He had not been close. What was supposed to have been an out for the opposing team had turned out to be a home run. Casey saw
Daniel was more than happy to put them up for a few days. His apartment was much more luxurious than someone who worked for a non-profit should have had, a spacious place with a large wall-length window overlooking the blue of
Over dinner that night at a pizza restaurant (only in
Casey and Anne were both able to relax for the rest of the weekend, convinced they would be safe when they returned to
Fortunately, their time in the city was short. They argued on the way home about petty things like how he spent time to himself and how he had complained when he did not get what he wanted. It wasn’t that he wanted his own way all the time, he said, but that he at least wanted to do some of the things on his list of things to do, but she rejected nearly every one of them. She was controlling, he said, too demanding. He was reckless, she said. The last couple of hours of the trip consisted of angry silence, and Casey slept on the couch that night.
He was still angry when she left for work in the morning and did not want to bring her to the game that night, so he called Nathan, whom he had not spoken with since he quit his job. Nathan’s voice was filled with anger towards Casey but he was so desperate for company at a ballgame that he said he would go to the game. Casey wasted his day doing nothing in particular, playing a few meaningless computer games, doing a crossword puzzle, reading a chapter of a baseball book, taking an aimless walk around downtown…he stopped in front of Marin’s store and stared at the window displays for a long enough time that he could have seemed suspicious to anyone who watched him. For several minutes he debated about entering the store and in the end decided to do so. She was not there. She did not work there anymore. His heart sunk.
Leaving Nathan’s ticket at Will Call, Casey entered the stadium as soon as the gates opened at
For the first time in a long while, Casey wandered the stadium, peering at the field from each level and each side as if he were inspecting it for the first time. He was searching for the love. He was searching for that heart racing feeling he used to get when he looked out at the field, diamond green glistening under a day game sun or glowing under stadium lights. He longed to feel his spirit aroused by the smell of ballpark hotdogs seductively massaging his nose and making him smile. He tried to hear the echoes of crowds past, crowds future, the ghosts of memories that would haunt the stadium until its early destruction. Modern stadiums had shorter lifespans than the memories created in them, as they were no longer revered cathedrals but glass and steel thatched huts destined to be blown down by the corporate wolf at our doors. The boyish enthusiasm he once had in seeing the players take batting practice, even as he entered his thirties, was gone, his spirit unmoved by neither sight nor sound nor any sensation. Was his soul dead? Were the baseball gods punishing him for his transgressions against the game? Would he ever step foot in that cornfield in
Oh, wretched pain, cursed reality! The sins of the world had swallowed him, he had broken each of the ten commandment in his lifetime, but not with malice. It was the world that had turned on him, not the other way around. He had not chosen to go to war. He had not chosen to meet
He bought a beer and took his seat, interested in watching people interact with the environment, with each other, and with themselves. He wondered how many of them were mired in serious thoughts or if some of them had no thoughts at all. Were there some who were spiritually aware of what was around them, any who understood the significance of each moment in time, any who cared about more than just eating or finding a mate? He cursed them all, blamed them for their selfishness, their apathy, their wretchedly simple minds and hearts. These were soulless beasts, were they not? Was it possible there were people who existed without souls?
Nathan arrived to interrupt this fit of misanthropy. Casey looked at him and his tray full of food with disgust. Such a contemptible creature, he thought. What a boor. What a waste of breath. Nathan carried two beers, handed one to Casey, an act that immediately disarmed his disdain, though not without a fight. Funny how such little acts of kindness, or a simple apology, could alleviate such tensions and bad feelings one could foster against another human being. Too bad there weren’t more of them.
Nathan was fascinated about the details of Casey’s trip to
“Just go then,” Casey said after losing patience with these incessant wishes.
“It’s just too…far.”
“What kind of excuse is that?”
“Well, it’s just that I don’t have anyone to go with.”
“Go alone. I did.”
“But you have better social skills than I do. I mean, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it. I’d just feel lonely if I went by myself.”
“So what, you’ll continue to wallow in your loneliness in your tiny apartment, shut off from the outside world?”
“At least I know what to expect.” Casey said nothing for a couple of batters, and Nathan responded to the silence with his own anxious version of it. The Reds hit back to back doubles to score a run. Something deep within Casey, perhaps the vestiges of his love of the game, must have stirred when that run crossed the plate to the crowd’s roaring delight.
