This is the first chapter in a novel I’m working on. Excuse the formatting. As a wordpress newbie I need to figure out the copy & paste properties. Still, the tale is here. All feedback is welcome.
P.S. – for the improprietous reader, this work is copyright protected. if you’d like to publish the story contact me.
A Day with Dad
The morning was crisp with fresh sunlight kissing the grass on the field. My glove was stiff and needed oil to loosen the pocket. Maybe a few more days of sitting on it with a ball in the pocket would do the trick.
“Drip a few drops of oil right here,” said Dad, gently squeezing the young bottle of oil. “Then rub it into the leather and work the pocket. Just the pocket.”
The excitement inside me was so great that I had to expend energy by hopping up and down on my toes. Dad tossed a ball in the pocket of my glove after working the oil to towards the fingers and winked, “It’s all yours kiddo.” I sat on the glove with the ball in the pocket, still bouncing in my seat for the longest ten minutes of my young life.
“Is it good now?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. It feel like I’m sitting on a dead porcupine. The laces keep sticking me in the but.”
“It’s your mitt. You break it in the way you want to.”
“Ok. Let’s go”
With my sturups pulled high to my knees and my pants snug against my legs I tied my cleats. The same ones I went to sleep in the night before. They were pearly white and fit tight against my feet. I couldn’t wait to see the marks they made in the infield dirt as I ran. I wanted dirt to fly up behind me like Rickey Henderson, or a race horse.
“I bet I can beat you to the car.” I shouted. Dad was at the kitchen counter pouring his morning coffee. I rocked from side to side looking up at him waiting for the terms of our race.
He put the coffee pot down, poured a dollop of half and half in the coffee mug, stirred it with a spoon and said, “On the count of three. No headstarts.” Dad slowly continued to stir his coffee while I stirred waiting for the countdown.
Dad was gone, spoon dropped on the counter and out the door faster than shoeless Joe Jackson breaking on a ball in the outfield.
“Cheeter!” I yelled and leaped down the three steps to our mudroom slipping momentarily on the lanolium floor.
I shot out the door and turned left just in time to see Dad gingerly balancing his coffee and running towards the car. I was still within closing distance.
“I got ya,” I gloated, touching the car door handle. Dad reached the door wearing most of his coffee and breathing heavily.
“Alright, you win…again. Hop in and buckle up.”
Riding with Dad was always fun. Before he surprised us with a gleaming brand new Honda Civic, he had a white Ford Escort. The Civic was decked out. It even had a radio and floors without holes. In the Escort, we used to have to sing for entertainment. Even though the Civic had a radio we still liked to sing.
“Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow your horn,” sang Dad.
Dad looked down to me as I chimed in, “Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow your horn.” We continued for one more round, Dad harmonizing on the bass line.
I belted out the final verse in my strong soprano, “Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow, Dina won’t you blow your horn….dodeludo.”
Dad looked down at me slackjawed. “Where’d you learn that?”
“Learn what?” I giggled.
“The last few notes you diddled.”
“I don’t know, it just sounded right.”
Dad turned his wide eyes back to the road and I knocked my knees back and forth proudly.
When we got to the field I put my batting gloves in my back pocket and shot like a bullet to the dugout. I caught my dad closing the car door as he grabbed his coffee to-go and made his way to the field across the gravel parking lot in his paint stained Lees, topsiders and blue nylon button-up jacket. Never an athlete but always athletic, he gracefully glided from the parking lot, through the fence, and onto the field kicking the spring dew with the toe of his topsiders.
“Ready?” he said with summoned excitement. “I’ll race ya to the outfield,”
I could give him a ten-foot lead, and I’d win by a furlong. Every parking lot race he instigated was a losing effort for him. He had no shot. I sprang out of my seat and felt the sharp cleats dig into the dirt, like a puma right before he pounces with deft agility.
“Go!” I yelled. I turned the corner of the fence in front of the dugout before he took two steps and was past him by his fourth, pulling away by the seventh.
“I win,” I chided.
“Alright, I’ll take the walk.”
“No Dad, I’ll go out. You take the line. I want to see how far I can stretch my arm today.”
“If you insist,”
My Dad had soft leathery skin. The kind of leather moistened with special oils to preserve the luscious texture of high quality hide. He slid his oversized mit onto his hand and stood without knowing how slippery it was beneath his feet.
“Throw me some high pops,” I yelled.
“Okay, here it comes,”
My dad dropped his arm to his waist and listed back launching the ball high into the blue sky. I dropped my weight down and spread my stance apart to move to where the ball was going, not where it was. First step back. Circling around underneath the ball I caught it square in the pocket. The ball sunk into the oiled pouch I fashioned this morning.
I fired the ball back as hard as I could, this time hitting my dad in the shins. “Sorry,” I yelled, but slightly unaware of the pain I probably inflicted. “Gimme another one,” I said.
Again, he leaned towards the ground, arched his back and let go a high one. My heart jumped when the ball went really high. There was nothing in the world that could make me happier than watching the ball fall from the sky into my mit. Again, I drifted back, circled around the ball and caught it above my face with two hands. This time, I tried to fire the ball right through my dad’s head. He caught it at his right hip, but I was getting closer to my target.
Cars passed along the road by the field every now and then. Across the street was the intermediate school and football field where a helicopter landed once when a kid chased a foul ball into the street and got hit by a car. By this time the sun was breaching the tree tops that bordered the perimeter of the football field and casted a serene silhouette of the majestic old school. My friends were certainly all sleeping, but the spring blossoms casted a spell over me that made me restless. I could smell P&B’s diner’s skillets warming up for the breakfast crowd and church bells rang in syncopation about town.
