Chapter 21: The Last Out

Lisa drove up to the ball field, the station wagon sagging a little in the springs. She could smell the new-mown grass in the cooling air. She looked at Dylan in the back and chewed her lip. After agonizing about it all day, she still felt bad about not telling him, but she knew they had made the right choice. Her husband Paul was leaning against the chain link fence talking to the other dads. He was in his crisp white shirt, but uncharacteristically his tie was off and the buttons were down to mid-chest, exposing his T-shirt. All of the men were drinking beer. It was great to see him here, often he missed the games because of work, but today he came straight here as soon as they found out.

She had been listening to the radio all day, and everybody had done the same. Traffic getting out of the city was so bad, many people had just abandoned their cars. There was no place to get gas. No diners were open. Most businesses were just left unlocked. She had the radio off now, though.

Dylan bolted out of the car to a knot of his teammates, tossing a “Seeya” over his shoulder.

As she walked up, she heard the same old conversation. “Boy, Joe, that dethatching did the trick. Look at that grass, it’s like the Kentucky Derby infield.” “Yeah, well, I hate to think of putting those broadleaf killers down where our kids are playing, you know?” “Steve, I love how you mowed those stripes into it, just like the big boys.” “It’s a pleasure to come out here on a Sunday and think about things.” “It’s getting a bit brown. Could use some rain, but I agree, it isn’t worth the expense to water it.” “I wasn’t sure, but I think you made the right call on not watering it. It looks just fine and it saved us some money.” “The biggest thing is that the mulching mower didn’t have enough power so I’ve just been bagging it. I was going to sell that mower…” “Ha! It turns out we could’ve taken out a loan and paved it with gold.” A tense chuckle went around. “Ain’t that the truth…”

The same old conversations, yet they seemed so out of place, so surreal.

Paul looked over and saw her coming. Although she didn’t mean to, she ran to him and flung her arms around him, sobbing on his T-shirt.  He stroked her hair and looked for Dylan. Other cars were slowly coming in and filling the lot. “Hey, honey, it’s going to be alright.”

Except it wasn’t, she thought. Never, ever, again. “Remember what we decided,” he said. “Tonight is going to be the most perfect, best night of our lives. No worries. No time for regret.”

He tilted her head back to look her in the eyes. “It’s a gift.”

She never looked more beautiful, more radiant. Her bottom lip was still quivering, but in her sleeveless blouse and culottes, she looked a model to him. Dylan ran up.

“Whatcha gonna do Dylan?”

“I’m gonna smack the hide offa that ball tonight!” He turned and pointed his finger flying out like a discus, “To the moon!” Dylan wasn’t much of a batter, yet, but even though he was small he was very athletic, and Paul was sure that if he had the confidence he would develop into a fine hitter. Maybe not a slugger, but have a respectable batting average and RBI stats. He was also very good at stealing bases. He would be a solid player for any team, maybe get a scholarship. But none of that mattered to him if the boy wasn’t having fun. He was never more glad of that decision than today.

The coaches were  calling the teams together. Lisa looked askance at the beers the men were drinking, but the only answer was Phil bending down to the cooler and handing her one. And why not, she thought? It was amazing they weren’t all drunk or in bed screwing their brains out, and if it wasn’t for the game, they probably would be. She certainly wanted to feel Paul all around her one last time. She had been thinking about it all day. Guilty for thinking about it, guilty about not doing it. No more time for guilt, she thought, and took the beer.

The men started to pair up with their families and wander to the bleachers. “How did you do it? How did you get here?” Paul hitched his thumb over his shoulder. “Guy at work, single guy, had a motorcycle. Said he didn’t need it any more and gave it to me. Just like that.”

She made a face, there had been a strict no-motorcycle policy after Dylan was born, then she looked up from the crook of his arm. “Oh, isn’t it marvelous, how good people are being?”

Bob Constantinople and his wife Susan fell into step and into conversation. “Yes, we heard that all over the world wars just stopped,” said Susan.

“Most of them, ” said Bob. “I heard in some places extremists are blowing up like fireworks on the Fourth of July.” He looked at the ground, a little abashed. He had been in Afghanistan. He had the PTSD.

Susan chimed in,”In Florida, people claiming it’s The Rapture have completely clogged the roads by stopping wherever they were when they heard the news.”

“Well, yeah,” Paul tried to rescued the mood. “But not here, here we have the last baseball game in the history of the world. The last chance to hit a home run, steal a base, catch a fly ball, throw a perfect game. Here we have everything we ever wanted and never realized we had.”

“You seem almost happy, Paul,” said Susan.

“Imagine, no fear, no taxes, no consequences, no bills, no work. Absolute certainty. When we the last time you had that. When was the last time you were happy? You were free?”

“I dunno, maybe when I was 12?”

“Yeah, 12. The kids are 12. The only thing they have to worry about is if they are going to drop a fly ball tonight. So what do you want to do. Cower in your living room and think about everything you didn’t get done, or come out to park, sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game, have a hot dog and not worry about the cholesterol or the gluten, cheer the kids on and be 12 again?”

Susan laughed, “You sound like Coach. That’s the speech he gave me on the phone.”

