The celebrations, the beers, and the utter freedom produced a sleep that lasted well into the next day, a mere two hours before 4pm game time. Casey jumped out of bed as if misery had gone to Hell, the thrill of the previous night’s outcome mingling with the anticipation of Game 2. The Earth was a baseball to him, the present the only time that mattered. He did not feel wrath towards people or bad about the stack of cash on his dresser. It was a short-lived euphoria, however, the end brought about by the United States Postal Service in the daily mail delivery.
It was a letter with a familiar postmark, a foreign postmark, that of
Was this a friendly letter, one that talked about the boredom of the desert, the dust, the oppressive heat that turns your pee orange even with a camel pack strapped to your back? Or was it the other kind, the one that reminded you of your mortality, the one sent to inform you of something that breaks your soul? His trembling hands struggled to tear it open.
“Dear lucky bastard,
How’s civilian life? Full of comfort and pleasure? Sorry I haven’t written in so long, but I have a good excuse. I have some news, both good and bad. The good news is that I’m still alive. The bad is that I have no legs…”
The letter slipped from Casey’s hand and fell like a rock to the floor, like a bomb. It stared at him from the spot where gravity put it, watching and waiting for its prey. Casey felt like he was face to face with a tiger or a tyrannosaurus rex or a tank. He left it there, crouched in its predatory spot, and he slid into the bathroom to take a shower, vowing stoicism until he escaped his apartment to the one place that could save him: the ballpark.
The sky looked like the cover of that movie “Fright Night,” which terrified Casey in his youth and still gave him the creeps when he thought about that horrible demonic face in the clouds. He tried to avoid the movie with every trip to the video store, but it inevitably found its way to him every time. Was this an ominous sign? Would the Reds lose this game? Or did it mean something far worse, far more sinister, something more along the lines of the news in the letter? Or were they just clouds?
The hated Dodgers scored four times in the top of the first, and the Reds were well on their way to defeat. It had been a decade and a half since the two teams had been in the same division, but remnants of the rivalry still lingered in the hearts of everyone old enough to have a memory of it. The Division Series intensified the memories, bringing long forgotten moments to the forefront of the brain, images of Norm Charlton plowing into catcher Mike Scioscia at home plate, Orel Herschiser defeating Danny Jackson for the 1988 Cy Young Award, the demons in blue getting to go to the 81 playoffs because of the strike even though the Reds had the better record, taking the 73, 77, and 78 division titles, leaving the Big Red Machine looking up at them in the standings…
Hated Dodgers winning! A cold breeze made its way into the stadium, sending a tumultuous whirlwind of hotdog wrappers across the filed. Some lost their caps. Beers blew over, cursing was heard. Stairways filled with a few who thought it necessary to take cover, as if mountains of garbage could cause them harm. Suddenly though, everything stopped, like the flying objects and all sound had hit a brick wall, dropping to the ground motionless, dead. People watched the stillness with anxious curiosity as a green tinge painted the sky. Casey waited for that horrid face to appear, and then, with the faint sound of a train whistle announcing its arrival, the face was there, only it was a funnel-shaped face.
The tornado was on the other side of the river, and no one in the stadium could do anything but pray it stayed over there, for the exits were clogged with people who found it unnecessary to hurry in a potential life and death situation. The players, who led privileged lives, had run for cover within the bowels of the stadium. Women and children cried, men yelled at each other, everyone pushed and showed their true natures. Disgust passed through Casey – these people were mere animals. Whoever claimed that man was a rational creature never left the cushiness of his ivory tower, never experienced disaster, the closest to the state of nature humanity could come.
Casey watched with morbid fascination as homes and cars were tossed into the air like popcorn. Some security guards appeared from the dugout in an apparent attempt to exacerbate the situation. Casey saw what was coming before they even began to send people to the clubhouse and sat back in his seat to watch the crushing mob trample itself as its members tried to save themselves at the expense of anyone who dared cross their paths. As the tornado approached the river, Casey tried to mentally prepare himself for what was to come, envisioning tomorrow’s headlines, wondering who would be blamed for not evacuating the stadium earlier, what the death total would be, and when the series would resume. Nature seemed to change its mind about visiting the stadium, however, and the tornado dissipated by the time it reached the water. As quickly as the storm had come, it was gone, leaving people battered, bruised, and embarrassed by their beastly behavior.
