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Stymie Magazine

Spring & Summer 2012

Stymie Magazine a journal of sport & literature :: volume 5, issue 2 :: spring & summer 2012

STAFF Erik Smetana, founding editor Kari Nguyen, nonfiction editor Brett Elizabeth Jenkins, poetry editor Billy Jones, associate poetry editor Julie Webb, fiction editor Matthew Ferrence, web editor Danny Goodman, social media editor COVER ART Aaron Jasinski’s “Roborazzi” Note: Aaron previously provided interior and cover art respectively for the Spring/Summer 2010 and Autumn/Winter 2010 issues.

FICTION M. Cass’s “Love Songs for Ellipticals After Divorce” . . . S. Lippmann’s “The Last Resort” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . R. Gay’s “Just Be Nice” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . R. Busby’s “Second Battle of Bodock” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A. Sparks’ “Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter” . . . . R. Bryant’s “The Collective Unconscious of Genitalia, Annie Hall, and Coffee Cups” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C. Novak’s “Boxer” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

POETRY K. Robinson’s “Belly Fat, After the Run” . . . . . . . . . . . . S. Beers’ “Ode to Plastic Bat and Ball” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C. Murphy’s “Umpire Crouched” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NOTES All works – art, fiction, nonfiction and K. Hays’ “Taking Lite Back to the Cave” . . . . . . . . . . . . . H. Stephenson’s “During the Power Outage” . . . . . . . . . poetry – contained herein are copyright of the respective author and/or creator. NONFICTION ETCETERA C. Pivovar’s “On the Similarities Between Baseball and Stymie Magazine is published online, Storytelling” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . bi-annually or thereabouts. Archives, C. Hawkins’ “Sport of the Future” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . guidelines and other related inforE. Stahl’s “On Keeping Score at a Baseball Game” . . . . . mation is available for review at C. Ginsberg’s “Swimming Becomes You” . . . . . . . . . . . . www.stymiemag.com.

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Love Song for Ellipticals After Divorce Meagan Cass __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Must we live in our bodies and punish them, too? — Chad Davidson

A

t first I thought you vaguely sinister, with your hulking frame, your insect arms, your face flashing neon data. Lined up with your kind at the Hawthrone Club Fit, you could have been a member of an alien army in a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic movie, sent to the suburbs to trap me in your giant pedals, drain my life force, brainwash me, or perform insidious research on my species. “Human woman, eighteen, healthy, enjoys disco fries, sometimes too much, sporadic drinker, lonely, but hopeful,” you’d relay back to the mother ship. This was during that restless, plush summer before college when I worked part-time in an ice cream truck, slept with a boy I didn’t love in the back of his family’s Taurus, feared pregnancy. I came to you to forget the symptoms, mounted you quickly, my body still boasting what I considered real world athleticism: high school soccer games, hikes up Turkey Mountain, illegal reservoir swimming. I’d just take you for a spin. This wasn’t permanent. Your pedals swung easily beneath my weight. You gave me none of the keen ache I was after. Like running in whipped cream. The gym equivalent of bumper bowling. I did not bother with resistance, left you for the hard, flat surface of a treadmill, your plainer, more serious cousin. At twenty-five, bleary with new love, beer soaked, I found you again. We did it quick and dirty, perched above a university gymnasium where young girls learned to cheerlead. I was an artist, not an athlete, I had decided. He was a writer in black converse sneakers, hated sports of any kind, had declared at a young age that athletic acts were ugly, unattractive, undignified. I wore kids’ cowboy boots with cartoon horses printed on the insides, a white cotton sundress

patterned with yellow flowers. Exactly, I told him, married him, hung up my cleats. I did not want muscles. I did not want endurance. I only wanted you to sculpt my thighs for him to push apart, to give me that flushed high, then that cool calm to last me through the fetid, Louisiana afternoons. You purred like an expensive vacuum cleaner. I did not think myself weaker or stronger. I did not think about strength at all. In Los Angeles it is easy to forget you live in a desert. There are so many palm trees. All this transplanted green. Those first months I would get nauseous in the middle of the morning, two cups of coffee in. He’d make me down glasses of water. He was kind. It got worse anyway. At the end we lived off frozen pizza, frozen dumplings, ramen noodles swirling in salt. Leaving him, I thought I’d turn myself into a pillar. I thought I deserved it. Some days I still do. At the Hollywood YMCA, I find you in front of the obligatory mural of old Hollywood, the same one they have at the grocery store and at the bank. Marilyn Monroe. Charlie Chaplin. Godzilla. Familiar ghosts in their familiar guises, as if gathered for a family reunion at which there will be moderate drinking and a few arguments, political and personal, but no full-fledged fights because we’re too old for that now, aren’t we? I am hazy with lack of sleep. I don’t know what I want from you. I am in tattered sneakers not meant for running, have not stepped onto a field or run a lap or swam a lake in years. I bring you ruined knees, brittled ankles, cigarette lungs. My balance comes slow. You don’t mind. It is like always. You ask me the usual questions, make your secret adjustments, take us metaphorical walking and hiking and running and stair climbing, measure the beat of my heart. I have heard them call you grim reaper, mad scientist, anesthesiologist, and fake psychic healer, your barn a kind of addictive mirror. Compared to gritty games of pick-up touch foot-

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ball, to volleyball spiking, to bike riding on craggy trails, to the aerial feints and calibrated lunges of basketball players, they say you’re a limpwristed ghost. Lately, my nights stretching out like the line at the DMV, the people I love scattered across this multi-terrain country, this toobig country, I wonder, what is so wrong with being held this way? Where is the evil in the way you cradle my rusted joints, guide my muscles through these gentle, repetitive motions, let me choose how easy or how hard I want it. Where is the sin in this brief allusion of control, in knowing, quantitatively, how long I’ve been going and how long I’ve got to go? And if, after kicking a soccer ball or dancing, I feel a soreness in my abdomen, the place on my body you never touch, does that make your imprints on my arms and legs less real, the muscle memory of pedaling less true? When you tell me I’m through, after thirty minutes of moving my feet in circles, of old music moving through me, of not crying, not crying, I take out my ear buds and wipe my sweat from your body, wipe you down. Twenty-first century horse. Ungainly robot. Familiar song. I will come back to you, if not tomorrow, then the next day, or the next month, or the next year. As always, I will be more or less myself.

The Last Resort Sara Lippmann____________________________________

I

t didn’t take much for Jeff to chaperone. Going anywhere beat staying. His son, Chad, had organized the ski trip – posted flyers, hawked candy bars that melted in eager front pockets and re-hardened in cold lockers, booked lodging, finagled discount lift tickets– all he needed was a warm body, an adult for legal and insurance purposes. A solicitation of favorite teachers came up dry: Mr. Fink coached basketball on weekends, Mr. Brent taught organic chemistry at St. Joseph’s, and Mrs. Loomis sheepishly confessed her commitment to Overeater’s Anonymous. That left Jeff.

Chad’s father was one of those dads who lingered around after games in a shrunken Eagles bomber smelling like sweet peppers, as if waiting to get invited to the party. He was good for a beer run but that was it – everyone knew his story. When Chad finally got around to knocking at his grandparents’ house pine needles from the leftover wreath shook out on the doormat. His grandparents wintered down in the Carolinas. His father opened the door, blinking like he’d been sitting in the dark. “Well, if it isn’t my state champ,” Jeff said, filling up the door, his body a hassock with its stuffing kicked out. Chad set his face into a grin, stuck out his hand like he was selling doorto-door. Jeff looked at it. They hadn’t seen each other in a month. Chad ran his fingers through his hair like he already knew the answer: “Aren’t you going to let me in?” 6 a.m. Saturday the student parking lot looked like a tailgate. Girls bundled on car hoods smoking cigarettes, picking at the pill on their sweaters, corduroys rubbing together to generate heat. Identical girls, hatless despite the cold, strands blowing and catching on the half-sucked faces of lollipops, fingertips shoved in the fake fur lining of boots rounded at the toes like mascot feet. Jeff pulled in next to Chad’s hatchback, which Luann had bought their son for his sixteenth birthday, and drank in the rearview. Teenagers shuffled past looking homeless, balancing gear and duffels. Eyes puffy and shot as if they’d been up all night, partying or crying or throwing punches or some hopped-up hormonal combination of the three. People assume the roles they are given. In high school Jeff ran track and lined up a lacrosse scholarship to Gettysburg, but then he was driving the night Brent Joseph flew through the windshield and cracked his spine on wet leaves. Today, the gray slab building stood its ground, doors lacquered red outside the gym, only now there was central air-conditioning,

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newer windows; there was full handicap access. Jeff could still smell all that promise: chlorine leading to the pool, oatmeal clumped in the cafeteria, clouds of antifungal spray in the watermarked locker room. That fateful September everyone accused Jeff of sucking pennies when his breath tested clean. There could be no other explanation. He and Brent were best friends, the first to hop rails with their skateboards in the seventh grade, the last stragglers before the late bell, the sharers of math tests and Mountain Dew. Following the accident the town buzzed with platitudes – things like this weren’t supposed to happen. Not here. It didn’t matter how many long it had been. Twenty-four years and 5 months. Jeff still folded Brent’s puppet legs into the cab of his truck and took him to a game once a season. The field had been renamed in Brent’s honor. Students stared as Jeff wheeled the grunting, spasmodic husk of his buddy through the sinking sod over to the bleachers and soaked an entire flannel with sweat. He rested a hand on Brent’s shoulder, dressed in his shiny varsity jacket, fed him peanuts, and suffered through the whispers, then drove him home, spring and fall, fall and spring, take it easy, man with a slap on the back as Brent’s parents sat on porch chairs waving through filmy eyes, the lucky one, the friend who walked off with a broken collarbone into the rest of his life. Jeff retrieved his boots hooked on jaws from his flatbed, leaned against the salt-stained bumper. Life could flip in an instant but some things remained steady: Girls wore braces and fruit-flavored lip-gloss; bottles clinked through backpacks and against skinny legs. Laughter was contagious. Rumors zipped from car window to car window – Mitchell Span had managed to wrap a quarter keg in sleeping bags and sneak it past the bus driver, duuuuude, ready and set to be tapped. In the lot Chad wielded a clipboard like a camp director. Jeff stood apart and watched the

kids orbit around his son, confident blond curls peeking out below a baseball cap, brim broken in and flipped backward so as not to hide his face. When Chad sweat beneath his lacrosse helmet ringlets stuck to his forehead like a Greek statue, as they did when he was a raisin-faced tot in a crib stricken with night terrors. Sideburns stretched along strong, sloped cheekbones; proud cheekbones, cheekbones that solidified paternity. In his vest and rugby Chad could have walked out of a New England catalogue. A fresh girl nestled into his chest every week and once Jeff saw the assistant Spanish teacher parked in the driveway but never said anything. By then, Luann had moved out with Bethany, and Chad had always kept his distance, as if his father’s luck might somehow rub off on him. Jeff had gone online to meet women but all that profile writing felt like homework, and homework was never his thing. A few times he dialed the date-by-phone numbers advertised on TV after the eleven o’clock news. Girls weren’t the problem, girls were everywhere, it was unreal, girls got naked on video chat, girls rode mechanical bulls, girls picked up on the other end and tickled his ear with laughter; his neck cramped, his inbox filled with implants and intentions, coupons for edible lingerie, but who were these cyber girls? The game had changed since high school and suddenly, he needed a handbook. A quick fix was one thing but anonymity left him empty; within days, he felt they could sense his neediness above their own. His photo was outdated, and even though he convinced himself he remained a 36-waist, baggage folded over his belt. He canceled dates. Hadn’t he delivered enough disappointment? Once he visited a West Philly hooker and wept into her neck, which smelled like buttered popcorn, and begged her to clasp her bruised limbs around him. She rolled her eyes but complied, charging twice as much for affection as for sex. After, his face broke in hives, his windpipe narrowed, his body anaphylactic from the oils designed to cover a person’s true scent.

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Stymie Magazine The night of the accident they’d been tooling around on the wrong side of the chain link outside the Diamond Music Center like always. It was Labor Day. One of those nights where everything seems to come together, from the plum sky to the smells of waffle cones and honey suckle. Bad Company – Bad Company! played in concert but up on the hill music was free. The rest was unremarkable. Someone passed around a six-pack but everyone was thirsty; no one got more than a swallow or two of warm backwash. Luann was there in an Ocean City iron-on with a couple of girlfriends and half the lacrosse team. Since August Luann had been Brent’s girlfriend; later, she would become Jeff’s sole consolation.

Spring & Summer 2012

size of baby toes tunnel beneath the surf each time the tide rolled out. With a callused heel he would connect the air holes pocking the surface to form constellations. Sometimes he drove to Atlantic City to watch the girls dance the casino bars but cowboy hats and cutoff shorts didn’t change anything. He wasn’t a gambler. It was impossible to get ahead of one’s losses.

As for Bethany – maybe he walked in on her in the shower once. Lingered in the fog smelling her apple shampoo an extra minute. Gave her flushed cheeks a meaningful squeeze. Stood there, struck by her budding curves when she emerged from her bedroom dressed for her eighth grade dance. Time both ruined him and left him breathless. Bethany was the age where girls hate their fathers. All he ever wanted was to hold on to Jeff came up behind his son, jabbed him on the back with the point of his elbow. It was a her. Sometimes he loved too much. Was that criminal? buddy move he’d seen on T.V. “Ready to rumble?” On the bus boys sat beside girls, parkas “What the f-?” Chad whirled around. At the sight of his father, Chad looked surprised, as strewn over laps. The Grateful Dead blasted from the back rows, as if it were 1986, only the if he had not been invited. music was being pumped through miniature “C’mon, kiddo, help you load?” speakers attached to someone’s phone. Once they hit Route 476 a movie started to roll on the “It’s all good. I’ve got it covered.” He clapped his father’s shoulder as a coach would a overhead screen, which Jeff didn’t recognize but pint-sized bench warmer. Jeff could not remem- thought must be a comedy because the girls ber the last time his son called him “dad” much were laughing, unless they were stoned; either way they were laughing, their eyes like coin slots, less pop, pa, father, old man. tears streaming, were they beautiful, so he sat “Are you sure, champ?” there losing himself in their wet open mouths, “I hope you brought pot,” Chad said, dancing pink tongues before dozing again. Sleep and returned to his organizational tasks. had never been a problem only this winter he’d Since graduation, Jeff had held the same stopped going to bed, the king mattress a mockery, spending nights instead stretched on the string of jobs: selling Christmas trees on City couch with syndicated reruns. He slept. Chrissy Avenue, the lot bound with lights fat as stink Snow wore baby doll nightgowns with grosgrain bugs; renting out jet skis in Sea Isle each summer. He made up the rest of the year delivering trim. He woke and wiped the drool from his firewood and blowing autumn leaves. This July cheek and listened to words like vid and stoke and some hotrod ran into a powerboat not 500 feet huzzah, the slapping of palms, the echo of adofrom the dock, rocking full of teens. Death put a lescence. There was nothing he understood. halt to business so he sat on the beach in his He skied alone. This was the Poconos, striped woven chair watching sand creatures the [5]


