selling anything.” She asks me to please go away. I tell her, “But I’m Porter.” She calls for the bartender and asks him to make me go away. The bartender asks me to go away. “I’m single,” I tell her. “No kidding.” One night my ex-girlfriend calls and says, “I didn’t like the way we got off the phone the last time we spoke.” “Okay,” I say. “I hate you,” she says, and hangs up. I call her back. “What?” she snaps. “You do not deserve the last word,” I tell her. She sighs like she’s given up. “Look,” I say, “I am light. I am invincible. I move through the world with a lovable stupidity.” “You move through the world stupid,” she says. I call her back. “Hello?” she says. “It’s me,” I say. “Me who?” she says. “Porter!” “Why are you calling me?” “Because I don’t want you to have the last word.” “But I’m on the other line with you.” “Oh,” I say. “I’m hanging up on both lines, now.” I call her back. She picks up and hangs up without saying a word. [ 44 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 I call her back. She picks up and hangs up. I call her back. Her answering machine comes on. “If this is Porter, please stop calling.” There is the sound of a phone hanging up, then a beep. I call her back. I call her back. I call her back. Bully O Nick Ripatrazone __________________________ ___________ nly the second week of October and frost already roughed the grass. Annie Vauxhall jogged off the field, left knee cut from a cleat while shielding the ball. She was always falling, tumbling: she lived on the ground. Blood curled along her shin, stained the top of her folded white sock. She had that look: the same look as when she trailed a forward to the centerline, leaving the circle open, or when she stood, hands crossed behind her back, in front of Tammy’s desk. A stare, never an explanation. Tammy handed her a towel and pointed to the hose strung over the bottom bleacher. “Wet this and clean away the blood.” She tugged down the sock further. The trainer was a field over, flirting with the soccer coach. His golf cart idled on the track. “Is it still bleeding?” “I don’t know.” Tammy wondered how Annie didn’t know. Annie drenched the towel and then pressed the cloth against her skin. White string pulled from the rag and stuck to the blood. Behind them Roy, Annie’s boyfriend, stood on the bottom bleacher and bounced every few minutes. He’d crashed his GMC Sierra Grande in the woods off Route 28 and left the battered truck pinned against a willow, though he went back with friends to smoke in the abandoned cab. Roy said he didn’t care enough to tow the truck out of the woods. Said it was shit; needed a reason to convince his father to get him a motorcycle. The girls slowed through drills, sticks dragging along patches of mud. Most seasons they were committed past Halloween, but this year their minds were elsewhere. An expelled student set-off five M-80s in the boys’ locker room on a Sunday morning in September. No one was there to be hurt, but the message was clear: next time would be worse. Two freshmen got pregnant by the same senior; most people thought it was some pact, but it was really a bet. He won 500 dollars and then dropped out of school. And, most recently, the punter on the JV football team was pushed into the pep rally bonfire. The kids who did it--both varsity cornerbacks--weren’t even laughing. When asked for a reason their answer was simple: the kid was standing too close to the flame. The team’s next game was against Eastern, who they hadn’t beaten since 1971. West Windsor girls always split their year with lacrosse and soccer though Eastern girls stayed in the sport August to August. But not Annie: she was the only player who played field hockey year round. She didn’t like change; when Roy cheated on her with a girl from the community college, she cried, and then forgave him. More work to find another guy; change brought a whole new set of headaches. Which made 1978 all the more surprising. January 1978: Annie tried out for the school play. She made signs: “Annie for Annie” and “I’ve Got the Gun” (for the latter she borrowed her father’s Winchester, though the vice principal eased the rifle from her clammy hands before third period). She got the part, and in February she was center stage, hands on hips, belting “I Got Lost in His Arms.” March: Roy became an official boyfriend, not just some guy she held hands with in the hallway and kissed beneath rusted bleachers. His truck still rested in the woods, sparrow shit bleaching the hood, and he got his motorcycle: an Electra Glide. He sped down 28, giving former teachers the finger before he peeled away. April: Annie told Tammy that she’d lost her virginity to Roy in the backseat of that truck. She said it was during a rainstorm and everything seemed so quiet until the rain pelted the roof. Like rocks. Annie didn’t say like rocks, but [ 45 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Tammy imagined it. Heavy rain must have sounded like rocks when the only other noise was breathing. Tammy had been at West Windsor for ten years and, like most teachers, thought she would have been gone after five. That really was what everyone said: in the workroom, after union meetings, during happy hour at Chimney Rock. Teachers graduated high school only to go back to the same place. For good. That’s not the type of job to keep for a life. But Tammy didn’t think there was much else for her: she’d played field hockey and lacrosse at the University of New Hampshire, majored in history because she didn’t mind reading but hated poetry. And now, a decade later, she was still passing out colored pencils for students to shade France a thin green and showing World War II newsreels on her father’s 16 mm projector. Sooner or later he’d ask for it back. Her boyfriend, Daniel, grabbed her ass in the aisles of A&P and kissed her on the sideline after games. She asked him to keep it down in public and he always said the same thing: do kids really think their teachers don’t have sex? “They don’t need to see it.” She put her feet on the dashboard of Daniel’s station wagon. He wanted to move-in together; in Tammy’s place, actually. Said she had better water pressure. Not to mention a wider bed. Daniel used to be a conductor for NJ Transit; he worked the Gladstone branch that trailed through rich Far Hills and Millburn before ending in Hoboken. He sometimes hummed Cream into the PA system. A good job, but lost it for sleeping in the back car. At first he was pissed, but soon became guilty. Got down on himself. He had no money left to pay his rent but still wanted to buy things: a canoe, a new truck. “Ford F-150.” He kept an ad from Car and Driver in his glove compartment. “You know Roy Raulson got rid of his truck. His father got him a motorcycle.” He turned toward her. “No shit. Did he sell it?” “No. Dumped it in the woods.” “Where?” Tammy brought down her feet. It was either search the heavy woods for a rusted truck or grade outlines for an essay on Normandy Beach. She told Daniel to make a U-turn and go north on 28. You have a better chance of seeing Jesus, another teacher once said, than of not seeing one of your students outside of school. Tammy remembered those words as Daniel pulled off 28 and eased down the brushheavy trail. Annie and Roy weren’t messing around when his flat-tired truck came into view, but Annie had that look as if they’d just finished. That same look as when she stood with her knee bleeding: here I am, like it or not. “Coach Carlyle?” Annie stepped out of the truck. It was only the second time she didn’t call her Tammy. The other was the first time they met. Tammy covered her face. But she laughed. How could she not? She apologized. Not that it mattered: Annie must have known that she’d come there for a reason. Daniel introduced himself to Roy, who shook his hand. They looked the same age. Roy maybe looked a bit older even. Wider-shoulders, flannel tucked into belted jeans. “Does she still run?” Daniel asked. “Doubt it.” Roy brushed his arm across the hood, pulling wet leaves across the metal. He propped open the hood. Threw leaves and sticks from the engine. “We could get this running in no time.” Daniel looked at his watch. “It’s only 3:30. A few hours of light left.” Daniel said he could grab all he needed from his garage; the trip would only take 15 minutes. Said he had time now to work on a truck, and looked at Tammy as if she’d agree or give him a proud smirk. She did neither. She just looked at Annie, who pulled back her hair. Annie shifted a yellow tie up her ponytail. “Roy, why don’t you go with Daniel? We’ll wait here.” She sat in the truck, passenger door open. Her bare heels bounced against the bottom of the doorframe. The bottom of her feet [ 46 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 pasted black. She must have been running, stepping through the woods. They talked about Orca and The Six Million Dollar Man and how bad that week’s cafeteria menu was (buttered asparagus, grinded cold cuts, wax beans). Annie said the beans looked like pigeon eyes and Tammy smiled. It was not so strange that they were together, in the woods, with a dirty and dead truck. 1978 was Annie’s senior year. Her “rebirth,” as some of the teachers liked to call it, hadn’t slowed her down one bit on the hockey field. And Tammy didn’t even like that expression. Annie was never dead, not to herself or the world. If she was different that was a blessing: how many hundreds of tweed-haired girls, legs long and personalities short, had come through and out the doors of West Windsor during her years there? She didn’t even look the same as most: auburn hair, pale freckles patterned along the bridge of her small nose. She’d become a hell of a player: halfway through the season she led the team in assists, would have led the team in goals if she’d give up sweeper. But she loved it back there, and even the other coaches had noticed: Essex and Princeton had never seen a slip trap like that, how Annie curled the ball close to her body. She had balance and speed. She stayed after practice, Roy still on the bleachers, smoking the cigarette he thought no one could see curled under his palm, escaped smoke sifting into wind. Annie repeated drills past sundown, wearing a windbreaker and wool hat. She’d practice in snow if it were allowed. Tammy didn’t mind staying. Daniel might have minded but he’d shoot the shit with Roy. Like they were brothers. Annie could bully like nobody else. That was what Tammy liked best about her: how sure she was in that moment. Confident hockey players are a dime a dozen, but only once in a while was one sure. To be sure in the sport you had to be sure about other things. The tap of the sticks above the ball. The swipe, almost always to the left. The open run toward the sideline. Calm and controlled. Annie could be underwhelming in a group, on a team, but one-on-one she came alive. She had held captain’s practice at 11:00 each weekday morning during the summer. Previous captains held it at 8, thinking the earlier the tougher, but Annie knew better. After an hour of Indian runs, shuttles, and lunges, the girls would whittle down to a handful, the rest massaging calves and sucking-down water. Instead, Annie waited until people were actually awake and told them to not even bother unless they were willing to stay the entire two hours. She kept roll on a clipboard and promised she’d show the list to Tammy. Once a girl said that wasn’t fair and Annie smiled. She underlined that girl’s name and didn’t explain it when she folded the sheet into Tammy’s locker room mailbox. Tammy didn’t understand but forgave Annie those quirks. She seemed worth forgiving. That season felt better than the last. Team mothers planned pasta parties each night before game days. Tammy used to hold them at her house but the mothers wanted a hand in things: that was the way of women without jobs. PTA, pierogi sales at the Lutheran church, football-fundraisers, and now pasta parties. Always the same whispered talk: Annie could do no wrong. Hard to claim that she wasn’t talented but easy to claim she was high on herself. People often mistook silence for confidence. Thought the same of Tammy. Said: look at those two, like sisters, their boyfriends in the open garage with that truck, the one he left in the woods for all that time. Some wondered if they were swingers. Or more. Even the athletic director told Tammy at the tail-end of a half-hour conversation that it wasn’t prudent to be spending so much time with an athlete. Tammy hated the way he punctuated the conversation with that warning. How all the words that preceded it had been a ruse. Tammy told her that Daniel was selfish, and Annie listened. She listened like a woman, not like a senior, not like someone who kept a smile straight and then would run to her friends with the information. Annie never gave opinions. She nodded. She understood. She sat with Annie during prep, in the empty classroom. Annie rolled back her khakis and picked at a scab [ 47 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 glued below her knee. “Why won’t you let that heal?” “It’s a habit,” Annie said. “You could find a better one.” “Or a worse one.” Annie smiled like she knew something. Tammy considered asking her what. Instead she watched Annie pick back the scab. Watched her live without worry. Like that was a trait she alone owned. Daniel didn’t waste a second. He walked through the door and said people were talking. Those bitch mothers think you’re hypnotized by that girl, he said. Let her run the field like she owned it. “I don’t give a shit about them. But you need to know.” Tammy didn’t deny it. She already knew. And she couldn’t deny another truth: Daniel had never stood up for her before and it didn’t seem like he’d do anything now. He pissed away hours with Roy: coaxing that truck back to life when it should have stayed dead. Sometimes she loved that. She’d stay at the field through dark. And not only for Annie. She stayed long after the drills ended and Annie walked home. She stayed for herself, even slept on the bleachers, the lone light pale on the back half of the field. But other times she wanted Daniel back. She wanted 30 year-old Daniel, who came home with his blue shirt unbuttoned and untucked. Who ate dinner on the coach while she sat next to him, her toes warm under his leg. She was tired of sharing. Him with Roy, herself with Annie. She canceled practice. The assistant coach was capable, but Tammy hated the idea of the team together without her there. She stayed home: no reason to cancel if she was in school. Daniel asked if she wanted to go on the johnboat with him out in Penn’s Creek but she knew she shouldn’t. People would talk even more. They talked about how she came home from that college scholarship and hadn’t won a conference title yet. They talked about how she was supposed to marry a previous boyfriend, one who had a job, who didn’t hang around with 19 year-old seniors, who didn’t spend his after- noons rolling under a leaky engine. “Sooner or later you’ve got to stop caring what people think about you.” That was Daniel’s line. Was that how life went? Tammy always thought the opposite. There was Annie, in pink tights, stretching her very average voice on that small stage. Riding on the back of Roy’s motorcycle with her hand not around his stomach but inside his thighs. Sooner or later Annie would start caring. That must have been the right way. She’d finish the season with a disappointment, break-up with Roy during the summer, let a college boy take her in the same way. Sooner or later Annie would wonder what people thought. Explain herself. It was only natural. Tammy would