With two sturdy hands clasped against a wooden steering wheel, he slowly backed from our stone driveway. Inch by inch, he descended. The numerous bumps, scratches, and dents glimmered in the sunlight as he honked a symphony of goodbyes. Our dog Bo barked back a tune of confusion all the while wagging his tail like a conductor’s wand. He was trying to scurry after the car but Ma held him back with white, wrinkled hands.
It all looked artificial. The sun. The car. Ma too. No end of her hair was poking out. No dust speckled the surface of her clothes. She even tidied my long, messy hair into a tried comb over. In a way, she had to do it. Today was the day of conscription.
Sunlight framed the moment in forever. He didn’t look backwards to see where he was driving. Instead, he stared directly at me with unmoving eyes. Each inch farther, each second shorter, and his stare only strengthened. I wasn’t sure what he wanted. Maybe he was telling me something. Maybe he wasn’t. But whatever he wanted to say, I didn’t see the end of it because I bore my head into the nest of a warm shoulder. I blame it on the fact that my feet were cold. Usually, they were full of energy and nimble as a feather. But for some reason, they felt like weights. I guess, like Bo, Ma held me back too.
A worn baseball mitt fumbled about the nub of my bat like a broken clock. Dried mud whipped around in the wind, leaving behind a wispy trail of footprints and savorless bubblegum. Trees surrounded me and flowers seemed to sprout from nothingness while birds and bees buzzed in harmony. All of it together, from the cries of the animals to the endless variety of colours found in the flowers, made it feel like there was running water nearby. Although I was young, I was sure that there was no other place like this one. It was magnificence. It was beautiful. It was my baseball diamond.
To get here was a bit of a stretch from my home. I stumbled upon it one day when I was dallying back from school. Hanging loosely to my bag and kicking a rock along the sidewalk, I thought I heard someone honking a horn. Ma always told to come home right away, but as I stepped, the honks only got louder. I couldn’t ignore them. So I ran over to see the reason for all the chaos but instead of any person, accident or distress, I found an endless forest and silence. Somewhere, sometime, the honking had stopped.
At first, I wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I had veered off any recognizable path and because I ran without absorbing my surroundings, I did not recognize which way I had come from. If I had only been smarter, I would’ve put my textbooks to good use by tearing them into bits to outline where I had walked. Too bad I didn’t. Some things you never learn in school. Survival is the best example.
Like my textbooks, the forest in front of me offered no help either. Underneath the cover of branches and leaves, the forest floor seemed completely dark as though the skyline was blocked out. Afraid to go in, I just kept walking along the edge of the treeline. I thought that maybe if I found the source of honking, I would be able to get a ride back. Though, if they stopped honking, they were probably all right. Who knows? Maybe they were home right now.
At that moment, home sounded pretty good. I wasn’t sure if I would get there, though. I must’ve walked for hours back and forth because before I knew it, everything was dark. I thought I had might of slipped into the forest, but I could still feel its fringes. The rough bark tickled my fingertips. Years of unweeded grasses brushed against my pant legs. I was still somewhere – wherever that could be.
Suddenly, the bark between my fingertips and weeds against my legs receded. No longer did I feel the forest. Instead, my hands trickled over a patch of rough dirt and some sort of plastic material on top of it. It was circular and protruding from the ground. In the darkness, it could have been anything. And for a while, it was. A bunker, a grave, a termite hill; all at different times for different reasons. But before I could guess all of the above, the moon began its climb into the night sky, and I found myself on a baseball mound.
I stayed there a few minutes, wondering why a baseball mound, and probably a baseball diamond, would be near a forest. But after a few minutes, I figured I should get back home. I decided, though, I would actually tear out pages in my textbooks and plant them into the ground just in case I ever wanted to come back here.
Eventually by some miracle, I did find my way home. Ma freaked when she saw how dirty I had become. She said she had called the police and everything. Said I was in big trouble. Said that I should never scare her like that ever again. I didn’t mean to. I got lost. It was by accident. I told her I thought I heard honking, and she said she heard honking every day. I said not that kind of honking. A special kind. She said I know. Me too. Me too.