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the pits of the East, ice and wind and bitter cold cutting through his lousy jacket, stinging his thighs as he stood in line waiting to board a creaky double chair. He whizzed past a onelegged skier, a blind skier in reflective gear trailing a companion and felt worse for it. Everyone had a partner. The lift stalled out every few cars as beginners boarded and fell. His nose dripped. A few skiers still wore jeans; a handful wore a helmet. The top button of his snow pants wouldn’t snap, so he pulled the elastic band of his Eagles jacket down over the waist. Periodically he’d run into a pack of Giants fans from North Jersey and they’d heckle him, hockeystopping in his path to spray him with snow. He regretted not wearing a parka. He skied on straight boards, which was embarrassing, maybe - anywhere but here. It was his kind of mountain: drafts at the lodge, spliffs on the lift, lacy bras tangled up in trees. At first he tried to latch on to Chad and some of his friends but they flew down each run without turning and were already up on the next lift by the time he got to the bottom. Eventually Jeff gave up. In the singles line he tried not to talk much, convinced his voice spoken would come out slow and thick, on the wrong speed, unrecognizable even to himself. Instead he gazed out at the evergreens laden with man-made snow, cartoonish and heavy to the point of breakage. He burrowed his chin deep beneath his neck warmer and smelled his own breath. When strangers asked, Jeff said he was chaperoning, which the women deemed sweet, but of course then they’d tap his pole flirtatiously with the tip of theirs and say, “Wait. Where are your kids?” Bethany rode a two-wheeler, metallic streamers flapping in the wind. Chad was always running; at the Dairy Queen following fourth grade field day, Chad ran right out on him. Bethany in her yellow bathing suit with stitched daisies standing at the gate of the town pool waiting as her brother smashed cannonballs off the diving board, as he sold chocolate milk from towel to toweled sunbather at a premium, waiting until

dusk for her father to arrive and lift her off the bench, wood pressed in thighs, leaving a mark, and carry her into the deep end. To minimize costs, Chad booked ten kids per condo at the White Heron, which offered free breakfast Danish and shuttle service to and from the mountain. He’d skimmed from the funds to provide Jeff with his own unit, and to give himself a kickback. Chad always looked to the bottom line. Jeff would have been happy to bunk in with the group. His room smelled of lemon, faintly of vomit and smoke. The décor typical ski lodge, red brown plaid curtains and glass bowls filled with pinecones and matches from local restaurants. Framed posters hung on the walls at odd angles, ski trails, a grizzly devouring a fish. He showered, shaved; he masturbated to the women with feathered hair and reindeer sweaters discussing candle shops on mountain TV. The fridge was empty except for a carton of Arm & Hammer and a leftover box of wine. He filled his glass. The cold masked any rancidness. Red sauce clung in a spin-art pattern to the ceiling; it could be a week or a year old, he wouldn’t know the difference. Next door he could hear things starting. Before he left he dialed his daughter, who answered, not recognizing the out-of-area number. The sound of her thirteen-year-old voice brought tears to his eyes. He sat there at the edge of the bed, listening to the silence, until he heard, “Quit breathing, jerk,” and the drone of a dial tone before he could manage, “Bethany.” It was a party. There was pizza and there were makeshift pipes, fashioned from aluminum foil and ballpoint pens, from apples and peeled potatoes. When Jeff walked in they hollered, “Yo, Bro! Did you score?” He tossed over a Ziploc bag. They ate cold pies and smoked bowls and kicked the keg and afterward Jeff built a tower from empty cans which was so old

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pushed by the jets and drifting to the tub’s center, she was gliding, giggling, looking for an anchor as sound traveled from three flights up. “Mitch fell off the loft!” She latched on to him and his body responded, this girl with foggy goggles – yellow? green? pink? – surely, he knew, she believed he was Chad, they had the same cheekbones, after all, who was he to correct her? “I need you!” He heard but he was nobody’s father. He was a man. It was snowing. Jeff opened his eyes to the dark sky and the flakes like tiny stars dissolving on his wet hair, forming Hot tub! Jeff discovered one in the building’s complex on a cigar break and became a puddle on his scalp where it had thinned. Then an instant hero. Taking the lead, last one in is a he heard his name. “Dad!” rotten egg, he undressed and slid into the bubThat was all it took. Now he was a walbling pot, his boxers flounced with air, his boots and socks and dungarees soaked from the tub’s rus lumbering toward his son, dripping cold, his spillover. Arms stretched with a can and a half-lit body shaking slicks of fur. Picking up the pace, stub, he sat alone, and for a moment it was as if his soles slapped the concrete as he drew himself time stood still. Sure enough, girls followed and in and ran, far away from the girl who touched now he watched, as one by one, they shed their the edge of his lip, the girl in the pool making clothes and joined him. No one had come pre- waves, rippling with life, the girl whom he could almost hear whisper I love you. pared. Everyone was in a bra and underpants and laughing and everyone was — he could practically taste them — everyone was so painJust Be Nice fully young. Here came Chad’s girl. What was her Roxane Gay ____________________________________ __ name? Amy, something. She wore a pompom hat over smoky curls. Between the brim and aridad loved her body, the strength goggles she couldn’t see a thing. Jeff closed his and shape of it. She did not much eyes to capture her, to preserve this moment in love how other people loved her which nothing else mattered. Suddenly, he heard body. They misunderstood. a crash. This girl was shimmying out of her She worked as a fitness instructor at a jeans. Upstairs a window gasped open. His son’s country club in a gated community in Naples. It voice, he could hear it, his son shouting to him, was a good job. Mostly she helped old people but look, this girl was sliding into the Jacuzzi, forget how little time they had left and helped sighing from the heat, as if the water washed not yet old people keep aging at bay. Vanity was away her worries – what could anyone in that an easy thing to understand. During group fitskin worry about? - sidling up to him, laughing ness classes, Caridad watched the women in the and cooing and looping her wet arms around his community, wearing their outfits that cost more neck, sucking plump droplets of chlorinated wa- than her weekly pay, how their makeup shimter from his earlobes, she was slippery, so slipmered the more they perspired, how their perpery – “Help!” he heard as she cozied next to fume filled the studio, choking the air out of the him. “Come quick!” Jeff did not move from the room. They were always trying to outdo each bench. He reached through the water but she other, to master the complex moves Caridad kept floating, a scrawny thing with adult breasts, modeled for them. She had a soft spot for the school everyone called him was amazeballs. “Chad,” they said, the high school crowd was chanting, although Chad now looked like he was the one who’d been benched, “Chad Chad Chad. Your dad is totally rad,” which was the best Jeff could hope for, having hooked them up, the guys rallying around him and the girls wearing ski goggles on their wasted heads, the eyes of their masks tinted rose and orange and toilet bowl blue.

C

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women in the back row, often young, the kind with new money and older husbands, who didn’t yet know where they fit in the ecosystem of the neighborhood, the kind she might be friends with under different circumstances. Sometimes, after class, Caridad tried to talk to the women in the back row but they were often apprehensive about upsetting the delicate balance demanded of them, the unspoken rules about associating with the right kind of people. It had been a long day. In her morning fitness class, the ladies were unfocused, unable to follow simple moves, complaining each time Caridad tried to increase the intensity. “Por favor, Caridad,” they said, “no mas.” The ladies in her classes loved to speak to Caridad in broken Spanish, to show her they were comfortable with her ethnicity despite the paleness of their skin and the wealth of their husbands. Each morning before work, Caridad stared at her reflection in the mirror and practiced not rolling her eyes so she could smile politely at the ladies in her classes. One of the community’s newest residents lingered in the studio after the Zumba class. She was young and the only one who didn’t wear designer, coordinated outfits. Caridad couldn’t remember her name. The woman was married to an age-appropriate man and would never be accused of being able to follow a beat but she wasn’t afraid to sweat or look ugly. Caridad walked the length of the studio, picking up discarded water bottles. “How are you enjoying the neighborhood?” she asked. The woman offered a small smile, waving her hands in front of her. “This all takes a little getting used to.” Caridad arched an eyebrow. “I can imagine.” “I’m Marcy,” she said, closing the distance between them, holding her hand out. “This isn’t who we are, my husband and I. I have no idea what we’re doing here.” “I’m guessing he’s a golfer.” Marcy laughed. “Mostly in his mind. “ It would be nice to go out for a drink after work, Caridad thought. She wouldn’t mind

someone nice to talk to. Caridad was about to invite Marcy out for a drink when one of the white hairs who shared the same face as several as her friends popped into the studio. “Yoo hoo, Marcy, we’re ready for lunch,” she said. Marcy shrugged apologetically and shuffled out of the studio. Caridad sighed. Later, after a personal training session, there was an incident with Sal, who didn’t understand why Caridad was uninterested in accompanying him on an overnight trip to South Beach. He held her elbow too firmly, his teeth bared, wet. He loved to recline on the weight bench, spreading his legs wide. He always wore loose shorts and no underwear during their sessions, letting his limp cock hang lazily against his left thigh. No matter how much weight he lifted, he grunted extravagantly. Caridad pretended not to notice. He stood too close to her now, a fluffy white towel draped around his neck. Sal pressed a fat finger against the base of her throat, making Caridad feel choked. “You will be well compensated. We’ll dance, maybe more,” he said. Caridad’s face burned but she bit her tongue. The job was good, mostly. She pushed Sal away, negotiating the complexity of making her point without getting fired. “I’m only here to help make bodies better. My body isn’t for sale.” Sal snorted, said, “We’ll see about that,” as he walked away. Caridad lived with her boyfriend Manny in a loud, stuccoed apartment complex in Bonita Springs. They had been dating for four years and their relationship was mostly unremarkable. She was smart enough to want more but tired enough to accept the way things were. When Caridad came home, Manny was stretching on the living room floor, barechested, wearing soccer shorts, knee-high socks, cleats. He played in a local league and his team, Los Toreadors, practiced every evening. They were the most menacing team in the area—

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sometimes, they even traveled around the state playing teams from other leagues. There were rumors—scouts from professional teams spied on their practices—but nothing ever came of it. That didn’t stop the men on the team from dreaming of wearing a Galaxy jersey or maybe the colors of a European team—Manchester United, Real Madrid. When Caridad complained, Manny shrugged, said, “This is who I am, babe.” Caridad kneeled between his taut, open thighs and pushed Manny onto his back. She lay on his chest and exhaled loudly. “I’ve had the worst day,” she said. Manny lightly massaged her shoulders and Caridad tensed. “Just let me lie here,” she whispered. Manny gently pushed her to the side, kissed her forehead, said, “I’ve gotta go.” Caridad stared at a curving pattern of mold on the ceiling as he stood. She stared for a long time. After practice, Manny looked contrite, his dark hair clinging damply to the edges of his face. His jersey was soaked. He kissed her forehead again, tried to ask Caridad about her day but she no longer had any interest in telling him anything. The entrance to the complex was lined with palm trees. At night, the trees were illuminated in pink and yellow and blue and green. Caridad loved sitting beneath the lights, found them unspeakably beautiful. Caridad grabbed Manny’s hand and led him outside. They sat quietly beneath the trees for a few moments, then Manny leaned into Caridad, pawed at her breasts, tried to work his fingers beneath the waistband of her denim skirt. She laughed, her lilting voice drifting upward as she swatted his hands away, said, “Not yet, baby. Not yet. Just be with me. Just be nice with me,” but Manny didn’t hear her or wouldn’t hear her. Caridad was too tired to fight too much. She stretched her arms over her head as Manny lay over her, pushing Caridad’s skirt up around her slender hips. He kissed her left thigh, said something unimportant. The pink light was of

an exceptional quality. Caridad smiled, relished the quiet thrill.

Second Battle of Bodock Robert Busby ____________________________________

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irst, Mrs. Amihan Galloway works a slender finger beneath the edge of the box lid and unearths the folded wool jean shell jacket and matching trousers and proceeds with positioning the rigid garments, rigid with dried blood, in the stretchedout recliner in a corner of the living room. This evening, the Tonight Show host is replaced by a muted local weatherman wearing a too-tight corduroy coat and close-captioning warnings of slick streets and power outages because of this ice storm, which is rare for Bodock, Mississippi, even in February. The storm has been drumming its sleet against the aluminum roof for hours, first in a sort of steady, birdshot volley, which by eight had graduated to a rhythm of Gatlin gun fire before declining now into a slow, periodical pace, not unlike the sound of BBs being spat into the discarded service station sign a couple of neighborhood boys once pulled from the kudzu draping the gulley of her backyard. Once she is content with the jacket’s position—the buttons Baldwyn tarnished by soaking in his own urine fastened together, the left sleeve propped on an arm rest his wife imagines faded and worn smooth but is, indeed, not— Amihan spreads out the trousers, conceals the beltless band of the brownish-gray breeches beneath the lower hem of the jacket. On a whim she crosses the legs of the trousers at the ankles as well. Spread out, the blood stains look like continents on some undiscovered hemisphere of the world. A whole life gone untapped. In the lap of the trousers she rests the high-crowned kepi, the hat’s red piping tapered by a blue band. Hanging by a canvas sling over the other armrest is a tin cartridge box and a waist belt and holster. Also, a tin canteen with a replacement cork carved from cedar. On the floor, a pair of hob-

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nailed brogans, neither boot molded to a specific foot. One has fallen perpendicular to the upright other. As satisfied as she will ever find herself with the uniform’s arrangement, Amihan crosses the carpeted living room and slumps into the brown sofa, tussles her short, peppered hair. The storm has settled into her joints. Amihan struggles to crook her legs beneath the Battle of Bodock afghan Baldwyn bought her from the Bodock P.O. and Museum for their eighth anniversary, the stitched busts of opposing officers— Confederate Colonel and side-burned founder of Bodock, Leon Claygardner, on one side, Union Col. James D. Morgan on the other—peering up at her. Her bones are not old, she tells herself, just older. If she had Baldwyn’s flexibility, she thinks. Alive, Baldwyn was a traveling salesman for National Furniture, which kept him on the road most weeks, and the most decorated corpse of any historical re-creator participating in reenactments of the Western Theater of the Civil War. He could distort his bony, double-jointed body at such gross angles—an elbow hyperextended and a shoulder dislocated, a knee angled inward so that the rest of the leg below appeared to point straight ahead—that photographs of his beautifully grotesque mock-corpse were and still are largely sought after for textbooks and coffee table books and a handful of museum collections interested in such. She would rather his talent have been utilized more often and elsewhere—their bedroom, for starters—but instead his fluid tendons and eerily malleable joints kept him faking death on large acreages of memorial reserve or on grass plots flanked now by Super-D pharmacies and Hardee’s restaurants across the Mid-South many weekends out of the year as well, until an eighteen -wheeler clipped him while knelt in full uniform on the side of the highway, changing a flat only one month ago. The driver never registered the impact, and so they found Baldwyn hours later, a twisted body covered in mud and bloodied, his cheeks and gut swollen, as if he were still on whatever staged battlefield—the Siege of Cor-

inth or Battle of Shiloh or Brice’s Crossroads or Bodock itself—he’d been returning home from. Amihan peddles the afghan off her legs and makes for the kitchen. Sleep is never near, and so a cup of hot chocolate won’t hurt. She holds a match to the hissing gas range, measures the height of the crown of blue flames licking at the sauce pan with the knob under the stove eye, empties a pouch of Swiss Miss into the Battle of Shiloh coffee mug Baldwyn brought her from the museum bookstore. She stands there waiting for the water to boil, for something to drop down and break the surface of this month’s worth of evenings that have pooled on top of her. Baldwyn’s weekend excursions were not like golf or other recreational products of a midlife crisis, when men conjure up mundane hyperboles of their own domestic realities, although Sunday rides in a drop-top convertible would’ve been pleasant. The point at which Baldwyn had become a re-enactor long preceded the merger of their own histories, when Amihan was just a student in a Filipino high school who could only wish the mild winter wind she was named after would sweep her up and sail her to the States. Which it had, as an exchange student, her senior year. She tried out with success for a spot on the high school marching band’s guard line, found out she was particularly neutral towards marching. But she had a talent, and when her capacity for hip-shaking and high-stepping beneath a suspended baton nabbed a scholarship to perform for the marching band at the junior college over in Fulton, Mississippi, she elbow-rolled, wristrolled, double-leg-rolled her way towards any opportunity to defer her return to the fishing village where she grew up. Baldwyn was already first-chair brass section of the Fulton Junior College marching band. Amihan still remembers the night he asked her out, the goose bumps on her legs pulling at her red sheer tights that October evening after the Thursday night football game, looking down at her white shoes and socks covered in wet grass shavings from the freshly mown field while he spoke, not registering that she’d just agreed to spend the entirety of the fol-

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lowing Sunday afternoon watching him trumpet a bugle or carry a flag on a recreated battlefield. From the beginning, she had found the whole thing—the gray men of various ages and sizes sprinting or hobbling their way over the low knoll in pursuit of those first notes from Baldwyn’s trumpet already chasing down into the hollow acreage—both strange and humorous and embarrassingly romantic. Certainly something she could endear, for the sake of a comfortable life. When the first trace of bubbles appear on the bottom of the sauce pan, Amihan pours the water into the mug over the sink, stirs the concoction. The miniature marshmallows buoy as the mix disperses. Perhaps she could have dispersed as well. No, she could not have entertained that notion, not even when his hobby became not something she could endear, but something she had to endure. She cannot recall all the pretenses she used—what ten, fifteen years ago, when she withdrew from weekends spent following him on those excursions into some faux-history—to conceal her disappointment that the comfortable life Baldwyn had provided was not the comfortable life for which she had strategized. A life for which she had dropped out after her first year of junior college, followed Baldwyn to the University of Mississippi, put him through school on a bank teller’s wage when he was denied a scholarship to perform with Ole Miss’s Pride of the South marching band. When Baldwyn landed the job with National Furniture, she retired from the Bodock Peoples Bank to entertain the wives of coworkers Baldwyn would never invite over, to manage a household they would never get around to filling. Truthfully, though, she can kick off the covers and pace the linoleum floor, free her arthritic legs all she wants. She remains even now, under this crushing wait for mobility, surrounded by the artifacts of a life she doesn’t always recognize, because she feels bound to those precious few years just after their worlds had intersected, when the regiments of their lives had

converged and marched forward alongside each other as a single company for some stretch of Saturday nights, when she would depart her motel room a few miles down the road from that weekend’s battle site, park their car on the side of the highway near where Baldwyn camped, escort herself in the dark to the site of their planned rendezvous in the woods, like they truly were damn foolish lovers torn apart by a war. Why, between the then and now of all that preventable absence, had she never confided in him? The same reason she wakes every night with the death clothes of her husband, waiting for sleep or, even better, some waking dream, a return to those years before the subtle antagonism of dueling desires that would eventually knock their courses out of alignment. Baldwyn never registered the need for compromise, and after some time Amihan’s disappointment graduated into such disgust that her willful silence became something of a challenge to Baldwyn, to see if he ever would consider her casualty. So yes, there had been a dispersal, a retreat like First Manassas to respective sides. But of a much more gradual sort, and which she had initiated. More than anything, Amihan wants these evenings spent with Baldwyn’s uniform to impart on her some understanding, even some modicum of reconciliation, perhaps, so she will not have to grow to hate her husband or herself. Sometime later the initial signs of distress reach her, those first trees way off somewhere beginning to crack, Amihan still nursing the hot chocolate diluted now with the reserve of Baldwyn’s Irish whiskey. She has become unaware even that the rhythm of sleet has ceased, replaced by the one-chord hum of the fridge. The reports of the flailing trees string together like gun blasts dulled at first by distance, then becoming clearer by encroachment, until the poor white gum stretched across the back patio, its branches dangling just over the power line, moans with a similar burden before relenting to gravity in a raucous not unlike cannon fire. The