have to answer questions the next day. And the next. But not for now. For now Tammy could relax. She watched Daniel slide the johnboat across the bed of that resurrected truck. Shift it back. Try to tie it down tight. But he couldn’t. The rope was loose; too much slack. He couldn’t do it alone so she went outside to help. Backswing F Aaron Burch __________________________ ___________ rank stood on my porch, beer in one hand and clapping the front door with the open palm of his other. Behind him, his truck jerked and hiccupped but he never looked back; I’d heard that old junkyard of a truck growling through the neighborhood so knew he was coming, had watched from the garage window as he pulled up, jumped out of the truck and barreled to where he stood now. I waited with slight amusement as he pounded and got frustrated at my absence until, finally, I pressed the remote and let the wall rise in front of me. “Shit, man. I was starting to think you weren’t home.” I’d just finished dinner, was sitting in my car while Karen watched a movie inside. “The range, man. Let’s go hit the fucking range.” I went back, grabbed my old clubs from the back corner and could hear Karen turning up [ 48 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 the volume on her movie, trying to drown us out. I slowed down, waited for her to look up at me. Kept waiting all the way out the garage. I threw my clubs in the back and Frank yelled to be careful, to be sure I didn’t scratch his clubs or anything. Mine weren’t anything special, an old mismatched set I found at a garage sale, but Frank thought the world of his. He treated them like his babies. I liked that I could throw mine around without worry, didn’t understand why Frank spent so much money. I clicked the garage shut, snapped the remote to my side like to a utility belt. “You in there working or something?” Frank asked, but didn’t look at me or wait for an answer. “There’s beer in the back. Grab one before they’re gone.” *** “I think I might have fucked shit up with Suzy,” Frank said. He tossed his empty behind my seat, grabbed another. I took a swig of mine and it was warm and stale but Frank didn’t seem to mind so I didn’t say anything. Frank was always fucking shit up with Suzy. More weeks than not, they’d had some big argument, arguments that led to knock-down, wakeup-the-neighbors, call-the-cops fights. His words. But they always blew over as quickly as they started. Most weeks he showed up at the range on Wednesday morning all happy-golucky. He’d tell me about whatever fight they’d had the previous week, how now they were better and happier than ever. “I don’t know. Last week, my ex was in town for something for her job and she called me up. We hadn’t talked in a year, at least, and she says we should get dinner or something.” “OK.” “So I just tell the old lady I’m going out and I go. My ex, you know, she looks great. Better than I’d remembered and then, after dinner, I go back to her hotel with her. I tell her I don’t know if I should, but she keeps saying, one drink, what’s the harm.” We arrived at the driving range, parked. The sun had set as we were driving and I could see the overhead lights of the driving range beaming strong. We’d never gone at night and the lights reminded me of a night game. One of Karen and my first dates had been to a baseball game. She’d never been to one before and I was scared she’d be bored and it would ruin the game for me but she loved it. We made a point to go at least a couple times a season every year after that and they were always the dates we looked forward to most, buying tickets as soon as they went on sale and marking it on the calendar months in advance. I suddenly realized we hadn’t been in the last season and a half, wondered how that could have happened. Frank rolled down his window and a chill blew in. The beginnings of fall, it was cooler out than I’d expected. I thought of our garage, how it would start getting colder in there soon. I wondered if it would be pessimistic of me to look into some kind of heating. “I was trying to be good, man. I was.” Frank dropped his left arm out the open window and underhanded his new empty toward a garbage can, missed. I wasn’t sure why he was telling me everything. Frank always told me about he and his wife’s fights, explained their making up in detail, but never the instigations. The how or why, specifically, he might have “fucked shit up.” It felt weird hearing the back-story, the details, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Ask for more details, or if Suzy knew, or what. “And Suzy found out?” I finally asked. “Fuck no. And I ain’t gonna tell her. You some kind of retard? I’ll deny till I die, man. But she’s been asking questions, you know?” I nodded some more, stared out at the field. There was a guy down on the end killing it, hitting balls farther than I’d ever seen. I watched him for a while, hypnotized, and thought of the times Karen and I had gone to games early to watch batting practice. She thought it was a little boring but it reminded me of going to games with my dad when I was little, getting there as soon as the stadium opened with my baseball mitt and a plastic box of cards to try to get signed. “Fuck it,” Frank finally said. [ 49 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 *** “You ever go night golfing?” “No,” I said. “You’re gonna love this shit.” Frank rifled through his golf bag, pulled out a package. He opened the plastic, tossed me a ball. I caught it, rolled it around in my hands. It looked like a bouncy ball: plastic and clear, though not quite see-through, with a hole drilled through the middle. Frank opened a package for himself, then got this quiet look across his face. He was still crouched down in the position to dig through his bag, and he started slowly bouncing on his toes. He looked up, out at all the open grass in front of us, but like he was looking somewhere out miles beyond it all. I wanted to say something, thought maybe that was all he was waiting for, but then he looked up at me, shook his face back into regular Frank, and said, “Glow balls. These are badass.” He pulled a mini glow stick out of its wrapper and held it up to me. He bent it in two, shook, and it lit up fluorescent-green. Frank looked like a kid on the 4th of July. He pushed the stick into the ball and placed the glowing orb on his tee, pulled his club back, and hit it as hard as he could. Even with a few beers in him, rushed, and trying to show off, he had perfect form. He’d often told me he’d been on his golf team in high school. He liked talking about how he could have gone pro. The one time I asked why he hadn’t, expecting some clichéd story – something about drinking or drugs or knocking up his old lady – he turned a hard stare out at the range and said, only, fuck golf. The ball arced out into the field, a UFO or oversized firefly shooting through the night. It did, as he’d promised, look badass. “There he is,” Frank said, pointing out to the field, excited. The ball sweeper had appeared, collecting balls. When he rolled over one of ours, I tried following it into the machine, watching the flashing green get sucked up. “Hit that fucker with one of these and it’s bonus points,” Frank said. Frank swung back then forward, the ball perfectly on target but sailing high. I followed with my own attempt, focusing everything I could, and the ball hooked far left and I almost fell over. I’d only ever been able to pull the ball, despite all my coaches attempts to get me to spread it around. Frank folded over and laughed his face red. “That’s some Funniest Home Videos shit right there,” he said as soon as he caught his breath. *** “Fuck,” Frank said, rummaging through his bag. “Looks like we’re out.” “Glow balls or beer?” “Yes.” “Shit,” I echoed. I hadn’t had half the beer Frank had, but still I could feel it starting to loosen me up. “I might have something in the truck,” Frank said, and made for the parking lot. I put a ball on each of our tees and hit them one after the other at the ball collector. I kept setting up two shots at a time, running back and forth between my tee and Frank’s. I’d barely thought about Frank’s leaving before he was back, a plastic shopping bag in one hand and another basket of balls in the other. He tossed me a beer from the bag and set the other five on the ground. “Why do you have all this in your car?” Frank opened the candy bag and spilled out glow sticks, the kind I remembered from Halloween and concerts. “Just like I said, always be prepared. I’m a fucking Boy Scout, man.” He took a pocketknife out of his back pocket, opened it up, and lay it on the ground. Grabbing three sticks, he bent them in half, shook until they glowed. He picked his knife back up and cut off the ends of each, upturned them over the bucket of golf balls and let the glow ooze out. “Hand me a few more.” I grabbed a couple more sticks from where he’d spilled the bag and handed them to him, and he repeated the process. Half a dozen sticks’ worth of slime poured over the balls. He picked up the bucket and swung and swirled it [ 50 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 around. I remembered filling a bucket with water in grade school and swinging it in a circle, being amazed the water didn’t go everywhere. “Voila!” he said. “Homemade!” He held the bucket out to me and I grabbed a ball, put it on my tee. I could feel the glowing residue on my fingers. I cocked my driver back over my head as far as I could, swung, and sent the ball flying out into the night, farther than I’d ever hit it. “Nice,” Frank said, quietly nodding his head, and I felt proud. The sweeper kept switchbacking across the field, picking up balls and I watched Frank wind up and hit one ball after another at it. I remembered why we were here, his confession in the parking lot. I looked over at Frank and wanted to let it all out, tell him about all of my and Karen’s problems which I’d been keeping bottled in. I wanted to tell him how I’d assumed she’d had an affair with this guy, Jeremy, but I couldn’t make myself, certain that I’d only believe she was lying if she denied it but also knowing I wouldn’t be able to handle it if she confirmed. How I couldn’t move on but I couldn’t forget about it; everything we did reminded me of this guy. When she wanted to rent an old movie, I couldn’t shake the idea that he’d recommended it, or we’d go to a new restaurant and I couldn’t help but think she’d found it while out with him. I was sure Karen knew I wanted to ask, but she wouldn’t say anything if I didn’t first so this cloud of silence just loomed overhead. I started telling her about my “lunch dates” with my coworker Amie, even though we’d really only gone out once. When she got jealous, I grew brave enough to actually start initiating the lunches that I’d been talking about. I wanted to tell Frank all about Amie because I hadn’t been able to tell anyone else. I wanted to smile and tell him how much I loved watching her laugh. How she had these rings of red hair that perfectly framed her face, and the more we hung out the more I wanted to curl my hands into that hair, run my fingers through and play with it in my palm, see if it would bounce like a Slinky. How I wanted to take her to a baseball game, and how that made me feel guiltiest of all. And then one day, eating outside on a bench after grabbing sandwiches from the deli down the road from our work, I watched Amie laugh and thought of Karen and how I’d been jealous for the last six months, and leaned in like a kiss. I watched her close her eyes and tilt her head and realized I hadn’t gone in for a first kiss in years. Before our lips touched, my face already felt warm. I could feel the stickiness of her lipstick and how thin her lips were, pressed into mine, not good or bad but just different from Karen’s. I pulled away and watched her hold her eyes closed, a smile on her face. It was the smile that I liked seeing when we flirted, but better, and I leaned back in and cupped her cheek with my hand and pressed my lips into hers again. That night I started a fight with Karen over something small on our drive home from dinner. By the time I pulled into the driveway, neither of us had spoken for ten minutes, but when the door closed behind us and I turned off the car, everything felt better. Like, somehow, the garage as a kind of “base.” We sat in the parked car and talked and then went inside and curled together in bed. The next time we fought we moved to the garage again, hoping to recreate our previous results, and it worked, and then we started spending more and more time in the garage, unable to do anything but fight elsewhere. And now I was spending most of my time out there alone, organizing my tools or just watching a movie on my laptop in my car, Karen no longer talking to me, but also no longer following my path to our previous safe haven. “Frank,” I said. I drunkenly rubbed at my face with my hands and it felt like a slug had crawled across me. I couldn’t see myself but could guess what it looked like. I wanted to tell him how fucked up it was practically living in the garage because I couldn’t just address the issue and Karen was too stubborn to do anything but go along with it. But when he turned and looked over his shoulder, I said, “Check this out,” and drew two lines under my face like eye black. I grabbed my club and held it over my head. I gave a little yell and thought of one of my favor- [ 51 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 ite baseball cards: Bo Jackson breaking a bat over his knee after a strikeout. Frank looked at me and laughed, raised his own club in the air in support. I bent down, grabbed a glow stick and Frank’s knife. I snapped the stick, shook it up, cut off the end, and spilled it all over my hands. I rubbed my hands together and then up and down my club, gripped it tight like the sticky green was pine tar. Without thinking, I started running, sprinting out toward the sweeper. As soon as I was in striking distance, I swung as hard as I could, swinging through the air instead of down; I stepped into it and everything and it felt just like playing homerun derby in my backyard growing up. My club bent on contact, elled, but I kept swinging, beating it into the machine. I could hear the guy inside yelling What the hell over and over, but Frank’s laugh, echoing out toward me from our tees, was so hard and loud I let it wash out everything else. I didn’t turn to look but I could imagine him folded over, laughing. A loud ping echoed through the night every time I connected. It felt good, hearing that sound, feeling my arms swinging and swinging. The machine drove away but wasn’t fast enough and I chased, extending my arms, big full baseball swings into the thing. My driver bent again, into a z or a lightning bolt, and I thought of Roy Hobbs and his homemade bat from that lightning-felled tree, the lightning bolt he branded into it himself. The Natural had been one of the first movies Karen and I had watched together, neither of us having seen it in a decade, at least, but both remembering it fondly, and it had more or less directly led to our baseball dates. I kept at it, swinging and chasing, until the club finally snapped and broke and my body burned from exhaustion. I sat down, cross-legged and breathing heavy, and the sweeper finally dove away, out of reach and unscathed. Under the bright lights, I couldn’t see the golfers at the tees but noticed the absence of balls sailing through the air. A part of me hoped they would tee up, start swinging again. Try to hit me like we all had the sweeper. I probably would have. Your Life in Packaging T Jon