Aside from some debris littering the field, which could be picked up in five minutes, nothing had occurred to force the cancellation of the game, so after much deliberation, it was decided to play on. The Reds were crushed, series tied 1-1.
In the morning, Casey found his image scattered across the city, as a photographer had snapped his picture while he had been sitting calmly among the crowd of animals. The caption read, “A Reds fan reacts rationally in a sea of fear.” But had it been rationality or something else? Was it a refusal to let the harsh hands of the real world enter his sacred palace, his only place of refuge, the bastion of his sanity?
It was a travel day as the series moved to LA, so he had much time to think about all that had happened in Game 2, God’s attack on his life, wrath for betting on baseball? What a selfish thought! That a higher power would destroy so many people’s lives just to show one man he was wrong was an arrogant notion for which Casey was ashamed. It was like those guys who pointed to the sky after hitting home runs, selfishly believing that God had helped them in their GAME, while poverty, disease, and war ravished the world. War. The word war always triggered contemplation and deeper thoughts than what so and so’s batting average with runners in scoring positions was. Casey’s eyes move to the letter, which remained in the spot it had fallen on the floor. With hesitation, Casey moved towards it, bending to pick it up like it could explode.
So his buddy had lost his legs. To Casey, the worst part of the news was not the fact that his friend had lost his legs, but that the first thought that had come to Casey’s mind was “That could have been me.” He recognized his survivor’s guilt, questioned it often, tried to rationalize it. It isn’t my fault I survived when 3000 others have died. It isn’t my fault I had the misfortune of keeping my limbs, my senses, and my mind while 10,000 others are missing pieces of themselves. It isn’t my fault. I’ve done nothing wrong. There is no fault here to pass out, no blame but the blame of the policymakers, the ivory tower think tanks ruled by ideology and thoughts of profits. It isn’t my fault, it isn’t my fault, it isn’t my fault…
With relief he finished the letter without other shocking news. He would have to write back, but he didn’t have the mental energy, the stamina, to do it right away. That’s when it hit him, however, that he had the time to do it, that he did not have to go to that wretched office anymore, and that he would have to find something to do during his days. He suspected he would have to find a job in the off season since no winnings would be coming in, so he took up the paper with his face on the front and searched for the classifieds.
That obnoxious little communication device sounded out before he could locate the section, screaming to be answered, most likely with someone he did not want to talk to waiting on the other end. What had been a wonderful invention by Alexander Graham Bell had become just another modern nuisance, a way to make profits or waste idle time instead of doing something productive. He hated the thing, but something compelled him to answer it this time.
“Hi, Casey, it’s Anne. I saw your picture…” The tense silence that followed echoed the silence that had occurred before the tornado. “That must have been scary.”
Scary was one of those words that kids used, like big or sad, that adults were supposed to have better words for, more meaningful, more mature, more complicated. Frightening was the adult term, or terrifying, horrifying, petrifying, harrowing, chilling, unnerving.
“Why were you just sitting there instead of trying to get out?”
“What was I supposed to do? There was nowhere to go. The exits were clogged, a mob was trying to get into the clubhouses through the dugouts, and if I had run into the middle of the field, there would have been nothing to shelter me. So I just sat back and watched the idiots act like pigs in a barn that has been invaded by a fox.” He realized that such critical statements were a big reason she left him, but he had nothing to lose.
“I think I would have been out of my mind! You look so brave sitting there while the people panicked around you.” No snarky remark? No negative comment? He had been prepared to snap back at whatever she said next, but there was nothing but a compliment to snap at. Brave. Not courageous, not audacious, not undaunted, fearless, defiant.
“Do you want to go for a drink after work? We can go somewhere that has the playoffs on.” Why was she asking him out for a drink? What about Michael? He needed to think about it, but he said “sure” before he realized he needed to think about it. The heart is mightier than the mind far too often.
That heart, forever wavering anxiously within him, was wracked with worry and doubt about the wisdom of the meeting. Two years lacked enough time to heal from such a lengthy relationship. It was only drinks, right? And he’d have baseball to keep his mind off invading memories.
What to wear? Nothing in his bachelor’s closet was good enough. If he had been at work, he would have had to wear one of the ragged suits that had become his civilian uniform, but now he was free to wear anything but nudity, and that anything was nothing good enough. The stack of winnings looked up at him from its perch on the dresser, and he knew what he had to do – shop. He did not hate shopping like a lot of guys did; he just did not have a shopper’s endurance. One outfit chosen for one particular occasion – like meeting the love of his life and the knife in his heart – was a task he could handle.