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power blows out. Then the central heat hums down, the fridge mute. The blue-dial of the VCR reading 2:37 lingers just above the afterimage of the television screen before vanishing as well. Amihan finds herself then in the place she fears most: the sudden, quiet dark that swells their living room same as it has their bedroom this last month, where the sleeves of Baldwyn’s uniform would often reach from the box beneath the bed, pull at her through the mattress in some effort to sift her body through the metal springs like clumps of flour. The sharp, echoed reports continue from up on the ridge only a quarter of a mile from old Leon Claygardner’s place, where he reclaimed from the Union the town he founded in a battle more appropriately and affectionately referred to as the Skirmish of Bodock. The far-flung commotion calls to Amihan. She lights the nutmegscented candle beside her and springs from the couch and hurriedly slips the uniform and belt over her own sweat suit. The cartridge box and canteen she crisscrosses over the uniform, folds her hair into the kepi. She glides open the patio door and sees little save the glimmering off the tree branches coated in ice. The air surprises her with its barrenness and the dull cold gnaws at her face and hands. For a moment, she loses sight of this new world and pictures her husband, shivering in a deserted field or some miserable, undeveloped commercial plot somewhere. But she wishes those thoughts away until they are lost in the rhythm of the oversized brogans flopping like ill-fitting dentures on the cold ground between the house and the kudzu’d hill. She has a time of it stomping up the rise behind the house. With each step the canteen clunks against her hip and gravity pulls the toe of a brogan tight around her foot, only to yank the foot back down to its boot heel each time purchase is gained against the grade of the hill. Several times she catches herself hand-to-ground as she is about to twist an ankle on any of the archaeological wonders buried beneath kudzu that does not seem to cease exponential growth even in winter. Even now, during this ice storm,

the vines latch to Amihan’s arms like desperate, animate limbs growing from a field sown with the corpses of near-dead soldiers. When she manages at last to breach the hill, she is greeted there by loose ranks of gray deciduous trees and evergreens appearing nearnavy in the weird dark. Through the trees and their dripping ivy beards, she is afforded a shingled view of downtown Bodock, dark except for a few streetlamps flickering and bouncing like flames exhausted from gun barrels. A crackling orchestra of gunfire punctuates each of these movements of illumination. Trailing each report, a gray limb breaks off from the mass in front of her, then a navy one, each trading sides as they fall in the woods before her. The limbs’ salutations with the cold ground reverberate louder than she otherwise might have imagined. Doubt settles in her bones when some voice reports that Baldwyn’s on the other side of these woods, injured and surely pinned beneath enemy gunfire. Amihan’s chest seizes as she slips one hesitant, brogan-anchored leg into the tree line. The forest is alive with its own death. From all sides, limbs explode from their hosts, the white meat of the trees bursting and splintering and glowing in the dark. Entire trunks of trees bend over backwards before finally breaking off at their hips, sawed in half by Gatlin gun. Their twig-fingers claw and scratch at Amihan. Pausing for breath to take it all in, to find her bearings, a limb strikes her shoulder and Amihan follows suit to the ground, where she lies on her side beneath the weight of the single branch and, once oxygen returns to her, the steam of her breath filling her nostrils with the musty layer of dead leaves and top soil. Her cheeks too cold to register her tears and her ears so numb to the commotion around her that she is oblivious when the racket finally halts and the woods are seized with a silence same as the sudden quiet that forced her retreat from empty house and home. Amihan tries to lift herself. She recalls vividly the last time she performed a proper push-up, back in her majorette-ing days, per-

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haps. And then she did not have the burden of what would equate a small shrub on her back. She soon tires and the mild wind she pleaded to bring her here so many winters ago whisks frigid whispers around her ear. It is not the getting lost in a fantasy where she’s been led astray. She has simply chosen the wrong fantasy to get lost in, where Baldwyn’s body has not yet been collected and buried under ridiculous ceremony and twenty-one-musket salute orchestrated by his fellow re-enactors in the cemetery behind the First United Methodist Church. Because then still Baldwyn would not have made the return she has been waiting for, would not have followed her way home to mid-week dinner parties and Saturday matinees and three-course Sunday dinners or entire weekends spent entangled in bed with his lover. The wind continues to speak to her, tells her truths she already knows, that Baldwyn’s early death has not allowed the time to realize whether the two of them would ever have reached such a compromise of ambition, that reintersection where Baldwyn’s talent would eventually outlast the body and he would retire to lounging around the house during the weekends, an extra spot at the dinner table more often than not, a sort of rendezvous Amihan would now find herself more than content with. The wind also speaks truths she can barely face. No, she agrees, perhaps there is no salvaging two lives already lived, lives that had not so much converged as had only run parallel for some stretch under the illusion of similar interests, merging into something Amihan is still content to call love. Amihan then finds the thread of space by which to unravel herself from the tangled limbs. Once she is liberated, she barks something loud and sorrowful. Her noise will be the only echo and so she notices not only the quiet now, but the source of that silence as well. No longer are the trees snapping in half at the submissive equators of their trunks but refuse to relent and so arch fully to the ground, where the trees hang like heads bowed in reverence under their incredible weight of ice and the pale blue

morning. The silence slowly defines the shattered contour of that last tree to fall, so familiar to the myriad manipulations of Baldwyn’s body, but also to the man she used to meet in the middle of more pleasant nights, in the middle of less violent woods. And in this vast expanse of silence, unbottled here away from the house, who is to say, Amihan realizes, that such a reunion between Mr. and Mrs. Galloway couldn’t, or even wouldn’t, have transpired. Here, who is to say their reunion indeed hasn’t already transpired, isn’t transpiring right now, a monument of the second half of a life Amihan can chisel from the illusion Baldwyn’s early death has afforded her. Amihan will then dress the tangled limbs in the uniform before rethreading herself into the fallen branches, will then lie back down for a long while there in that strange funeral of trees.

Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter Amber Sparks____________________________________

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ur fathers wake us before the light unfolds. They wake us and we rise, confused, then excited, remembering what today is. Remembering what we will become, with a little practice, a little patience. A steady eye and hand. Today is a special day. Today is the opening day of werewolf season. Today we leave our dresses, our heels, our crinolines and crystals in the closet, and we take our camouflage out of storage. We check the contents of our daypacks: map, matches, knife, first-aid kit, water, trail mix, tree-stand safety belt, compass. We shower and spray ourselves down with odor neutralizer. We put our Blaze Orange vests on and check our ammo, fingering the bright rows of silver bullets, pretty and promising as the moon. If we bring down a werewolf, we get to dig the bullets out of fur or flesh or trees and string them on a necklace like prehistoric jewels. Some of the older girls have necklaces so long they

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drape them round two, three times, strands of bloody pearls. When we set up our stands, we feel a little fear, a tingle of a thrill in the thought of needle teeth and long claws. We know that if we slip up, we could be bitten, we could be killed. We know that we could fail. It is important to our town, to our community that we not fail. We have spent the year learning how to use our rifles, attending target practice after school every day, at shooting ranges and on decoys in the fields, when the weather allows. Some of us feel sorry for the werewolves. Some of us do not want to kill, the soft thunk of bullet in flesh a thing apart from the hard clean splintering of wood and paint. Our fathers remind us of what we already know: the werewolves are a pestilence, a plague upon our forests, and killing them makes a good sport and a kind deed. There are too many werewolves, our fathers tell us; if we do not cull the herd they will starve to death come winter. They will spread disease and decay. This is what fathers and daughters have always done in our towns, they say. This is a good and righteous way to live. And so we nod, and learn the proper way to clean our rifles, to use a compass, to scout a location, to kill quickly and humanely and field dress a werewolf. And so we come, every year in our time, to the hunt. We crouch besides our fathers in the brush. We stop our breathing, we watch a family of werewolves rip the meat from a deer carcass in the clearing. We are silent and still. We are eager to prove that we are good daughters. One large wolf, a male, leaves the pack and ambles towards us. We shiver in the cold and the tight grip of fear; a small girl was eaten only last year, her father helpless to act as she was dragged away by a furious and wounded wolf. We blink, blink, and here the wolf stops, sniffing, and here is an unobstructed broadside shot, and here are our fathers motioning shoot, shoot! and here is our shot flying true and flaying skin and muscle just below the shoulder. Here is the unearthly howl, and our blood freez-

es to our bones to hear it. Here is the werewolf, here is the glassy-eyed stare, here is the twitch and the moan and here is the carcass on the ground and our fathers’ hands on our shoulders, strong and proud. Here is our first kill. With the help of our fathers, we dress the werewolf and drag it to our trucks. Later, we will dig the bullets out and string them, silver over our throats. Later, we will eat the hearts of the men they slowly become, we will share this meat with our fathers and we will warm our shame at that howl, our sadness at that last turn of paw to hand. We will eat until our smiles become a trophy, a golden thing so large and heavy it needs two hands to hold it. Our fathers will hold their palms up and smile back.

The Collective Unconscious of Genitalia, Annie Hall, and Coffee Cups

H

Rae Bryant ____________________________________

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is fingers are in my hair now. They smell like girl and I wish he wouldn’t pet my hair so much when his fingers smell like girl. We’ve had this discussion many times. He says, But who cares if your hair smells like crotch? I say, Because I just washed my hair and don’t want to wash it again right now. It strips the oils. Okay, then don’t wash it. Someone will smell it and assume I’ve been having sex or masturbating and not washing my hair. Hygiene. Jimmy twirls a lock so it pulls from my scalp. He says, You’re changing the subject. What if genitalia faced off on a field? Genitalia. You know, vaginas and penises? No, I mean, big vaginas and big penises in football helmets, on the grid with a football? Running on little feet?

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It’s become our William Tell, the ‘No, I mean’ thing. He’s finishing his thesis at Columbia and likes to contemplate gender situations in male venues as a matter of discourse because he believes contemplating gender situations in female venues would be pandering. I say, I don’t know, Jimmy. What would it be like if big vaginas and big penises faced off on a grid? It would be a mess. Why a football, though? Yeah, right. It should be something better. He pulls his fingers from my hair and rests his forearm behind his head. He says, Let’s say Annie Hall and Alvy Singer are the coaches. You know, Keaton in her hat and tie. Allen in a tennis suit. Why the outfits? Just go with it. So Hall and Singer are on the sidelines with their coordinators. Hall with a giant lobster. Singer with Jung. And Jung is showing Singer a formation on the collective unconscious of childhood sex. Jung tells Singer that if they could just tap into the collective unconscious of childhood sex, they would know which way the vaginas were going to run the ball because it’s all primordial and childhood genitalia hasn’t been taught bad habits yet. There’s no social formation. It’s all in the instincts. Then Jimmy says, Or not a ball. Something better. They should throw something better. Jimmy knows I have a thing for Woody Allen and so he’s taken to framing discussions in Allen landscapes. It’s gotten so our conversations are more Allen than us and I go along with it because I think maybe it will have some artistic resonance down the road or it will make me walk away more easily or maybe it’s just that I kind of need it. And this is the part I hate most about myself, what makes me an impossible lover. I’m always looking for the walkaway. Jimmy says, So Singer yells into his talkie and his quarterback calls an audible at the fifteen yard line and all the vaginas start to quiver. No, I mean really shaking and then a vagina goes down on the field like it has an injury and Hall

calls a time out. Next thing you know, Death walks on the field and replaces a vagina. Singer starts yelling foul. Death? You mean death, like death in a long black robe? Yeah. No, I mean Death with a long white robe and giant sickle. It’s a bloodbath. Why does everything come down to genitalia and bloodbaths with you? It’s all death. Everything’s death. What about the genitalia? La petite mort. We both smile at this because I’ve been trying to teach Jimmy an appreciation for poetry. Jimmy weaves his fingers into my hair again and pushes between my thighs. It feels kind of good but I’m out of energy now. I kick my feet out of the duvet and stand. He holds to the ends of my hair and I jerk away, glance back. Jimmy holds up a few long blond strands, rubs them between his fingers, grins. A shit grin. I walk three steps to the kitchen and start some coffee. He says, Do you think it would make for a good story? The vaginas and penises part? Sure, Jimmy. It’ll make for a good story. It should be something other than a football though. Yeah. How about a lobster? You already have a lobster on the sideline, Hall’s coordinator. Right. I could change them around? Or use an egg beater. Why an egg beater? I don’t know. It’s odd. It should have social significance. What’s the social significance of an egg beater? Androgyny? Not everything has to be socially significant. Some things are completely insignificant. We just give them significance as a matter of convenience. Or collective unconscious. Whatever you say, Jimmy. I grab the milk from the refrigerator, say, Your problem is your family has too much money. You have the time to think about signifi-

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cance. You walk down the street and see a crushed coffee cup and you stop and think about the significance of crushed coffee cups on sidewalks because you have the time and resources to do it and you were already thinking about the environment and so the cup serves the argument already going in your mind. If you were late for work and thinking fetuses, you’d have walked right by. I might not have. I might have contemplated the womb as a coffee cup. And anyway, you’re proving my point. We have a collective unconscious about the environment. I wouldn’t have needed to have been thinking about the environment to make the correlation to the coffee cup. And having time to contemplate things is part of it, as old as Monks. And while we’re on it, the environment is primal like birth and death and blow jobs. Why did you say fetuses? I don’t know. Subconscious. Why did you say blow jobs? Everyone always wants a blow job. Everyone wants an environment. Primal. No. Not primal. You’re making a cyclical argument. There’s no causality between environment and blow jobs, not the way you’re making it. And besides, you’re disproving your own thesis. If Jung tells Singer that childhood genitalia hasn’t social formation then apply that to coffee cups and blow jobs. There’s no formation. It’s random. All right. So tell me when you would turn down a blow job? When would you turn down an environment? Or maybe you’d rather be sexless and airless in space. The need of sex and environment are logical axioms. I’ve turned down blow jobs plenty of times! I was offered one the other day and I turned it down! Who offered? What does it matter? Matters plenty. If some bum on the street offered you a blow job, of course you turned it down but not because you lacked the subconscious understanding or desire of a blow job but rather because you rejected the idea on

aesthetics. Just because you don’t want an indigent’s mouth between your legs doesn’t mean the blow job by act isn’t a subconscious drive. I yell, The environment IS a learned consciousness and I was offered a blow job by a woman, if you must know, and she was really quite beautiful. He yells, The environment is not learned. We are aware of our environment as soon as the doctor pulls us from our mothers’ wombs. We’re aware of environment in our mothers’ wombs. And if she was so beautiful, why the hell didn’t you do it? I sit on the edge of the bed and hand him my cup of coffee. He says, I’m just saying, if big vaginas and big penises faced off on a field, what would they fight over? Orgasms. Then it’s not a game anymore. It’s cooperative. Where’s the sport in it? Yes, I say. Right. Where’s the sport in it?

