by Lou Gaglia
His sisters and his wife were taking his eleven-year-old son Rich to SeaWorld, but he couldn’t join them. His foot was burning again and he didn’t feel like it. He’d torn the foot’s fascia or something a few years before—just running uphill, that was all—and it still hadn’t healed, and he was sick of the hobbling and sick of the burning. He would stay inside and watch baseball instead and enjoy himself. Rich had wanted to stay with him and watch the game too, but the others pulled Rich along because he could watch baseball anytime, they said.Rich was crazy about baseball. At home, before this vacation, he and Rich had spent days at the batting cages or on whatever school field they could find. They hit and threw and talked baseball. They talked about what made good bats good, and what made bad bats bad, and how to throw certain pitches, and how to scoop balls thrown in the dirt. Now, watching the game from the couch, a glass of wine in hand, he imagined telling Rich he would miss McCutcheon’s first at-bat and might only see him hit if his aunt didn’t insist on watching the fireworks.In the first inning, Josh Harrison made a bad throw from third. The runner was safe and Harrison wasn’t happy with himself. The camera zoomed on Harrison’s face. “It happens, Harrison,” he said, then added, “rag arm!” His little league coach—not the main coach Mr. Riggio but another teammates’ father—had called him “rag arm” when he played as a 4th grader. The other players were in 5th and 6th grades. They had a good team, but that coach called him rag arm and told him he swung like a rusty gate. He couldn’t hit anything in practice or in games until his father brought him out to the backyard one night and fed him pitch after pitch until he got the hang of it. Later he hit the ball almost every time he came to bat. The coach batted him fourth then, and the assistant coach didn’t tell him he swung like a rusty gate anymore, and he didn’t call him rag arm either. Once when he was playing third base, the shortstop Riggio called to his father and the assistant coach, “Hey, I think he wants to kiss me or something,” because he was playing far from the third base bag, too close to Riggio.“He’s gonna kiss me,” Riggio repeated, so he moved closer to the third base bag and hated Riggio steadily from then on.McCutcheon was up for the first time in the bottom of the first. He wished Rich were there so they could study McCutcheon’s stance. He wondered where the third baseman was playing him—deep or close to the line or kissing the shortstop.He never saw Riggio again after that little league year. But after college, while visiting his parents, he heard that Riggio had killed himself by jumping in front of a commuter train to New York.Before they left for SeaWorld, he had told Rich to stay with mom and his aunts, and that if he got lost somehow, he should go to a ticket area and wait for them to find him.“Why would I get lost?” Rich said.“I don’t know. Just stay with everybody.”Starling Marte turned from a wild pitch and ducked his head, but the ball nailed him in the back. He took his time going to first base.He decided to have a second glass of wine and enjoy himself and not worry where his son was at that moment. He slowly poured the wine into the glass and watched it fill.There had been no explanation for Riggio killing himself. It was a thing that happened. Only Riggio knew, maybe. And then there was Carlton, who worked in the stock room at the toy store during his college days. Carleton was just out of high school. He was easygoing and funny and the girls at the store all liked him. On a Monday, he heard that Carleton had been killed in a car wreck. The manager knew all about it, and the girls knew about it too. He’d been driving too fast on the Long Island Expressway, and he hit a guardrail and flipped over. His car was unrecognizable, and his body was mangled.He got up to pour more wine, having downed the second glass much too fast. Miami was batting, but he wasn’t paying attention to who was up.Some of the girls cried that morning. In the back room, while organizing boxes, he thought of Carleton’s twisted car and mangled body. He wasn’t very sad since he didn’t know Carleton, but he couldn’t believe that a person could go so quickly and be gone for good. If it was possible to go anywhere else besides into the ground, then maybe Carleton’s spirit was somewhere else, but no one living could know that, not really. It was top secret. People could believe all they wanted, but they didn’t know for sure. There was always doubt and fear—that going meant being gone forever. No reunions.Had he told Rich to wait at the carousels if he got lost, or was it a ticket area? Or maybe he’d said the crocodile cages, he didn’t remember. A Miami hitter kept stepping out of the box and slowing the game down, so he went on the balcony and watched the swimmers splash in the well-lit pool. Then he returned to the kitchen and poured more wine.The Dees had an underground pool and a big German shepherd. When he and his sisters were around, they kept the dog in a large cage. Brenda Dee was two years older, and she was beautiful. His eyes went where she went, and when she asked him if he wanted lemonade or coke, she had his full attention. She never looked at him other than to ask if he wanted lemonade, but it didn’t matter. Her brother Chuck was his age, and Freddie was a year younger. They played pick-up baseball games in the street during the summer. A month after high school ended, Chuck and Freddie were play-fighting on the front yard lawn. Chuck punched Freddie in the chest, and Freddie had a heart attack and died.He went back to watching the game. Some Miami player he’d never heard of was up, and he tried to keep track of how the pitcher and catcher were working him. Curve, curve, curve, fastball, and it was 2-2. Then the batter weakly fouled off the next pitch.