Morgan Davies _________________________ ___________ he box is painted like the house you imagine Hansel and Gretel succumbed to--all swirls and colored candy. There's no actual candy on the outside of this one, though, just 2D lollipops with lines your pencil can get lost in and windows in which you'll search for socks and parrots and baseball gloves and, of course, Bernie himself, the grandfatherly mascot, in short-sleeved button-down, sans jacket, for the spring. Inside is the treat you'll struggle against your whole life--a bag of french fries (twenty-four in all), a hamburger, and a small strawberry shake. There are also stickers (the jersey, cap, and pants of a baseball uniform in which to dress Bernie on the backside of the box) that you'll peel from their backing and imprint on your sister's forehead and dress. "Stop," your mom will say, but you won't. You'll sneak them onto your sister later, when you're in the car again, and you'll laugh because she has pants on her shoulder blade. But for now, you're happy to eat and stare, eat and stare. You examine this house for clues to proper design. This is the kind of home you'll have when you grow up, its edges sharp, its sheen brilliant, its insignia ever fun. None of those fuddy-duddy white homes with blue trim or those ancient testaments to boring history with soggy dilapidated siding for you. You'll have lollipops on your house--in orange--and your favorite color red all over. You'll paint a maze on the front door, and with all that expanse, guests will lose themselves for hours. If they're lucky, they'll reach the end and knock to be let in. *** The first time you venture to Florida for the spring, it's still winter. You show up in February, run and bat and lift weights, throw and catch baseballs. You are trying to sculpt your body into a shape Burger Shack can immortalize in plastic. The problem is your body doesn't want to be plastic. In the early years, you are just trying to make the team--and in the last years too. The [ 52 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer â€˜11 make the team--and in the last years too. The events you think you'd remember most--hitting for the cycle, winning the World Series, hitting a game-winning homerun in the All-Star Game, getting a pin from the commissioner--seem oddly outside yourself, things you watch on video, read in scrapbooks, stare at on a shelf. Instead, you find yourself more often recalling the smaller moments: that first day on the exhibition field, all that awkwardness, all those people you don't know except on television, all the hope and disbelief and certainty that it's a dream and can't be true. That first day, you return to the locker room to find you've stored your belongings in the wrong place. You are using Robinson's locker--or so he says, amid nodding others. It's a joke, but you don't know that. You feel as if you've already spoiled your chance with these guys. Weeks later, you're on the team, in the big leagues, no doubt not because you puff shortwinded each time you round third. You've been given a diet to slim down so that you can get on base without hitting a homerun. You do your best to eat what the trainers say you should, but you can't help it--after practice, that gnawing, that desire. You hit your first homer on April 12, and you decide then to give in. You deserve it. Perez accompanies you to Burger Shack. You order the Grand Slam meal with a Coke. You eat it all in seven minutes, hoping a trainer won't see you, won't somehow find out. And when you're done, you want more. As always, the Burger Shack meal is a little less than satisfying, and that is what makes it so good. *** You are young and have cash to burn, so the man in the powder blue suit is trying to sell you a sports car you don't need. Buy the luxury model, and you get a free stereo and power locks and windows. Make it a convertible to suggest you're friendly and outdoorsy. A convertible gets more girls, he points out. It's a package deal. The grand slam of vehicles. Two years later, watching yourself on late-night television with the new car now old, the beautiful spouse, the ranch-style house in the upscale neighborhood, as you proffer life insurance to insomniacs, you realize you don't just have the American dream--you are that dream, so long as you avoid the fast food. *** The bag is just paper, but you carry it with more care than you do the leather one that holds the clothes you are to wear to the business meeting thirty minutes after you get off the plane, the meeting where you'll negotiate in the hundreds of thousands of dollars your presence over the coming half-decade. The paper bag contains your lunch--a Grand Slam burger and fries. You are, in the hyped-up language of American capitalism, starving. The bag becomes a placemat on which to lay your food, and this you do--a picnic in first class. Your seatmate, you suspect, is jealous. Or maybe he just thinks he knows you from somewhere. Outside your uniform, you're a vague entity. It's not long before you've taken all the bases, eaten the whole shebang. You lean back, ready to nap. The wrapper lies like an exfoliated skin, a sign of what was before the operation. *** Imagine yourself on a mug, they say, one of a set of four. Your homerun-hitting form snakes around the cylinder that holds a CocaCola, an Orange Fresca, or a 7-Up. Where your bat (right) and body (left) end, your smiling face takes over. "All-star," the mug says, and "Burger Shack"--these two things now connected in deep time for lizards or roaches or whatever still exists to admire long after humanity is gone. This is good for your career, your agent encourages. The more media exposure you get now, the higher the dollars you can demand come off-season. It is as much about reputation as the numbers themselves. Knock in twentyeight homeruns, one hundred two RBIs, and only a few will notice, but parlay that into television stardom and the limits are few as to what else you can be marketed as. It's not about the food but the package, the advertisers say, not about what the people [ 53 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 eat but what it comes in. You're sold. *** At nights, the commercials come to you as jingles, songs you can't dismiss--your own smiling face staring out at you with burgers, burgers, burgers. You hear it on the radio. You sing it in the shower. You hum it in your dreams. Your wife says to shut up already. She knows. She wants to hear something else. On some nights you can't sleep, you sneak out of bed. You drive to the Burger Shack drive-thru. Sometimes, you just sit there. Sometimes, you give in and order. Sometimes you throw the food away on your way home. And sometimes you pull to the side of the road, open the bag, peel off the paper, and gorge yourself. *** Narratives of your life make the newspapers. In all, you are a ballplayer; in most, a hero. You "overcame the odds" even though you "grew up in a poor neighborhood"--poor, at least when compared to that of the celebrity you are now--with one sister, one mother, and a father who went missing when you were three (two-and-a-half actually, as one newspaper notes). You "worked hard," "practiced hard," "hit hard," and now you are not just a big leaguer but an all-star. Your image graces a mug at Burger Shack, and you are the subject (one of them at least) of a documentary on the sport. These are the things that qualify you for prestige and notice, but to you they are just your life-albeit, your life done up in packaging. Your picture is only on the mug for a month, but if you were still a regular at the restaurant, you would have more than thirty of them. You are selling soda and all the food that comes with it. With the select few willing to spend an extra dollar, you return to grace a kitchen cabinet for a few months or years. You are a "collector's item," as the posters call it, but you can't imagine the life of someone who actually buys and pristinely saves all four. Are Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and Steve Garvey really worth all that? Are you? You remember your own collector's mug, as a child, how after nearly constant usage for a year, Donald Duck and his nephews began to fade, torsos first, so that eventually all were disembodied feet and foreheads. This is you in a year--the top of a bat and a pair of cleats. You too will disappear, digested by the sweat of hands. You suppose this is why the mug is called a collectible. Who would want it if the image lasted forever? Next month, it's someone else, and you're a keepsake. *** Your wife is the first to note your expanding waistline, your manager second. The television commentators are kind enough not to mention it, choosing instead to focus on how you seem prematurely past your prime. Your wife knows of your late-night dalliances. She suspects an affair. She says you need counseling. You agree. Lying on your back, you tell of lust to the psychologist, but you only succeed in making yourself hungry. *** The mug isn't enough. A figurine of you goes in the kiddie meal two years later. Open the box, and there you are, swinging away. Your waist twists but nothing else. You know the feeling. After a double-header in June, three weeks into the promotion, you irritate the hamstring you tore last fall. You go on the disabled list for fifteen days. You're hitting only .210 at the time-a respectable thirteen homeruns but not much more. "It's wait and see," the manager tells Howard Cosell, as if you have no say in the matter. *** At the card signings, soon after your retirement, the kids know more about you than you yourself can recall. On the back of some of the cards are posted the facts of your life: where you went to high school, how many homeruns you hit your rookie year, the most RBIs you hit in a season. What you recall instead is the wig Perez wore to the mound one September evening in a wasted season, pretending to be Gomez; your locker done up like a coffin after your two hundredth strikeout one season; the smell of the infield just before a rain delay. *** [ 54 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 One day, a few years later, you return to Burger Shack to take refuge from the mall, which, this time of the afternoon, is overrun by teens fresh out of school. Your shopping complete, you and your new wife flee to a quieter locale nowhere near a food court. Afternoons after lunch now, you often have gas in your bowels. You sit on a toilet exploding, but nothing seems to rid you of the bloating. You lie on your back on the floor of your house, oozing methane. Your arms lie straight beside you. Nothing moves but the acids in your stomach. But on this day, you haven't eaten yet, so your stomach is grumbling from hunger rather than indigestion. You buy a coffee to drink while you wait for your food. "I used to be on a Burger Shack glass," you tell this new wife for the nine hundred sixtysecond time, as you stare at your cup. "I know," she says for the nine hundred sixty-first. "You were an all-star, a big deal. I know." And you were. You really were. That's why you're always reminding her. Somewhere, someone has one of those mugs and one of those figurines, and they're still in pristine shape. They're still knocking balls into the heavens and pulling others down, and you're there with them, as young and healthy as you ever were. On the Wings of a Baseball T Wynne Huddleston_________________________ ___________ he early bird fans circle around the fence of the high school infield, sit in their folding chairs, arrange their hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, sunscreen, coolers, water bottles, cameras and cell phones. The rest of the spectators, and those too late to take their choice of shade or home plate, sit on the hard, metal stands and squint into the sun. Girls in shorts never settle anywhere for long; they cruise back and forth by the dugout, trying to steal the attention of their favorite player. Coaches spit, fold their arms, adjust their hats, review secret signals, warm up the pitcher, and give bookkeepers the lineup. “Batter up!” calls the ump, and one on deck practices his swing. “Be the ball!” yells the coach. Then the bright hollow crack of the metal bat making contact gets everyone up. The tiny white ball flies like a dove far into the boundless blue sky. Spectators and players alike hold their breath to see if it will fly deep enough. For one moment, it’s everyone’s hit, for one moment, no one wants it to fall short— not even the opposing team. Everyone’s hope for immortality, everyone’s dream of fortune and fame ride on that tiny speck, but . . . it's a double. Man on deck moves up. They go around, some strike out, swing too hard, too high or too low; some do their job and get a hit. Others are given a walk because of their reputation, while some lucky players knock it over the fence. Still, don’t forget those who sit warming the bench wondering if it will ever be their turn. But each time the ball is hit, hope spreads its wings, and everyone jumps on for a ride. Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart W.F. Lantry __________________________ ___________ "As flies to wanton boys are we to gods: they kill us for their sport” ~Lear T he curfew tolls at midnight: I go home. It’s 5-5 in the tenth, but we all knowhow this one ends, and through it all she sleeps:confounded girl, a Yankees fan! What’s worse? That she would be, or that she’s bored enoughto [ 55 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Becker’s deli with a bottle of Cel-Ray and hot pastrami on club Hodges from Ebinger’s bakery his arms full of pastries no more self-addressed stamped post cards to Campenella or Cox come back to me transformed by a signature or my first realized glimpse of the sacred staring back in the eyes of Don Newcomb close her eyes right through the 9th as if the fates already made conspiracy. In '86 I felt the same, does time not move? Is there no progress, or do waves move endlessly predestined? I once read Boethius would hold that such things teach but what’s the lesson here? That there are gods both vicious and predictable who sit in concert, laughing at us? Take the ball that made it to the warning track above an outstretched glove? It was her boy who hit the fly only those gods could curve that way. It’s bad enough I have to hear her say my initiation into the profound indifference of unforgivable loss Jackie’s shoulders sloping at the end recalling his lost prophet Branch Ricky baptizing him with cigar smoke in the inner sanctum of his office more unforgivable the white wrecking ball painted with seams dropping suddenly like a sinker thrown by Johnny Podres even Furillo turned away unable to bear it “Jeter is cute!” Why can’t the cute ones lose? Alas, the lesson here is not to hope or maybe root for Cleveland, who can say? Pianos, billy goats, I don’t believe in curses anymore, but curse the gods who laughing cannot hear my bitter oath. Baseball Paul Pines __________________________ ___________ and I cried when they went to LA these Boys of God sometimes speaks to me with the voice of Carl Furillo Or through the memory of a moment when Pewee Reese Draped his arm around Jackie Robinson and the catcalls From the stands ceased… I still grieve For Ebbets Field its emerald grass and white bases a diamond in the sun fans in sticky undershirts in windows on fire escapes the apartment roof beyond center field boys waiting in the street for a home run ball to descend on them like a dove through which they will be forever beatified and curse Walter O’Malley for taking it all away what any business man Would’ve done Duke Snyder will