from the collection of: p. botte
I’ve seen them all, seen them before, I don’t need to go to see them again. They are here in my head, all jumbled in, floating and drifting and (dis)appearing.
I say these things to my dog who lies on his rug, looking at once sleepy and stiff. His eyes are mismatched – one wider than the other. Tired though. Tired.
I’ve seen them in the field, running the clover for pop flies, trotting the bases – the kids of Down’s End whose parents don’t sign them up for Little League. They come out at dusk, when the practices are over, when school’s out. Sometimes whooping, sometimes quiet as a few far off baseball-mitt-smacks make it to my ears like the sound of twigs breaking underfoot.
I come out of the house at times just to watch them. I walk through the shadows of the pines to peak around the branches and look at their faces – a few smiles, a few black eyes – as they toss that old apple about. Glove to glove to glove to bat to glove. Leaning this way and that, I break a few twigs underfoot.
That was months or years or lifetimes ago.
The field’s empty. The kids of Down’s End are – god knows where. It’s a Tuesday night and those kids are 19 or 20 or maybe 27 by now. So maybe they’re drunk and prematurely soft and forgetful of their own children (who are making their own childhood sounds, smacking mitts with a sound like broken twigs and smiling quietly into the twilight).
I look at the mess that’s accumulated beneath my pines – the trees are half-dead, half-brown, dropping dried sticks that stack up like kindling that no one will ever use, turning slowly after wet springs back into the dark soil.
I’ve seen them all before. There was Dreyden, Olivia, Sonia, Hunter, and Shlomo. A few others who came and went.
And now, the air is quiet and empty.
But is it empty?
I ask this question aloud to the dog who looks simultaneously sleepy and stiff with eyes that haven’t moved and rest askew from any semblance of balance.
There has to be more than a memory left. Maybe a physical shadow – skin cells left that have combined their DNA with the tendriled confusion of the clovered outfield; maybe a black hair left to dangle on a snare of chain-link fence where Sonia rested her head so many years ago. Hair is slow to fade, slow to decompose. Maybe if I found the spot along the hundreds of feet of fence, I could catch that one strand as it fluttered in the late sun.
I’ve seen them all before. I don’t need to see them again. I will not rise to look. There is a sound as of breaking twigs that comes occasionally. It could be other children whose parents don’t sign them up for Little League who are tossing the ball at this late date in the year. Or it could be someone coming, step by step, through the dead pines that have grown impossible tall and now drape naked shadows all around my house. Or it could be the dog who hasn’t moved for weeks now suddenly clicking his teeth. Or it could be my own legs stretching, impossible slow, as the ligaments draw themselves tighter. And tighter. And tighter. And forget the water that once nourished them and the blood that has long since congealed in their veins.