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FICTION

Foul Pole
By Scott M. X. Turner

I need to leave. To fly. To soar. I must climb to glide. To get to the place where departure is imminent and I can de-earth whenever I want. Your taste is wearing off, like saltpeter after the cannonball hits the ground. No matter where I kiss you, no matter who you tell me I look like. Your games are important to you, and deep down I want your approval. So bad. Mmmmmm. Sorry, I was distracting you. I found out how to jimmy the lock on your liquor cabinet. I went easy and I don't think you noticed your stash getting low. Baseball, okay, I see another long summer coming on. I'm glad it makes you happy, but it makes me invisible. I know you could've been one of them, one of the players I see in slow-motion replays when I pass behind your chair during the Game of the Week. Do you like the way I look in your shirt? I took a while and tried them all on. The white oxford isn't the sexiest fabric, but I can work wonders. Three buttons undone. It took some courage, and I searched and searched 'til I found it. That was the first time I jimmied the lock. It's been to dull the dullness ever since. I just don't need courage anymore. I knew it was the World Series, and you had your heart set on your team winning. Your heart and five grand, which we could've used, darling, we really needed to buy some new things around here. It was so long ago, the last time you touched me. Grabbing my arm as I walk by and asking for a Bud if I'm going that way, you know dearest, doesn't really count as touching. It's not an issue for you, and I just decided it's not for me either. Who said we couldn't agree on anything? The one time you took me to the ballpark, to Shea Stadium, I thought I might like it. The atmosphere was nice. But I asked too many questions, and you got pissed off so bad that I just wanted to crawl under my seat, all because I didn't know what a hit-and-run was. How could I? You never ran when you hit me. You never ran at all. I couldn't be what you wanted me to be, though for years I was anyway. By default. You had what you wanted. A wife who was a mother, a mother you could fuck, someone who got you sandwiches and stayed out of the way when McCarver started talking. The last couple of weeks I've decided to make you proud of me. So proud. I dug in the attic and found the blouse I wore the night you fell in love with me, and I with you. Honestly, I think you fell in love with me jerking you off in the car in the driveway of my parents' house. You had your eyes closed so you didn't see me pretending we were talking in case Mom or Dad pulled the kitchen curtain back for a look. Below the dashboard I was rubbing you through your pants. Up above, I was silently mouthing my end of a camouflage conversation, looking at you, looking away, throwing my head back in laughter. The blouse, now that I look at it, is the same oxford shirt material, but cut for me and not you. You were sweet that night. Self-absorbed about the sex, but what man isn't? Still, you were sweet, and I thought you'd be as good as I could expect. I can't even imagine now what I could've been expecting. "The Mendoza Line," the boundary for separating mediocre players from the ones you'll still obsess over next year. I've heard the phrase. There should be a Mendoza Line for husbands and boyfriends and dates. I can't complain about you being right on the line. You're what I got for not trying very hard. I just wanted into the game. I must have let you down. Men like falling in love, right sweetie? They like wrapping their arms around their gal and whispering in her ear and sliding deep inside while the gal rolls her eyes back in her head, back behind eyelids closed so tight that the only sensation, besides the one between her legs, is her hair falling down, tickling her eyelid and forehead and cheeks. It's been years, and I must have let you down. Well I'm gonna make you so proud of me darlin', so, so proud. I'm leaving dinner in the oven; you just have to turn it on to 450 degrees and set the timer for twenty-five minutes. The bell rings, and that's how you know your dinner's ready. I'm gonna make you so, so proud of me. Honey, I can't stand the excitement. So, so proud . . . you'll see. . . . I have to go to the cleaners and get the shirt. I could've done it here, but I wanted it to look just right. I drove down to Rockville Center, where we used to take the dry cleaning. It's Chinese people there now, but they do the same job as Audrey and Vince. Anyway, I'm off. Wish me luck. It took weeks, but I think it's worth it. I love you, sweetie. You're gonna be so proud of me. So, so, SO proud. . . .

 

Forty-eight hours before Opening Day.

Jerry was at the park early. So was Flynn, the Leitrim guy who'd been head groundskeeper since '73, and the new guy, Juan. That was it.

Jerry was out on the diamond well before his 10 A.M. start time—he loved the park. They fucking romance the shit outta this place, he thought about the fans as he raked the infield. 'Specially this time of year.

It was the warmest April day he'd ever seen. Not yet 9:30 and it was already in the seventies. The forecast said it'd keep up through Opening Day. Big turnout, maybe. Wilpon and Doubleday, they'll like that.

The team sucks, but tomorrow, they'll fill the place.

Flynn, though, was worried. It'd been a wet February and March. The new turf was having trouble rooting. Lazy sod, Flynn called it—grass that didn't have to reach down very far for a drink, since the rainwater was right there at the top of the crust.

Come July and August, the grass was gonna die. It won't have rooted deep enough.

Anyway, it was Flynn's problem, not Jerry's. All Jerry had to do was work the clay, dirt, and loam together into a surface unlike any in nature. A dance floor for the big-star infielders, one that was tough and tender and never made them look bad.

As with all the groundscrew's tasks—and at one time or another, Jerry did them all—he got into a rhythm. Jerry liked the challenge of making everything a system, a regimen that he could improve on. Not so much to save himself time and effort, but just to know he'd built a better mousetrap.

'Cause for God's sake, we're doing it the same as in McGraw's day.

Jerry loved coming up with the tiniest, subtlest improvement. He was beating Father Time and Henry Ford and Robert Moses and all the other smart-assed master designers and builders, architects and inventors.

A better mousetrap indeed.

Someone was the mouse . . . just not him.

Truth be told, Jerry romanticized the ballpark too. He got into grounds-keeping because he loved baseball, he could work around ballplayers, and he liked the atmosphere at the park. Others on the crew would've been just as happy landscaping a front yard in Boca Raton. Jerry liked when the players would say, "How's it goin', Jer?" as they came out to shag flies or run sprints—and with it, the looks from fans who knew that whatever shit he had to put up with, there he was down on the field while their jealous asses were stuck up there in the goddamned stands.

And now, on the warmest spring day anyone could remember (certainly not Flynn, coming from Leitrim and all), Jerry was where he wanted to be. He could smell the earth, the grass, the chalk, the paint, the Atomic Balm (the trainer gave him a bottle; it was ten times as hot as Ben-Gay), the air of a ballpark.

This is pure oxygen, Jerry thought, pure oxy—

"What the fuck?!"

There was a woman on the field.

Down the right field line.

Wearing a man's shirt.

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2002 issue.

—EFQ

SCOTT M. X. TURNER, a writer who plays guitar with the Brooklyn-based Irish punk band The Devil's Advocates and punk legends The Spunk Lads, has completed a book about growing up sports obsessed in the late 1960s. He's written for Left Turn, Forward Motion, Freedom Road, Lurch, Newsday, and The City Sun.

© 2002 Scott M. X. Turner

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