Every day after that, I visited that place. Turns out it was indeed a baseball diamond – and it was entirely my own. No one else ever went on it. I wasn’t searching for the noise anymore. It was long gone. I just played baseball by myself instead. It wasn’t too hard. All I had to do was pitch the ball up, and swing as hard as I could. The hardest part was finding the ball after my would-be homeruns. Most of the time, I never did find it. Neither could I hit it so it landed into a baseball mitt on the ground some distance away. I always thought it was pretty dumb for me to keep bringing the mitt back and forth with no one else to play with.
But it wasn’t mine. It was much too big for my hand.
I used to laugh much more. Used to trust everyone too. I remember it. I had a face painted with an innocent smile. No matter what, I couldn’t rid of that stupid grin. Those were the days when everything made sense. Girls could play with building blocks. Bo could bite himself freely. Even an absence could be explained if someone tried hard enough.
Then one day, everything just changed. Just like that. Maybe it was because I was getting older or because I started wearing my hat backwards or because people started to look and act differently. I can’t blame them. In a way, so did I. I cut my hair. I stopped playing with Bo. I even tried a cigarette. A Colt 45. It was what they had in the army.
Ma changed too. No longer did her skin shine. Her red auburn hair had faded. Wrinkles stretched themselves at the corner of her eyes. She looked tired all the time. Even her smile, one that she flashed at all locations and times, seemed to ebb away.
The only time she looked alive – truly alive – was when she looked at me. She always stared at me as if she was searching for something. Sometimes she touched my cheeks and laughed. Other times she passed her fingers through my hair and mumbled something. She didn’t even mind when she found cigarettes in my pocket. Instead, she just gazed at me, smiled faintly, and turned around. If it wasn’t for the laundry tossing the clothes back and forth noisily, I could have sworn I heard her crying.
As I got older, and slowly more stupid, I was spending more and more time at my baseball diamond. I had created something of a sanctuary there. Some nights, I even slept on the smooth, nuanced orange ground, resting my head onto the plastic.
The baseball diamond was the one thing that didn’t change. I liked it. It always stayed where it was. Nothing would change. Birds would still be chirping, grass would still be growing, flowers would still be blossoming with their endless colours and their pretty shapes, and that water would always be somewhere. Everything would always be as it was. The only thing that’d change would be me. Every time.
It couldn’t be that I was older exactly. So was the baseball diamond. We were both getting older at the same time. I think that things were just different. Some days I’d be wearing a jacket because it was cold or maybe I was sick or I just passed some graffiti on a wall or something. I’d just change each time I visited my baseball diamond while everything else in it stayed the same.
That is, until I stopped going to it. One day, I came home from the baseball diamond because it was snowing and I didn’t have a jacket. When I came in, Ma sat at the table and didn’t notice me. She was just staring off into the distance with a picture cradled in her lap. A few pieces of glass were scattered on to the floor. The frame was nowhere to be seen.
I didn’t even take off my shoes. I just dropped my bat and mitt and hugged her and she hugged me and with hands that had held him, that had teased him, that had loved him, she wiped away my tears.
My tie slightly strangled me. I never quite learned how to tie it properly. At least I was able to look acceptable. Attractive even. Not that it mattered though. I had never been in a serious relationship. Even now at prom, I was going alone. It’s not that I didn’t like girls. I liked them. A lot. Everything about them was absolutely neat. I just didn’t like what other people liked. My friends always talked about beauty as if it were a temperature. Something to be measured. Hot, they said. I always joked around saying, I hope that the girl’s fever wasn’t too high – that’s contagious you know. They just called me gay and ignored me for a while. In a way, they were doing that to the girls they liked too. My friends ignored the girls for who they were by only seeing what the girls made themselves to be.
I did have one girlfriend though. It didn’t last long and was way before prom. She had long blonde hair, the kind you could spend your whole life getting lost in. Her eyes were blue some days. Red on others. She said it was some kind of genetic disease. I said that I hoped it was contagious. She laughed, thought I was joking. But I really did think they were stunning. Really. They were the most beautiful things I ever did see, and luckily, there were two of them to look into.