Boxer Claire Novak ____________________________________

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t is dark inside the old gym, and quiet, and for the first few moments she leaves the lights off to loop the wraps around her hands by feel. Three times around the palm to set the padding, three times around the wrist, up over the thumb, laced between each finger and back. The material is faded yellow and criss-crossed, smooth and tight when she’s done. She hits the timer and a bell echoes through cavernous space, beginning of a threeminute round. Her first set of jump rope is an easy skipping pattern, the second faster, more determined. By her third the line is swirling, cutting air with a stinging swish, but her breath is low and even. When the round is finished she drops into a series of stretches. The muscles lengthen, retract. Then she’s up and shadowboxing; bobbing, weaving, slipping, stepping with the jab and swiveling from her hips to throw the

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left hook, hard. This time before training is her meditation. She goes inside herself, lost in the motion of every phantom punch, her mind void of everything but reaction to the movements of a swift and lethal foe. She sees the girl’s face in the empty space before her, imagines the solid connection of her own crisp uppercut, feels the fluid one-two of the jab and stiff right. She works through three more minutes and the sweat begins to form, damp along the surface but not quite beading yet. The lights flip on, flicker, grow to gradual florescent strength. Her coach is standing there with a piece of paper, the registration for her amateur license. She’s not supposed to spar without it, definitely can’t fight without it. She may or may not have already been doing the first thing, is preparing to do the second, so she grips the pen he offers through the thickness of yellow cloth. Her signature is awkward, a little wavery. “Good?” she asks him. “Great,” he tells her. “Now I’m not fucked if you die.” They make movies about girls and boxing, formulaic ones. Take a minority figure – latina, black – always poor, with a troubled past and uncertain future. Throw in a crusty old coach who spots the talent, agrees to work with her even though she’s a girl. Family drama, relationship woes, wallah, instant underdog. Girl finds a passion. Boxing, a way to change that future and forget about the past. There are other stories – especially with women’s boxing added as an Olympic sport – of girls who have qualified for the highest level of competition, of the many routes they have taken to get to that point. She is not one of them. What she has: a degree, a career, a full life already. What she does: roadwork, five or six miles per day, in her neighborhood when she’s home, in various places when business takes her out of town. She runs it out in the rooftop fitness center of the hotel Monteleone overlooking the French Quarter, in the Inner Harbor in

downtown Baltimore, at the New York YMCA where she retains a membership because she spends so much time there. Interval training, strength training, speed drills, and jump rope – always jump rope. There are hours of video and Youtube clips to watch and books to read and fights to see on pay per view TV. There’s the required following of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather and an inhalation of A.J. Liebling and wishing she had been around to see the greats like Louis and Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. Once, in the summer at Saratoga Race Course, they bring Joe Frazier in to sign autographs and she shakes his hand. Three months later, he dies. She doesn’t fight for equality or independence or to make a better future for herself or to reach Olympic glory. This is not a story of redemption or escape from a lesser reality. She doesn’t need to stay off the streets, wasn’t born on them in the first place. Nothing tragic happened to drive her to boxing. But here she is, throwing her jab into empty space before the lights come on. How’s this for a starting story? She goes to the movie theater, avoids the somewhat sloppy advances of a guy she will not continue to date, fixates upon the tale of this champion boxer – no girl power for inspiration or enticement. Something about the way the boxer is, not his actual accomplishments, just something about his presence, his tenacity in the ring, in life, the strength and intensity and focus of it all – that’s what draws her in, that’s what makes her decide I want to be like him. She finds a coach, starts training. She believes him when he tells her she’s good. They say boxing is a male-dominated world, unapologetically so. This is true. It is hard to find girls to fight, harder still to find girls who relish it. Many are repulsed by the violence alone, watch action in the ring and turn away shaken. She hears stories of women who train for months only to capitulate when it’s finally crunch time, one or two rounds and they never fight again.

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The few girls her coach arranges for her to spar as she makes her way toward her first bout are not that way – not publicly, at least. They’re tough and intense and athletic and powerful and they hit hard or go down swinging. They’re not above fighting dirty, either; an elbow here, a flipped palm there. The movements are subtle but lethal; a hook that fails to land still slides down into a shoulder, an uppercut avoided retracts to pull a guarding hand down with it. Something happens when two women face each other in the ring, a level of intense fury that transcends the brute force exhibited by men. Her training is mental as much as it is physical. Her body knows technique and snaps with muscle memory after hundreds of hours, six days a week in the gym. The nervous system fires in split-seconds, instant reaction when her coach calls combinations or her sparring partner swings. It is thinking about what she is about to do that brings a slight sense of uncertainty. She feels ready, solid. She hates not knowing for sure. Her first fight is low-rent, a little sleazy. The club was built in 1972 and hasn’t been remodeled since; they’ve hauled in a ring and set it up in the middle of the banquet hall. Attendees are an odd mixture of friends of boxers, friends of promoters, thrill-seekers, gangbangers. The ring girls are as cheap as the $10 admission, no credit cards, only cash. Three squad cars sit outside the door and they’re not there to direct traffic. Twelve bouts are carded for the night. Hers is the only one for women. The boxers suit up in a carpeted dining room. Gym bags are flung open atop dinner tables, tape and bandage scissors and mitts strewn around banquet chairs. Her coach is already there when she arrives, prepping another one of his boxers. Short and compact, tightly-wound, Jose has been training with them for months, taking advantage of a chance to break the ice before the bigger Army bouts on base – before he’s up in front of his unit with a reputation to maintain. She wraps up as coach and boxer take on

broad-legged stances and Jose paws at the mitts in an energy-conserving warm-up pattern; onetwo-one-two, one-two-three-two, over and over and over again. A staccato pattern echoes through the room until he’s finished. She bumps a fist into his glove for good luck and moves into position for her turn at the warm up. A nervous sweat has already broken out on his upper lip, on his bull neck and tightly muscled arms. Jose opens the card – first fight after the national anthem. His opponent is taller and skinny, all elbows and knees, red-headed and paleskinned and young and he bounces in his corner with an intensity born of nerves and adrenaline. Playing his range and fleet-footing around swift and dodgy, bundling combinations at lightning speed, he nevertheless makes little impact against his opponent’s solid form. Jose’s punches are slower, more determined, but they count when they land. Halfway through the second round the younger boxer drops his guard and a jab to the nose opens up a stream of red that flows down to his chin. The shot jolts him to life, to another stage of intensity, but Jose has felt what it’s like to draw blood. He follows up with a furious bevy of blows, the last of which is an overhand right that drops over the redhead’s lifted hands and snaps against his jaw and the kid goes sprawling and just like that, it’s over. Catlike feet, advances, retreats, powerful blows and the noise of the crowd blur together through the night. There are hundreds of people coming and going, coaches in the corners and attendees in ringside seats – and the boxers. There are boxers with their hands wrapped plaster-tight, boxers warming up with swift strokes of air, boxers chomping down on mouth guards and talking to themselves and bobbing and weaving in preparation and sucking in deep, long breaths to manage the adrenaline, steady the heart. She has done all that, is loose, nimble, nervous, ready. The girl in the other corner could take her down tonight – but then again, might not. She’ll fight hard and fast and fierce and smart. This could be the beginning or the

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end. She stands next to the steps and throws a leg up to get in one final stretch. The ring is empty and waiting and she climbs through the ropes to stand there in the corner with wide eyes, clammy skin, until her coach grabs her headgear with a broad, open palm and swivels her face to meet his own. They are inches apart, noses nearly touching, and when their pupils lock the bottom drops out and her nervous heart settles and she feels only a lethal calm. “You’ve got this,” he tells her. “You hear me? You’ve got this.” “Wish me luck,” she says. “I’ll never wish you luck,” he answers. “Luck’s got nothing to do with it.” The punch knocked Joe through the ropes and he lay on the ring apron, only one leg inside. The tall blonde was bawling, and pretty soon she began to sob. The fellow who had brought her was horrified. “Rocky didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “He didn’t foul him. What you booing?” The blonde said, “You’re so cold. I hate you, too.” – The Big Fellows, A.J. Liebling

Belly Fat, After the Run Kate Robinson___________________________________

I

No machine will hold open my lids long enough to see what happens afterwards so I’ll carry this soft engine for hours. I’ll run a mile for each year of my life, and it won’t be pretty. I’ll sit in an ice bath after, and imagine slicing open my IT bands, taut e’s on a violin. I dig into my legs with my knuckles to ease the burden of hips, pluck the steady ribbon of corpse. The shower is a daily humiliation. Stall of wonders, a place for discovery. I step out looking paler and vulnerable my hair a thin river – jug band body, upholstered trunk. When I am dry I will find the Vitamin I, B (profin.) A single glass of $9 merlot. A microwave

__ high fiber lady-dinner. The television.

This body, Dresden. dream of slicing it open a bit, to see the yellow cell quilt I’ve been building for years.

I like the way my breasts are pessimistic. The way I hoist and pulley myself— scaffolding-- corporeal marionettes to defy any lost epidermal elasticity; to increase, augment, minimize something in my nature. Despite the initial swelling, and renovations – breasts are built to fall. I’ll run in heavy legs grateful for the blood. Every labored breath pushes death back. [ 19 ]


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Ode to Plastic Bat and Ball Shaindel Beers

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I.

P

lastic bat and ball, I loved you. You made me different. Not like all the other girls. I could hit the ball out of the yard, over the fence, and we’d call it a home run. “Over the fence! Over the fence!” I’d chant, and Dad would hit it over whenever I wanted. When I got taller, I didn’t even use the gate. I‘d leap the fence, pick up the ball, and rifle it back. Catcher flies up for hours. That welling hope of catching the ball to be up next—because batting was the most fun. All the attention on me at the plate. I would stand in my left-hand batting stance until I felt molded there—a statue— right out the back door. Later, I learned cruelty, throwing the stinging plastic ball at my sister, yelling at her when she couldn’t catch. But you made me who I was, plastic bat and ball. You made me the hero of the boys. The one girl who could hit it out of the yard, every single time. II.

P

lastic bat and ball, you were with me when I learned life’s meanest lesson. That to be a girl and smaller is always worse. In the park, I’d play with whoever wanted. Andy and his family or anyone there on a picnic. Under the pavilion where I learned to read bad words on the rafters, two boys took you away—plastic bat and ball. Big, hulking boys. Larger than my father who could hit the ball out of the yard whenever he wanted. The sandy-haired one held the bat up to my face and said, “There’s a part of a man like this.” He thrust the bat closer. My face flinched at the cold coming off of it. He said, “It gets hard like this.” Shook the bat closer. “Someday, you will want it up inside you.” The other boy laughed. Then one of them, I don’t remember, unzipped and peed a puddle under the picnic table. Swished the business end of the bat in it, rolled my ball through, then told me to go home. I knew then, boys like this, they were the kings. This was their world. And I was only visiting. [ 20 ]


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was meant for you; halfway through now _ each dismay is a reminder

Umpire Crouched Christina Murphy

I

t's the moonlight the bedroom the nature of the beast it’s the hunger, the passion it’s nothing we can claim

two bartenders fell off their mounting sorrows, which left security to pass out beer with little ceremony

Call it strike Call it foul Call it single double home

every lingering tattoo gets worse: 1. a swirl of ink around a fuzzy navel. 2. maori raperape on a man with no scars. 3. wastelands running from elbow to wrist.

it’s the life we know in the rain in the heat in October snow

if you want, this poem can still be yours, helen. you just have to accept it.

Call it safe or call it out but don’t let us know

During the Power Outage Hannah Stephenson

Taking Lite Back to the Cave KJ Hays

sing light piping thru a miller lite sign a few feet from a TV playing pro basketball gives beauty a sense of place here lies the balls snoozing on the bottom of the pool table once gold poles are dun without the moist tarnish scraped from a naked lady around the stage a type of nothingness music horrifies in its lack

_

T

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he players on the field drop to the ground. The turf presses back into the men, pushing whiskers into palms, elbows, ankles. One player holds the ball in the crook of an arm. He thinks of the tornado drills of his childhood, shoving his big body, even then, under a desk. They all knew that there was no tornado, but tremors racked the hearts of those inside the dim classrooms. They touched the floor, streaking the dusty tile with their initials. What if there were a monster in the sky outside. There isn’t one now, but there could be. When the lights blaze back on in the Meadowlands, it is as if the solar system is taking its first noisy breath.

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On the Similarities Between Baseball and Storytelling Christine Pivovar

T

_

he umpire behind home plate knocks his fists together: full count. South Carolina fans stomp their feet with the drumbeat of a hailstorm on a tinroofed farm shed. A short, sharp ping! and the ball hooks foul. But on the next pitch, ball meets sweet spot, and the ping resonates. The outfield bleachers rise to their feet; their rumble swells to a roar as though the strength of their voices alone can lift the ball over the fence. The sound dies as the deep fly lands in an outfielder’s glove. It’s 10:30 p.m. on June 29, 2010, at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.; 80 degrees and clear with winds east-southeast at 10 miles per hour. Most of tonight’s 24,390 spectators remain in the stands to see the story through, watching to find out if their team will prevail over the antagonists in the outfield. The USC Gamecocks started this national championship series against UCLA with a win yesterday but trail 1-0 through seven innings tonight. I stand in the tunnel leading through the third-base dugout to the field, waiting to direct media traffic at the end of the game. In the gap between players, ESPN reporters and grounds crew members, I can see a wedge of the right field stands. These bleacher bums have spent the last ten days staring into the sun and bumping beach balls with sweaty strangers, locked into the eternal struggle between “Left field sucks” and “Right field sucks” cheers. Now they take up the echoing chant of “Game! Cocks!” with extra relish. If South Carolina wins tonight, this tournament—the last College World Series ever played in this 63-year-old stadium—will be over. If these fans get their way, their party will end. But I get it. This is why I’ve spent 60 unpaid hours in the press box this week. The fans aren’t rooting for physics—a ball thudding softly into the shorn grass, dirt-caked cleats stamping home plate. They’re rooting for the story. They’re cheering for a team who has won them over with lights-out pitching, gutsy defense

and bunting; who, a few nights ago, down to its last out of the tournament while lightning inscribed a halo around the field, produced a huge single to tie and eventually win the game. The audience waits for the climax that will satisfy its investment in these characters. I’m here tonight for the same reason why come February I’ll be at my kitchen table slogging through the annotated Ulysses. Of course, all sports are narrative at their core—how many clichés have sprung from this very idea? They all involve conflict, the primal opposition between “us” and “them.” In their varied expressions, though, each sport tells its own genre of story. Football—the gaining and losing of ground, the strategic positioning of men in armor—is war. Soccer, with its bicycle kicks, set plays and flashy boots, is aesthetic. It’s art, ballet, poetry. And just as in the space between battle and poetry we have narrative, in the space between the gridiron and the beautiful game we have a diamond, ten players, a ball and a stick. The pitchers throw sentences, balls and strikes building on each other in an upward slope of rising tension. In South Carolina’s eighth inning, Brady Thomas drives an 0-1 ball up the middle. Pinch runner Robert Beary takes first base, poised off the bag like the first clause of a paragraph, open to the possibilities. Next batter grounds out to third base. Beary advances into scoring position, raising the stakes for all the characters involved. He waits, spikes clawing the dirt and ready to spring, as Bobby Haney fouls off ping after ping, baiting the emotions of the crowd with each false resolution. The play is set, like a springed mousetrap, according to the structures of the game and to convention, and now awaits the unexpected actions of its characters. A fluke, an error, a convenient coincidence: First baseman fumbles the ball, and Beary crosses home unearned. Tie game. A scoreless ninth; we enter free baseball.