This day was pure bliss. I was at the baseball field with my father. I asked for another high pop. My dad obliged with the highest one yet. Up, up, up, until the ball became a grain of sand in the high blue sky. When the ball came down I caught it off to the side, playfully mimicking Mookie Wilson, Andre Dawson, or Otis Nixon’s superior ability.
“Basket catch,” I said.
“How bout it hot shot,” said my Dad. “Never make an easy play look hard. Make a hard play look easy,”
“Come on Dad! Then throw one or two over my head. Let’s see if you can get it past me”
“How about we work on grounders?”
I let out a sigh and reluctantly agreed. By now the sun had burned most of the dew away, but there was still moistness to the earth that left a slick residue on the ball.
I threw the ball one last time to my dad. He labored to catch it far to his left and I bounded in to give him a high five. He hugged me with one arm and said, “How about some breakfast?”
“Can we go to the diner?”
We raced to the rust colored Civic and tossed our equipment in the back. I hopped in the front seat, watching my dad slide into the driver’s seat.
“Dad, can I shift the gears?”
“Yes, but you have to wait for me to get us out of the parking lot,”
He started the car and wiggled the shifter to make sure it was in neutral. I looked out of the dirty windshield at the field wondering when we’d be back. Dad put the car in reverse, braced his arm around the passenger head-rest and balanced the clutch and gas backing us up. I always listened for the whirring sound our car made in reverse, wondering if we could drive as fast in reverse as forward.
Dad pulled us out of the gravel parking lot and onto Delsea Drive saying, “OK, second gear…third gear…fourth gear.” My small hand hardly covered the knob of the shifter, but the action of moving it smoothly to each gear thrilled me. I watched Dad’s hands work the steering wheel. I watched him stare at the road. His beard was meticulously groomed and his glasses were large, thick orbs. His jet black hair softly brushed back and parted to one side was everything I wanted to be. He is my model; the archetype of who I want to be.
We pulled into P&B’s Diner and raced to the front door. This time, I baited him into actually trying. He gave half an effort, but I was holding the door for him while he launched up the front steps.
“Two, non-smoking please,” huffed Dad.
The waitress gathered a few menus and said, “Follow me.” We followed her back to a booth nestled in a corner at the back of the diner.
“Thank you,” I said lightly as we sat down and opened our menus. My feet hung off the booth seat and I swung them loosely, knocking the bottom of the seat.
“Stop that,” groand Dad.
I gave a sinister smile, kicked a few more times and stopped after Dad peaked over his menu raising one eyebrow. Staring at him, I watched him browse the menu. Everything he did was smooth and natural. His motions were like a silk scarf blowing in a gentle breeze. Each tick of a finger or swipe of a hand seemed precise, effortless, and fluid; like water flowing over rocks.
“What’ll it be Mateo?” Dad likes to call me Mateo to remind himself that he’s Italian. I looked back to my menu and said, “French Toast.”
“It’s my favorite”
We put our menus down as the waitress hustled over to our table and said, “Ready to order?”
Dad took the lead ordering, “Two eggs over easy on rye toast with provolone cheese and pork roll.” His hands fluttered in front of his face illustrating the precise nature of his order. He slid the menu to the edge of the table and pointed at me, biting his lips and raising his eyebrows.
“I want French toast,”
Dad cut in quickly, “Nop, that’ll do it,”
“Drinks?” asked the Waitress.
“Orange Juice,” I said.
“Coffee for me, please,”
“Thanks guys, be back in a jiff,”
The seats of the booth were weatherd and cracked like the skin of my grandma. Stuffing poked through cracks. I bounced up and down on the seat enjoying the worn springs beneath me.
“Hey, cut it out,” Dad snapped. I stopped bouncing time and watched him drum his fingers on the table.
“When can we have another catch, Dad?”
“How about tomorrow?”
As I sipped my water I shook my head with such vigor I couldn’t get my words out and spilled water down my chin.
“You have to work on extending your arm and following through,” coached Dad, modeling the motion at the table. He almost knocked over his water in the act. “Tom Seaver finished every game with dirt on his knee. His stride was so long that he couldn’t keep his back knee from dragging on the ground.” I nodded, more concerned with the sensory overload the diner provided. I swung my feet some more underneath the table.
Dad leaned in closer to me from across the table, “You know, when we have a catch I can hear the ball zipping towards me.”
“Really?” I asked with wide eyes.
“Yes, and it also moves. How do you hold the ball when you throw it?”
“I hold it across the seams,”
I stopped swinging my legs and watched Dad raise his brow in wonder. He drummed his fingers some more and turned his lips in, withholding any more compliments.
Although we were sitting in the non-smoking area, the acrid fumes drifted into our section and danced around my nostrils. I actually like the smell. The waitress hurried up to our table and slid the coffee and orange juice onto the table, spilling some of the coffee on the place mat advertising real estate agents. I pulled the orange juice closer and propped my elbows on the table after I dropped the straw in my juice. As I sipped I watched Dad deftly peel three creamers open and softly drop their contents into his coffee mug. I watched as the mocha cloud billowed in his cup. He added two taps of sugar from the sugar jar and stirred thoroughly, clanking the sides of the mug like the triangle I watched him play in the pit orchestra at school. Dad tested the temperature of his drink timidly, then took a big slurp. Shaking his head in approval, he placed the mug back on the table as our food arrived.