We were going all right for a while. She’d kiss me. I’d kiss her back. We’d hold hands. Usual stuff. Then one day, she asked why I wasn’t shaving. I didn’t even notice I had hair to shave. She pointed to a few hairs underneath my chin. I said, Those? I can barely see them let alone shave them. She told me that I had to shave. It’s healthier, she said. I believed her. I liked her. I had to believe her for Christ sake.
So, she bought me a razor. A real fancy one. Four blades. Could cut open a pineapple if it needed to. Or that’s what the advertisement said. It had some smooth finishing stuff too. It was really scientific. I didn’t understand a word of it or how it was supposed to be used. My girlfriend, though, seemed to know everything. This one, she said. This one is the best. Look at its orange sponge layer. It’s supposed to exfoliate too. I looked at the razor while trying to figure out what exfoliate meant. The orange sponge layer reminded me of piece of a pumpkin pie, which was kind of funny because the whole thing, with that orange layer and the four blades and all the foreign terms like exfoliate, looked like pumpkin armed with a killing machine.
After paying, we went to my home with the 20 bottles of shaving cream and razor, all of which she said were necessities. To be honest, I was a little nervous. What if I cut myself real bad? Bled myself to death? I’m sure it could’ve happened. Those blades were sharp. She probably didn’t even think about it. She was lucky anyhow. As far as I knew, she didn’t have any hairs on her chin, although when we were walking to the bathroom she picked up the razor and pretended to shave herself. I think I was supposed to laugh. I didn’t.
Then, all of a sudden, she said it. It may have just slipped out. I don’t know. But she said it. She said, Why doesn’t your father teach you how to shave. Somewhere I’m sure I heard a TV buzzing.
I don’t remember what happened next. I think I left the house all nice and all. I don’t think I stormed out. Ma always raised me proper, especially when I was mad. She told me that a person is truly themselves when they were mad, so we should always be nice. I remember saying something though. I probably shouldn’t of said it. I said, Why did your father give you such weird genes, freak. She didn’t even cry. Her eyes just changed to grey. I don’t think I ever saw them turn red or blue or anything else again. Not that, we talked much anyways. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to talk to someone who didn’t shave.
Ma died. It was on the day I graduated university. No one was quite sure how it happened. Not even the detectives. They called it a mystery. The yellow tape around the house made it look just that: a mystery. Everything that I had once known soon became eerie and duplicitous – foreign even – almost as though my house was no longer my home.
Sure, death is bound to happen to everyone. That’s not what bothered me. It’s just that everything was fine beforehand. She was absolutely glamorous during my celebration. She was wearing a sparkling white dress. Her hair was in a neat French bun. Even though wrinkles stretched across her face, she kept up her looks. I could tell she was proud of them.
She was proud of me as well. I wasn’t on the top of my class or anything like that, but I wasn’t stupid either. I had done pretty well. I won a few awards. They were probably the ones given to people who tried real hard but weren’t as smart as the brainiacs who just read something and absorbed it, but hey, it was something. When I went up to get my diploma, it was like I could feel Ma whispering, Good job, son. Good job. I looked for her up there during my few seconds of accomplishment. Most of the auditorium was dark, but I think I saw her white dress walking somewhere. In the darkness, she looked like a ghost.
On our way home, she seemed so happy. She was just honking away. It must’ve looked a bit crazy. An old woman in a white dress and a young man in a graduation cap. Tooting the old horn, she used to call it. It was her ‘call to arms.’ Whenever she honked the horn, she was happy. Very happy. Who’d ever guess that my son was a bonafide Einstein? She said.
We went home and popped champagne in celebration. To a better life, she said.
I went out for a while to smoke. Ma never liked when I smoked in the house, although she said nothing of the habit. When I came back all smiling at my success, happy that the world was going my way for a change, and anxiously planning out my future ahead of me, I found her hand lingering on the kitchen floor.