never again emerge from Summer taking my boyhood with them glue that held Brooklyn together before everyone moved to Long Island and the world between Coney Island and the two bridges broke along fault lines Ocean Parkway Fulton Street Flatbush Avenue and sometimes god speaks to me in flickering waves of light sub-atomic particles forming as I walk alone on the tread-mill or pull into my driveway fifty years later in upstate Glens Falls rest my head on the steering wheel an old man watching from the stands through the eyes of a young one the players and field dissolving in unbounded whiteness an empty page [ 56 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Danny Josh Wilker B ________________________________________________________________________________ idders, if this eBay item (#8674990335) seems familiar, please note that the current description has been inserted in place of an earlier profile. The earlier profile read as fol- lows: Grab your chance to own history! Derek Jeter authentic game-used bat from emotional/unforgettable post-9/11 2001 World Series (Yankees v. Diamondbacks) ♦ Bat was used to swat GAME-WINNING BLAST off Kim in Game 4—one of most thrilling baseball moments EVER!! ♦ Also included is certificate of authenticity plus helmet of 9/11 NYC Firefighter Daniel Meehan and laminated/frameable letter on official New York Yankee stationery from YANKEE CAPTAIN Derek Jeter to Meehan: “Dear Danny, Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done. Your a true hero and I mean it. From your biggest fan, Derek Jeter. P.S. I only wish this stick had had a couple more big knocks in it so we could of won that last game, Danny for all you guys and everyone in the whole City. But we’ll get em next year right pal? -D” Many generous bids have been placed on the package described above, and the seller apologizes to all auction participants for the time and energy spent determining and posting these offers. The seller regrets having to reset the bidding, but feels it necessary to relate more information about the item’s true worth ♦ With the textbox still open on my screen, the cursor pulsing after the words true worth, I get up from my computer and walk to the window. The view is not my favorite but the blinds are broken, jammed in the up position. So here I am again looking downtown at the absence everyone else got used to a long time ago. What the hell am I doing? Flushing money down the toilet, that’s what. After years of keeping the bat safely stored in the back of a closet while everything else in my life disappeared, I’d finally been about to smother the thing in bubble wrap for its journey to the highest bidder. But when I pulled it out of the closet it felt good in my hands. I walk back over to the computer and check the time on the original auction, which I’ve yet to officially cancel. I’m 29 minutes, 33 seconds away from decent money flowing into my empty bank account via PayPal. BigEd73 is still leading the bidding, but he and TinoLover have been going back and forth for a while, the price edging higher and higher. The last thing I should do is pick up the bat again. But I pick up the bat again. I’m in a pair of old boxer shorts. It’s the middle of the afternoon. I’m past 40, soft, balding, unshaven, unshowered, unemployed. If I don’t go through with the auction as it’s currently posted I’m not a whole lot more than 29 minutes, 33 seconds away from being evicted. There are many things I could be doing to try to turn things around for real. But I don’t do any of them. Instead I grip the bat by the handle, do a couple slow half-swings, then coil down into my stance. It’s a cockeyed half-crouch, my stance, hands back and in, weight on my back leg and my other leg extended like I’m testing the temperature of a lake. I’m a left-handed Dewey Evans but with the slightly waggling bat pointing straight up instead of back toward where the backstop would be. I face my broken-blind window. As if that view I hate is going to throw me a pitch. I wait, wrists rolling. The head of the bat traces and retraces a circle above me, a halo. *** Danny was out on the mound. I was trying out my stance in the batter’s box, waiting for him to toe the rubber. He hadn’t started pitching yet. This was years ago. There was something unusual about the field, but I hadn’t yet figured [ 57 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 out what it was. Danny rubbed some dirt into a ball as he waited to stop coughing. He’d been coughing on and off since he’d picked me up early that morning and asked if I wanted to make some easy money. We’d driven out to an empty little league field in Jersey. Danny was at the wheel, so we flew. “Best traffic in the history of traffic,” Danny had said on the way. I hadn’t really responded. During the drive I’d nodded in and out of a codeine half-sleep, the new bats rattling around in the back of the van, my right hand tucked into the womb of my old mitt, which Danny had miraculously unearthed somewhere. I don’t know what route we took to get to the field. Once, much later, I tried to find my way back there in a borrowed car, but I never saw anything familiar. If I ever do somehow stumble back onto that place I’ll recognize it. From the parking lot, which is up above the field, you can see Manhattan in the distance. When we got out of the van that day we could see, at the far right of the skyline, the leaning pillar of black smoke. This was back when that huge ragged column seemed to be everywhere, in every view, and even if you closed your eyes you’d have the stench of it in your nostrils, charred skin and cinders. It seemed like it’d always be there, a new permanent feature of the city. But when we carried the bats and our gloves and a duffel bag full of baseballs down a sloping grassy bank, the black smoke shrunk out of sight behind the pine trees ringing the chainlink outfield fence. All you could see beyond the diamond and the pines was sky as blue as it had been on that morning just a couple weeks earlier. There was something else about the field, but I didn’t figure out what it was until I got into the batter’s box and started waiting for Danny to pitch. Then it hit me: It was quiet. The kind of deep quiet you sometimes forget exists. No car horns, no voices. No sirens. Just some wind through the pine branches, rising and falling, and every few moments my little brother Danny hacking up his lungs. *** I’m back at the computer, my hands sticky from some of the pine tar Danny and I put on all the bats that morning out in Jersey, before we took turns hitting. I watch the auction clock tick: 25:12, 25:11, 25:10…. How am I supposed to fix everything in 25 minutes? How am I supposed to fix anything? I can feel myself drifting toward my usual course of inaction. Letting things happen, letting things unravel, letting things one by one disappear. I’ve put the bat down. The feel of it is still dissolving from my palms. Tapping the period key to end the paragraph after the words true worth feels like moving a refrigerator. Too hard. I do a mental inventory of my medicine cabinet. Not much left in there, but enough to make me disappear at least a little. Enough to keep letting things happen a while longer. But I stay in the chair. I don’t want to but I do. I start a new paragraph. Daniel Meehan was my brother, I type, then backspace the cursor and change was to is. *** The bats needed to be marked up. They needed to look game-used. Danny and his best friend, a wiry little guy from his firehouse named Joe Gigantic, had done it before. It was a hobby of theirs, something they liked to do together. They liked the craft of it, liked making things that were fake look authentic. I think they also liked putting one over on people who had money to burn, and liked using that money to foot everybody’s bar bill for a while. They never tried to fake big items, just the regular season bats and jerseys of bench guys, middle relievers, late-season callups. Just give the suckers a little taste of the Show. Everybody’s happy, nobody’s the wiser. Danny and Joe Gigantic had it down. But Danny needed somebody else to help with the bats that day. Joe Gigantic was gone. I hit for a while, or tried. When I missed Danny’s first few pitches he slowed them to lobs. He had to stop periodically for a coughing fit. I still had a fuzzy head from the codeine, and below that a hollow queasy ache for something stronger than codeine, which was only a crash- [ 58 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 softening parachute. I connected out of pure dumb luck once, but for that one notable exception I couldn’t make solid contact, just popups, foul tips, dribblers. I thought my one good hit might turn things around but it didn’t. After a while Danny walked toward the plate, glancing at me and jerking a thumb at the mound. I put on my glove and walked out there. Danny started inspecting the bats I’d used. “There’s gotta be some consistent impact,” Danny said. He tossed one bat down and picked up another. He scowled and shook his head, tossed that one down too. “These are bullshit. It’s gotta look true.” It was the first time he’d spoken since celebrating the lack of traffic on the way over. And before that all he’d said besides describing what he needed me for was that they’d forced him to take the day off. “This is my first one,” he’d said. I knew what he meant. I didn’t ask him about his other days. “I didn’t want to but they made me,” he said. “I should be down there right now.” I gathered up some of the mammoth shots I’d clouted all around the farthest reaches of the infield as Danny rubbed some more pine tar on the bats. My glove felt good on my hand. I dragged the duffel bag full of balls to the mound. “Lemme warm up a little,” I said. I nodded toward his mitt, which he’d dropped near the batter’s box. “Yeah, sure,” Danny said. I threw easy at first. I’d pulled about fifty muscles trying to hit, but now they all seemed to be loosening. It was the first time Danny and I had played catch since we were teenagers but it felt as natural as breathing. Southpaw pitcher to right-handed catcher, just like little league, just like high school, the ball zinging back and forth, my left hand to his left hand, his right hand to my right hand. Danny stopped coughing as much. I started airing it out just a little, the wind in the pines like far-off cheering. *** My brother is Daniel Meehan. I want to tell you about him but I don’t know where to start. He liked to do magic tricks when he was little. He liked making the fake look real. He liked making the disappeared reappear. I taught him his very first trick, which I’d learned from Magic Wanda in Dynamite! His eyes got wide when I opened my hand and the quarter wasn’t there. It was the only trick I ever learned. I didn’t like that feeling of having a secret from someone. But I liked it when Danny looked up at me amazed, as if I had wondrous powers. *** “The bats,” Danny said after we’d been throwing for a while. “They’ve gotta look major league.” He easily snagged a throw I’d put some mustard on and in the same motion whipped it back. I caught it, then took a second to get the grip right. I felt loose. I went into a little windup. “Not like,” Danny said. He paused to follow the slight break of my first curveball in over a decade. I wanted to impress my little brother, make his eyes go wide. But he snatched the ball near his knees, unsurprised. “Not like some guy and his burnout brother were dicking around,” he said. He zipped the ball back to me. I caught it too much in the pocket and it stung. The words “burnout brother” hung in the air. “All right, then,” I said. My heart was thumping from all the activity. I was sweating, feeling like I might throw up, but also like I could rock and fire. It hadn’t left me. All those years drifting, wasted, wasting, and yet I was feeling I could still maybe throw a little heat. We both started talking at the same time. “All right then, Bravest,” I said. “Grab a bat.” “Look at us,” he was saying. “A drug addict and some guy made of pure fuckin’ bullshit.” He wore a dead smile, and his voice was one I’d never heard him use. Low, stinging. “Who’s bullshit?” I said. “Some guy who,” he was muttering. He shook his head. “Some hero.” His lip curled on the word. He was looking past me to the pines. [ 59 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 *** My brother and I played baseball together, a couple years in little league, a couple years in high school. He was always the leader of those teams, not me, even though he was younger. One game late in my senior year in ’84 I’m on the mound getting absolutely reamed. Missiles flying all over the field. Frustrated, I try to drill their biggest guy in the ribs, but it ends up just missing his head. The big guy charges the mound, bat in hand. But before he can kill me my catcher tackles him from behind. He’s half the size of the guy with the bat, but even after everyone’s done wrestling all over the field my catcher’s still on him like a pit bull. I sprain my wrist trying to help two umps pry him loose. Danny, Danny, I’m shouting. There’s a nasty welt on his forehead and tears are leaking down his bright red face but he won’t let go. I had to wear a splint for a couple weeks, missed my last start. I didn’t pitch again for 17 years. *** There weren’t any balls left in the duffel bag. A few were at the backstop, mostly wild pitches. Danny had drilled the rest all over the field, or beyond it. I’d felt sharper with each pitch, but Danny was on everything. He’d always been a good contact hitter with a short, level swing, but back when we were younger I could sometimes mix him up with my two and a half pitches: mediocre fastball, regular tight curve/ slow looping curve. But he was locked in, grim, ferocious. Every few swings he’d have a coughing fit and have to step out, but then he got back in and resumed raking. And he never once followed the flight of the ball after he hit it but instead immediately looked down at the bat to see what kind of mark had been made. When we went out to the outfield to gather the baseballs, he started heading back in before we had them all: he didn’t even know he’d cranked a handful of them over the chainlink fence. I told him and the two of us started walking toward the pines. *** My brother liked Dilaudid, it turned out. He liked making himself disappear. I gave him his first pill one day, the same day I came into possession of the bat featured here in eBay item #8674990335. When he dropped me off at my apart- ment that day he came up to use my bathroom. He came out of the bathroom holding the bottle. “For pain,” he read aloud from the label. “Where’d you get these?” “Danny, don’t start.” We lived very different lives. The only thing we ever had in common was baseball. We hadn’t seen each other in months before he came to pick me up that day, and the first thing he’d said was how could I live in such a miserable dump. But he wasn’t looking to start an argument this time. “Jace, I can’t sleep,” is what he said. He looked up at me, at my eyes. “I can’t fuckin’ sleep anymore.” *** Over the chainlink fence and beyond the pines was a grassy ridge dotted with baseballs. The ridge gave way to a bank that sloped down to empty soccer fields. Beyond the fields, in the distance, were buildings and the black pillar of smoke. Danny never once looked at that view. He scooped up the home run balls and fired them over the pines. “Danny,” I said. I wanted to say some something about how I was there for him. But I spoke so low I could barely even hear myself. Once we’d gathered all the balls, Danny walked back toward the field, vaulted