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The East Coast writers sit antsy in the press box while cursors tick away the seconds until deadline. They’ve written as much of the story as they can, which isn’t much. No turning point yet, no climax, no hook. Unlike other sports, at the deusex-machina mercy of time clocks and point totals, baseball claims resolution at its own pace. Atbats, innings and games last as long or as short as the players dictate. Teams manage pace the way a writer settles on prose style. West-coast pitchers wear opponents down with long, languid set-ups, momentum-stalling throws to first base, and conspiratorial murmurs with the catcher at the mound. Midwestern schools, who spend three-quarters of the year scribbling away in indoor batting cages and erasing snow from their outfield grass, play like Hemingway: swinging at first pitches and moving on to the next batter without pause. In the top of the tenth, USC’s Matt Price hits Blair Dunlap with a pitch. Adrian Williams lays a bunt down the third baseline, intending to sacrifice himself to advance Dunlap, but the fielders choose the force out at second, and UCLA maintains its runner on first. Then Cody Regis goes down swinging, defusing the bomb. The bottom half teases sparks in a similar way: With two outs, Kyle Enders walks and sprints to second behind a wild pitch before UCLA throws Haney out at first to end the inning. Sportswriters will refer to this game as a pitcher’s duel and a nailbiter, two epithets often used for the small-ball playing style this game embodies. In the spectrum of baseball genres, small ball lies at one end; bombastic, offenseheavy “gorilla ball” occupies the other. The 1998 CWS championship game, in which Southern Cal beat Arizona State 21-14, featured as many game-changing hits (39) as a Dickens novel, more homers (nine) than car chases in a Fast and Furious movie. A game like that holds nothing back; it indulges the fantasies of every bleacher rat eager to scramble over sunflower-seedencrusted concrete to snatch a souvenir ball; it turns a connoisseur’s well-ordered scoresheet into a warped jumble of shaded diamonds and

arrows. Small ball, like a glass of dry red wine after a syrupy-sweet daiquiri, practices restraint. It respects the sentences, the at-bats, enough to work the count, lean into a pitch to get on base, or lay down a sacrifice bunt to put a teammate in scoring position. It’s subtler in its ability to make compelling drama out of small opportunities. It demonstrates a thorough grounding in the fundamentals, the grammar of baseball. South Carolina has never won a national championship in any sport. Its players have reached this point by writing clear, no-nonsense prose—playing their best baseball when it matters the most. With a storyteller’s instincts, they’re producing the kind of late-story heroics audiences root for, the way Michael Roth, a relief pitcher who hadn’t started a game all year, threw a complete game three-hitter four days ago and commanded South Carolina’s first five innings tonight. Now in the bottom of the 11th, the tension in the air has changed. Something seems imminent. USC’s number nine batter Scott Wingo gets on. He takes advantage of a passed ball, and leadoff Evan Marzilli sacrifices. Wingo to third, one out. UCLA sends sidearm slinger Trevor Bauer to the bullpen. They take their time. This is it, the climax. Everyone feels it. Every word, every sentence laid out now is crucial. Would it be wise to walk Whit Merrifield and let Bauer pitch to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Walker, both of whom have yet to get a hit today? Workshop: discuss. UCLA chooses to pitch. Merrifield steps into the box. Ping. Roar. It’s over. Security guards up. Grounds crew out. ESPN cameras roll as the players dogpile on the mound. Coaches, team managers and physical trainers step in and out among the bat bags, helmets and sunflower seeds strewn over the benches and dirt of the dugout. South Carolina accepts its trophy. At home plate, under a spotlight, a lone trumpeter plays a slow, contemplative rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

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A year later, the sequel comes out. June 27, 2011, at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha; 76 degrees and clear. The 25,851 people in the stands have been doing the wave all night. Championship finals, game one, between South Carolina and Florida. Florida takes a 1-0 lead from the third inning. Statistically, Florida should win; the Gators exude talent. For South Carolina to win back-to-back titles, to bridge the transition from old stadium to new, would be improbable, and worse, too perfect. But this isn’t ordinary life, which refuses to conform to such dramatically appropriate situations. Destiny is alive and well in the worlds of storytelling and baseball. Neither team shows any inclination to score another run until the eighth inning, when Scott Wingo singles for a game-tying RBI. Anybody who read part one of the story could see the ending from here. The patterns look familiar; USC has already won two walk-off games to reach the finals. But now is not the time to ponder the big picture. The prose locks us in to the moment. Our eyes dare not travel down the page; we dare not picture the inning beyond this one for fear of breaking the spell. What happens next is both surprising and inevitable. In the bottom of the ninth with nobody out, Florida puts runners on first and third, and South Carolina gives up an intentional walk to load the bases. Everything that could prevent the Cocks’ achieving their goal converges. Then, Florida’s batter hits a grounder to second base. Scott Wingo dives to grab it and fires home. One out. The stadium shivers with excitement. We’ve reached the Moment: Sam is carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom; Luke Skywalker is standing up against the Emperor. We don’t dare take our eyes away from the field. We can smell the grass in the cool night air and see the scuffs of red dirt rubbed into the leather of the ball. We lean forward with the players in their dugouts, our hands trembling in concert with theirs, our hats turned inside out and backward on our heads. The ball jumps straight to Wingo again,

and catcher Robert Beary turns a rare 4-2-3 double play to end the inning. We gape at each other in disbelief. An inning later, Florida tries again to end the chapter. But as the runner rounds third base on his way to score the game-winning run, USC left fielder Jake Williams—who never throws guys out at home—rockets it to Beary just in time for the tag out. South Carolina once again claws back from the brink. In the top of the 11th, Christian Walker—playing with a broken wrist—steals second base. The throw escapes into the outfield, and Walker scampers to third. That throw sails into the dugout; Walker comes home. Three outs later, the tournament is over. The one game remaining is simply denouement. Everybody knows, by this point, that South Carolina will not—indeed cannot—lose. Baseball, it has been observed, is the pursuit of perfection amid the overwhelming presence of failure. Inside the dugout and the press box, words like “no hitter” and “perfect game” are never uttered for fear of a jinx, like a writer who refuses to speak about the collection of scribbled notes and open-ended Word document that is her newest story. When a team trails by four and gets the bases loaded in the eighth, everyone silently mouths the word “grand slam.” The writer taps out key after key, sentence after sentence, in pursuit of creating something larger than itself, the way one ping! of a bat contains a lifetime of summers, of sweat, cotton candy, dirt stains, sunburns and stories. Inevitably, the batter strikes out. The prose falls short. But every once in a while, with the bases loaded and the crowd on its feet, he’ll see the fastball leave the pitcher’s hand, swing his bat, and drive it deep into center field, up and over the team flags snapping in the breeze.

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Sport of the Future Cynthia Hawkins

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“What I’ve been doing lately is kickboxing. Which is a where, as far as anyone knew, I could execute new sport, but I think it’s got a good future.” one whole chin-up in under twelve minutes. – Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything (1989) I moved in with my grandparents who lived in the gritty remnants of a Southwest Mishe swivel stool hissed underneath me souri mining town where men like my grandfaas the photographer depressed a pedal ther existed, men who made their sons suck to lower me into the frame and then down whole fistfuls of cigarettes as punishment backed away. “Chin to the left,” he for sneaking a puff or who snarled requests for said, and when I tipped my head just a little my gut punches to prove they could take it or who accidental femme-mullet brushed into the boat- tackled his runaway kid in an adjacent field while neck collar of the dress my mom had picked out wearing the underwear he’d slept in and the unfor me in the old-lady section of J. C. Penney’s. laced work boots he’d pulled on in the rush. Or My hairstyle was supposed to resemble the flow- maybe that’s just my grandfather. A solid and ing tresses of the superspy played by Barbara lean six-foot-one, giving him hugs is like atCarrera in Condorman. And if you don’t know tempting to squeeze a sinewy tree. He always who that is, that’s okay. Neither did the hair liked asking people he’d meet, in that deep wallstylist. This was me in junior high. I was overly rattling timpani drum of a voice, how many push tall and twiggy, and my nickname was “bones.” -ups they could do, and whatever the answer was My entire eighth-grade class had once stood he could do three-times more. scattered across the dirt and weeds outside of “Hell, I used to carry hundred-pound the gym, waiting for me to do even one out of bags of feed when I was just twelve years old,” the ten required chin-ups in P.E. I’d dangled he’d been known to say. from the bar like a tangle of string. The only Once, he shouldered the double mattress sound had been the squeaking of my palms from my dorm room and schlepped it down against metal as I ached to hang on. three flights of stairs by himself. Once, he quit “My god,” the coach had said after I’d boxing in the Navy after the force of his punch finally slipped free, “you have wet spaghetti for accidentally killed a man. Somehow … I am a arms.” biological descendant of this person. That was my other nickname. The boxing thing I hadn’t known about “Chin to the left. Now, look at me. until after I’d moved in and heard the thunkety Smile. Could you smile please?” thunkety thunkety of the speed bag swinging in the Nothing speaks of the misery of my far corner of the garage. There was my grandfayouth as well as this picture in which the one ther – past the washer and dryer, past the potato raised brow evident below the lopsided jag of bin, past the row of card-table chairs hanging bangs and an attempt at a grin comes off like a from pegs in the wood paneling – tapping the cringe and the odd twist of my head makes me bag, switching fists, his shoulder blades tensing look as if I have an Adam’s apple. I went to in the scooped arm-holes of his white, ribbed Whataburger right after this picture was taken undershirt. and got mistaken, wobbling along in my dress “I thought that was Uncle Kevin’s,” I sandals and socks, for a boozy soccer mom at said. the mustard and ketchup station. And right after “No,” he said. “It’s mine too.” that, I moved far away to a place where this phoAnd then came the stories. tograph was wrapped and packed in storage and The other thing about my grandfather is

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that he might well be the most morbid person I know. In the Navy during World War II he investigated non-combat deaths and filed reports in the morgue. He’ll tell a gruesome story about the man they’d untangled from the ship moorings as if he’s telling you about replacing the burner pans on the kitchen stove. Whenever I call him, it goes kind of like this: “How are you, grandpa?” “All my friends are dead. How are you?” In the top of his closet there’s rumored to be a Super-8-millimeter-film reel of the aftermath of a deadly hunting accident, packed away with the footage of Christmas mornings and Sunday picnics. The thing about the speed bag is that the repetitive rhythm can easily lead your mind away from the place you’re standing, and I sometimes wonder where my grandfather goes when he raises his fists. Maybe he wends back through these glimpses of life and death, side by side and equally unsentimentalized, until he finds the sailor who’d dropped “like a sack of potatoes” on the canvas and never got up again. In his stories, my grandfather was an impressive amateur boxer with a long reach and keen sense of his opponents. Good enough to earn himself some extra money. “Maybe I would have kept boxing,” he’d told me, “if it weren’t for that guy dropping dead. Ffft. Like a sack of potatoes.” And when he said, “I’d never imagined one punch doing that to a person,” it wasn’t with his trademark bravado, or even with his morbid detachment, but with the sort of regret you’ll rarely get from the man. “So that was the end of all that,” he said with his booming voice softening to a level that was almost a hush. I suppose I was fairly morbid as well because I dwelled on this story for weeks after I’d heard it. For months. When my parents called: “Did you know grandpa accidentally killed somebody? Boxing?”

“Oh yes,” dad said. “Guy dropped like a sack of potatoes.” After a showing of Rocky IV: “Oh my god. My grandpa’s like Drago. You know, if Drago held your hand during the hymns in church and bought you Pinwheel cookies and had a killer punch.” To the girl who spat at my shoes in the school hallway (in my mind): “Oh yeah? Well, my grandfather was a boxer. And he killed someone! Boxing!” I couldn’t stop thinking about the dead boxer, about his family, about who they were and where they were at this very moment and what they were thinking about and if they were thinking about the boxer who accidentally killed their loved one and about his family and about me, sitting on the sofa underneath the painting of a matador with pants so tight he looked naked, about me trying not to cry because this guy never had a chance to buy a shitty velvet matador painting and have a granddaughter who wrote poems about Pinwheel cookies stuck to their wrappers and heartache. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all. And I couldn’t stop thinking about boxing. My grandmother, listening to our ongoing boxing talk, lowered herself into her Lazy Boy recliner by my grandfather in his, straightened her hand-sewn slacks over her knees, and said with her nose scrunched, “Oh, I never cared for it. I can’t stand to watch people hurt each other--” “But now they got gloves on the size of California grapefruits, honey,” Grandpa grumbled over the shake he gave to straighten the day -old newspaper their neighbor had finished with. “Well, I don’t care. It’d still hurt,” she said, reaching for the sales flyers that had shifted from the newspaper pages. “You know,” she leaned to me, her fingers working the creases out of the Dillon’s advertisement, speaking just below the reach of his hearing, “his grandmother would watch those fights, and I don’t know how she could stand it.” “That wasn’t boxing, honey,” his voice

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boomed. “You see?” She leaned in closer. “I told you he can hear when he wants to. Just fine.” “That was wraslin’,” he said. “I don’t know how she could stand it,” Grandma said with her brows raised. “It’s not the same as boxing,” Grandpa reminded. “Well, I don’t care,” Grandma said as she worked a miniature pair of scissors across the dash-lined border of a coupon. “I don’t care to watch people hurting each other all the same. And there was that poor man from the church.” “What man?” he asked. “That poor man from the church, honey.” “Who?” “That poor man from the church who got run over.” “That wasn’t ‘cause he was a boxer. That was ‘cause he wasn’t too sharp.” “That’s right. ‘Cause he got hit in the head all those times.” She’d set the paper on her knees for the sole purpose of folding her arms in the tiniest possible knot of defiance. “Eileen said he was like a little bitty child.” “Now--” “That’s what Eileen said, and she would know. And he just wandered into traffic one day and … well. It’s just awful.” Her arms slipped free as she closed her eyes and her compressed mouth made a little sorrowful sucking sound out of one raised corner. Papers rustled in the silence again, and then my grandfather said, “Back in the Philippines I was standing on the street corner buying a banana with another fella when a supply truck came along and this little guy ran right out in front of it. I don’t know if he saw it coming or what, but he just ran right out and shplrt. Flattened him face down. Nothing left of him. Guy with me said to the street vendor, ‘Isn’t that your brother?’ And he said, ‘no brother, no more.’ You could hear the bones crush under the truck like a bag of dried leaves.” He squinted down at the newspaper again and said, “Look here. Says

there’s a car show down at the Elk’s Lodge.” And then I moved away again. And again and again. Flash forward past dodge-ball pelts in the crotch and dance-squad try-out debacles and the chick with the bloodshot pop eyes following me into the high school barking descriptions like a drill sergeant of how nice my teeth would look studding the dirt at her feet while I clutched two bags of double-stuffed Oreos for the Spanish class fiesta and pretended she didn’t exist tra la la la. Flash forward all the way to me in grad school boiling a small pan of water and dropping a black mouth guard in. I fished it out with a slotted spoon, and when it was just cool enough I fitted it against my teeth and bit down to make it fit. I tried on my Chuck Norris fingerless kickboxing gloves with the built-in wrist wraps and marveled at this view of myself, loose-shouldered and head cocked, in the bathroom mirror. At the suggestion of my friend Liz, I’d signed up for kickboxing lessons – not Tae Bo or kickboxing aerobics but actual kickboxing for which I had to sign an indemnity clause that said if I bled out on the mat with my arms pretzeled behind my back they were in no way responsible. Actual kickboxing for which I’d have a sparring partner. Me. Yeah me, the me in the mirror snarling black teeth, dreaming of marching back to that P.E. class and slurring loudly through my mouth guard, “I’m here to snap your chin-up bar in half with my Chuck Norris hands!” The kickboxing training was held in the third-floor gym of an old red-brick junior high school on Main Street that seemed, in the dark recesses of its airless hallways pitching ever-soslightly to the right in a lean, to be otherwise abandoned. The gym itself had a mirrored wall, a wooden floor lined with punching bags, and a bank of windows propped open with chunks of debris, bricks and wood and metal, as if the building were eating itself. Through the raised milk-glass panes I could see the warble of the playground asphalt down below laced through with knee-high weeds. Rotating fans along the floor spread the smell of sweat and sulfur and

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dead rodents in dry wafts of air hitting my shins in intervals. This was Rocky training with the horse carts in a Soviet shanty in the snow. Except in the heat. In a dilapidated three-story school. Without the horse carts. The good thing was, there was no reason to be self-conscious of whatever uncoordinated, wet-spaghetti-armed, even-taller creature I’d grown to be as I’d slapped at the bag for the first time like a spider monkey fluffing a pillow because at the bag right next to mine was the guy with a sasquatch stoop who’d sewn himself a hooded mask and a cape out of bathroom towels, his wide eyes peering through two roughly cut holes, his breath lowly trilling in the little rectangle space of a scissor gash. No one had ever seen him without the hood and cape on. No one had ever heard him speak except to say between snarling draws of breath that he’d made the hood and cape for himself because he sweated more than the normal human being. He might have been the whole reason for the indemnity clause, in fact. Within months, he’d be expelled for all eternity for kicking his sparring partner in the nuts straight out of his corner. But for now, there was a gigantic, hunched man in a homemade terry-towel luchador get-up nailing his bag with rabbit punches, and absolutely none of the other students noticed me. The trainer’s assistant, supposedly the local kickboxing champ in her age group, a teenaged girl with blonde corn-rolls and aviator glasses she had just whipped off with her gauzewrapped hands, did notice me, however, because it was sort of her job to. She started her slumped-shoulder, chin-jutting strut toward me, and I couldn’t help but think how much she looked like my high school bloodshot popeyed bully on her meds. I slowed, took a breath, and was working up a joke about my form before she could beat me to it when she simply stepped in to tweak my posture, push my elbows toward my sides, nudge my fists up to block my face, and angle me against the punching bag. Imagine a kid’s wily scribble going suddenly taut. “That’s better,” she said and then

demonstrated a jab in slow motion, straight from the body, fist turning quick as it thrust out of her arm’s bend in a slight corkscrew, flat side of her fist squared against the bag and digging in and then out. “Think of bringing it right back like it’s on a bungee,” she said. “It’s all about control. That’s where the power is, in the focus, in the control.” “In the eye of the tiger,” I said and snorted a laugh, and she didn’t. She stepped back, signaled with a nod for me to try again. I shook my arms loose for a second and made tough angles of them once more. Straight backed, chin tucked, fists up, standing askew, leading right, my arm powered out, and the thud resonated a little deeper than the monkey smacks had against the bag. “That’s it, you got it,” the girl said. The quick pop of my glove meeting the bag resonated somewhere inside in satisfactory thwaps. In the steady rhythm of it the ache of being out of shape, of breathing in the stale heat of the gym, of being the girl grimacing in the junior high portrait at her own miserable existence, finally slid from the center of my stomach to my limbs and out and gone.

