Authors: Percival Everett
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder
For my mother, father, and sister
Our swords are ready. We can die.
But why pursue such painful matters?
Assuming one does not have to.
Beyond Good and Evil
So, I'm up at the plate in the top of the ninth and the first pitch is, I grant you, an honest-to-God textbook strike and the fat umpire's backwards dance and that turn to the right he manages don't offend me at all. And then the second pitch comes whistling in way inside and I hear that fat man in blue yell,
and I turn to catch the tail end of his routine and I just can't believe it. So, I flip the bat in my hand like a baton, as is my custom, and step up to him, face to face, and give him the questioning eye.
There he is right in front of me, behind that foam-filled apron, and he yells, “Strike!”
“That was way inside,” I tell him, “I could feel it on my pants.”
“Strike,” he repeats and lets out this little shit-eating grin and I really want to hit him and I tell myself not to and turn away.
“Blind bastard,” I says under my breath.
And he says to me, “If you can'tâ”
I cut him off: “Why don't you go read up on the strike zone.”
He looks at me and yells, “Play ball!” Then when I'm stepping into the box he says, “That's two, Suder.”
And I ignore him. The next pitch is so inside that the catcher leaves his perch to get it and I know because I follow the ball all the way, don't even move my bat, but as sure as anything that fat umpire does his Fred Astaire and calls another strike. So, I'm out and when I'm walking away I mutter, “Why don't you just put on one of their uniforms!” And I'm still holding the bat clenched in my fists when David Nicks flies to center for the third out.
The pitcher finishes his warm-ups and the ball gets passed all around and fast Eddie Ramos is walking up to the plate swinging a bat with a lead doughnut on it. Lou Tyler, our manager, is yelling that we're up one run and that we should hold them. “Three up, three down,” he says. “Three up, three down.” Then he yells to me, “Suder! Suder!” and I turn to see him make like he's bunting with an invisible bat. “Watch the bunt!” he yells. “Watch the bunt!” It strikes me that he sometimes says things twice and I imagine it's a fancy way of stuttering and, heeding his words, I step on down the third-base line toward the batter.
The first pitch is outside, but I see his left hand sneak up along the wood and I know he wants to bunt and I get ready. On the next pitch he does bunt and I run for it and the catcher runs for it and the pitcher runs for it and we all stop dead cold like it's something nasty we want somebody else to pick up. Finally, I pick it up, pump onceâthe asshole pitcher is in the wayâand throw it to first, but I'm too late. So, the tying run is on first and I look up at the board and see I'm being charged with an error. The next guy up
bunt, he just tags that first pitch and sends it airmail special delivery over the left-field fence, the old Green Monster, and the game is over and we lose and ain't nothing left but the crying and accusing. I close my eyes for a second and then I take to the showers.
So, I come out of the shower and slide into my Jockey shorts and sit down in front of my locker with my face in my hands. I think to myself that all I want to do is get stinking drunk, when I see Lou Tyler turning the corner and heading down the aisle toward me. He comes and sits beside me, straddles the wooden chair, and pushes the brim of his cap up.
“We all have slumps,” he says and I'm pulling on my socks, half listening to him, and he goes on, “but you got to break out of this one soon.”
I look over at him and I ask, “Did you see what they was calling strikes out there?”
“So you had a bad call.”
“A bad call? I suppose I really made that error out there, too.” I look away from him and shake my head.
“Okay, a couple of bad calls.”
“Jesus,” I says.
“Truth of the matter is, Craig, that you have to straighten up and fly right.” And he slaps me on the back and tells me to get dressed.
I watch him walk away and then I slam the locker. “Yeah, straighten up and fly right,” I says to myself, “fly right.”
We get to the airport and we're boarding the plane when Tuck McShane, the trainer, comes up to me. “How's the leg?” he wants to know.
“Ain't nothing wrong with my leg,” I says, sitting down.
He sits beside me. “I thought I saw you favoring your left leg last night.”
“I'm glad you're sitting by the window.” He looks past me out over the wing. It's common knowledge that old Tuck gets dizzy when he stands tippy-toed.
“What you studying on so hard?” he asks me and then, before I can answer, “Don't worry, you'll pick up. You'll play a lot better once you relax. You oughta try some breathing exercises.” He inhales deeply and lets it out.
I look back out the window and watch the flaps as we take off and I see a bird and I begin to wish I could fly up high and all without the aid of a machine.
As we're climbing out of the plane in Baltimore, old Tuck turns to me. “It's your right leg, ain't it? Want me to take a look?”
“Ain't nothing wrong with my leg,” I says.
We check into the hotel and David Nicks and I go to our room. While David is in the bathroom I call my wife and she's sounding a little down, so I ask her what's wrong.
“Peter came home the other day and he'd been fighting,” she tells me.
“He's a seven-year-old boy, honey,” I says, “they fight sometimes.”
“You don't understand. This is the third time this week.”
“Maybe somebody's picking on him. He's gotta stand up for himself.”
“He says the boys at day camp tease him about you, the way you've been playing.”
I hear this and I don't know what to say.
