Authors: Percival Everett
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder
Thelma comes in and finds the foil on the counter. “You didn't eat the ham, did you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I was meaning to throw that out. It was spoiled.”
I put my face back into my hands. I get up and walk out of the kitchen, through the bedroom, and into the bathroom. I stand in the shower for a long time with the water pounding my back. Things are bad. I can't make love to my wife, I can't run bases, and I couldn't get a hit if they was pitching me basketballs underhanded. And my kid hates me. To top it off, I got a bum leg that don't hurt.
I'm sitting in the kitchen, reading the paper, and Thelma slides a plate of breakfast in front of me. I'm still thinking about that spoiled ham I got into and I look up at Thelma. Turning down this meal would be a grave error.
I eat and I read in the paper how I ain't the only person in the world concerned with my slump. The headline of the sports page reads:
and below that,
Sows Seeds of M's Misery
. I decide to skip the off-day practice Lou has called.
I move into the den and watch some television. I'm on my third soap opera when Thelma calls me into the bedroom. She kisses me and I pull away, shaking my head. It ain't that I can't get erect, I can't stay that way.
“You don't love me anymore,” she says.
“This sort of thing happens all the time.”
She pulls a tissue from the box on her nightstand and wipes the tears from her face.
“It doesn't have anything to do with you.”
She just stares at me.
“Thelma, try to understand. I'm in a terrible slump. I can't hit, I can't field. It's eating at me. I can't get my mind off of it.” I look into her eyes. “I still love you.”
“Then show me.”
“There's more to love than just sex.”
“I promise this won't last very long. Thelma?”
“You're only thirty-two.” More tears.
“So, does this mean â¦ mean â¦?”
“No, no, it's just a passing thing. I promise. I just need to get my head together.”
This seems to quiet her some.
I pull the curtain back at the living room window and see my son getting off the bus. I open the front door and he walks by me, without a word, into the kitchen.
“Peter,” I call to him and follow him into the kitchen. “What's wrong, son?”
His mother hands him a glass of milk and he looks up at me and says, “Nothing.”
“Your mother tells me you've been fighting.”
“Yep,” he says and downs his milk.
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“Nope.” He walks out of the kitchen.
I sit down at the table and bury my face in my hands. I look up to find Thelma's sympathetic eyes resting on me and she comes over to me and pulls my head into her breast and massages my temples.
“When's your next game?” she asks.
“Good, you need a rest.” I can tell she's forcing herself, but I appreciate the pampering.
“Does he hate me?”
“No, of course not.”
“He wouldn't even look at me.”
“He's just a little upset.”
“I wish I knew what my problem is.”
Thelma doesn't say a word. She just keeps rubbing my head and sighing and looking out the window. I decide to try again with Peter and what I do is ask him if he wants to play catch.
He nods his head and he grabs his glove and I grab my glove and we go outside. We're tossing the ball back and forth and I get to thinking and the ball hits me in the face. I pick up the ball and look back at Peter and see him standing there with his glove by his side, looking away. “Ball,” I says as I toss it his way and he puts his glove up and catches it. After a few more tosses my mind slips away again and the ball gets by me and rolls into the street. I chase the ball into the street and a car nearly flattens me and a teenage girl leans out of the car.
“Stay out of the road, stupid!” she screams.
I pick up the ball and turn to see Peter walking into the house and I'm feeling pretty lousy and all I can do is shake my head.
“Ma says doing that will make you go blind,” I said to Martin as I watched the sheet above his middle move up and down.
“She's crazy,” he said. He moved his flashlight beam to another open magazine.
“I don't know, I've heard other people say the same thing. Reverend Austin from the candy store told Virgil Wallace that doing it would put hair on his palms.”
“He's crazy, too,” Martin said.
“Because he just is.”
“No, I mean, why do you pull on yourself?” I asked.
“Because it feels good.”
He stopped and turned off his flashlight. “Sometimes you just feel like you have to do it.”
“Virgil Wallace does it all the time out behind the old school. I've seen him.”
“Just who is this Virgil Wallace?” Martin hit me with the beam of his flashlight.
I put my arms in front of my face. “Turn that off.”
He turned it off. “Who is he?”
“You've seen him. He's that waterhead fella, wears them bright socks.”
“Oh, you're talking about Moe.”
“The guys call him Moe.”
“Why do they call him that?” I asked.
Martin didn't say anything. We were silent for a while and then the silence was broken by the barking of a dog.
“I'll bet that's Dr. Counts's hound,” Martin said.
“Have you ever seen Lou Ann Narramore?” I asked.
“Yeah, I've seen her.”
“What's she look like? Is she pretty?” I pulled my head up and rested it on my palm, my elbow stabbing my pillow.
“Yeah, she's pretty,” Martin said. “She's real skinny and she's got big â¦ big â¦ Hey, you're too young to hear this.”
I didn't say anything. I just looked past Martin and out the window at the moon. The dog had stopped barking and the night became still and very quiet. Then Martin started up again, his flashlight panning from picture to picture.
The next morning I woke up early, got dressed, and went downstairs. I had plans to visit the pond and when I walked into the kitchen I found Ma at the counter, stirring the contents of a bowl and running in place. She was wearing her heavy coat and a brand-new pair of black high-top sneakers. Perspiration was pouring off her face and the fur about her collar looked matted in places.
“What are you doing, Ma?”
“Running â¦ to lose weightâ¦. Lou Ann â¦ Narramore â¦ skinny â¦ lose weightâ¦.”
I started out.
“Where â¦ you going?” she asked, still running.
She stopped running and looked at me. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “Be careful,” she said.