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On Keeping Score at a Baseball Game Esley Stahl

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“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America observation—the closeness of stands, the foul had better learn baseball.” ball catches, and often, bleacher brawls as rife as –Jacques Barzun those on the field. The game reaches into the community since, “in a sense, the batter’s goal fter the baseball game ended, I lies beyond the park itself, on the city walked through the concourse to the streets” (Shore 14). The dynamic connections main entrance. As I waited outside, I between players and fans, the field and its surwondered if I would even recognize roundings, are more noticeable in the game of him. I had only met him once, and true, I had baseball than in any other sport. just watched him on the field for the entire My research may not be as empirical as game, but he was the home plate umpire and his Shore’s, but I can attest to, at the least, a subback was turned to me most of the game. community—perhaps more apparent—of scoreMinutes passed, the park emptied out and bekeepers. A late arrival will ask, mid-inning of came a ghost town. I waited. Finally, a dark fig- course, to borrow my card so as to update his. ure walked towards me and waved hi. We awk- Someone distracted by their hotdog will lean wardly hugged and I was still unsure that this over and ask was that swinging or called? Similarly, if was the guy I was waiting for. He looked differ- I am involved in a beer purchase, after the venent; his hat wasn’t a baseball cap but one of dor has been tipped, I can look around, see those flat-billed driver caps that guys who think someone with a scorecard and ask what happened? they are cool wear to go clubbing. Paul Dickinson, author of The Joy of Keeping Score “What’s this?” When he spoke I recog- says “if you're scoring, you become the captain nized his Latino accent. He grabbed at the score- of your aisle” (Eig 1). Membership in our comcard in my hand, then opened it. “You kept munity is low. Empty boxes on my scorecard score?” And he sounded accusatory or disapprove that a) I was in the bathroom and/or getpointed. ting a beer and at the game alone and b) I was “Well yeah, I always do,” I said. Most the only one in my section keeping score that guys are impressed with this fact, why wasn’t he? day. Maybe I should adopt the notation of I looked at him while his dark eyes studied the “Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop and former scorecard. I felt like a student in the principal’s broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, whose cards are pepoffice. pered with the notation ‘WW,’ for Wasn't Watching” (Rushin 17). What is it about keeping score? Why the The ever-increasing busyness of a ballshock, the scrutiny of the scorekeeper? I imagine game can be overwhelming to the casual fan. A it is similar to being impressed that someone at Wall Street Journal article on the decline of scorethe movie theater is actually watching the film. keeping observes: Inane. Nonsensical. Aren’t there more important things to be stunned about—soldiers, single At one time, parents would teach scoremothers, steroid-deprived athletes? keeping so their children wouldn't get bored. But baseball today is designed for Many sports scholars speak about the fans with short attention spans and big “community” atmosphere of a baseball game: its wallets. Many new ballparks have Ferris ritualistic or religious nature. The game itself diswheels, swimming pools, shopping malls, plays the lack of boundaries between play and batting cages, playgrounds and restau-

A

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rants, not to mention screaming JumboTron scoreboards the size of Rhode Island. Not only do the big scoreboards entertain fans with dance contests, trivia questions and cartoons, but they also offer up-to-date information on the game, making manual scorekeeping redundant for most fans (Eig 1). Wrigley may not have all of the aforementioned modern nuisances, but it provides plenty distractions of its own. There is just as much going on within the friendly, albeit antiquated, confines of Wrigley Field as there are at more modern parks. The cell phone conversations. The backs turned to the field. The chatter of wannabe charmers. Bored children. Hungry children. An attentiondeprived menopausal woman spraying water at everyone in her section on a hot day as if she is the second coming of Christ. Newborn babies with bright pink, sweaty faces just begging you to call the Department of Child and Family Services on their negligent parents. I’ve gone to games sans scorecard and pen only to realize that I cannot follow the game. I find myself caring more about the conversation to my left than the called third strikes. I do not like not knowing what is going on. Even with scorecard in hand, the game of baseball provides me with many opportunities to relax and reflect. Many who dislike the game point to its slow-pace as the reason for their disinterest. For them, the “long breaks account for the tedium of baseball; but for true believers, the pokiness of the game allows for a kind of imaginative engagement impossible to achieve while watching a safety blitz, a fast break or a power play” (Shore 13). The lack of constant stimulation from the game I am there to watch allows me to become a part of the game, to use it as the backdrop or catalyst for my thoughts. It provides me with moments that aren’t readily handed out in daily life—short bursts of solace amidst chaos. I imagine it is similar to that of a runner who runs not only for exercise but to clear his mind, to be one with himself in the

most present way possible. Keeping score reminds me of why I am at the ballpark, but baseball lets me forget. The meticulous nature of scorekeeping is thoroughly at odds with the game of baseball itself. Baseball’s lack of interest in the clock makes it distinct among all other American sports. The diverse nature of baseball is easily evident simply by visiting different parks. The outfield walls vary in distance, making a home run in one place, a long fly out in another. The placement of bullpens is not regulated by rules, and as at Wrigley whose bullpens sit just next to the field of play, they often become part of the game—the visitors refusing to move away from their seats as our Cub right fielder attempts to track down a fly. A routine foul isn’t caught because the fielder trips over the warm-up mound. Any other park, that ball would most likely be an out. Scorekeeping is a regimented act in a game that is anything but. This nuanced point-plotting method is the one thing that brings order to a chaotic, unpredictable game—the one thing that is the same at all Major League ballparks: a combination of numbers on the page indicating the call on the field. Yes, the rules are all the same but they are left to the interpretation of umpires, at risk to human error, and therefore cannot be said to be universal. A few years ago, a friend of mine took me to a Cubs/White Sox game at US Cellular. I hadn’t been to the park since it was still called Comiskey, but I was happy to go watch the rivalry, one of the sole exciting series the Cubs have had for years. My friend is a Sox fan, and even during a couple tours in Iraq was mostly able to keep up with the team. He is not fair-weather but at the same time not fanatical. Midgame I had to use the bathroom and I resigned myself to missing a couple at-bats (ABs). No one around me was keeping score (despite Sox fans’ incessant insistence that they are bigger baseball fans than their northside counterparts). I gave my friend the scorecard, just hold this, do what you can, if not it’s cool. Life will

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go on. When I got back, he handed me the scorecard backside up. On it, in the margins, he had written the player’s name and what he had done: Konerko flied out to center. Dye walked. He seemed proud of his notations, eager for me to read them and understand them. Like a court reporter, I transcribed his keen observations into the language of insiders. He was excited and interested to see his notes transformed into foreign code. I thanked him and told him he was halfway there, that keeping score is easy. All you have to do is care about what’s going on, learn nine numbers (which indicate a player’s position, moving logically across the diamond: 1 for pitcher, 2 for catcher, 3 for first baseman, and so on) and know how to draw a diamond. It also helps if your handwriting in small enough to fit into a tiny box no bigger than a dime. The scorecard itself is composed of a nine by nine spread of these boxes—nine going down the page to represent the players, and nine going across to represent the innings. I would assume that at a dollar or two, a scorecard is the cheapest souvenir at most ballparks. But even if the ticket to the game is all you can afford, you can take a page from the book of the oldest scorekeeper I know at Wrigley. Jerry has been sitting in my section since I was a kid and it is rare that I go to a game in which he is not also in attendance. It seems that long ago he got sick of spending that single dollar game after game. So he arrives with a blank piece of paper on which he eventually creates wobbly lines which form wobblier boxes. The precision of the card may be missing and his chicken scratch may appear illegible, but I am sure his scorecards are as accurate as that of the official scorekeeper up in the press box. I cannot teach you how to keep score, but I can teach you how I keep score. My mother taught me to keep score, and her aunt, my great-Aunt Elsie, taught her at the very same park, rooting for the very same team. Many people assume my father or brother must have taught me. They know how to score, too, but it was always my mom who had a scorecard in

hand when we went to games when I was young. Every Mother’s Day when the Cubs are in town, my gift to my mother is to let her keep score when we go to the game together. She knows how much of a gift that is: more than any perfume or flowers could mean. I am unsure of the “official” rules of scoring. Some people use straight lines through the box to indicate hits. But I was taught to use lines drawn in the beginning of a diamond. A filled in diamond means the player reached home. Other nuances I was taught include adding the batting average next to the players’ names. Most people indicate the player’s fielding position, but to me that is a meaningless fact and one that could be easily looked up in a program. A batting average fluctuates from at-bat to atbat, game to game, and as such, is of much more value to me as a scorekeeper. Other things that my scorecard can tell you do not fall into the quantifiable realm. How I write a Cub player’s name in the lineup will indicate how I am feeling about a particular player on that particular day. Nicknames vary from “he’s in good graces”: A-Ram, Rammy, for Ramirez; Kid K for Kerry Wood; Big Z, El Toro for Zambrano, to “kick this guy off the team, what a dog”: Dumpster for Dempster; Kosuke with a backwards K for Fukudome, to illuminate the fact that he loves to stand there and watch as the third strike is thrown over the plate as opposed to trying to get a hit. Then, amazingly enough, there are days when I am eventempered and their names appear on my card as they do on their birth certificates. As a writer, I am superstitious, so there are pens I will use and pens I will not use. Some have been retired, some have bled out, sick of waiting for a championship. I notate great catches (*ran into the ivy), bad calls by umps (*he was really safe at first, ties goes to the runner, duh), the weather (idyllic), who sings the seventh inning stretch (Santo, AGAIN) and end each game with a happy “Cubs win” and a smiley face or more regularly, after a loss, a “Cubs suck” with an angry face. Despite my dad’s encouragement that

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my cards should be sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, there are times when I mess up the scoring. I get too drunk, too hot, too cold, get too involved in a conversation. These moments are rare but scorekeeping, like many rituals, succumbs to human error. Admittedly, there was a time I thought scorekeeping would be my key to finding a boyfriend. If knowledge of baseball was all that was needed to impress, I’d be married in no time, for I am a diamond in the rough: a woman of wisdom amongst girls who don’t get sports. But that would require recognizing my worth as simply an anomaly—akin to that of an ugly model who is a model because she is ugly. I don’t want to be anybody’s fetish, but more than that, I do not want to explain the significance of 6-4-3 to my significant other. I want him to already know. I want our lovers’ language to be numerical and nuanced with statistics. The majority of men who shout out to me Hey, you keepin' score?! Cool! might mistake the brilliance of a .325 batting average for their most “successful” blood-alcohol-content. Or body fat percentage. Maybe I’m an elitist. But I know there are other baseball fans out there. In perhaps my most desperate dedication to the game, I had a brief fling with a Major League umpire. The ultimate scorekeeper, if you will. I met him at my local bar after a game at Wrigley and when I found out what he did for a living, it was as if I was in the presence of Sammy Sosa himself. Additionally, he was young and Latin, easy on the eyes, unlike most of the umps who have been around the game for years, who my great-Aunt Elsie may have watched. My twenty-two year old self was enthralled and not the least bit put off when he gave me a major league baseball with his signature and umpire uniform number. (This item is now lost to me. I did not sell it on eBay nor send it to Cooperstown. Ah, youth.) We stayed in touch and when he went to Milwaukee to ump a game, he called me to see if I wanted to come up and watch it. Of course I did. How could I not miss a Phillies-

Brewers game in early May? So I drove up to Wisconsin and picked up the ticket he left at will-call. I sat behind home plate, scorecard in hand, and thought how lucky I was to know such a prominent figure. The game was unremarkable but for the fact that he was the home plate umpire and (perhaps to put on a show?) ejected the Phillies manager late in the game. I met up with him after the game and he directed me to a nearby bar. As he sat in my front seat, he leaned to turn my music down, then got on the phone with Major League Baseball. Apparently when an umpire ejects someone, he has to call MLB and let them know all the facts surrounding the incident. This was by far the most exciting foreplay I had ever experienced. What a guy! After he studied my scorecard, he didn’t make any more comments about it. I stuffed it into my purse. I’m sure now that as he looked at that card, he worried about what he had gotten himself into. He hadn’t picked up some silly girl who went to Wrigley just for the beer. He found someone who not only liked baseball, but knew as much about it as he did. That August he came back to Wrigley Field, but as the Cubs interests in baseball began to fade, so did mine in him. I realized I was probably just one of many girls in various cities. To me that was neither fair nor just and my idolization of him dulled. Despite a lack of promises or commitment, I believed him to be a cheater, just as those embroiled in the steroid scandal. A disgrace to the game. Baseball leaks into the American landscape beyond the realm of the field through baseball cards. As stereotypically American as baseball is, equally such is the act of collecting baseball cards as a kid. A common feud a midmidlife crisis man will have with his mother is over the baseball cards she so brashly threw out some thirty years earlier. Why do children continually collect baseball cards, and why do mothers continually throw them away? There is no other card collecting that affects family dynamics

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so greatly. Maybe it’s due to the belief that although “we cannot imagine ourselves executing a two-handed slam-dunk or a 50-yard field goal, we are still certain we have one base hit left in us” (Herb Caen as qtd in Shore 13). Boys and men (and hopefully lots of girls as well!) cling to baseball for its representation of youth, of home, of growing up and simpler times. To have the baseball cards discarded so swiftly is to have your dreams discarded. Surely both the mother and child know this situation is not bound to end well. The anger of the child (now a grown man) is attributed to, logically, loss, but is it loss of a collection? The last remaining physical representation of home? Or the loss of the act of collecting? The process? Just as a kid tears through cellophane in a ritualistic search for Kerry Wood’s rookie card, I go to baseball games in a ritualistic search of something I have never seen before. A no-hitter. Cycle. World Series berth. Just as Kerry’s 20 strikeout game gave his rookie card meaning, I long for an event to validate my hobby. I feel certain I am not wasting time by wiling the days away drinking beer at Wrigley, but I’m also aware that I’m not reinventing the wheel there. All it takes is a game like the infamous “Sandberg” game, in which Ryne tied the game twice in the late innings with solo home runs. As a Cubs fan, these moments are especially rare. But the hope that each new game brings is enough to sate this scorekeeper. I never had a collection of baseball cards and therefore never had to get mad at my mom for throwing them out. But there is an ongoing gripe I have with her, though I know it is not her fault but rather that of an overstuffed basement. I cannot find my scorecard from Game Six in 2003. The pain I feel of losing that game is somehow not enough proof of being there because all Cubs fans share this pain. For some reason I need palpable proof, something I can point to as reason for my strife, because without that relic, it’s just a game, it’s long in the past, shouldn’t I get over it? Luckily, the infamy of that game (you may know it as the “Bartman Game,” in which a fan reached over the wall for

a foul ball, surely cursing the Cubs for one hundred more years) allows my mind to call up a photographic image of filled-in diamonds in the top of the 8th inning. But what really happened at that game, as I sat alongside my dad? What notes did I make? Was I hopeful for Game Seven? Why was Bartman the scapegoat? Why are mothers the scapegoats? Because they do not understand baseball? Because they are not as invested as their sons—no, children? Perhaps the disposal of these memories is the act of a protective, loving parent. Someone wiser than us, someone who is apt to remain upbeat after a loss not because she isn’t a “true” fan, but because she knows the need for optimism more than any card collector or baseball fan can. A mother is inherently optimistic. Or, when it comes to the Cubs, at least mine is. At the conclusion of games, I walk through the grandstands and see discarded, fully filled in cards, littered amongst peanut shells. I never have had use for dance cards, but I imagine this akin to seeing those littered on a ballroom floor amongst confetti. These items tell stories—isolated incidents that will never again be replicated. These items are evidence of joy and tragedy, American dreams, and, to be overdramatic as baseball fans are apt to be, nightmarish realities. As an avid reader and writer, I have yet to find another item that can read as so little yet convey so much. And so I keep my scorecards. Stacks, piles of memories like footnoted photographs. To many, the number of scorecards I have accumulated may very well indicate wasted money, wasted trees, time. But some people collect Beanie Babies. Which may well prove my point—as people, we all desire a search— something that keeps us interested despite the mundane activities of daily life. Our search for meaning in life is best evidenced, most obvious, in our search for seemingly meaningless items. If it is chic, you may well call me a hoarder. But I know, on some level, you probably are too.