the fence, and moved toward home plate. I followed. “Danny,” I said, this time a little louder. At home plate, he picked up a bat, inspected it for a second, then looked out at me near the mound. Except he wasn’t looking at me but through me. He held the bat with a hand at either end of it. The look in his eyes reminded me of a look I’d seen a few days before, in a bar. Some firefighters were there. One was next to me. He started talking about women’s corpses. “One after another,” he’d said. “All day long. Dead women.” My brother Danny, he let out a sound, the bat still in his hands, one hand on the handle and the other on the barrel. It was nothing I’ve ever heard before, and I hope I never hear it again. Like from something that lives in the sky. [ 60 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Then he didn’t make another sound until he was done, until every single bat around home plate had been snapped in two. *** I wish I could tell you I fabricated the history of the bat for sale in the original auction posting because things haven’t been the same for me since my brother, probably on Dilaudid, rammed his van into the concrete wall of an underpass. But my life has been shit for far longer than that. I did it because I’m a broke drug addict and I want to get enough money to leave here, go far away, start over. In my vision of this faraway place I’m clean and strong. But I’ve had the vision before and I’ve even had the money, enough for a thick bus ticket at least, and I’ve always just ended up disappearing my usual way right here in this amputated city. But ever since I first touched the one surviving bat earlier today I’ve found myself fighting the urge to disappear. This bat is not part of history. This bat is bullshit. But this bat is *** Danny thought he broke them all. “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” he said and started walking toward the van. But he forgot my one good hit. During my turn at bat, in the middle of all the weak swings, I somehow made perfect contact, just once, that sweet numb buzz no drug could match flooding my body, the ball arcing over the right field fence. I felt so good I went into something Danny and I used to call Superduperstar. It started from a word on a magazine cover featuring Reggie Jackson, but it became part of our whiffle ball games in the yard. When either of us hit the ball across the street for a home run we’d flip the bat away, strut around the rocks we used for bases, and yell about how outrageously fantastic we were. Back then, Danny could make me chuckle when he did it, but I could make him laugh so hard he crumpled to the ground weeping. At that field out in Jersey I watched the ball disappear into the pines and flung my bat away with such force it rolled all the way under the bleachers. I started trotting toward first. Danny just stared. “I amaze myself,” I announced. I slowed to an old-man jog on my way to second. Danny made like he was busy gathering up some of my accidental bunts, but I saw him steal a glance at me. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t me so that I could have the pleasure of watching me,” I said, rounding second. I checked Danny. I saw the beginnings of a smile. By the time I rounded third I had brought my speed down to a glacial swagger. “I am so fucking good,” I said. Danny had his back to me, picking up a baseball. I thought he was having another coughing fit because his shoulders were shaking, but when he turned I could see he was chuckling. “I am so fucking good it hurts,” I said. I began to double over, as if my magnificence was truly beginning to cripple me. “It hurts to be so incredible, it hurts!” *** But this bat is alive. Bidders, my apologies, it is no longer for sale. *** The pain of being a Superduperstar was so great I had to get to my knees and crawl the last few feet. When I slapped home plate I could hear Danny laughing. [ 61 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 An Interview with Chad Harbach Sara Lippmann ________________________________________________________________________________ What fascinates me about baseball is that although it's a team game, each player on the field is out there all alone. Pitcher, batter, fielder: each has a very specific and lonely job to do. Mistakes are magnified. That makes baseball a tremendously tense game, psychologically, and Henry’s Chad Harbach: Henry Skrimshander, one of the condition—which has afflicted so many talented book’s protagonists, is a gifted shortstop at a D- real-life ballplayers, from Blass to Chuck KnoIII school in Wisconsin called Westish College. blauch to Rick Ankiel—is the ultimate example. The mind interferes, and He’s on the verge of you have to fight against becoming an earlyyourself to perform this round draft choice task that you’ve been perwhen he develops a forming effortlessly since psychological block you were a kid: throw the that prevents him from ball. throwing the ball accurately—what’s often That battle strikes me as called Steve Blass Disanalogous to what other ease. Henry’s struggle types of artists go to regain his confidence through, in fighting is at the heart of the against writer’s block, or book’s “baseball plot”; stage fright, or other, meanwhile there’s a lot more diffuse kinds of self else going on. The col-doubt. For a baseball lege’s president falls player, it plays out in a unexpectedly in love; very public and dramatic the president’s daughter way, which makes it fun to write about. moves home after her marriage comes to an abrupt end; Henry’s mentor fails to get into law SL: At Stymie, essays often come over the transchool and starts to unravel. And all of these people’s lives become increasingly bound up to- som that are nostalgic in tone. Baseball with dad, granddad, etc. What is it about the game that gether. plucks at our heartstrings? Do you have a favorite – or formative – baseball memory? What else can I tell you? It comes out in September—I guess I should tell you that. CH: That seems like a really interesting and actually quite complicated question. Baseball has a SL: Why, baseball? Did you play? Do you still play? What is it about the game that most inter- history that’s in many ways continguous with that of the US—it originated in Europe, was ests you, that planted the seed for the novel? brought over by British settlers, and attained its modern form right around the Civil War, when CH: I was a decent high school ballplayer, you could say that the country as a whole was though not good enough to survive past that. Sara Lippmann: Your debut novel, The Art of Fielding, centers on a baseball team at a fictional college in Wisconsin, and is due out by Little, Brown this year. What more can you tell us about the book? [ 62 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 attaining its modern form. And it was, of course, the first of the major American professional SL: To that end, do you have a favorite? sports, and its history is frequently described in terms of the World Wars (Ted Williams as Ballpark: Fenway fighter pilot, etc.) and the civil rights movement. So there’s a national attachment there that’s Mascot: The Miller Park bratwurst quite profound. Stadium food: Ditto And in recent decades the game’s popularity has waned a little—maybe not in terms of attenBaseball stat: Probably the chance—that’s the dance statistics, or the number of Little Leagues, simplest way to divide your real shortstops from but it seems to have ceded its place as the priyour fakers. mary American sport, both in terms of spectatorship and participation. I don’t think kids grow Sports rivalry: Packers-Bears. I’m on the right up playing “disorganized” baseball the way they side of that one. did 50 or even 25 years ago (or the way they do in a number of other countries); they’re either SL: Your hilarious if depressing piece in n+1 this channeled into organized leagues or they don’t fall on the MFA vs. NYC writer generated a big play at all. And I think this combination—of a media splash. As someone who’s sniffed around long, interesting history closely affiliated with the edges of both worlds but remains in neither, that of the country as a whole, combined with a I found it particularly poignant. And painful. sense that that history has seen its peak—is a Certainly, it’s got everybody talking. What did good recipe for nostalgia. you hope to accomplish? (If you want to feel nostalgic about the early days of baseball, read The Glory of Their Times, an oral history by the players of the naughts and teens, compiled and edited by Lawrence Ritter. It’s one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read.) You could also detect a more sinister, socially conservative undertone to our nostalgia about the game; it hearkens back to a simpler—i.e., whiter—time in American history. Then, too, there’s the strictly personal: as you say, the passage of the game down from fathers to sons. Which was certainly the case for me— my dad played a ton of fast-pitch softball, back when that was a very popular game in the Midwest, and, while I picked up sports like basketball and tennis on my own, my dad was the person who taught me how to play baseball—and I think he started when I was about six months old. My earliest memories are of him pitching nerf balls to me in the living room. CH: Ha. I’m sure anyone reading this is thinking, “There was a big media splash!? Where was I?” The piece was an attempt to get beyond an antiquated but amazingly persistent question: Are MFA programs the downfall of American literature? (The implied answer is usually YES.) People love to agonize about this, as if taking a few workshops somehow automatically threatens or destroys a writer’s artistic purity and freedom. It’s a silly debate (for reasons I go into in my essay), but it just refuses to die. I wanted to put that question to rest, and to introduce a new question: How do professional creative writers make money, and what are the consequences of this economic situation? There’s been a tenfold increase in creative writing programs in the last 30 years, and many writers now earn the bulk of their income not from royalties, but by teaching. It’s a new and fascinating situation, and my essay tries to understand it from a sociological point of view. [ 63 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 SL: A founder and editor of Brooklyn-based n+1, you are an NYC writer with the nearlyrequisite MFA. In your essay you make the point that workshops are naturally more conducive to critiques of self-contained short stories than of unwieldy chunks of novels. Did you start writing The Art of Fielding in graduate school? If so, was any of it ever shared with classmates? What was that like? Did you have a mentor? CH: I started writing the book even before that—two early chapters served as my grad school application. (I got rejected almost everywhere.) I did work on the novel at Virginia; but I also found it frustrating to do so in the context of a workshop. When you’re writing a novel, you need to establish a deep routine and be calm and fanatical about it, and that’s hard to do within the rhythm of a workshop. It’s a rhythm geared to shorter work. Probably you should only show anyone your novel after every thousand hours of writing, or something like that. get very small advances; and fewer and fewer get a writer’s “living wage”—that is, enough to fund the writing of the next book. SL: Wallace, we know, has been important to you. Who else informs your work? CH: Infinite Jest and Don DeLillo’s End Zone are my favorite sports novels, by far. Other contemporary writers I return to a lot include Deborah Eisenberg, Norman Rush, Jonathan Franzen, Sam Lipsyte, Ann Beattie, and my colleagues at n+1. SL: You’ve noted that industry trends “cause some good books to go unnoticed.” What are some recent works that have slipped below the radar, that were not championed the way they should have been? CH: In n+1 Issue 10, we excerpted a brilliant novel by Sheila Heti called How Should a Person Be?, which, as this article attests (http:// www.observer.com/2010/culture/how-shouldSL: On the current NYC-based publishing cliperon-be) had an enormously difficult time findmate, you describe a “powerful pressure toward ing a US publisher. Now it’s finally found one, readability.” David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and when it’s released, readers should ensure it has been a noted influence; in fact, it is reported doesn’t slip below the radar. you turned down an even more lucrative advance for the opportunity to work with WalSL: By your own terms you’ve scored the nearlace’s editor on your book. Wallace managed to impossible literary grand slam: big book, big visucceed without compromising his vision or in- sion, big bucks, big spotlight. What’s next? tricate style. Do you think he would have met more resistance trying to publish in today’s CH: I’ll continue working on the magazine. I’ll “blockbuster or bust” marketplace than in 1996 start a new novel. And I’ll hope Zack Greinke (when his novel came out)? tears through National League hitters. CH: Hmm, wow. I think not; there’s always a way for a writer as brilliant and entertaining as Wallace to buck the trend. But that doesn’t mean the trend doesn’t exist! Overall I’d argue that publishers’ attitude toward “difficult” or “challenging” novels (granted these terms can mean a variety of things) has never been more skeptical. And it’s also true that the advances publishers pay have slid toward the extremes, so that a few writers get very large advances; most [ 64 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Man v. Machine Ken Pisani T ________________________________________________________________________________ he modern game of baseball differs greatly from the version first discovered by John Quincy Doubleday as practiced by the Cleveland Indians in the mid-17th century. The athletes are bigger, stronger, faster—a result of better drug engineering—and uniforms are no longer made of stifling asbestos. And of course the economics have changed: the best seat at Yankee Stadium costs more for a single game than Tony Lazzeri earned in his rookie season, even with his second job as a singing waiter. But what’s really changed is the game’s reliance on technology. Every Major League team now employs sophisticated computer iterations to test statistics, scenarios, pitch counts and line-ups played out over thousands of electronic “games” to determine which strategies, over time, yield the most advantageous results. (The only exception is the Chicago Cubs, who use an abacus.) The first use of a computer in baseball was in 1958, when an M.I.T. professor programmed a behemoth IBM 704 mainframe to examine the statistical success of the sacrifice bunt. (As a game-winning strategy it was determined rarely to be of benefit, prompting Yankees manager Casey Stengel to remark, “Where the hell are my car keys? They were just here a minute ago.”) That early pointless exercise was enough to inspire Americans in the age of Sputnik to ponder the what ifs? of man-versusmachine; and so the stage was set for the first computerized baseball contest, to be held in New York, which had in the off-season suffered the twin losses of the Dodgers and Giants to malaria. And on April 14, 1958, on the eve of baseball’s Opening Day, the best players from the National and American Leagues gathered at Yankee Stadium to face an opposing team of IBM 704s. After a national anthem sung by Frank Sinatra, who then punched out umpire Jocko Conlan for no apparent reason, nine identical units of IBM 704s took the field as the Bronx crowd jeered them