“What's he doing in that school yard, anyway? It's summer, he should be out playing in the grass. Listen, I've got to go. David wants the phone.”
“Okay, I love you.”
I go out and get drunk enough to embarrass a few dead relatives. I'm still drinking and I'm feeling pretty bad seeing as we just dropped three straight to Boston and this fella recognizes me. “Ain't you Craig Suder?”
I nod. I don't even look at him, just keep my eyes on the bar and nod.
He starts to laugh and talk about how we got our butts whipped and I just keep looking at the bar, nodding. Then he says, “If you was outta the lineup, Seattle might win a few.”
He still ain't got to me and I'm still nodding.
He sorta calls one of his buddies over and they're standing on either side of me and the first fella says, “Black boys ain't got no business in baseball no way.”
Well, at this I turn and look at him and the next thing I know I'm coming to in an alley with my face in some garbage. I get up and make my way to the hotel.
I sure as hell hope that craziness ain't passed from parents to children by way of the blood. I say this because my mother was out-and-out raving insane. When I was ten and my brother, Martin, was twelve, my folks called the two of us into the kitchen. It was one of those hot North Carolina summer days when even the flies are moving slow. Daddy was sitting at the table in his underwear and Ma was wearing her cloth coat with the dog fur around the collar. Sweat was dripping off Ma's face and Martin and I moved slowly to our chairs at the table. There was a great big glass of iced tea in Daddy's left hand and a handkerchief in his right.
“Sit down, boys,” Daddy said.
We were already sitting and we looked at him, puzzled-like.
“Oh,” he said and gulped down some tea. “Boys â¦” He stopped.
Ma cleared her throat and sat up. A bead of sweat was hanging off the tip of her nose. “Your father has something he wants to tell you.”
We looked back at Daddy.
Daddy's eyes were locked on Ma and then sorta snapped to and said, “Boys, your mother is crazy.”
We looked over at Ma and she nodded and smiled.
“Huh?” Martin was shaking his head. “I don't understand.”
“Yes, son,” said Ma, “I'm crazy.”
Martin and I just sat there at the table staring at each other. We stared at each other for a good long while and then Ma got up and walked out into the yard. Daddy rubbed his handkerchief across his forehead.
“Maybe it's the heat,” Daddy said.
“Why is she wearing that coat?” I asked.
Daddy looked at me and wiped the back of his neck. “She's crazy, Craig.”
“You're a doctor, Daddy,” Martin said. “Fix her.”
“I can't help her,” Daddy said and got up and walked to the screen door. He looked out into the yard at Ma. She was now hoeing in the garden. “Ain't nothing I can do.” He stood there leaning against the doorframe, drinking his tea and wiping his face and neck.
“Why is she wearing that coat?” I asked again.
“Maybe it's the heat,” Daddy said, eyes fixed on Ma. He turned to my brother and me. He picked the newspaper up off the counter and walked out of the kitchen.
“What do you think?” Martin asked.
“I'm only ten years old.”
Martin got up and walked over to the door and stared through the screen at Ma.
I started crying.
“Hush that noise up,” Martin said.
“Our mama's crazy,” I cried.
He just looked back out into the yard at her and I heard him sniff a little, but I didn't say anything.
Martin and I went down to the pond and threw rocks at the ducks. Martin hit one of the birds in the head and it flapped away screaming.
“Maybe we could hit her in the head and knock some sense into her,” Martin said.
“You think so?”
“How the hell should I know?” Martin looked up at the telephone lines and stared at the sparrows. “Go get my BB gun.”
“I don't want to.”
“Just get it.”
I ran back home and when I walked into Martin's and my room I found Ma sitting on Martin's bed looking at the girlie magazines that he kept hidden between the mattress and box spring. I stopped in my tracks.
“Come here, Craigie,” she said, patting a spot on the bed beside her.
I walked over and sat down. I was scared. She was crazy.
She put her arm around me and pulled me close and with her free hand grabbed the meat of my cheek. “You're a good boy, Craigie.”
I tried to get up, but she pulled me down. “I've gotta take Martin his BB gun.”
“You see this?” she asked, showing me a couple of pages stuck together. “You see this? Your brother is a bad boy.” She dropped the magazine on the floor.
Just being so close to her coat was making me hot and sweaty and itchy. “Why are you wearing a coat, Ma?”
“I'm not wearing a coat, silly.” She looked at me and pulled her mouth tight. “It's called masturbation.”
I just looked at her.
“What he does with these pictures â¦” She moved her fist up and down over her lap. “Don't you ever do that. You'll go blind.”
I started to get up again and she pulled me back. She started unbuttoning my shirt and I reached up and folded my arms over my chest.
“I want you to take a bath,” she said.
“It's the afternoon,” I complained.
“Take your clothes off!” she screamed through her teeth. Her eyes had a real strange sparkle.
I undressed. She was crazy. She pulled me by the hand into the bathroom. “Get in the tub!”
I stepped into the tub.
I sat down and she began to pull a dry washcloth over my body.
“Ma,” I said, “there ain't no water.”