“Tell you what. I’m going back during the off season to spend a couple of months. Why don’t you come over for a week? I’ll show you around
“Ok,” he said, knowing that Casey did not like when he became excited.
“Alright then, there’s something for you to look forward to.” The Reds scored another run, and Casey’s mood lightened a little, until he saw
“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute,” he said as he timidly approached the seats.
“Sure. Hey, Nathan, I’ll be right back.” He noticed Nathan’s dejected look. “Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning you.” The two went up to the concourse.
“Hey, look, I just wanted to let you know I’m sorry. I won’t bother you again. I didn’t realize you were with the Republicans.”
With the Republicans? Would he be able to fly on a plane again?
“No hard feelings, huh? See you around,” Casey replied as he tried to sound convincing about being part of a group he wanted no part of. He returned to his seat.
“That was quick,” Nathan said relieved.
“I’m going to get another beer. You want one?”
“There’s a beer guy coming.”
“Nah, I want something that tastes good.”
“Ok, yeah, sure, I’ll take one.” He felt like he had a servant rather than a friend, not a good feeling during a time when he probably needed the latter. Later, when he was walking home from a rather impressive victory, it occurred to him that he had never told Anne he wanted to go back to
Anne was furious when he returned to the apartment. She had not really wanted to go to the game, but since he had gone without her without seeing if she wanted to go, she found herself angry at him once again. They argued again, as they did for the rest of the season. Only the thought of how he had longed for her when they were apart kept him from asking her to move out, that and the fact that she was paying half the rent, which helped to prolong his dwindling savings. Their quarrels were fueled by the August heat and persisted despite the lack of any real issue to argue about. He went to the ballpark to get away from her, not because his love for the game had returned. There was an emptiness where joy had once been, a bitterness that replaced love and contentment, and pessimism wracked his outlook on his once cherished life. Strikes, balls, outs, home runs – what did they matter? Why had he spent so much time on something so frivolous? Why had he considered the game of baseball as poetry, as art? Each beat of his tempestuous heart brought him further from the game, further from Anne, and further from the world. War. Corporatism. Racism. Inequality. Greed. Apathy.
The world swirled around in the bottom of a glass or a bottle. Late nights, stumbling home, fighting, rage, the headaches, the heartaches, days blending together, staying in bed, September’s song playing on, third place, empty October, damn Yankees, help me get out of this Hell. Have to find that field. Need break. Hope you enjoyed your journey, and thank you for flying Aer Lingus.
He left her there, left her in his apartment wondering how much more she could take, thinking the break would do them well, perhaps mend the holes in their hearts, mend the holes in their lives. She let him go, continued on with her life knowing that he would return in a couple of months. She would be there waiting for him at the airport like she had when he touched down the last time, and things would be good again, perfect again, contentment would reign, spring would renew them and their world.
It was good to be with family again, he thought as he ate a bite of Eva’s cooking in the modest house in the
He spent more time at Neil’s house than he had during the previous winter. Eva was teaching him how to cook, although at first, Casey wondered if bland old Irish cuisine were the best place to start. In keeping with Irish stereotypes, a potato dish was served with every meal. Eva, however, had a knack for spices. Her father had been an officer in the British Royal Air Force and had been stationed in
Neil called everything she made “curry.” Casey did, too, until he learned that there was no such spice as curry, that a “curry” was actually a blend of spices and there were many different types of curry. Just like people, Casey thought. The yellow curries used turmeric, a spice that stained everything it touched. Cumin was another common ingredient – it smelled like wildflowers sprinkled with pepper to him. There was garlic, lots of garlic, and ginger, fenugreek, and anise. She used nutmeg and mace, both derivatives of the same narcotic. A rainbow of dried peppers went into every dish, reds, yellows, greens, blacks, sitting in mounds like an artist’s palette, each distinct flavor melting into one big pot, not segregating themselves, not fighting, but blending together to create one intoxicating taste and an incredible aroma that took over the house.
