Followers

Saturday, June 12, 2010

the baseball

I had this crazy idea to send a thousand hand-written postcards to bookstores across the country letting them know about my novel, Little Joe. I can only do about thirty at a time, before my fingers seize up and I have to make a cup of tea. Then I head onto the front porch and wait for the cramps to work themselves out.

It’s quiet. All the kids have been called in for supper, so it’s just the birds, me, and Pickles, the street cat. She’s curled up on my neighbour’s sisal door mat scratching her claws.

I can feel the circulation flow back into my index finger and I’m just about to dig into round two of my postcards, when the shrubs rustle. “Hello,” the middle boxwood says. Then a boy bobs up wearing a baseball uniform, his freckles smeared with chocolate. “What are you doing?” Riley asks me, peering over the railing.

“Writing postcards. To let people know about my book.”

“Huh?” he says, climbing up the stairs. Then he takes a postcard and eyeballs the front. “You draw that?” he asks.

“No. An illustrator did.”

“Then what did you do?”

“I wrote it.”

“How many pages is it?”

“Nearly two hundred.”

His face goes pale and I worry that I’ve lost him. “But the type is really big,” I assure him. “And it’s interesting. I promise.”

But he keeps adjusting his baseball cap.

“It’s about a boy your age,” I say, “who shows his calf at the fair and hopes to win the blue ribbon.” I wait for some sort of reaction, not wanting to strike out telling my first real-live kid about the book. Then I get all nervous and mumble, “If you have to go in for supper, I understand.”

“Nah. My mom’s not feeling good. We’re having cereal. And I already had that for breakfast.”

“Hmm.” I didn’t see that one coming.

“Is winning a blue ribbon like winning a baseball game?” Riley asks.

“It sure is!” I smile, feeling the color flow back into my cheeks.

“We won our game today. 20 nothing.”

“Wow! Sounds like a blow out.”

“Not really,” he shrugs. “The pitcher kept walking us. Then the coach said we could have anything to eat after and I got ice cream.”

“Chocolate?”

“A-huh.”

“You know, I’ve never played baseball,” I tell him.

“I can show you how. Me and Matthew.” Riley smiles. Matthew comes out munching on a brownie and runs over.

“Do you play with a real baseball?” I ask them.

“Yep. And it’s hard as a stone,” Riley says.

“You’re kidding. They let you play with something that dangerous?”

“Well sure. It’s wicked sore once it hits you, but you can’t let on,” Matthew says.

“And you can’t ever stop playing-- like if you drop out of pee wee, or you’ll never be allowed to play again," Riley says, “Until you’re in the majors.”

Pickles trots over to listen and I keep my distance. “I’m allergic to cats," I tell them. They stare at me in amazement.

“I never knew anyone who was allergic before you,” Riley admits.

“What if you were allergic to yourself?” Matthew says, chasing Pickles’ salt and peppery tail into the bushes.

“That would be sad,” I say.

“No, that would be stupid,” he tells me.

“I know someone who is,” Riley whispers. “He lives very far away. All by himself.”

“They’re called shut-ins,” Matthew pipes in. “They never come out ’cause they think something bad’ll happen to them. Like when they get the mail, they won’t let it be dropped off too close. Then they come out to get it and run back in.”

They both giggle a little, then start whispering and take off, like kids do. And I remember when I was about six, and my sister and her friend took off aboard their two-wheelers, with me still on my wobbly training wheels pedaling hard as I could, but not getting very far. And part of that left-out feeling seeps back in, which is silly, I know, but I can’t help it. The wind kicks up and Pickles scurries under the pick-up in the driveway across the street. My tea’s gone cold, so I gather up the postcards and head for the screen door.

Then I hear running on the pavement; a few breathless heaves. The boys are back.

“Here,” Riley says, handing me a baseball.

“We signed it," Matthew beams.

“It’s just our names and numbers,” Riley adds, his freckles turning strawberry. “Monadnock Mutual would’ve been too long.”

“It’s game-used,” Matthew points out.

I turn the ball around slowly, reading their names, the magic-marker-fingerprint smudges on their numbers. “Wow, this is great. My first autographed baseball.”

“I’m gonna ask my mom to take me to Borders to check out your book,” Riley says.

“I’ll read it to you when it comes in, okay?”

They both nod.

I decide not to write any more postcards after that. I just toss my game-used baseball around for awhile in the backyard, remembering that my sister came back too. And she brought brussel sprouts. That’s where she’d gone to, with Mary Ellen. To pick brussel sprouts for supper. It was an unusual meal, kind of like cereal. But I remember not really caring or being very hungry. Just happy that my sister hadn’t wanted to run way from me. She just went to get something. I go inside and put the baseball beside our keys in the front hall, hoping that the kids will enjoy my book half as much as what they gave me.