mercilessly. Rattled by the magnitude of the event, the 704 on the mound gave up a lead-off double to Willie Mays and was shelled through the top of the inning. The first five batters, Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks all hit for extra bases, running the score up to 5-0 before many in attendance had sipped the foam from their Ballantines. The All Stars might have batted through the line-up were it not for the triple play ball hit by Nellie Fox, still suffering the effects of the previous night at The Stork Club with Billy Martin, who’d forgotten he’d been traded to Cleveland. Facing Early Wynn in the bottom of the first the IBM 704s showed calculated patience at the plate and were rewarded with a lead-off walk, a bloop single and a line drive past a diving Harmon Killebrew at third. With the bases loaded the 704s’ clean-up hitter, putting all its eight-ton weight into its swing, clobbered a Wynn fastball over the façade and seven blocks past River Avenue. His 5-0 lead suddenly cut to 5-4, manager Fred Haney summoned southpaw Warren Spahn to replace Wynn, embarrassed to be removed so early but eager for the unexpected opportunity to meet Jackie Gleason, whom he’d spotted earlier vomiting in his seat behind home plate. Over the next two innings the canny Spahn baffled the opposing team with a mix of screwballs and change-ups. In the bottom of the third, frustrated at their inability to solve the lefthander, the 704 pitcher beaned Spahn in the head, initiating a bench-clearing brawl. Images of twenty-five of baseball’s greatest players tackling the IBM 704 without effect splashed the next day’s sports pages, drawing superior chortles from office mainframes around the nation. [ 65 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Over the ensuing innings, things got pretty nasty: Minnie Minoso slid into second base, spikes up, taking a jolt of electricity for his trouble. (For the remainder of April Minoso suffered bouts of double vision coupled with formidable sexual potency.) When the lumbering 704 leftfielder knocked over three monuments in pursuit of a fly ball, the bleacher crowd retaliated with a deluge of Cracker Jacks, jamming its tapes and causing a delay of game. Attempting to block the plate on a squeeze play, Yogi Berra was flattened as if by a runaway trolley. Cardinal Spellman was summoned from his seat between Jackie Gleason and Broadway star Julie Andrews (both vomiting in unison) to administer last rites, struggling momentarily to disentangle his rosary beads from the ceremonial bunting (assisted by Musial, also a Cardinal). Refusing both medical and divine intervention, Yogi was taken to the locker room where he insisted to reporters that he’d tagged the 704 out, while also claiming his name was Rosalie and that Yoo Hoo cured polio. Manager Haney had hoped to use the seventh inning stretch to settle down his team and cut back on his drinking with Mantle and Martin. But there would be no mid-inning rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” In what some still cite as indisputable proof that God is a baseball fan, in the bottom of the sixth with the bases empty, two outs, and two strikes on pinch-hitter Mazeroski, a deluge of biblical proportions rained down on the Bronx. Human players and coaches raced for the dugouts but the entire team of IMB 704 mainframes shortcircuited where they stood, pitching forward like dominoes. When the skies cleared and the umpires ordered play resumed, the 704s were in no condition to comply and had to forfeit the game. For years, this computer battle remained a cautionary tale against the usurping of man’s rightful place by machine, and is widely blamed for slowing the integration of computers into mainstream America, as well as IBM’s sluggish stock price into the early 1960s. Today, the game remains a forgotten curio of baseball’s golden age, although one of the remaining 704s is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, rusty and occasionally pleading with visitors to be released from captivity. The Catch I Scott Akalis __________________________ ___________ heard the ping and saw a white speck rising against the sky. My feet took a few steps forward and then a few more back. The speck hopped up and down like a microscopic bunny. I stopped to steady it. The speck and my eyes grew larger. I backpedaled as fast, and extended my arm as far, as I could. Then I planted my cleats, left the ground, and prayed. The other outfielders groaned. The ball had clipped off the end of my glove and fallen to the grass. My coach cried out, “Two hands!” My dad didn’t say anything, but I could feel him looking down at his feet, shaking his head. By the time I one-hopped the cutoff man, the winning run had scored from first base. That was the catch -- the catch that could have saved the championship game, the season, maybe more. The next weekend, Dad drove us to the travel team tryouts. He and Hank rode up front. My brother was a lock, and I a long shot, to make the squad. This wasn’t about odds though; this was about an opportunity to make a nice catch when it mattered, to earn some redemption in Dad’s eyes. The coaches assigned me to second base and started smashing grounders that made the earth, or at least my knees, tremble. Then they moved me to the outfield and hit these aerosol flies that I swear punched holes through the ozone. After missing every one, I was done trying and wanted out. They posted the roster on the dugout wall an hour later. Dad took a look and put his arm around Hank’s shoulders as we walked back to the car. I slid into the backseat and tossed my dusty mitt onto the floor mat. During the drive home, I prepared myself for spending the rest of the summer traveling to little league tournaments as a fan. Naperville, Illinois was the first stop on the tournament circuit. Hank and I had never [ 66 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 been to Chicago before, so Dad got us a hotel downtown, underneath all the skyscrapers. On Friday night, I dreamt I was at a Cubs game and caught a souvenir ball. All the surrounding fans went crazy as I held it up in the air. Hank was jealous, and Dad was proud. When I woke up Saturday morning, I asked Dad if he would drop me off at Wrigley Field on his way to the tournament. “You’re too young to be on your own in a big city,” he said. “Your mother would kill me.” “What about the games you went to as a kid?” “That was different.” “This is what I want for my birthday.” It was a few months away but worth a try. “And I won’t tell Mom.” He looked up from packing his cooler to see how badly I wanted this and how well I could keep a secret. “On two conditions,” he said. “You’re not allowed to leave the park, and if Mom calls, you have to say you’re with us.” I nodded and added a third condition. “I’ll catch a ball for you.” An hour later, Dad let me out at the corner of Addison and Clark, where a huge marquee welcomed me to the home of the Cubs. I couldn’t believe this shiny red sign was eighty years older than that raggedy mat on our front porch. I walked over to the box office window, propped my glove on the ledge, and asked for a seat in the bleachers. “You’re lucky we’re playing the Pirates,” said the woman behind the glass. “Otherwise we’d be sold out.” I had to empty my wallet, but I knew it was worth it. In a trade of rectangles, who wouldn’t prefer a colorful, cardboard ticket to plain, paper bills? I carried my purchase to the nearest gate, cradling it in my hands like a rookie card. To my relief, the man at the turnstile left the ticket intact, scanning the barcode instead of tearing the stub. As I ran up the concourse ramp and into the sunlight, the sounds shifted from honks and mufflers to hits and vendors. I claimed a front row spot as a giant Pirate took the last swings of batting practice. He sent one farrrr out to center, but it fell short of the bleachers. I looked at the flags above the old-fashioned scoreboard: they were pointing in. It wouldn’t be easy to catch a ball today. By the time some old guy skipped the ceremonial first pitch to the backstop, the ballpark had filled up. A girl about my age sang the National Anthem. Afterward, a Cubs player shook her hand and gave her a signed ball. I wished I had a better voice. We all cheered as the Cubs took the field. Once the right fielder finished his warm-up tosses, the fans in my section waved their arms, begging for the ball. I joined in, holding up my glove and yelling, “Right here! Right here!” After searching the crowd, the right fielder flipped the ball to a little kid at the end of my row. Maybe next inning, I thought. The top of the next inning and each one after it brought only disappointment. Over the course of the game, eight lucky kids -- and one sneaky adult -- caught the right fielder’s tosses. I watched them clutch their souvenirs by the seams, petting the smooth rawhide and reading the trademark. I saw fans turn into owners. Good pitching and that steady breeze off the lake kept any fly balls from reaching the seats. In the ninth inning, I pulled out my phone to call Dad. I dreaded facing him empty-handed, riding in the backseat with nothing to share while Hank replayed some diving snag. I put the phone back into my pocket and hoped for one last chance. Rising off the bench and leaning over the wall, I plucked a leaf from the famous ivy. Dad had told us how this place was full of curses, how at the last minute something always went wrong. I sat back down and closed my eyes while rubbing the leaf between my hands. I prayed, first, that the bad luck would reverse, and second, that I wasn’t holding poison ivy. My eyes snapped open at the sound of the crack. I saw the batter finish his mammoth follow-through and a speck soar my way. I dropped the leaf and donned my glove. Al- [ 67 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 though I couldn’t judge the trajectory, I saw the right fielder drifting onto the warning track just in front of me. The speck and my eyes grew larger. I stood on the bench and reached up as high as I could. Then I watched the would-be souvenir sail right into the crowd behind me. The ball volleyed off the hands of men in the second and third rows. When it flew off some fingertips in my direction, I jumped, reaching up with both hands and closing my eyes as I collided with others. I hit one guy’s shoulder and another’s knee before landing in the second row, beneath a bench and a pile of bodies. The other fans groaned as they rose empty handed. I felt the back of my head for blood. Then I felt the webbing of my mitt and found the ball. I jumped to my feet and shoved my souvenir into the air for everyone to see. The future reactions of Dad and Hank flared in my imagination. I returned the ball to the webbing and slipped the glove off, hugging it against my chest with both arms. The next time I looked up, congratulatory smiles had turned to glares. Then came the gestures, every arm in the bleachers signaling toward the field. They grew disappointed with me, angry even. As the Pirates slugger rounded third, the whole park turned on me, chanting, “Throw—it—back! Throw—it— back!” So that was the catch. Naked in Center T Larry Lefkowitz __________________________ ___________ hat the great philosophers have been influenced – nay, wrought – by their environment is a truism proved by the centuries. Quixote’s soul was forged by the plain of La Mancha. Socrates was formed by volatile Athens. Plato saw life in terms of elusive shadows on a cave wall. And it is no less so with their spiritual descendants, of whom one was Barbarides. Boiled under an August sun that causes the faces of the few die-hard fans present in the stadium to shimmer in the heated air like disembodied heads, or frozen in the hail and frost of an April in a year when Winter refuses to accommodate the more hopeful clime intended to accompany the cry “Play ball”, ankle deep in mud midst a monsoon which a dogged umpire refuses to recognize as none but a summer shower – in such times of adversity Barbarides’ soul was shaped. Yet it is the hazards caused by his fellowman that have perhaps proved most searing to the philosopher’s soul. Socrates forced to imbibe the hemlock proffered by jealous and fearful hands. Seneca coerced into ending his life once his usefulness to the Powers had ended. Barbarides was no different from them, though his death was slower. The victim of showers of popcorn, peanut shells (which parodied the virtues of these accessories hailed in the anthem “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”) and other missiles by opposing fans whose humor, or humours, were thus amused, he stood them all. Yes, these and more Barbarides braved in times of nonaction. Yet like his spiritual forebears, Barbarides’ life was not less tested in times of action. He was forced to judge how the ball will ricochet off a particular wall -- with a web of possible ricochets depending on the substance and angle of the wall in each stadium -- while unshielded from watching eyes, a judgment without the luxury of time and privacy granted Pythagoreas to work out his geometry. The need to concentrate on the descent of a sphere out of a burning sun while ten thousand grouped in the center field stands scream for you to drop the ball – and the sphere itself is a molten ball of lead let fall from a prominence of the sun – in such times men are made. So it was with Barbarides. And the despair when the ball is dropped, or misjudged, so that it falls to earth untouched by one’s glove -- and the hoots of a capricious mob fall upon one’s ears – a stoicism is bread that would cause the ancient Spartans to touch the visors of their helmets in grim salute. And then there are the times of loneliness, when the stands are empty or almost so, and the center fielder’s only company is the wintry blast of a field laid out just so as to catch the wind when the shadows have fallen across his position like dimming hope upon the shades of [ 68 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 the Underworld. It is in these times, when the effectiveness of a pitcher keeps the action -- the unfolding of events seemingly a thousand miles away – subdued: the strike-outs, the dribbling balls to the infield, that the center fielder has time for reflection. In these times he comes into his own. For most of the breed, perhaps, this time is less well used – concentrated in the mechanical action of jaws upon gum, or upon tobacco, or thinking of girls and things not of the spirit. But such squandering of precious moments was not for Barbarides. In these intervals of reflection granted by benevolent gods, his mind expanded beyond the confines of the man-made stadium and became one with the cosmic world that lay beyond it. In such moments, a careful observer might notice a detached, and sometimes a radiant, expression upon the burnished visage of Barbarides. His brethern in the outfield, Grady at left and Benson at right, lacked similar aspirations. They did what was required of them, no more; actions which Barbarides copied only when demanded by the game: a word of encouragement in a difficult situation, leisurely throwing the ball after a put-out – such were carried out with appropriate, if detached, participation on the part of Barbarides. Aside from such obligations, he was free. In these solitary moments, his philosophy was formed. To describe his philosophy is not easy. Barbarides did not articulate it as such, couldn’t be expected to. His philosophy was forged in his small moments of vexation, as in his great ones of triumph. The latter – the gunning down of a runner at the plate on a perfect throw, for