“You’re swinging like a rusty gate,” he growled liked his assistant coach. His father had continued to help him hit. After a while, he knew how to hit the ball to all fields. He could go with a pitch and hit it down the right field line. On a baseball field, he was confident, and nothing bothered him, and he didn’t get hurt, and there was nothing on his mind but baseball. He played through high school but then stopped before college. He missed playing. He could only play in softball leagues and it wasn’t the same. When he heard about Freddie’s death, he was with friends at the firemen’s fair in town. He thought about Freddie then, but later he thought more about Chuck who had to live with what he’d done to his brother. Freddie had a heart defect, but they hadn’t known that.The Miami batter struck out looking. “Take the bat off your shoulder, man,” he said, and he got up to pour more wine and sat down again. His stupid, never-healing foot was burning just from walking to the kitchen and back. He wished his son were watching the game with him. He imagined Rich at the rides there and hoped he wasn’t on one of those monster water slides. He didn’t know if they had those at SeaWorld. But he’d heard about a kid somewhere whose head had been knocked clean off on one of those rides. They called it a fluke thing.When he found out about Freddie at the firemen’s fair, he stared at the Ferris wheel. He saw the dangling feet of those paused at the top, and he heard the screams of those speeding around a turn on the roller coaster behind him. He and his friends looked around and only glanced at each other.Things happened. What happened to Freddie was a fluke. Things happened, and he wished his son were home. The Riggios lost their son, and Freddie’s parents lost Freddie, and Chuck and Brenda lost their brother, and it was past nine o’clock now and getting late. He poured himself more wine.“How would I get lost?” Rich said, and he wished his son were back, watching the game with him. McCutcheon was up for the second time, or maybe the third time. He’d planned to buy Rich a McCutcheon model bat when they got back from Florida, after all the swimming and the eating and the worrying and the plane ride were finished.McCutcheon stood at the plate, relaxed, and then his bat came around like a whip and he lined a foul ball into the crowd. Cool hitter, great player.He couldn’t wait to go home, maybe see a few of the minor league games in town. He was no use on vacation with his bum foot anyway. Usually, he was all right on a baseball field when he practiced with Rich. Sometimes it got to be too much for his lousy foot and he had to stop, but most often on the baseball field his foot hadn’t bothered him at all. Instead, it tightened and burned when he was at work or just after he walked into a store.McCutcheon doubled into the left field corner. “Did you see him turn on that pitch?” he said, as if to Rich. “What a quick bat.” Rich had sets of eyes watching him at SeaWorld. And he was smart enough too. If he got lost he’d find one of them, or he’d go to one of the ticket areas and wait. When he was in a coffee shop with Rich earlier in the summer, he had to use the bathroom, and he told Rich that if anyone bugged him, to splash the person with hot coffee. He showed Rich his full steaming cup. “Just a quick splash in the face will do it.” Of course when he came out of the bathroom Rich was still there, and his coffee was still there, but while peeing, he wasn’t completely sure he’d be there. He imagined chasing down the kidnapper in the parking lot and beating the living shit out of him.He poured just one more glass of wine, leaving some in the bottle. He didn’t feel that drunk. He didn’t want to be too drunk when they got back. But after downing the glass at the kitchen counter, he decided to pour the rest and the heck with it. He drank, then rinsed the bottle. His foot was still burning, but it was almost like it was burning on someone else now. He tested his balance by walking back to the living room as if on a tightrope. It was the seventh inning already.He remembered a dream he’d had the night before. For no damn reason, a policeman had slammed his wife against a wall. In the dream, he shouted and went for the policeman, but then woke up. He seethed, wanting to go right back to sleep and beat the living shit out of that bastard, but he couldn’t calm down for another hour. Miami was at bat, so he didn’t really watch. He went to the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator for more wine.The same summer that Freddie died, he worked at a rug cleaning plant. At breakfast one morning, he read in the newspaper that Diana from his graduating class had died in a jeep accident. The man she was with was drunk, and his jeep flipped over and Diana was thrown and died instantly. He found her grave a month later and cried there, even though he really hadn’t known her that well.He wandered back to the living room. It was because he was drunk that he was thinking these thoughts, maybe. He would be walking fine again, painless again, in no time at all. There was no damn reason that his damn foot shouldn’t heal like anything else healed. Then if his son were lost he could find him quickly, not sit around helpless and wait, unable to do anything except watch McCutcheon, now up for the third time. Or maybe it was his fourth time up because it was the 8th or 9th inning. He had not told Diana how much he liked her. He was married and happy, and Rich wouldn’t exist if he’d told Diana he liked her and they were married right out of high school or something. It was all so accidental, and maybe more accidents were on the way. If his foot mended, he could do something about things and maybe prevent things from happening. There was a better chance, anyway. He could be there and be quick about being there, as quick as McCutcheon was when he turned on a fastball, instead of hobbling around and waiting for them to come home or for the phone to ring.He looked at the clock. It was past ten, so they must have stayed for the fireworks. Or maybe the fireworks were only at Disney, not SeaWorld. He’d lost track of who put on the fireworks shows and who didn’t. But it was ten o’clock and it was the eighth or ninth inning already, or maybe extra innings, and he might not get a chance to watch the rest of the game with Rich. Or maybe Rich would be so excited about the rides and the fireworks and the miles of easy walking that one baseball game wouldn’t be all that important. There would be other games for them to watch and play. There would.