The next day I show up for batting practice and I find a note on my locker telling me to see Lou Tyler and so I go into his office. I give a knock and he yells for me to come in. Inside, I don't see him anywhere and I call out his name and he answers me from the bathroom.
“That you, Suder?”
“I'm taking a massive grunt here. Make yourself at home.”
Lou's office is filled with stuffed animals and I'm paying close attention to his newest addition, a big grizzly bear. Lou took up taxidermy when his wife died four years ago and since then he's been stuffing every dead thing in sight. He's got birds hanging from the ceiling and snakes on the floor and a goat in the corner and now a bear. He's got even more displays all over his home. The players got together and managed to keep the creatures out of the clubhouse, but overflow might send them in there yet.
“What is it, Suder?” The bathroom door swings open and there's Lou sitting on the toilet, holding
The Sporting News
. “You say something?”
“No,” I tell him.
“How do you like my bear?” He smiles broadly.
“He's a big one,” I says, looking back at the monster.
“Took me a month to stuff that sucker.”
I follow the jagged line where the bear was sewed up from his neck to his crotch.
“Tell you what,” Lou says. “I'm going to be on this bowl for a while. So, if you don't mind, I'll just talk to you from here.”
“Sure, I don't care.”
“Here,” Lou says, tossing me a can of air freshener. “I'm used to it, but you might have some trouble. Give a blast of that stuff when it gets too strong.”
“You know, Roy Rogers stuffed Trigger.”
“Well, he had him stuffed. He didn't do it personally. I heard he wants to be stuffed himself when he dies. And then he wants to be set up on Trigger. Ain't that something?”
“I wrote him a letter telling him that I'd be glad to stuff him for free, but I ain't got no response yet. It's been seven weeks now. I hope he ain't died already.” He lets out a load of gas and there's some splashing. “Better give a spray of that stuff.”
I hold up the can and press the button and shoot myself in the face.
“That's wildflower scentâwatch the bees when you go outside.”
I wipe my face with my sleeve.
“I ate a shitload of spaghetti that my daughter made up, last night.” He tightens his face and grunts and then he reaches back and flushes. “If I never see spaghetti again, it'll be too soon.”
I'm just standing there, looking up at this vulture he's got hanging over his desk.
“That's a turkey vulture,” Lou says. “Look, I'm gonna forget you missed practice yesterday.”
I nod and look back at him.
“Now, about that slump of yours. You know, it wasn't but a few years ago that you blacks was allowed in this league. The way you been playing lately, they might kick you all out.”
I don't take offense because I know he doesn't mean any harm and I don't say anything.
“You got three more years left on your contract and both of us know you're good. So, I've been talking to the bigwigs and we all agree that you should take some time off.”
“In the middle of the season?”
“The way you've been playing you ain't doing the team no good. Besides, it might help you to be fresh for the end of the season. We'll put you on the Disabled Listâyour leg.”
“So, when is this vacation supposed to start?”
“Right now.” He raises his butt up from the stool and looks into the toilet. “Look away. I got to wipe myself.”
I look up at the vulture.
“Okay, that's got it,” he says and flushes.
I look at him and he's fastening up his britches and I says, “Is that it?”
“I guess so.”
So, I leave and I go down to clean out my personal stuff and David Nicks is standing beside my locker.
“What's the story?” asks David.
“Taking a little vacation.”
He sits down. “Oh, yeah?”
“No big deal. On the D.L. I need some time to think about things anyway.”
“They didn't ax your contract or anything like that?”
“No, they can't do that. Can they?”
David shrugs his shoulders. “Sometimes I think they can do whatever they want. They didn't say anything about shipping you to the minors, did they?”
“No, nothing like that. Not yet. They got Ortega filling my spot, and let's face it, he ain't a hot glove.” A quarter falls out of my locker and rolls down the aisle and I chase it. And when I look up, there's Ortega tying up his shoes around the corner. There he is, looking at me with his angry Puerto Rican eyes. “How's it going, Ortega?” I ask, standing up.
He finishes tying his shoes and gets up and walks out and, all the while, mumbling in Spanish.
I turn and walk back to David. “Man, I tell you, I can't do anything right.”
“Maybe you do need a rest.”
“You want to come over to the house after the game?” I ask. “Have a beer?”
“Sure.” David slaps me on the backside with his glove and heads out.
All over the ground by the pond were dead sparrows with BBs deep in their bodies. I don't know what came over me, but I started picking them up. I pulled the bottom of my teeshirt out and away from my belly and put the birds in the net it formed. With my shirt full of dead sparrows I headed back toward the house. I ducked behind a bush when I saw Martin coming my way. He walked past me and on toward the pond. He was carrying his BB rifle. I ran home and managed to sneak up to my room without being seen. I dumped the birds onto my bed and counted them. Thirteen. I picked up one of the sparrows and sat silently, bouncing it on my fingers. I dropped the bird on my bed and went to the hall closet. I pulled down a hatbox and went back into my room and put the sparrows in it. I put the top on the box and slid it under my bed. I stretched out across the bed and imagined the lives of those birds passing up through the box spring and the mattress and into me.
Later, I walked over to the old school building and saw Virgil Wallace. He was sitting with his back against the pole of a basketball goal which no longer had a hoop. Virgil Wallace was about eighteen and real long and skinny. One of his legs was bent and the other was straight out. He was wearing one bright red sock and one bright yellow one. His hand was in his lap and he tossed his head back and looked up at the sky. I moved toward him. I noticed the ringworm on his head.
“Virgil?” I said. I was standing off to his side and slightly behind him.
He didn't notice me.
I walked around and stood right in front of him and I looked at the hand that was in his lap. He was holding the head of his penis in his hand and it was covered with a milky substance. “Virgil?”