We’re in his old hometown, where the buildings sag on their foundations, and the metal siding of the ‘70s is rusting, sun-scorched and dusty from cornfield weed killer. “Lucky, we didn’t all get cancer,” he says, pulling out the tassel from a female corn plant. He shows me this trick every time we get near a stalk of corn. Forty years old and he’s still trying to impress me with these pre-teen magic tricks.
He’s going in for some tests tomorrow. The kind where they poke and prod, scoop out blood from your veins like grape jelly and then make you wait two weeks for the results. Bone disease, MS, arthritis, everything is possible when they open you up and shine a light into the cave of veins and sinews, God’s stitching unravelling.
We stand in front of the press box that leans over the t-ball field like a disapproving teacher, ready to correct an unlucky student’s grammar mistakes.
“I got my first hit right there,” he says, and I have to stop myself from reciting the lines of a movie I’ve already seen fifty times.
“A looper over the second basemen’s head. I watched it roll through the clover. Startled into running the bases when everyone started yelling. Frantic,” he says, picking up a piece of gravel the color of a rotisserie chicken. The clouds puffy and white like a steaming pile of mashed potatoes. I’m hungry, but I can’t say anything yet. He’s thrown himself in the pool of nostalgia, and I can’t help him swim through it.
He kicks the metal fencing of the backstop, his hands gripping the chain link.
“My dad volunteered to announce the games. No color commentary back then. Just who’s up to bat, who’s on deck.”
“One time,” I say, arms crossed, but he’s already taking his place at home plate, pretending to swing a bat, elbow up just like his father taught him.
“Sexy,” I say, but he just nods.
“Carlson’s up to bat, swinging for the fences,” I yell, my voice cracking.
I wait for someone to tell us to leave, but no one comes, and I’m stuck here for as long as his memory holds, for as long as he can still hold up that elbow, run these bases. My voice continually cracking, following the arc of an invisible ball rolling through the clover.
Tommy Dean is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. He is the Flash Fiction Section Editor at Craft Literary. He has been previously published in the BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, Pidgeonholes, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His story “You’ve Stopped” was chosen by Dan Chaon to be included in Best Microfiction 2019. It will also be included in Best Small Fiction 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.
Steven John – Senior Fiction & Features Editor