The doobie in the corner of Wilson’s mouth hangs near his chin, glows red with his final toke. He buttons green fatigue pants. “Guy could get crotch rot just from pissing,” flips the joint into his mouth, rolls his tongue, swallows, and spits out the grit. “Waiting is chigger under the skin shit.”
The men stand close in the darkness, to hear each other, to share bravery, to resist the thrum of the jungle.
“Never gonna wait again, not even for ‘tang’.” Wilson’s gaze passes over their shoulders, like he sees someone, spots something. He wants to close his eyes, but no one sleeps up country. Three in the morning is noisy - animal grunts, moisture drips from trees, thicker than spit, louder than the worn faucet in the bathroom sink, “Whatcha’ gonna do when you get home?”
No one asks if you get home, always when you get home.
Detroit Deke rolls a spliff fatter than his thumb, cups the Zippo and drags. Inhales like a kid with a helium balloon. “Never gonna wait. First get me some boom boom in Saigon. Be gone.”
Robbie Jones creases his forehead, already wrinkled beyond his 19 years. “Me - third base for the Phillies - the hot corner. You think hot here, hell, watch me.”
“You so good, catch this.” Wilson under hands his helmet through the shadows, cracks Robbie in the chest. They watch the helmet tumble, then Wilson flops on his belly, outstretches his arms like he’s pushing a double into a triple.
Robbie falls. They tumble, wrestle, kids playing.
Deke slits his eyes, “boys, you gonna get dirty.” Grabs for a leg, jumps the heap. “You stink man.”
“Him, not me.”
“My shit don’t stink.”
Wilson, Derek, and Robbie wiggle on the ground, camouflage bodies disappear into false dawn. Their patterned breaths rise like a fastball over the plate. Two away. Strike him out.
“Shit man. How we gonna do this?”
Robbie says, “Like baseball. Every base we steal - closer to a run, closer to home, to the win. Every 90 feet, that’s all.”
Deke snorts, “You got this knocked? A can of corn?” But sits up, crooks his elbow and pretends to finger a baseball. “Got me a decent sinker.”
Wilson closes his eyes, listens to Robbie and Deke, patter and chatter, and smiles, pictures them in a stadium, somewhere stateside. “I’ll save your rookie cards. Add to my big ass collection.” He raises on his haunches, pulls his pack on his shoulder, “let’s go” and steps away into the one-eyed sleepless night.
He swears he hears the motorcycle sound of baseball cards clipped to the spokes of the wheels of his bicycle. He feels himself pumping the pedal faster, perhaps today will be the best game of his life. Clack, clack, clack, he races along the path, balancing the catcher’s mitt on his thigh with one hand, his other steadies the Schwinn.
A changeup pitch slams with a sharp rush of air. He opens his glove, the strings brush his wrist, the pocket ready. Underneath the leather webbing, his palm stings.
Mary Pauer, twice recipient of the literary fellowship in fiction from the Delaware Division of the Arts, has been an artist in residence at Biggs Museum and is a speaker/scholar for the Delaware Humanities Forum. Her short fiction has won local awards as well as recognition from the National Federation of Press Women. She has been published in The Delaware Today Magazine and in Delaware Beach Life.
Her newest collection of prose and poetry, Traveling Moons, will be available this fall. Her recent work can be read in The Chaos, a quarterly journal of personal narrative, and in the anthology Rehoboth Reimagined. She freelances as a developmental editor and has several private clients. Otherwise, she is in the barn explaining the Aristotelian Arc to her horses, one of whom, a rescue, would have died of starvation and neglect had the horses not been seized. Two of the eleven did not survive.