On this May afternoon I played in my last high school baseball game. This season everybody is mediocre but Sprayberry, who always wins everything. But we’ve had a good year, finishing above .500. At Oakland Park I pinch hit in the ninth with the bases loaded and walked in the winning run when I was hit on the hand by a pitch. Since we won all that’s left to do now is see if this dinky little team that’s playing Sprayberry can upset them tonight.
So I walk down to Oakland Park Field tonight to see if this miracle can happen. After two innings Sprayberry is ahead 8-2 and I am getting bored sitting in the stands watching this. The bases are loaded and two are out when the other team’s pitcher throws a slider that doesn’t break. It really does hang out over the plate, spinning like a cement mixer and the Sprayberry batter just crushes it.
There’s nothing dinky or chancy about this home run. It takes off into the night, aimed at the shard of moon as if to knock it out of the sky. High up over the bleachers in right center field and past the light pole and into an iron dark until it hits and rolls toward the Oakland Park swimming pool.
12-2. There goes the Goddamn game. And the season. Droves of people who have been hanging on here get up and leave and now the bleacher seats are almost deserted. There’s no reason for me to sit here and watch the rest of this. I am getting up to leave when I see her.
Sherry is sitting in the bleachers in a navy blue windbreaker looking as miserable as I feel, her arms wrapped around her knees, watching her brother’s team losing 12-2. It’s chilly and I can see her breath and mine.
I go over to her and she looks up in surprise.
Michael? She says. What RU doing here?
Is this seat taken? I ask, sounding more formal than I would have if I hadn’t suddenly gotten so nervous.
Yeah, it’s taken. And my bf’s jealous and he’ll be back any minute…
She reaches up and grabs me by the back of my shirt and yanks me down hard into the seat next to her.
Of course it isn’t taken, she says. Does it look taken?
I point over at the concession stand to a dorky, fat little kid with glasses and a bad case of acne.
Is that your bf? I ask. The fat boy with the glasses that’s about to trip over his shoelaces?
No, she says, struggling to keep a straight face. It’s that big black boy with muscles that’s walking this way.
I cant stop laughing. The thought of a girl like this in the deep south with a big black buck is so absurd I cant help it.
When I stop laughing she says, How long’s it been, Michael?
Nag, I think.
Well, let’s see, I say, considering. Last time we were thirteen when I took you on the bus to see a movie and felt you up. Three years.
Uh-huh. Why so long?
Well I hardly ever see you…
You know where I live.
I know what your family’s like. I know your mother went crazy when her second husband dumped her and now she calls the police on you when she’s in a bad mood. I don’t want to hear it.
I look at her face and she smiles and puts her hand on my thigh. You know where I live, she reiterates. If you want to see me just come over. I’m always there. I know you don’t have a car. I’ll even park around the corner from your house and get you if you’ll call me.
I say nothing.
It’s cold, she says, moving over until she is flush against me. Then she puts her arm around my waist and I know what is going to happen. I don’t know who moves first but there is a polite, tentative kiss, then a real kiss and our tongues are in each other’s mouths and I kiss her neck and throat and she licks my face. We are both breathing hard.
Come home with me, Michael, she whispers.
Gone all night.
He’ll be out all night crying in his beer with his buddies cause they got their asses kicked.
You know there’s no bf. Never was anybody but you.
I am a virgin but that is the last thing on my mind.
Well, I say, I cant turn down an offer like that.
She gets up nonchalantly and walks away and down the steps toward the parking lot until she’s out of sight. In five minutes I get up and stretch and walk down to field level and past the concession stand and take a shortcut under the bleachers to the burnt orange Trans-Am that she is standing beside in the shadow of an Elm tree. The engine is running. When she sees me she opens the car door and gets in the driver’s seat. I look around casually to see if anyone is watching me but the whole area is deserted.
I get in and fasten my seat belt and she drives out toward Destiny Road.
How come they call it Destiny Road? I say.
I dunno, she says. Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.
I am preoccupied and a little scared and don’t say anything else. When the silence gets uncomfortable she puts her hand on my thigh and says, Lighten up. You’re not going to an execution.
We go in the front door and she takes my hand and leads me across the carpet and up the stairs in the thick silence. The central air comes on with a sigh. We go in her room and lock the door and get on the bed and I forget about everything else.