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Bradd Shore likens baseball to the Australian aborigine walkabout: “a circular journey into alien territory, with the aim of returning home after making contact with sacred landmarks and braving hazards along the way (15).” The idea of baseball, of “returning home” and the simplicity that that idea represents, is perhaps what continually connects people to the game. If “returning home” is accepted as generally impossible, then these players, our heroes, accomplish the impossible. To watch that, to witness and document that, implies that it may just be possible for us to round third. Works Cited Eig, Jonathan. “Why So Few Fans Are Asking For Pencils At Today’s Ballparks.” The Wall Street Journal. 10 July 2001: A.1. Print. Rushin, Steve. “R.I.P. 6-4-3.” Sports Illustrated. 30 May 2005: 17. Print. Shore, Bradd. “Loading the Bases: How Our Tribe Projects Its Own Image into the National Pastime.” Sciences 30.3 (1990): 10-18. Print.

Swimming Becomes You Corey Ginsberg

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e’re doing flip turns,” Coach Matt said as he pointed toward the shallow end of the pool. “Why don’t you hop in and give it a try?” You’d never swum a full length with your head in the water, let alone heard of a flip turn. But everyone was staring as you stood there, goggles in hand, navy suit three sizes too big hanging from the shoulders of your bony nine-year-old frame. Mom nodded from her seat in the grass, eyes saying, go ahead. “It’s easy,” Coach Matt said when he sensed your hesitation. He smiled and winked at you from behind thick glasses. “Just swim toward the wall, and when you’re about two feet away from hitting your head, turn upside down, flip over and push off on your back.” The way he gestured with his body and arms made his

belly jiggle and he looked like a fish in a hula hoop. You pushed your long blonde hair behind your ears, put your goggles on and climbed into the pool. You took your place at the back of the line of swimmers and watched them each complete the drill. Every few seconds a new person headed down the lane, approached the wall and rolled upside down in a fast, clean motion. Then they pushed off on their back, extended their arms and kicked till they floated to the end of the line. The other kids made it look simple, with their bent elbows, side breathing and quick, on-target flips. When it was your turn you tried to mimic their movements but your body wouldn’t bend that way. You thrashed and fought for every stroke. Each time your right arm came out of the water, your left shoulder dropped and you rolled too far onto the side. Even though your legs were kicking hard, your hips still sank. By the time you made it to the wall you were nearly vertical in the water, pushing forward, grabbing to stay afloat. Still, you tried to flip, to make your body roll into a compact ball and propel your feet over the top of your head. But it didn’t work. You dipped down, tucked your chin and blew bubbles out your nose. When you finally inverted your body, there was no air left in your lungs and you began to choke. You surfaced and coughed as water spewed from both nostrils. When your next turn came, you managed to flip over without inhaling water but went too far and ended up standing in the pool facing the wall. The turn after that, the same thing. And again. And again. Even though Coach Matt said it didn’t matter, that you’d figure it out, you ran to the bathroom to be away from the other swimmers so they wouldn’t see you cry. You could hear them laughing and splashing each other as you sat in the first stall staring at the green rubber floor. The whole way home in the car you begged Mom not to make you go to practice the next day.

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“I hate swimming. I don’t even know how to do it right.” “Honey, give it another try,” she said. “You’re just starting. You won’t know if you like it till you give it a real chance.” “But I don’t want to.” “Please, one more try?” And it began. That first summer it was short practices, no more than forty-five minutes, four times a week. On the days before swim meets the team played Sharks and Minnows and Coach Matt let everyone out early to go off the diving board. Those were the best practices, when you left the pool laughing and excited. That summer, even competitions weren’t too bad. One length of the pool freestyle, no flip turn. Sure, most of the time you were slower than everyone else—the alternate in the outside lane whose points didn’t count, flailing just to stay afloat—but at least your slowness wasn’t so obvious in a short race. At the end of the meet, no matter who won, everybody got cookies and orange drink and there was a pool party with a DJ. But that winter swimming changed. Your best friend’s mother encouraged you to sign up for an indoor team, the one her daughter was on that practiced at the local high school. She told you it would be fun, and you’d get a lot faster, just like Lisa had. Plus, it would be nice to carpool. For the first two weeks the new team was great. Each night you played games or learned how to do starts on the block, and the little swimming you did wasn’t too bad. Sometimes you got to use flippers or Styrofoam pull buoys that went between your legs to make them float during arms-only sets. Everything about indoor swimming was so new and fun you didn’t realize this was just the honeymoon. At the end of the free trial period, your parents sent in the non-refundable check for nearly a thousand dollars to pay for the winter and spring seasons. When you walked onto the deck that following Monday, most of the swim-

mers from your lane were gone. You stood in the corner and watched the fast kids stretch their shoulders and hamstrings and tried to mimic their arm circles. Practice wasn’t fun anymore. Workouts were every weekday for an hour-and-a-half with optional Saturday morning swims. Just like in the summer, you quickly learned you were the slowest one, only on the new team it was more obvious. Now you were with kids who trained yearround, whose parents never let them miss a practice—eight-year-olds who shaved their arms for competitions and could swim two lengths of the pool underwater without their chests heaving. Most of them knew the intricacies of butterfly, understood the scissor kick in breaststroke and could do pullouts that took them well beyond the halfway point in the pool. They were used to swimming four or five miles at a time. The fast kids could lift themselves out of the water at any spot on the wall using their arm muscles. You had to climb up the ladder, one rung at a time. After really hard practices you sometimes stopped halfway up the stairs on the way up the bleachers to catch your breath. At your first meet that winter—B Championships—you were signed up to swim the fifty yard freestyle—two lengths of the pool. That whole day you camped in the auditorium on a huge blanket playing Go Fish with the other swimmers, nervously waiting for them to call your event. Your parents sat in the bleachers for four hours, sipping Pepsi and fanning themselves with the heat sheet, until you finally climbed onto the starting block. The gun went off and everyone dove in together. By the time you took your first stroke the other swimmers were already five yards ahead. They pulled further and further away; some of them had already finished as you approached the halfway point. You tried not to breathe much since lifting your head made your whole stroke fall apart, but your lungs burned. Each time you snuck a breath to the left you saw Coach Jen signaling for you to go faster, her long blonde hair waving with her arms. At the

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end of the race everyone in the bleachers applauded—the pity clap. You pulled yourself out of the pool, flopped onto the deck and saw you’d gone a 1:02, a time that would place you last in the slowest indoor meet in Pittsburgh. During the car ride home, Dad kept glancing at you through the rearview mirror. At each stoplight he’d steal a quick look, then rub his fingers over his moustache and fidget with the knobs on the radio. “How about we stop for pizza?” he asked when the car was a few miles from home. Mom nodded as she wiped off the lenses of her glasses with her shirt sleeve. “I think that’s a great idea.” Swimming continued through the winter and into the spring. There were minor improvements during that time, like learning to breathe to both sides and figuring out how to make the knees bend during the breaststroke kick. As the efficiency of each stroke improved, finishing a lap wasn’t so hard anymore, and you could complete sets without your arms twitching and your chest burning. Even though your breaststroke was still ugly and swimming butterfly was impossible, your backstroke was finally legal, which added some variety to workouts. That season Coach Jen fudged your times—listing them ten, twenty seconds faster than they really were—just so you could go to bottom-tier competitions. You’d head out with your parents at six a.m., drive to some unremarkable swimming pool, warm up, and sit there for hours waiting for your forty-five second race. Sometimes you dropped a few seconds and placed sixty-fifth out of eighty swimmers. Other days you disqualified for gliding into the wall on a backstroke turn or for wobbling on the starting block before the gun sounded. In the lobby on the way out of the meet, your teammates gathered around the results table, waiting to pick up their medals or trophies. You looked down as you walked past and pretended not to be jealous. Still, though, there were other things besides swimming, like softball, basketball and soc-

cer—or just going to a friend’s house after school to hang out. Some nights you traveled straight from the pool to the softball field or to basketball practice. Mom brought dinner with her—usually a heaping plate of food you shoveled in with your fingers, half done by the time the van pulled out of the parking lot. You rushed onto the court ten minutes late with wet hair and untied shoes, ready to spend the next hour chasing after the basketball. Other nights you skipped swimming practice. Sometimes there was a fight, but you persisted, begged. Mom reminded you this sport was expensive, and that you’d made a commitment when you signed up to be there when the coach said you should. You screamed and told her the coach never said you had to go to every practice. She reminded you she’d spent hundreds of hours driving you to and from the pool with your little brother and sister in the back of the van because you had told her you wanted to get better. How did you expect to get better by skipping practice? But usually you won and Mom finally said, “Do whatever you want,” in the voice that meant she was done arguing. On those afternoons there was a moment of triumph. You ran upstairs, threw on your tennis shoes and grabbed a stack of Nintendo games. As you headed down the street toward your friend’s house, though, the guilty, nagging voice crept its way in. The whole afternoon, as you sat there playing Mario 3 or watching MTV, you wondered what everyone else was doing at practice, what you were missing. While your friend sat on the couch eating chips, you started to think maybe the reason you were such a bad swimmer was because you weren’t as dedicated as everyone else. Lazy. Slacker. No wonder they’re all faster than you. One season melted into the next, and your times began to whittle down. Instead of going to “B” swim meets, you started qualifying for the next level, “BB,” and then finally for “A” meets. The nights you missed practice became fewer and fewer, and pretty soon stopped hap-

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pening. You quit tennis, then soccer, then basketball. Even softball, your favorite sport, took a back seat to swimming, and eventually you set your bat and glove in the attic closet. Then it happened, three years in—your breakthrough meet—Dual League Championships. It was the first time you wore a swim cap and shaved down especially for a competition. When you touched the wall after the fifty freestyle, you saw you had gone a 28:54—a swim that was seven seconds under your previous best. You looked at the clock again to make sure it was really your time you were seeing. All those hard practices you’d made it through— everything that had been given up for swimming—it had all been worth it. Beginning that afternoon the sport took on a new intensity. Every practice set became crucial; missing one would cost valuable seconds come competition time. If there was traffic on the parkway on the way to the pool, you panicked, swore, wondered how missing those hundreds of yards of warm-up would affect your entire season. You began to leave earlier for practice. Some days you got there thirty, fortyfive minutes before dry land circuit training and sat in the locker room until the door to the pool was unlocked. One season your practice attendance average was a 105 percent since you managed to get in one extra Sunday workout nobody else attended. You swam through everything— bronchitis, respiratory infections, the stomach flu, strep throat, sprained ankles, cracked bones, a concussion. Missing a single lap would show weakness and would mean you didn’t really want it as badly as you said you did—it would make you a hypocrite—and there was nothing worse than that.

you thought when you turned on the light and saw the rug burns on your forearms and knees. Some nights you woke up and found yourself upside down on the bed, trying to push off the footboard, struggling through a flip turn. The part of you that knew it was the middle of the night would chime in and insist you stop. So you slowed down in the water and treaded for a minute while your body tried to wake up. But then Coach Melanie screamed at you from the other end of the pool. You pulled your head from the water and saw her standing by the bedroom door, her blonde bangs resting on her lined forehead. She gestured angrily with her arms, pointing at you and shouting go faster! So you did.

You were fifteen the first winter of double practices. One day over Christmas break the carpool dropped you off at the bottom of your driveway after the morning workout. There was a half foot of snow on the ground and the cold burned your chapped skin as you made your way toward the house. But the climb was too much. Your thighs pulsed and cramped, so you sat down in a snow bank on the side of the driveway. The snow quickly soaked through your jeans, but it was okay. I’ll just take a little break, you thought as your muscles relaxed. It felt peaceful to rest there, staring up at the sky, watching the white patches gently fall from the clouds. Sometime later, your father stood over you in his huge blue jacket, staring down with a snow shovel in hand. “Why are you sleeping on the lawn?” he asked, grinning. “You must want to help me shovel.” The next day was Christmas Eve, and instead of doubling, there was one three-hour marathon practice that was nearly eight miles of swimming. Afterward, as you changed out of The lucid swimming dreams began the summer before freshman year in high school. At your suit and into your clothes, you started to first, when you woke up on the floor wrapped in hiccup. The whole ride home in the van the hiccups continued. The lack of oxygen your body your sheets swimming freestyle, you thought maybe something was wrong inside your head. had felt during that morning’s practice wasn’t something it was used to, and it was fighting It’s not normal to swim in your bedroom at three a.m., [ 37 ]


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back. They wouldn’t go away no matter what you did. All afternoon, up, up, up. By dinnertime, you were nauseated and sore from the contracting motion and didn’t want to eat. You fell asleep that night next to the Christmas tree, hungry, sick and still hiccupping. Swimming took on its own life. There were ten practices each week plus lifting, stretching, dry land circuits, running, technique lessons and competitions. The chlorine and bromine transformed your hair to blonde straw and your skin was perpetually dry and cracking from the chemicals. Beneath each arm were deep cuts from where the two practice suits rubbed against the skin. You walked like a swimmer; lurching, shuffling, calves and thighs constantly sore from squats, lunges, dead lifts and miles of kicking. When you sat down, your back curved and your shoulders hunched over your body under the constant pressure. That season—your freshman year—you joined your high school team. Some days you went straight from morning practice to school, and then back to the high school pool as soon as eighth period ended. Usually you left in the middle of the afternoon workout to make it in time for the second half of the club team practice, which was fifty minutes away. At the end of that season, you got best times but missed qualifying for the state championships in both the two hundred freestyle and five hundred freestyles by a combined total of thirteen one hundredths of a second. When they called your name to stand on the podium to receive the fifth place medal, you sat in the end stall in the bathroom because you didn’t deserve to be recognized, because you didn’t want to have to pretend to smile as everyone took photos of the girls who had made the cut. That night, as you walked toward the car in the cold Pittsburgh air with your hair frozen to your head, all you could think about was how this could never happen again. I’ll train harder, you told yourself. I’ll do whatever it takes so next year I’ll deserve the medal I earn. Next year I’ll be the

one at the top of the podium, smiling a real smile. When you got home you didn’t eat dinner or the chocolate cake you had been saving for after the meet. You waited till your parents went to bed, then headed down to the basement and dusted off the old weight bench. The rusted plates rattled against the metal bar as you did one set of reps after the other. How many mornings did you sit in geometry sophomore year and tune out Mr. Sakrak’s theorems and instead write your goal times on the margins of your notebook? How many places did you scribble the number 24:59—the Junior National cut in the fifty yard freestyle? Maybe if you could just imprint it deeply enough into some corner of your brain, it would register in your muscles and forge its own reality. That year you made states, but instead of finaling at the meet like all your other teammates, you got thirteenth place in the fifty and one hundred freestyles. Only the top twelve came back at night. Eleven one hundredths of a second off getting another chance to swim, to redeem yourself. Even though you anchored the relay that got fourth and set a school record, you didn’t get any best times. Your team won states that year, and you smiled when your friends swam good races, high-fived them as they headed toward the warm-down pool. You smiled while they cheered, smiled as they threw Coach Mike into the water at the end of the last session. When they went back to the hotel to celebrate, you made your parents drive you home. At dinner that night, you refused to eat. You stared at your Dad, Mom, brother and sister while you sat against the back wall at The Olive Garden and wished they’d stop trying to make you talk about it. Maybe if they knew how much you wanted this, they’d have understood how you felt. The more focused you were on making a cut, the more superstitious you became. As your times got faster, you started to think maybe swimming wasn’t as temperamental and fickle as you once believed. Maybe there was some over-