Paul looked around, “I guess it worked. The whole team is here.”

Bob continued like he hadn’t heard any of the conversation, “My last time was in the War. We were pinned down. I was either out of ammunition or my gun jammed, I don’t even know which. I knew I was going to die and I thought ‘Am I going to die sad, lonely, and afraid? No, I’m going out like a blaze of glory. Brave, proud, and free.’ And you know I jumped up and ran at the enemy, laughing and screaming. Threw my gun at them. Spooked the bejezzus out of them. They were shooting right at me, and nobody could hit me, so they just ran off. That was the last time I felt like this. Nothing left to lose. Holy. They gave me a freaking medal for that, laughing like a mad man and no gun, chasing off a bunch of 15-year old goat herders, which of course they left out of the story. Made me out to be some kind of a hero. And when I got home people at the airport threw blood on me. Now, I can’t even get a job. You know what I learned from that?”

“What, Bob?” asked Paul, as gently as if he were talking to Dylan.

“The only freedom, is freedom from fear. And nobody, – nobody – dying on the other side of the world can ever get you that.” They all shook their heads. “But not  tonight? Huh? We got the last laugh now. OwOOOO! OwOOooo! He began baying at the moon. “Nothin’ matters, never did, might as well bay at the moon as run at people with guns.” He looked around a little sheepishly, but everybody was smiling.

Paul drained his beer in a slug. “Anybody?” They all shook their heads “no” as he went back to the cooler.

“Won’t be long now,” said Bob. “Paul, I changed my mind, grab me one!”

Paul came back as he handed over the beer he looked out and saw Bryce coming up. “Sue, you get a hold of Josie?”

The three of them looked at each other and Susan said, “No, I wasn’t able to get her.”

“The plumber, or the chardonnay?”

“Sometimes, it’s both.”

“So, you don’t know if she’s coming?”

“Or if she even knows. If she was in la-la land all day…”

“Yeah.”

Bryce got to the group started right in like he knew they had to be talking about his wife, “I remember when I was a kid, all the fields were still mowed every year. We could just go out into any field and have a game.”

Bob replied, “I remember the old Drake barn, had a hole two stories deep where they used to keep the ice for the whole town. We would climb to the bottom and it was cool on the hottest days. I still think about that place.”

“And we would skate on the old ice ponds.” Susan started to tear up.

“Go up to the highway for ice cream at the Big Scoop with my sisters and my dad.” Paul was looking out to the parking lot. Only half-listening.

“Maybe we did all of the important things and didn’t know it.” Bryce followed Phil’s gaze. “Ah, the long-lost Josie has arrived.” He walked towards the car that was just pulling in.

When he got there, Josie sat in the car, window down, eyes forward watching the boys, both hands on the wheel.

“Does he know? Does Conrad know?” she asked.

“He’s gotten pretty good at not asking. But, if he does I’ll tell him you went on ahead and are waiting for us. How’s that?”

“Yeah. I like that. It might even be true. But I gotta know.” She finally turned and looked at him.

“I know. You do what you have to do, honey. ” They held each others’ gaze for a long time.

“Tell him I love him.” And then she started the car and drove off, just like that.

Arturo took the mound and threw one right over the middle.

Amanda’s helmet slipped a little as she swung for it. He gave her the very same pitch two more times, and she missed them all. Denys Brumfeld didn’t have any kids, but he loved the game and thought it was a good promotion for his insurance business to ump it.  He started to make his call but the catcher Danny grabbed his arm. He pulled Bob away from the plate and they had a terse conversation. Bob shook his head, then shrugged his shoulders, then smiled and laughed. He took off his mask and started to walk back to the bleachers while Danny resumed his  position and Arturo sailed another one straight down the middle.  Crack! She hit it right over the first baseman’s head and made her base. Denys took the beer that was offered to him.

Susan turned to Paul. “They know,” she whispered almost in awe.

“Well, some of them at least.” He looked at her and squeezed her hand. “Yesiree, this is shaping up to be one hell of a game.”

It went on like that for a while. It turned out to be more of a pitching duel than anything, each pitcher giving each batter just the pitch they could hit: not too hard, not to easy.  Nobody was counting balls, strikes, or runs, and after everybody hit, they switched sides, just like that. The game had a rhythm that lulled them in on that hot summer eve. People watched without talking. All the phones were away. The cicadas and crickets creating their symphonies as they always had, unnoticed. Every hit got cheered, every play was witnessed, every parent was proud.

Father Doyle showed up just as, without any perceptible signal or communication, the kids took a little break. Paul and Lisa looked at each other, and then Paul headed out to intercept him. A knot of other  parents followed loosely behind.  Most of the folks went to church, mostly to give the kids some sense of order. Paul had probably spent as much time playing poker with the good father as he had in a pew. But that didn’t mean he knew what the man would do at the end of the world.

“Father.”

“Paul.”

“We don’t want the boys to know.”