instance, whereby arc and angle and velocity synergized – perhaps contributed less than the failures: the dropped balls and kindred befallings. Success is for philosophers less contributory than failure. Barbarides was molded by everything that he experienced within that crucible bounded by the wall and the respective territories of the right and left fielders. Yet he was the center fielder, whose very name pointed to the mystic center for Barbarides, the point of the universe around which the concentric circles of the world revolved. He was exposed, a point on a sea of grass, between the Scylla of hostile fans and the Charybdis of hostile elements of nature. Armed not with shield like Achilles to ward off fate (or at least hold it at arm’s length for a while), but only with the skin of a cow on one hand which stung when the sphere smashed it as he pinned his body high against a wall no less hard than that which surrounded Troy. And any Helen who rarely appeared close to him when he approached the center field stands, and smiled down at him – this Helen he could never meet. Nor could he shout out his desire for her where his feeling would be hooted at by the unfeeling mob, or worse – a thousand times worse – imitated: “I want you” howled in derision and reverberating throughout the stadium like the clash of hostile blades upon iron shields. No, they would never meet: a fleeting exchange of appealing looks – a moment in time, a mutuality of evanescence – was all he had as keepsake. These things, too, molded Barbarides – sometimes he would see her face (if it was still her face or only the giving of form to hope in his mind), often at the loneliest times – in locker rooms where other maidens taken from the pages of sex magazines looked out mocking, mocking. If day presented such challenges, the night ‘games’ multiplied them. Blinding lights coming out of a sea of darkness, the crowds’ faces garish in the glare of the arc lights like skulls, the softness of day banished, and the sounds of the night crowds metallic, like the beating of tin drums. Unlike the day games, the night games could produce dark terrors in a sensitive soul like Barbarides, as well as pitfalls not present by day. Such games caused him to feel more a Roman gladiator set before the mob than a son of Greece. Yet they, too, contributed to his philosophy, gave to it its patches of darkness. In the end, however, it was time that came to be the principal ingredient of Barbarides’ philosophy. For what was the game in which he himself participated but a marking of time. Not in the crass sense of other sports which are routinely set against the clock. The [ 69 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 game he participated in measured time – the leisured intervals between plays, the slow movement of time set against the rapidity of time – meted out in seconds – of the game itself: the movement of ball to bat, to field, and the runner’s counterpointed movement. Time and movement. Set upon a measured field of base paths and distances to walls. No wonder the game so fascinated Barbarides. For time was dissected: fast, slow, slow, fast, and all the times in between. The game he was involved in had a rhythm, but an unpredictable rhythm in which his own movements and measures had their rightful place. When this discovery came to Barbaridees, he marveled at it. So simple it was, and yet so portentous. As a result of it, there accreted gradually in his subconscious and from there percolated upward to his consciousness the awareness that he was upsetting the universal rhythm. That he was aging. That his days were numbered and that younger men waited to stand in his place at the mystic center. It became obvious to everyone – especially to Barbarides himself – that he was no longer getting the jump on the ball, that more and more of the spheres – only perceptibly more but that was enough to constitute the difference – were falling to the ground, or ricocheting off his glove which did not quite reach the place it should be at in time. And Barbarides was aware of something else: he was committing the centerfielder’s greatest error. He was overcompensating – trying too hard to position himself so that he would have to run less, relying on too precise an attempted estimation of where the ball would land, instead of relying on the previously automatic knowledge of where contained in his boundless self. In short, his freedom was gone. His time had changed – the easy rhythm was lost. After a day in which Barbarides dropped two flies, and the wind flagged his shirt in playful taunts, he walked out of the stadium into the shadows which it cast, handed his glove to a small boy who accepted it silent and wide-eyed, as if waiting for him, and walked peacefully, almost happily, to the river beyond the stadium that he had felt for some time running under his feet, under the center field turf, and immersed himself in the waters of oblivion. Butch D Lou Gaglia __________________________ ___________ eer Park was only fifteen minutes away from Commack, yet it was a world away to twelve year old Joe. In Commack he often played baseball, or sometimes football. He had sprouted bigger than anyone in his sixth grade class, and now was a head taller than almost any kid in his neighborhood. He lived and breathed and ate and slept baseball. His father had never played sports, but once in a while now, when Joe came in close to dark after a day of playing ball, he tousled Joe’s hair roughly and called him Butch, a name he used to hate but now liked sometimes. It was the end of the summer, and he was about to go into the seventh grade at the junior high up the road. At dinner Saturday night his mother said they would all be going to his aunt’s house in Deer Park for one last summer dip in their in-ground pool. Joe groaned inwardly, wanting one more day to play ball with his friend Frank at the school. He morosely covered his pork chops with beans to hide the fat. Later, when he took out the garbage, alone in the darkness, he thought of his future, and he liked it. He would be a baseball player; he’d be married to a nice girl with a beautiful smile, have a house and a big family. The girl wouldn’t be from Commack or Deer Park. She’d be from the Midwest somewhere---Kansas, maybe, he thought, someplace calm and friendly. On the way to his aunt and uncle’s split level house the next day, he and his older sister sat silently in the back. His mother talked about their cousin Sandra, who was seventeen and seeing an Hispanic man. His father was silently smoking and driving. He flicked his cigarette far away when they passed the mental hospital. A week before, his Uncle Jimmy had gone after Sandra’s boyfriend, Wil. His aunt and his mother piled the kids into the car and raced to the pizza place because his uncle had caught [ 70 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 up to Wil and, his aunt said, shoved his head into the pizza oven. When they got there, his uncle strode out of the pizza place muttering curses, got into the driver’s seat and sped them all back to the house, yelling at his aunt about Sandra and cursing over Wil. Now it was the last Sunday of summer, and the whole family was going this time, including his father who had been at work during the pizza oven episode. For a while it had been fine for Joe and his sister to go there, but this time they groused until their mother told them to shut up. The pool was all right, they complained, but everyone in Deer Park was either named Dominic or Antoinette, and everyone “tawked” in a rasp “like dis”, and they were sick of those people. Their mother told them again to shut up. At the house, Joe went off by himself almost immediately after saying hello to Sandra and to his cousin Nicky, who was two years younger than Joe. Sandra had come to them, smiling warmly, and kissed him and his sister hello, but then turned abruptly to curse aloud to her mother when she was called to help in the kitchen. Joe went to the garage and pitched a baseball into a sand pile, pretending he was Juan Marichal, then Tom Seaver, then Bob Gibson… until Nicky found him to ask if he wanted to play football with Dominic and the guys at Dominic’s house down the block. Joe reluctantly tossed the ball into the sand pile, filed away the score of the game he was playing in his mind, and followed his cousin. The sun was bright; there were no clouds in the sky at all. Joe and Nicky jumped the fence and joined a group of six other boys. One of them, Dominic, was older than him by a year, but they were the same size. On the second floor deck, Dominic’s father, Big Dominic, sat with Dominic’s mother and some other men and women around a table. He smelled the coffee and the cigarettes and was aware of their loud hard chatter. They decided on a touch football game. Dominic was on the opposite team. He sized Joe up and said, “Do you think you can take me?” Joe looked at him open-mouthed but didn’t say anything. On the first few plays Dominic found Joe and elbowed him in the head or crashed into him shoulder to shoulder, even if Joe wasn’t in the play. Joe breathed hard, seething, as he heard Dominic’s father laugh. “Yeah, Dom! Yeah, Dom!” Then… “That kid’s…” meaning Joe, but Joe didn’t catch the rest. He was raging, blinded, when he took the ball on the next play and streaked past a red-faced hurtling Dominic for a score. Big Dominic yelled at his son from above. Dominic went after Joe on the following kickoff, cutting into his legs after the play was over. Joe got up quickly, but Dominic got into Joe’s face. “Watcha gonna do?” The next play was a screen pass to Dominic, and Joe ran full speed and slammed Dominic to the ground the moment the ball reached him. The ball squirted away and Dominic lay on his back groaning. “Shake it off, Dom!” Big Dominic yelled from above. Dominic rolled over onto his knees. “Get up, get up!” Big Dominic called to his son. Joe looked up. “Hey kid,” Joe called down to him. “That was a good hit. You’re some ballplayer.” Joe nodded and looked at Dominic trying to walk it off. “Come on up here, kid.” Big Dominic’s voice was friendly. “I wanna talk to you.” Joe walked slowly toward the deck steps. “Come on up,” said Big Dominic. “Shake it off, Dom, ya baby!“ Joe hesitated on the bottom step. “Come on, will ya? I want to meet a good ballplayer.” Joe climbed the steps slowly and stood before Big Dominic, black-haired, red-faced, a cigarette dangling from curled lips. “That was some hit,” he said, smiling. “My son deserved that shot you gave him.” A woman coming out of the house warned tiredly, “Dom, stop it,” and Joe turned to look at her curiously. Big Dominic reached down suddenly and grabbed Joe’s ankles, yanking him upside down, the back of his head smacking onto the deck floor. He stood and lifted Joe over the deck railing. Upside down, dangling, Joe screamed into the blue sky and at [ 71 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 the tops of two trees. “You…ever…my son… again…huh?” Joe heard through his own screams. Big Dominic let go of one leg and Joe’s breath stopped----No! No! roaring through his mind. Dominic yanked Joe back up over the railing by one leg and flopped him back down onto the deck, the back of his head hitting first. He got up quickly and raced down the stairs. “That’s all I wanted to say,” Big Dominic called after him pleasantly, and he laughed while the women at the table scolded. Joe crossed stiffly past the boys on the grass. Dominic didn’t look at him but the other boys did, standing frozen. One smaller boy looked as though he were brooding, his jaw tight, his eyes locked on Joe’s. Nicky cursed to himself and followed Joe over the fence. Near the pool Joe sat at the patio table with Nicky. Soon his sister and Sandra came out wearing bathing suits. They placed lemonade and cups on the table and then went back up the deck stairs to the kitchen. Joe stared at the trees opposite Dominic‘s yard, his heart still beating hard. His jaw trembled now and tears started in his eyes but didn’t slide down. His father came out with Uncle Jimmy. They sat at the table smoking cigarettes. “Ain’t you two going in the pool?” Uncle Jimmy wanted to know. Nicky said they wanted to eat first and Joe shrugged, looking at the trees. He held back the flood, tightening his jaw. Dad, he thought, glancing over at his father after a while. Dad. But he didn’t say anything. His father talked with Uncle Jimmy and looked out at the sky, grimacing into the sun. Then they both got up. “Where you goin’, Dad?” asked Nicky. “Takin’ a ride,” said Uncle Jimmy. His father stopped next to Joe. “Aren’t you going in the pool?” He looked up at his father. Dad. Dad, he wanted to say. Dad. “Not yet,” he said. His father brushed Joe’s cheek with a knuckled caress. “Butchy Boy,” he said softly, smiling. He left, and a tear escaped from one of Joe’s eyes, then the other, as soon as he was gone. Now it was just Sandra and his sister with Nicky at the table. Sandra had brought out the hot dogs and the rolls and the mustard. After she set down the rolls, she looked up at Joe and crossed quickly over to him, looking into his eyes. The tears were coming down now, fast and hot. “What’s wrong? Someone hurt you? What’s wrong. Tell me.” Joe shook his head, looking at the trees. “Nothing,” Nicky said, waving his arms dismissively like Uncle Jimmy and biting into his hot dog. “Nothing happened. Go back to your spic boyfriend and mind your business.” Sandra whirled, yanking Nicky roughly out of his chair by his underarms. She kicked the chair out of the way, dragged Nicky over to the eight foot section of the pool, and heaved him in. After a moment, a piece of hot dog sprouted to the surface of the deep water, followed soon by a sputtering, cursing Nicky. Southpaw U Karrie Waarala __________________________ ___________ pon reading my latest poem, my fellow writer and favorite sports nut dials my number, charges past hello, and throws at me: “Ever hear of Sandy Koufax?” I wouldn’t know a curveball if it hit me in the trochee but I settle and wait. I can hear story loitering at the edge of his voice hoping to be invited in and I have learned to let it lean in the doorway of his mouth, pulling at threads of trivia about games of no interest to me until, in the hands of his easy sense of telling, I am willingly snared in a cat’s cradle of story and sport and joy. He is Southern, born to it. [ 72 ] Koufax, he spools out, was one of the best left-handed pitchers Stymie Magazine to ever send cork and cowhide whistling toward home. Leapfrogged into the majors all power and no control, wind-up explosions practically hurling bases away, a mountain of misguided potential. A chuckle leaks out of me, convinced I’ve caught his allegory, skipping ahead to the next draft of the work I have sent him but no. Wait for it. He’s just warming up. Enter catcher Norm Sherry, summer of ’61, all crouch, popping knees and palmed heat. Harnesses the volcano in Sandy’s shoulder, eases thunder into rifle shot, focuses flail into seven innings of ash swinging white hot and empty. And so it goes, season after catapulting season, years in which this former thrash and heave knuckles down records, a sharpened master of velocity, winds and hones his craft to that careful and glorious zone of arrived. His drawl pauses as he rounds his story toward home, allows me the stretch of silence I need to let the dust of his parable settle. I am all wordless grin and grateful as I slide into his admiration, safe. Spring & Summer ‘11 Little Street in Brooklyn I Gary Percesepe __________________________ ___________ n the little street Where children play I see my father Point with a Rough hand to What is coming. He travels at furious Speed toward what Cannot be stopped. We are playing Stickball, catching Off cars the new Pink spaldeen and In his weary Arms he carries Flowers for the Dead and a sack Of swollen oranges. I motion for him to Disappear, again. Tossing His cigarette to the hot Pavement, he does Releasing thoughts like Little hats. When I was a child I believed the Night stars were The high heels of Angels pricking Through God's floor. Since mother was Gone I asked my Sister but she sighed And said it's hard [ 73 ] Stymie Magazine Being a girl: Corrections, corrections. He reappears in the Little street and asks What's wrong with you? In a disgusted way and I start to cry Again because I don't know. Years later when I Fell in love with my first Girlfriend I loved Her fiercely Like an orphan She had lost Her mother at Age eight. We had no idea Who either of us was But clung to the Other under the Thick blanket of love Twisted bodies And soiled sheets Our wide untamed Animal hearts. Spring & Summer ‘11 tells herself: I. Will. Not. Cry. 2. They go to dinner at a trendy restaurant. Their guest is an upbeat reporter who has come to write a story about him because that is what reporters do these days, interview athletecelebrities over plates of drizzled lettuce and Atlantic pink salmon and just a glass of water, please, thank you very much. None of that locker-room-game-following stuff; this is human interest, this is the inside story, this is what readers want to know. The reporter is young and pretty and her eyes sparkle as she leans in to recount his career, and he who could not say three civil words all afternoon is suddenly transformed into Prince Charming. Funny how that works. 