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arching logic behind it, and all you had to do to keep getting better would be to hone in on this formula and repeat it. That’s when the accumulation of rituals and rules began. Two months before the big meet the diet started: no fried foods, no refined sugars, no alcohol. Each meal had to be a perfect balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Water intake was increased, and gradually more vitamins and minerals were added; some nights you swallowed twenty-five different supplements. Even with homework and papers, sleep came first. Before bed, you picked up the stopwatch from the nightstand and visualized your best races. You felt yourself step up onto the block, take your mark, and swim perfect, beautiful freestyle. Nineteen strokes, then a breath. Flip turn. Eleven strokes then another breath. When your fingers jammed into the wall at the end of the race, you stopped the watch and checked the time. If it was more than five one hundredths of a second off your goal, you’d repeated the visualization until it was exact. Then there was the pre-meet ritual. In the hotel room the day before a big competition, you hosted the shaving party. All your friends sprawled out on beige hotel towels in front of the TV wearing swimsuits. They brought the ice buckets from their rooms and filled them with warm water. You each lined up your shaving tools: razor, four new blades, shaving cream, Band-Aids and lotion. The entire afternoon was spent sitting in front of the television watching cheesy movies, shaving off the accumulation of leg hair the coach had insisted you grow for the past five months to slow your body down in the water. Each leg had to be shaved twice with slow, deliberate lines, then dried off and examined for missed spots around the knees and ankles. Next were the arms—careful around the wrist, elbows and knuckles. You took turns shaving each others’ shoulders and backs. All the hair and dead skin had to be removed from each part of the body that would come in contact with the water, and every nerve ending had to be exposed so you’d have a new, more aerodynamic

shape. The morning of the meet you woke up ten minutes early and put on the tiny waterresistant competition suit, situating the straps so they wouldn’t dig too deeply into your shoulders. You stretched your arms, legs and back, then jumped on the bed to wake up the last stiff muscles. For breakfast you had two pieces of French toast, a banana with peanut butter and two glasses of water. In the bus on the way to the meet, loud, angry rap music poured from your headphones. Then, there was the pre-race ritual. You wrote your event number, heat and lane assignment on your left hand. Fifteen minutes before your swim, you went up behind the starting blocks wearing a racing suit, cap, sweatshirt and sandals. You sat on the deck on your towel and stretched. Three heats before your race, you stood and listened to the starter send off the swimmers in front of you to get a feel for the consistency of the starting speed. With two heats remaining, the goggles went on. Tighten them. Tighter, till the room crossed and bent a bit. A minute before the race, you pushed the air bubbles from beneath your cap. Once the person before you climbed onto the block, you jumped up and down and swung your arms to get your heart rate up. You looked at the girl in the next lane. If she made eye contact, you wished her good luck, then turned away and convinced yourself you hated her. If nothing popped into your head to warrant this feeling, you made up a reason: She’s too tall, too thin, too happy. When the starter called your heat, there was only time for one deep breath before you stepped up to wait for the gun. After the race, if you got a best time, you stared at the clock and acted indifferent, as if it really wasn’t that big a deal. As you walked toward the warm-down pool, you wiped your face off in the towel to hide your smile. If it had been a bad swim, you looked at the time, shook your head and walked directly to the warm-down area. Snippets of the race bubbled in your mind until your face turned red and you wanted to

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punch the wall. You stared down as you walked and tried to avoid making eye contact with anyone—especially your coach or teammates. If someone offered congratulations, you shook your head no and kept on walking. When you got to the other pool, you hopped in and looked at your feet for a moment, then went over every aspect of the race to pinpoint what went wrong. As you slowly swam to get your heart rate back down, the voice in your head screamed You fuckup. You blew the race, all those months of work, those thousands of hours spent training. Step it up in the next event or the whole season will have been a waste. For thirteen years swimming was the constant. Even in bad seasons when you didn’t register a single best time, it was that thing you did every day that helped to keep you sane. Swimming was there, even when friends weren’t and high schools changed. No matter what else was going on in the background, it provided a framework, a point of reference, an identity. It even made the move from high school to college manageable. You chose a school based on where you could swim and found a coach who seemed to be in line with your philosophy as an athlete. For four years, you lived with, trained with, studied with and partied with an extended family of swimmers who understood you in a way most others could not. Freshman year of college was your fastest season yet. Coach Dave, a balding man with a quick temper and graying beard, focused primarily on sprinting and less on yardage. Practices were shorter and more specialized, and the lifting routine targeted the specific muscles that would be crucial for middle-distance swimming. That season you got best times in nearly everything—from the two hundred freestyle to the two hundred Individual Medley to the one hundred breaststroke and one hundred butterfly. Freshman and sophomore years, your relays set school records and were well under the qualifying time for NCAA championships, but because of the newly-adopted rule requiring swimmers to get a place number as well as a cut,

you missed going by one or two spots. Even though you got best times in some events every season, your freestyle got progressively slower and you didn’t know how to fix it. No matter how much you focused on technique, on timing, on head position and shoulder rotation, the stroke always fell apart during competition. By junior year you refused to sign up for the one hundred or two hundred freestyles at big meets, and opted instead for off events like backstroke and breaststroke with the hope of at least dropping time in those. Some days getting up and working out before class after having spent most of the night studying made you resent swimming. There were weeklong stretches when you had a perpetual headache from trying to balance six classes, a part-time job and double workouts. At the beginning of junior year when you were swimming your poorest, you wanted to quit. After practice in the evening, you took long walks on the golf course and thought about how unhappy swimming made you. As you stared at the reflection of the streetlight in the frost-covered green, you knew you were only torturing yourself; no matter how bad it was, you’d never be able to quit swimming before your NCAA eligibility was up senior year. Even though it made you miserable, you couldn’t imagine what you’d do or who you’d be without it. Before your final competition senior year, you had a goal meeting with Coach Dave. This was the standard, pre-championship procedure every February in which he met one-onone with the members of the team to discuss their goals for the events they had signed up to swim. Each year you came to the meeting with a mental list of your goal times calculated to the hundredth of a second. For every event you would tell him a number—a blanket cutoff that defined success. Achieving that time or better meant the season had been “good,” while anything slower meant the plane ride home would be dismal.

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Coach Dave sat across from you in his cluttered office with pen in hand, waiting for you to begin. He knew from past experience you always came ready with a plan for all seven swims; he just had to sit there and jot down notes for his records. But this time you had something else in mind. This meet would mark the end of your swimming career. Once your eligibility was up in two weeks, there would be no more chances to compete. Maybe one or two other seniors on the team would continue on with swimming—join masters teams or paddle around a few times a week at the YMCA, but not you. Unless you were training double practices, lifting and focusing completely on the sport, you would never again achieve a best time. The only thing worse than no longer being a swimmer would be to spend the next sixty years getting progressively slower. By this point your goals had changed and you were looking for more than just a time. You wanted the right sort of closure, the kind that wasn’t possible by obsessing over a set of numbers. What you wanted more than anything was to go out having made peace with the sport. You told Coach Dave your only goal for the championship meet was to be able to get out of the water after each swim and be genuinely okay with how you performed—even if it wasn’t a personal best time. For a long moment he looked at you, not quite sure what to make of the talk. He seemed disappointed, like he couldn’t figure out why you always had to be complicated, why you couldn’t just give him a number like everyone else. Then he nodded, ran his index finger and thumb through his beard, and nodded again. He bent down and wrote some notes next to your name in his legal pad. A week later you stood in a crowded hotel room in Atlanta in front of the twenty-two women on the swim team. It felt strange to give the pep talk—to be one of the captains whose time was nearly up rather than a scared freshman who hadn’t yet competed in a college championship meet. In your speech you told the team you

remembered thinking before you started college that there would only be four years left in your career as a swimmer, and you’d have to make the most of this time. In October of that past year, you realized there were only four months left. That moment as you talked to them, there were only four days remaining till it was over. How quickly it had gone. You told them, “Swimming is what it is. This meet is not a justification for the season. It’s not going to make or break your career as a swimmer or define you as a person. It’s just swimming, and it can’t define you unless you let it.” They all stared at you as you tripped on your words and tried not to get choked up; you were the quiet captain who hated to speak in front of a group. They also knew you were the one who never seemed to be satisfied with her swims, who usually got out of the pool and scowled at the clock, always shaking her head no. Yet here you were advising them about how to view the sport that had obviously owned you. Who were you really addressing? The first day of competition you had mediocre races in the fifty freestyle and the two hundred freestyle relay in prelims as well as finals. Even though you placed in both events and your relay medaled, it was no consolation. The second day you finaled in the one hundred yard backstroke—four lengths of the pool. You were seeded seventh that morning with your best time, but knew you could go faster—and were excited to go into finals with this energy behind the swim. That night, when the starter blew the whistle, you entered the water, placed your feet on the wall and gripped the bar. When he instructed your heat to take your mark, you felt your left foot slip down an inch or so. There wasn’t time to adjust your starting position, and when the gun went off your left foot didn’t catch, which caused your right foot to also slip. When everyone else shot off on their backs, you fell straight into the water with no momentum. You turned your stroke over as fast as

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your shoulders would allow, pulling forward with shallow, jerky arm movements. At the first turn you saw you were a body length behind the rest of the swimmers. You were slipping water but it didn’t matter; you had to catch up. You kicked harder and fought through the water but still finished in eighth place, over a second slower than you’d gone that morning. When you climbed out of the pool, your body trembled. You sat down on the deck and looked away from your friends who had been cheering behind your lane and your family who had flown to Atlanta to see your last meet. While you sat there catching your breath, you tried to remember what you had said to the women’s team two nights beforehand—that swimming should be fun and that at a certain point times don’t really matter—but your brain was too heavy to process anything other than how it felt to slide off the wall and blow your last chance at that event. The next day you swam a personal best in the two hundred backstroke at prelims, and went a half second faster in finals. Instead of feeling happy when you saw your time, you were already panicking for the next event—the four hundred freestyle relay. It would be the last swim of the meet. Of your career. An hour later the pool deck exploded with cheers and shouts as the competitors made their way behind the blocks for the final race. Since you were the fourth swimmer, you knew it would come down to you if there was a close finish. The first person took her mark, dove in, and raced the four lengths. Then the second. Your relay was slowly slipping behind the other teams. When the third person shot into the water, the force of the moment finally registered: this was it—your last swim. You dove in from behind and pushed forward, hoping to make up time. Your brain was sending your legs instructions—kick harder, don’t slow down into the wall­—but the rest of you didn’t want to listen. It felt as though your body knew this was the end

and had already quit. From fourth place to fifth and then finally to sixth, you slipped further and further behind. When you looked at the other swimmers who were pulling ahead, there was a moment of realization; this would be the last chance you’d ever have to prove yourself in the pool, to get that amazing time you’d spent the past thirteen years working for. As the force of the thought hit you, you did something you’d never done during a race—you began to cry. That night in the hotel you drank with the team and smiled for pictures you would later hang on the refrigerator. It was the annual postchampionship party, and everyone was drunk, roaming from room-to-room, playing beer pong and listening to music. When the last of your friends passed out sometime after three, you wandered the hallway, not sure what to do with yourself. Even though you were tired, you didn’t want the night to end. You walked from floor to floor in search of anyone who might still be awake. But the hotel was silent. You returned to the stairwell and sat on the cool cement, rubbing your fingers over your prickly arms and listening to the hum of the flickering overhead light. After more listless drifting, you ended up in the bathroom next to the lobby. There, in the leftmost stall, you sat on the cold granite floor and cradled your head in your hands. The tears came quickly. They poured down your cheeks, streamed off your chin and soaked your sweatshirt. Sitting there in that bright, empty bathroom, you replayed the last race again and again, trying to make yourself okay with it. But how could you be happy with such a poor swim— nearly two seconds off your best? Nausea hit you all of a sudden. You crouched over the toilet and heaved, but nothing came out. It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay, you muttered, but the more you heard the words the less you believed them. You tried to imagine what would come next. You thought back to the time before you were a swimmer, to being eight,

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nine years old. How did it feel? The harder you focused on remembering, the further your mind wandered and the more frustrated you became. It was as though there were no memories before swimming—nothing but a blur of vague feelings melting together into a white fog. There were so many swimming moments, though, vivid snapshots hanging in front of the other memories, blocking everything else out. They spanned from the first time you swam the fifty freestyle up until the last race only hours beforehand. As you sat there with your head resting on the wall, you made yourself go through every good and bad swim you’d ever had. You needed to make sure they were imprinted in a place you’d always be able to access, even when the sun came up in a few hours and your last day as a swimmer finally ended. The swimming nightmares persist. Some nights you’re back in the high school natatorium where you spent so many hours training, the one with the yellowed ceiling and brown tile deck. In other dreams it’s an unfamiliar pool with mist hanging over the surface. There’s a cold, eerie feeling, as though someone’s hiding behind the fog waiting for you. Suddenly you’re in the water swimming, and there’s no end to the pool. The more you paddle the longer it gets. Your body thrashes and cramps as you try to stay afloat. You can’t figure out where you are or why you’re swimming, but you know you can’t stop. There’s always the same feeling of dread, of never being fast enough, of knowing you’re letting yourself down. The alarm finally rips through the threads of the dreamscape. You jolt up in bed, twisted in the down comforter, still not quite sure what’s real and what isn’t. As your brain tries to process what’s just happened and acclimate itself to the new day, you wonder, for a brief, groggy second, if you’ve overslept and are late for morning practice.

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Contributors Spring & Summer 2012

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Shaindel Beers' first full-length poetry collection, A Brief History of Time, was published by Salt Publishing in 2009. She is at work on her second volume of poetry and a short story collection. She serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine and lives in Pendleton, Oregon, with the musician Jared Pennington and their son Liam.

Review, The Los Angeles Review, Subtropics, The Writer, Pank and Puerto Del Sol. Corey currently lives in Miami, and although she has a pool, no longer competes as a swimmer.

Cynthia Hawkins is an Associate Editor of Arts and Culture at The Nervous Breakdown and Managing Fiction Editor of Prick of the Spindle. Rae Bryant’s short story collection, The Indefinite Her entertainment features and creative work State of Imaginary Morals (Patasola Press NY, have appeared in literary journals and magazines 2011) has been nominated for the 2012 Pen such as Monkeybicycle, ESPN the Magazine, ParHemingway and Pushcart awards. Her stories ent:Wise Magazine, Our Stories, Passages North, InDihave appeared or are soon forthcoming in Stogest Magazine, Strange Horizons, and numerous alryQuarterly, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, BLIP ternative weeklies. More information can be Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review), and Garfound at http://cynthiahawkins.net. goyle Magazine, among other publications. She writes essays and reviews for such places as Puer- KJ Hays has a heart that often pumps an admixto del Sol, The Nervous Breakdown, and Portland ture of blood and alcohol. Sometimes he listens Book Review. Rae teaches multimedia and creative to Johnny Cash. He has a handle on the sunwriting at Johns Hopkins and is the editor in shine. chief of the new M.A. in Writing literary and arts journal, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. Sara Lippmann’s stories have appeared recently in PANK, Women Arts Quarterly, Connotation Press, Robert Busby will be a first-time father come Our Stories, Word Riot, Jewish Fiction, Slice MagaSeptember. Lesser accomplishments include sto- zine, Potomac Review and elsewhere. She co-hosts ries published in Arkansas Review, Cold Mountain the Sunday Salon, a monthly NYC reading seReview, Portland Monthly, Stymie, and the anthology ries, and lives with her family in Brooklyn. Surreal South '11. The former fiction editor of Gulf Stream magazine, he now lives, writes, teach- Christina Murphy is originally from Florida es and eats much barbecue in Memphis, TN, and now lives in West Virginia in a 100 year-old house along the Ohio River. Her poetry appears with his wife. in a number of journals, including, most recentMeagan Cass lives in Loss Angeles and teaches ly, PANK, Poetry Quarterly, The Knotting House Rewriting at Pasadena City College. Her fiction has view, and Poetic Medicine. appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry ReWhen Claire Novak is not covering horse racview, The Pinch, Devil’s Lake, Minnetonka Review ing for publications like the New York Times, The and in The South Carolina Review, among other Associated press, ESPN The Magazine, places. ESPN.com, and Hearst Corporation’s Albany Times Union, she may be found hitting the bag Roxane Gay lives and writes in the Midwest. (or a sparring partner) in her local gym. She has a mean right cross. This is her third piece for Corey Ginsberg's work has most recently apStymie; more at www.clairenovak.com. peared in such publications as The Cream City [ 44 ]


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Christine Pivovar has been attending the College World Series all her life. Currently, she is a student in the MFA in Creative Writing and Media Arts program at the University of MissouriKansas City. She loves cooking, college baseball and James Joyce. Kate Robinson is a book-pusher at the Brookline Booksmith and is finishing up her MFA from Bennington. Her poems have appeared in Ditch, The Common Ground, and Confrontation. She loves to run. Especially from herself. Amber Sparks' fiction has been featured in various places, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Lamination Colony, Wigleaf, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, and elimae. Her chapbook, "A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World," is in the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty, published by Tiny Hardcore Press. She is also a contributor at lit blogs Big Other and Vouched, and lives in Washington, D.C. with a husband and two beasts. Esley Stahl, a native Chicagoan, is a creative nonfiction writer currently completing her MFA at Roosevelt University. Her heroes include Tom Petty, James Baldwin, and Greg Maddux. Hannah Stephenson is a poet, editor, instructor, and singer-songwriter living in Columbus, Ohio. Hannah earned her M.A. in English from The Ohio State University in 2006, and her poems and songs have appeared in publications such as The Nervous Breakdown, qarrtsiluni, MAYDAY, Whale Sound, FORTH, Spoonful, Birmingham Arts Journal and anthologies from Lazy Gramophone Press. She is a poetry blogger for the Huffington Post, and is the founder of Paging Columbus!, a literary arts monthly event series. You can visit her daily poetry site, The Storialist, at www.thestorialist.com.

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Stymie :: Spring & Summer '12 :: The Feminine Perspective