After we are done I am very happy as we lie on our sides flush against each other. I bury my face in her hair. It smells sweet and expensive.
She says, Michael, RU lonely or do you just like my hair?
Yes, I say. I am very warm and comfortable in an endocrine glow and do not want to talk or move.
Yes I’m lonely, I say. Is it that obvious?
Nag! I think.
It’s written all over you, she says.
So do something about it. When you’re lonely come see me, since you wont let me come to you.
I have to be careful, I say. They’re after me.
Who’s after you? Oh!
You said you didn’t want to hear about my family, Sherry.
No, I really don’t. Michael, I wish you went to my school.
You always say that.
Everything’s new, the cafeteria’s clean, the lunches taste like food. They all hate me there but they’d like you and you’d make friends with parents that are connected and could help you…
I think a strange look shadows my face as I feel the sadness of an irretrievable loss. No one likes Sherry but me; she is always at war with the her fellow students and they doubtless believe she’s a cast-iron bitch. She never acts that way with me. She’s always generous and sympathetic but idk that she’s like that with anyone but me. How can I tell you about how special that makes me feel?
An awkward silence. Then I say, IG2G. Those old women’ll be pissed.
Let em be pissed. They’re always going to bitch at you anyway. Why not give them something to bitch about? Stay with me.
I ponder this silently and think about the shitstorm that will hit if I do this.
You can stay here as long as you want, Michael, she says. But when you come here don’t bring them with you like you did tonight. They don’t own you.
I say nothing.
You’re practically a grown man, she says. You’re not a pussy. You’re not some little mama’s boy. But you’re terrified of a couple of sick old women. It doesn’t make any sense. What RU so afraid of?
She’s getting herself wound up. She goes on, I never minded not seeing you for months or years before. It was really kind of romantic, having a secret bf like that. But i’m tired of it.
Does…does that mean I’m your guy, Sherry?
I cant believe you have to ask that, she says, amazed. If you weren’t would I put up with being ignored like this?
I’d spend every minute of every day with you if I could, I tell her on this night when everything I say is wrong. All I can say is I love you and I’ll try to do better. And i’m not going anywhere till the morning.
This shuts her up and we start kissing. I pull her over on top of me. Her hair falls onto my face and tickles my nose. This time she is on top and I relax and enjoy.
When we are done we’re too tired to talk. She gets on her left side and I get on mine and lie flush against her with my right arm around her waist. I pull the cover up over us and turn off the bedside lamp. The only illumination is the glow from the streetlamps that trickles around the edges of the venetian blinds like a cold blue winter moon that never wanes. In a few minutes her breathing slows and I know she is asleep. Sigh of the central air and the ticking of an antique clock in the living room. I put my head on the pillow next to hers and fall asleep.
I’m awake at five AM while she sleeps soundly in a way I never have. I’m still drunk with a happy endocrine glow and the smell of her. She’s warm against me and I have to force myself to get up. I dress quietly and leave. It’s too dark to write a note. I want to write one and thank her for this night and for who I am when I am with her but I don’t. I want to kiss her but I don’t want to wake her up. She’s the only thing in life or in this fucked up town that’s worth anything and I don’t even know just what to do with her. But as I walk down the stairs I am still intoxicated with the smell of her and the memory of what we did even as my soul throbs with the sad poetry of departure.
I go out the kitchen door and shut it quietly. It’s cold enough to see your breath. In deep shadow I move between a hedge and a privacy fence. Carefully, because I don’t know this neighborhood. I don’t want to wake somebody’s dog and raise the whole street.
There’s a pool of darkness between the streetlights in front of the house and I blend and flow with it until I’m on the other side of the road in front of somebody’s estate. When I’m completely clear of the house I break into a jog, then a slow run, heading into a dawn that is about to break over the low escarpment of foothills. At this moment before dawn the eastern sky glows the same Homeric saffron it has since the beginning. The sky behind me to the west is rich and starry. A shooting star arcs across the sky and the burnt grass is sloppy with dew.
I run through the alley in the middle of my block as the world slides past. When I hop the fence into my back yard it’s still shadowy this early Sunday morning and the peeps next door are asleep, not that they can see me from there. The world slumbers in galactic silence except for the stupid birds and their idiot song. When I’m in the house I look around and see that the two old women are still asleep.
I’ve dodged a bullet. Maybe.