3. It is raining, lights of the city reflected in luminescent drops on wide glass windows. He drones on and on about coaches and tournaments and growing up poor and becoming rich and she looks around in boredom, studying the occupants of the room, countless lives played out in tableaux. A man and woman at the table next to them are wrapped up in each other’s eyes, speaking softly, touching. If this were two years ago, he would look at her like that. Now his shoulder is turned away, cold. She sits there slim and straight, like an oriental vase; purely ornamental. 4. She orders a bottle of wine to amuse herself. The reporter does not drink because she is Cry working and he does not drink because he has Claire Novak __________________________ ___________ “found himself,” is on the road back from that he spends twenty minutes on the eye rock-bottom, has been enlightened by a guru alone, translucent skin swirled with from some middle eastern religion and a sense splotches of purple-gray, yellow-green. of respect for self and duty toward others and First concealer dabbed gingerly into on and on, the spiel his publicist has drilled into place above the cheekbone, then foundation this, his alternate identity. By the time the waiter smoothed with a wince into the pocket below. arrives with their entrées, she’s already found the She works eyeliner out from the center across a bottom of the first bottle. She moves on to the miniscule cut on the topside of the lid, fanning next. herself with her hand when a teardrop threatens to spill across the freshly-applied façade. She S [ 74 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 5. The wine is red, heavy on her tongue, but not in a bad way. She savors her third glass and feels the drowsy arms wrap around her and considers, musingly, what it is about them that seems so unreal. She remembers a statistic she once read somewhere, percentage of high-powered athletes who admitted to cheating on their wives. She remembers thinking, what irony; I haven’t even made it to the altar. She remembers wondering what the numbers were for her demographic. She remembers wanting to know how many high-powered athletes beat their girlfriends. tity apart from him, evades her always. 6. She doesn’t talk about it with the other players’ wives. In fact, she doesn’t talk to the other players’ wives at all. To them she is uninitiated, her empty ring finger sending out a blatant signal. She is casually acquainted with a few of the other girlfriends, but mostly in that size-her-up, stareher-down sort of way (“Women only dress for other women”). They’re all detox diets and exercise regimens and breast implants anyhow. She would not – could not – confide in any of them. 10. It is just one moment, but in that moment the swirling movements of the waiters cease and the bottom of the conversation drops away and even the flickering candlelight seems warped, still. The reporter wears a slightly quizzical look; they didn’t teach her how to deal with this in Journalism 101. He looks at her and his face is emotionless, but under the table her wrist begins to throb as his fingers clench deeper into the skin, and her heart pounds in time, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. She knows better than to react, twist away, cause a scene. She sits there, petrified, like a startled rabbit, until he lets her go. 7. It is something she considers bringing up in the conversation tonight, casually, “oh, by the way, speaking of that recent athletic award, did you read the column that came out in last month’s…” but she doesn’t. She picks at her Pappardelle with Filet Mignon Bolognese Sauce and smiles supportively when he speaks of his latest charity project and the wonderful people who have really lent a hand to make it happen and how finding purpose in life made him such a better person and bullshitbullshitbullshit, she thinks. 9. The reporter is constantly asking how do you feel, how did that make you feel? She wants to say, ask him about the feeling of a fist connecting with soft flesh, ask him how it feels to slam someone up against a wall, ask him, “did you feel the last open-handed slap across her face?” She doesn’t know what comes over her, she does not mean to speak out loud, but she finds herself saying, quite clearly, “This interview is completely pointless.” 11. They are talking again but the words are meaningless, droning on and on. It closes in on her, claustrophobic. She jumps up and snags her heel on the table leg and stumbles slightly, gripping the white cloth for balance. He looks up at her, irritated. She whispers, restroom. And in the cool, dark recess of black marble tiles and gleaming golden fixtures, she leans her head against the wall and holds her wrist under running water. 8. The tears well up again. She tells herself: I. Will. She weighs her options, pros and cons. Reasons Not. Cry. to remain? The usual: money, popularity, relative stability; because he’s sexy, because she used to love him, because she doesn’t want to be alone. Reasons to leave? Her sanity, safety, sense of self. The will to break away, to resume an iden[ 75 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 Contributors Spring & Summer 2011 ________________________________________________________________________________ Scott Akalis owns a psychology PhD from Harvard University and a Cecil Fielder bat from eBay. Although he no longer conducts psychology experiments, he still takes the occasional swing. Find more of his stories at ScottAkalis.com. Aaron Burch is the author of How to Predict the Weather (Keyhole Books) and the chapbook, How to Take Yourself Apart, How to Make Yourself Anew (PANK). His stories have appeared in New York Tyrant, Barrelhouse, and Quick Fiction, among others, and he edits Hobart: another literary journal. Robert Busby grew up in Pontotoc, Mississippi, where the World Champion Bodock Fence Post Tossing competition is a bona fide annual event. Currently, he lives with his wife, Jorden, in Miami, FL, where he's finishing up his MFA at Florida International University. He also serves as fiction editor of Gulf Stream Magazine, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cold Mountain Review and Gulf Stream Online #2. a $6,000 established artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts, 2009. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was recently published by March Street Press and can be purchased through the press or at Amazon. She is most proud of the offsite school she ran in The Bronx and her nine grand children who live on the next block in Rehoboth.They pepper her life. Chris Duggan has worked as a journalist and public relations professional since 1989 and is currently a student in the MFA in Writing program at Lindenwood University. He lives in St. Charles, Missouri, with his kids, Laura and Nick. Lou Gaglia's fiction appears or is forthcoming in Blueline, Prick of the Spindle, JMWW, The Ear Hustler, FRiGG, Rose & Thorn Journal, and many others. He teaches in upstate New York. Roland Goity edits fiction for the online journal LITnIMAGE, and is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology, EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction (Vagabondage Press). Wynne Huddleston is a member of the Mississippi Poetry Society and a board member of the Mississippi Writers Guild. Her poetry has been published/is forthcoming in Birmingham Arts Journal, Southern Women’s Review, Gemini Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Raven Chronicles, Mississippi Poetry Journal, Grandmother Earth, Calliope Nerve, Jon Morgan Davies is a native of California joyful! and elsewhere. For more information see currently residing in Georgia. His work has appeared in such publications as Adirondack Review, Cut- her site at wynnehuddleston.wordpress.com. Ramon Collins lives on the NE edge of the Mojave Desert. He has had several stories published and online. Collins is Micro editor of an Irish literary quarterly, The Linnet's Wings, and has been a baseball fan since 1943. bank, and Summerset Review. More information is available at http://no1bag.angelfire.com. Stephen Graham Jones has seven novels and Liz Dolan’s second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, which is seeking a publisher, was nominated for the Robert McGrath Prize and she has been published in On the Mason Dixon Line: An Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers. A five-time Pushcart nominee, she won two collections on the shelves, with more forthcoming. Also something like a hundred and ten stories published, from Alaska Quarterly Review to the The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, and most places between. He teaches in the MFA program at The University of Colorado at Boulder. More [ 76 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 at www.stephengrahamjones.net. the Tin Palace (Marsh Hawk, 2009). His poems set by Daniel Asia appear on the Summit label; their W.F. Lantry, a native of San Diego, holds a Tin Angel Opera is in development with the PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the Center for Contemporary Opera. Pines lives in University of Houston. In 2010 he won the Glens Falls, New York, where he practices as a Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for psychotherapist and hosts the Lake George Jazz Peace Award (in Israel), the Crucible Editors’ Po- Weekend. etry Prize, and the CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize. His work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Ken Pisani is a former sports producer, includAnemone Sidecar, Literal Latté, New Verse News, ing features and profiles for "Wide World of Istanbul Literary Review, Blip Magazine and AesSports" and the Olympics. His short story, My thetica. He currently works in Washington, DC, Brother Died And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt, but is still a diehard fan of the Padres and Charg- was collected in the anthology "More Tonto ers who break his heart every year. His website is Short Stories," published in 2008 in the U.S. and wflantry.com. U.K., while an earlier effort, The Failing, was a short fiction winner at Cedar Hill Press in 2007. Larry Lefkowitz’s stories, poetry and humor His work has also been featured on several literhave been widely published in the U.S. and ary websites, including one that boasts its ability abroad. to make you want to hurl yourself out a window. Claire Novak is an independent sportswriter whose work is sought by a variety of organizations, including the Associated Press, ESPN.com, and the Hearst Corporations' Albany Times Union. She divides her time between Chicago and New York and learned long ago not to date star athletes. Gary Percesepe has published short stories, poems, essays and reviews in many journals, including Mississippi Review, Antioch Review, Westchester Review, Rumpus, Pank, Word Riot, Necessary Fiction, Metazen, elimae, LitnImage, 971 Menu, and Moon Milk Review. Along with Susan Tepper, he co-authored the epistolary novel, What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock and Dori G (Cervana Barva Press), which was entered for a Pulitzer Prize. He recently completed his second novel, Leaving Telluride. Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a book of prose poems. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, The Collagist, Sou'wester and Beloit Fiction Journal. He teaches a sport literature course at Rutgers-Newark, where he is currently completing an MFA. Missy Roback has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. She was a finalist for the 2009 Poets and Writers' California Writers Exchange Award. Patricia Smith is a visual artist, writer, and baseball fan living in Seattle, Washington (yes, the Mariners). She is wrapping up her first collection of short stories, all of which include some kind of animal/human intersection. Until recently, she also practiced psychotherapy in SePaul Pines grew up in Brooklyn around the cor- attle. ner from Ebbet’s Field. He is the author of two novels, The Tin Angel (Wm Morrow, 1983), and Karrie Waarala is currently pursuing her MFA Redemption (Editions du Rocher, 1997), and a in Creative Writing from the University of memoir, My Brother’s Madness, (Curbstone Press, Southern Maine. Her work has appeared or is 2007). He has published seven books of poetry forthcoming in The Orange Room Review, including Taxidancing (Ikon, 07) and Last Call at Short, Fast, and Deadly, Bestiary, two national [ 77 ] Stymie Magazine Spring & Summer ‘11 poetry slam anthologies, and on a coffee shop floor in Arizona. Karrie is currently working on a one-woman show of poems about the circus sideshow and really wishes she could tame tigers and swallow swords. Ken Weene is both a poet and fiction writer. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications – most recently featured in Sol and publication in Spirits, and Vox Poetica. An anthology of his writings, Songs for my Father, was published by Inkwell Productions in 2002. Ken’s short stories have appeared in many places, including Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Daily Flashes of Erotica Quarterly, and Bewildering Stories. He also contributes to Basil and Spice. Josh Wilker is the author of Cardboard Gods and a forthcoming book on the 1977 film The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. He lives with his wife in Chicago and continues to write about his life through his childhood baseball cards at cardboardgods.net. Todd Zuniga is the founding editor of Opium Magazine, the president of Opium for the Arts (a 501(c)3 nonprofit), and a co-creator of the Literary Death Match, now featured in 27 cities worldwide. His fiction has appeared in Canteen, and online at Lost Magazine and McSweeney's. Based between Paris and couches all over the United States, he longs for a Chicago Cubs World Series and an EU passport. [ 78 ]