“Ah. Well, I’m not here to preach, but to serve.” Here he looked out at the assembled crowd. “I figure those of you who have been coming regular-like on Sundays have bought your insurance and here’s as good a place as any to be. And the rest of you,” here he let his patriarchal gaze scan the crowd, “may want to hedge your bets.” He gave them all a broad feckless smile and turned back to Paul. “I thought I would run the concession stand and take whatever was offered for payment.” A murmuration of relief went through the crowd.  Several people offered to show him the ropes and then they started to disperse.

No sooner had Paul breathed a sigh of relief, though, than a pickup truck came roaring into the parking lot. Two tough-looking youths standing in the bed, hanging on to the chrome roll bar with one hand and hunting rifles with the other, and a loudspeaker on the roof blaring away. “It is not too late! Repent your sins! Do not go forth into the fiery depths of Hell when you can still be saved!”

Paul’s shoulders bunched and Bob made a start for the truck.

Father Doyle shook his head, held up his hand and said, “I have this,”  and marched out to the truck with balled fists. There was a heated exchange between him and the passenger, he pulled the man half out of the window and the closest thug put his gun on him. The crowd surged forward a step and stopped. The father looked at the boy with the gun and said something. The boy blanched, dropping the muzzle and looking around, unsure. Doyle held the passenger by the collar with both hands and spoke to him practically forehead to forehead. He tossed him back into the truck and pointed a finger at the youths in the back. Nobody could hear a word of the conversation. Then the truck roared out of the parking lot as fast as it came.

The Father walked back to Paul and Susan. “What was that all about?” Paul asked.

“Fucking Fundamentalists. They are so convinced being right is the most important thing.” He looked Paul in the eye. “Every problem in the world is based on that. If your god is hate and fear, then it’s not my god. It’s not the God. God is love. Tonight, God is baseball.”

“What happened out there?” People from the crowd were milling around.

“I told those dickheads I had it covered here, but the father in Oakville had committed suicide right after scheduling a 7 o’clock mass. That there was a whole town full of sinners waiting to hear the word of god, and if they wanted to be of any use to our Lord and Father in their short lives, that they best do it elsewhere.”

“Is that true?”

“Hell if I know. Oakville is not my concern. Now; hotdogs.” He clapped his hands, and bustled off.

“Holy shit.” Bob whistled. Then laughed. Everybody laughed.

Paul turned to Lisa. “I’m going to hit the head. That beer went right through me.”

She looked at him. “I think I’ll go, too.”

The held hands as they walked behind the bleachers and behind the backstop to the cinder block restrooms. As soon as they turned the corner, Paul was all over her. His hands in her hair, his lips pressed against hers, fumbling with her belt. She returned the actions undoing  his belt and opening his fly. He was already rampant, and although in 15 years of marriage he never had learned to get her pants elegantly off her hips, she worked them down to mid thigh and he was in her. It was tender and desperate, forceful and loving. They ate of each other, drank of  souls, crammed an entire lifetime of moments not to be into the few moments they had, trying in a hundred thrusts to satiate a million kisses, a lifetime of touches, a golden age of holding hands. His  tongue sought her tongue speaking languages they invented to tell each other the stories that would never happen, but already had. Like a near-death experience it seemed to finish before it started.  They rested forehead to forehead, her back against the wall, he still inside her.  At that moment, Cindy Trefetherin came around the corner. She put her hand over the silent ‘O’ of her mouth, but she didn’t turn away. Her hunger built to her resolve and when Lisa looked at her, she scuttled off with a purpose.

Paul’s head was turned away and he didn’t notice. He started to apologize as they fumbled their way back into their clothes. Lisa put one finger on his lips. “How could the last time not be perfect?”

He smiled.  “What now?

“I’m off to the concession stand.”

“Don’t you mean the confession stand?”

“No. If God is love, then we just worshiped. But I’ve been on a diet since I was 13 years old and I want a double scoop bowl of double chocolate double fudge double jimmies and double whatever else I can get.”

Paul laughed. “Well I still have to pee. I’ll meet you back in the stands.”

“Pee when you are dead,” she taunted over her shoulder as she walked over to the good Father.

Just like it started, the break ended. The teams leaving the dugouts and heading out to the field. Some of the kids were holding ice creams even as they stood in the outfield. Slowly the light left the sky, it’s cheery robin’s egg fading to indigo as the field’s lights came on.  The Persieds streaked the sky like fireworks and a full moon began it’s ascent. Fireflies winked just beyond the outfield fence. They had lost track of the innings, and there was no score. The game was as pure as if no adult had ever sullied it with money or rules or advice.  The coaches were in the stands drinking beers with the rest of the adults.

Dylan stood to the plate as the moon showed above. Arturo gave him his best, throwing hard and fast, just off the outside corner, and Dylan got all of his slight frame behind it, his body corkscrewing to watch the ball take flight, the bat over his shoulder in follow through. As it passed in front of the moon, Paul jumped to his feet and was sure that he saw part of the cover trailing behind, a comet’s tail as it passed in front of the moon, and then it was gone.  The  whole night was gone. Somewhere, the sun exploded, the moon went out like a broken bulb, then flashed magma red, then went out again. It was the most perfect thing he had ever seen.

“To the moon,” he thought, “To the moon.”

P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?

Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?

WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from  you!

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