During the second week in January, as the Western world was recovering from weeks of holiday insanity and trying to find its way back to normal, Casey decided to visit Padraig in
After sleeping peacefully on his first night there, he woke to an unseasonably clear, warm sky, something familiar, a September kind of blue, ready to spend the day snapping photos of people who were beginning to get used to peace. There was some resistance to his photography, some frowning, some refusal to be photographed, fear-worn faces, anxiety and worry in some of the older eyes, but in the youth, he found something different. It had been ten years since the peace agreement, enough time for children who had not known the violence to play with each other in streets and parks. He did not see the same broken hatred, the same ideological drive, the same pain and weariness. No, he saw hope. He heard them laugh and saw those laughs in their eyes. He saw kids with Celtic jerseys playing kids with Rangers jerseys, some on the same team.
As he watched some of these kids in a park in the city, the despair that he had been carrying seemed to dissolve into the hope that he witnessed in them, and a small flame, something like faith in the future, crept up within him. Maybe someday we could truly have peace, he thought. Probably not in his lifetime, or any time during the next generation, but the hope made it all worthwhile, didn’t it? All of those efforts towards peace, the endless talks, the occasional arguments, the billions of dollars spent trying to stop conflict, the peacekeeping forces, the compromises, the treaties…It was worth it to try, because as long as there were people in the world who wanted peace, there was hope. He looked around him and saw the world with a clarity he had never before experienced. It was like watching a film, looking at a set consisting of office buildings, restaurants, cafés, pubs, cars neatly aligned on the sides of the streets, birds singing in trees, people walking with somewhere or nowhere to go. He focused on a restaurant/pub called The Dove, a place that seemed to be full of people, probably both Protestants and Catholics, given the name. He picked up his camera and took aim at the place, put his finger on the button, and pressed down.
His camera captured a fiery storm of brick and glass and wood raining down from the blue sky. The peace had been breached.
The camera snapped photo after photo of this act of war, broken bodies, oceans of blood, every ounce of bitter fear, floodgates of damned up pain, of tragic memories, of hatred, wrath, vengeance. In between photos, he covered bodies with table cloths, held the hands of the wounded, tied tourniquets, put pressure on wounds, cried with people, for people, his tears leaving trails on his ash-stained face. He pulled as many people out of the building as he could, grateful for his Army experience and those countless hours of combat lifesaver courses. Still, he snapped. He captured images of broken wine glasses still hanging from above the bar, a cracked and blackened Guinness mirror mounted on a wall, a broken light fixture above a splintered table, mounds of lunch strewn across those who had been enjoying it. He could not refrain from counting. There – a table of four. There – two, another four. Four, three, a person who had died alone, a table with bodies too disfigured to count how many, four, three, two, twenty-five, thirty…Could not count anymore, police had arrived, paramedics, the investigation team, years of experience, out of practice, years of vacation come to an end. Casey kneeled beside a woman whose leg had been severed just below the knew. He had tied a tourniquet for her. He held her hand as paramedics made their way through the rubble to her. More ambulances arrived, more sirens rang out over the city. The woman’s fear succumbed to shock as she disappeared behind the ambulance doors. Casey found a man about his age with a gushing abdominal wound. He put pressure on it, slowed the bleeding until another batch of ambulances arrived. With them came the vultures known to the apathetic as the media.
News vans arrived in droves, complicating matters, blocking ambulances until they were threatened with arrest. Predictably, the Americans were first, but they only won by a nose. A paramedic came over to take the bleeding man away. “Thanks, mate,” he said to Casey. “Your help means everything.” Casey nodded, then moved to the next guy, who had a foot long piece of wood lodged in his chest. There was no way he was going to make it, but Casey did not want him to die alone. “Tell my wife…Martin Brady…please.” As Casey held the man’s – Martin’s – hand with tears of rage streaming down his face, he looked up at the sky and realized where he had seen that blue before – a beautiful September day in 2001, New York City, the day the world went mad.
A policeman came up to Casey and tried to make him leave, but the paramedic who had thanked him yelled, “It’s ok, he knows what he’s doing, and we need him.” Another batch of ambulances arrived, so many ambulances. Had
When the last of the living had been taken away, Casey, weary from the stress of battle, quit the scene to a darkness he thought he had left behind in the wretched deserts of
In the morning, he had a new career. He also felt he had a new black mark on his soul: war profiteering.