The clothes had to be black. Black was sexy, sharp, and the color of the havoc she had reeked on him. He could do jeans but fancier was more impressive, fancy and black as night, black as space, as a vacuum, as nothing. If only he had a friend to help him decide – he would have to rely on the salesperson, hopefully a woman or a gay guy, whose purpose was to sell and sell more, not help a guy look good for drinks with his ex. He would have to be up front, make the salesperson understand he would only be purchasing one outfit for the evening and that he could not be persuaded to buy more. That meant he would have to shop downtown and avoid malls, where store employees were paid a pittance and made to believe that a discount on merchandise was a fringe benefit. Downtown was a better location anyway, since he could walk.
The salesperson was indeed a woman, a stunning, beautiful woman with perfect curves, a living mannequin who knew how to dress a man. Attraction was imminent, the instant chemistry between them was noticed by other sales staff throughout the department, envious sales staff who were virtually salivating as they watched the two interact. When he told her what he needed with a hesitant reason, it only drew her closer to him. In a few short minutes, she had chosen half a dozen pairs of pants, all of which fit him well. She really knew the male body, and he could not avoid thoughts about what else she could do with it aside from dressing it.
The flirtation continued through a dozen shirts and a search for shoes and socks and a jacket. A birdlike saleswoman who had been watching them intently fanned herself with her hand while an awkward woman whose calves and ankles merged with heels that were too high for her to walk on nodded in agreement. Shopping had never been such fun.
“What’s your name?” he asked after a half hour of dressing and undressing.
“Now you ask?” she said with a seductive smirk. “Marin. And yours?”
“Like Sean?” The woman had made a baseball reference – she was even more perfect than the thirty seconds before.
“Yeah, like Sean.” He fumbled with a button he had missed until she reached over and buttoned it for him. “So, Marin, this has been fun. Do you have a phone number?”
With that same seductive smile, she replied, “Casey, who is it you are meeting this evening?”
“Oh, um, her, well, she’s an ex of mine. We haven’t been together for two years. We’re just having drinks.”
“And you’re going through all this trouble just for drinks?”
“Yeah, well…” He let out an embarrassed, breathy laugh and shrugged. “I hadn’t known you this morning.”
“You don’t know me now.” Both of them were breathing shallowly, hearts pounding. She had already crossed the professional line in buttoning his shirt, but she longed to touch him further. “So you’re going with this one?” she asked as she held up a navy shirt in an attempt to ignore what she was feeling. She had convinced him that navy would look nice with his Irish blue eyes. Piercing was what they said.
“Um, yeah, with these pants.”
“The ones that fit your nice ass perfectly.” Had she really said that? She hadn’t meant to – it just slipped from her mouth. “I mean, that go with the shirt. And the shoes? Which pair was it? This one?”
“Yeah,” he said with a schoolboy’s grin. They moved towards the register through the thick air of sexual tension. His trembling hand reached for the wallet in his back pocket, carefully so as to not interrupt the flow of pheromones. He produced such a stack of bills that Marin found herself instinctively flinching. Casey looked at her in horror – did she know the money was tainted, the product of criminal activity, corruption, the underworld he had only seen in movies? And the word criminal passed through his mind like a man in a ball and chain, a criminal, images of stripes and bars floating with him. Criminal? He wasn’t a bad guy; he wasn’t one of them. If anything, he was a victim, a man fleeing the indentured servitude of the corporate world. Why was his skill – the feelings – not a legal means to make a living? Who made the rules anyway?
“Do you always carry that much cash on you?” she asked as if she had any business in the matter.
“No, I just took it out to buy clothes and a few other things. I don’t like credit cards, don’t trust the companies.” It was true. He had had problems in the past with them and no longer wished to fund their scams with his patronage. He found it odd that a salesperson would question the form of payment a customer presented, and he was happy that his answer made her relax and return to her flirtatious state.
He did not want to leave, but as he walked away, he was determined to see her again. He wanted nothing more than to run his hand down her body, down those legs, over her back, her neck…even though she had not given him her number. Or so he thought, until he took his clothes out of the shopping bag and discovered she had written a number on the receipt. He broke out into a big, love struck smile and fell into his bed to release some of the tension that had built up in the store. He could not prevent images of Anne from floating into his head, however, and he stuffed Marin’s number into his wallet as he left to meet his ex. He was only meeting her for drinks, after all.