I stopped writing. I didn't stop thinking about writing, though. Poignant vignettes played out in my head. I still derived inspiration from random sources. The brain was receptive. I haven't returned full form from my hiatus, but I did manage to crank out a short story.
It's nothing glorious. It's rough, but I hope you can turn it over in your hands and maybe capture a glimmer or two. I had fun writing it and isn't that half the battle? I hope you enjoy.
A Perfect Game
The beeps and wheezing of the machines faded into the background as Rory sunk farther into the hospital pillow and took his last ragged breath. The first thing that emanated from oblivion was a yeasty smell of cheap beer and a murmur that lifted with a sudden crescendo into a cheer.
“What?” Rory blinked against the sunlight.
He was in the bleachers of lower right field in a ball park that looked vaguely familiar. The woman that had shushed him wore a Twins jersey with the red number 34 emblazoned on the front. The rest of the fans around him were covered in Brewers attire. His papery thin hospital gown crinkled in the summer breeze.
“Milwaukee County Stadium?” That had been shut down in 2000. None of this made sense.
The middle-aged woman in the Twins jersey put her finger distractedly on his lips. “This is it, get ready.”
Rory’s mouth fumbled for words as numerous questions blended into a cacophony of confusion. The unmistakable crack of the bat jarred him to the present. The woman was already standing, the ball coming right for her. She snatched it out of the air as the pockets of Twins fans went nuts.
“What the hell is going on?” Rory rose to his feet, forgetting a moment that he hadn’t stood in a month and that both knees and one hip were shot. Except they weren’t and he felt fine. Well, physically fine.
“Holy Christ, Rory.” The woman smacked the baseball into his open palm. “I’m trying to have a moment here and I got you acting crazy and showing the world your pasty white ass.
His gaze darted around, but no one seemed to pay him any attention.
“You’re trying to have a moment?”
“Yeah. Don’t you remember this game?”
He tossed the ball from hand to hand searching his memory. The usual fog didn’t hinder his thoughts like they had for the last few years. “1991 Season? That was Kirby Puckett, right?”
She rolled her blue eyes that had entirely too much eye shadow and mascara surrounding them. “August 30, 1987. Puckett went 4 for 5 the day before. Today he went 6 for 6. Can you believe it? He even stole a grand slam by doing one of his signature leaps at the wall.”
“Sounds familiar, I guess. But who are you and what am I doing here?”
“Call me, Susan. Have a seat. No one wants to see that show.”
The fans filed out in record time leaving the stadium to them. The warm August evening was a pleasant contrast to the cold metal under his bare ass. Empty plastic cups and peanut shells littered the concrete near his feet.
“Susan, you didn’t answer my second question.”
“I didn’t want to meet you again in my office. It gets repetitious. You always ask the same questions in the exact same order. I wanted to see this moment again. There’s something so pure about baseball. Oh, and Kirby was one of mine.” She dabbed at the tears welling in her right eye.
“One of yours?”
She stretched her short, chubby arms over her head. “Yeah, like you. His first time around the guy had some issues with infidelity, some creepy bathroom thing, and died way too young.”
Rory scratched his chin. “I don’t recall any of that.”
“That’s because he fixed it. Took him three tries, but the guy pulled it off. The others told me no way, that if they don’t get it the second time, the third time is not the charm. But I knew. I knew there was greatness in him.” She wiggled her fingers.
“Wait. Are you saying I get to try it again if I want to? What’s the other option?” Rory’s jaw tightened.
“Oh, honey don’t worry. Hell doesn’t exist. You can join the great chorus in the sky for eternity.” She turned to him. “It’s pretty awesome, trust me. Or you can live your life over again and try not to botch it up this time.”
“What do you mean, botch it up?” Rory sat up straight.
She looked at the sky. “I know everything, Rory. Every lie, every cruel word, every missed opportunity.”
He cast his gaze on his bare feet.
“You know that Déjà vu feeling?”
Rory raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“That’s the sign that you’re on the same damn path. Bad thing if you’re feeling that into your 80’s my friend.”
The lights snapped on in the stadium, jolting him.
Susan glanced at her black Casio watch. “I even tried to help you, though the others feel that isn’t entirely fair.”
“What do you mean?”
The middle aged woman was replaced with a young Hispanic man with an acne problem. “You remember this guy?” She spoke in her same voice. “He tried to offer you a ride at your first big high school party, but nope. You weren’t that drunk, right?”
She turned back to her Susan form.
Rory swallowed the lump in his throat. “C’mon, I was sixteen.”
“Yup and earned that cute little limp the rest of your life. Oh and not to mention that derailed your baseball career.”
“What?” He stood up. “You mean I was going to go pro?”
Her head fell forward as she laughed. “Oh, sweetie, you are too funny. Pro? No. But, it would have gotten you into Duke and set you up a little differently. You would have come back though to Minneapolis. It calls you. She calls you.”
“Maria.” He sat down hard.
She sighed. “Yeah. That one hurts. She was pregnant when you told her to leave.”
“What? Not possible. She would have told me.” His heart galloped and he put his hand to his chest.
“Afraid so. Baby girl. She turned into a great kid. You met her twice.”
“No.” He clenched the ball in his hand.
“She came to your office pretending to be interested in swapping insurance companies. Once after high school and the second time after college. I think she almost told you the second time. I don’t know for certain. She isn’t one of mine. The girl gave up on you though and lived her own life.” She patted his knee.
He stood and paced the cold cement, shells crushing under his feet. A chill ran through him. “I tried before, haven’t I? I remember plenty of Déjà vu.”
“Yes.” She frowned but held his gaze.
“I’m not supposed to tell.”
He dropped the ball, took a knee next to her and grabbed her warm hand. “How many times have I tried?”
Rory closed his eyes. “My god.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya.”
He opened his eyes and got to his feet, a part of his mind relishing how easy it was to go from a kneeling to standing position. At some point his age has reversed. No longer did age spots cover his papery thin skin. It was tan, flush with life and covered with dark hair. He touched his head and almost gasped at the feel of a full head of hair.
“This part always gets you.” Susan sounded a little disinterested. A bucket of popcorn appeared in her grasp and she threw a few kernels into her mouth.
He glanced at the veined muscles in his forearm and the capable, strong hands. “What does this mean?”
“That you made up your mind. Again.”
“Have I?” He seemed shorter and his voice cracked in pubescent frailty.
“Yup.” She dusted off her hands. “Prove us all wrong, honey.”
“Will I remember any of this?”
“Nope.” She walked away.
His tiny body drowned in the hospital gown and that’s when the pain started. He screamed in his child-like voice that transformed into a wailing sound. Everything collapsed into oblivion, then a bright light expanded from the warm darkness.
The doctor held up crying baby. “Congrats, it’s a boy.”