A knife. Her neck. Blood. Blood. Blood. That’s all I heard the paramedics and police say. I couldn’t exactly hear them. Maybe they thought I was going deaf. I wasn’t. I just kept going over the same scenes again and again in my head. My graduation. Her dress. The ride back home. The type of the champagne we drank. It all didn’t fit together. The police weren’t sure either. They just kept saying, Don’t worry boy. Everything will be all right. She’s in a better place.
But I remembered her honking the horn. This – our house, my graduation, now – was the place. She looked so happy. So proud. It was perfect. Why would she want to go anywhere else?
Then it hit me. Maybe she thought I was old enough to fend for myself. Maybe she thought I didn’t need her. Maybe she wanted to let go of some burden. Maybe she killed herself.
The lawyer crossed his legs again and again as if he was trying to find just the right position. His pen fiddled against yellow legal paper. I stared at all the books. There had to be at least a thousand here. No way did he read all of them. Some of them didn’t even have a crease in them.
Now Mr. Hudgens, he said, You realize what this all means, don’t you?
So many books, and this sucker was asking me if I knew what it meant. He probably didn’t even understand what the word meretricious meant. That’s what his office was. Meretricious. It was all so fake and phony. Not to mention that it must have been a tremendous waste to buy all those books, especially if he didn’t even read them. If he would have, maybe he’d understand how meretricious he was.
He tapped my shoulder.
Yeah. I understand. Yeah. I’m a millionaire.
I didn’t feel like it though. Maybe I didn’t understand.
The house had long ago been cleared out. Any sign of distress had been erased. Any blood had been washed. Someone even took the liberty of cutting the lawn.
Boxes had been set up by a team of movers so as to clutter them with valuable possessions. I was moving to Bahamas. I was told by a friend I should go to a warm place. You forget a lot in hot weather, he said. He was an alcoholic. I trusted him more than anyone about how to forget things.
Sifting through the things was hard. Ma hadn’t bought anything new for twenty years. Everything was steeped in vestiges of the past. That’s how she gotten so much money. She had saved it for something. No one was sure what really. Her will simply said, Son, the house is old. I wanted it to be like that. Forgive me. It was the lawyer who said she had called him two days before my graduation and promised him to make sure I got all the money.
Her will was true. The house really was a relic of the past. I hadn’t realized it before. To me, most of it seemed useless. What would I need a broken paper clip for? Why hadn’t Ma thrown it out? What purpose did it serve? And what of the hair on the pillows? Am I supposed to whisk that away into the boxes as well? And the smells? How could I even begin to pack those and bring them with me?
I couldn’t. Even if I could, I wouldn’t have wanted to anyways. So, I decided not to pack anything.
Just when I was about to leave the house, though, I remembered one thing. My baseball bat and mitt. I could bring those with me. They had been by my side most of my childhood. Plus, I heard that Bahamas had a pretty active baseball scene. Granted, I was a terrible slugger but my imagination had supplemented for a lack of dexterity. And who knows, they could be a good way to spend a million dollars: improving my game so I can finally join the big leagues. So, I went back up the stairs, and opened the door to my old room.
It felt like I hadn’t been there in years. When I got older, Ma put me into the basement because she said I needed my privacy. She probably thought I would of brought girls there. Heck. That must’ve made her sad I didn’t – although she always asked me if I was using a condom. To be honest, I didn’t even know how to put one on.
My room was exactly as I had remembered it. Pale blue wallpaper wrapped my room in a sea-like ambiance. Parts of my desk looked like the keel of a ship, and could even rock a bit. In the middle was my off the wall racecar bed frame with a checkered flag bed sheet. Only one thing was different from my memory. On my bed there was a box, and on that box sat my bat and mitt.
I carefully moved the bat and mitt as if they were artifacts themselves. The box was no bigger than a briefcase. I was guessing that one of the movers had already token the liberty of packing some things. Maybe he was looking for a tip from a would-be millionaire.
But I was wrong. Inside was just one thing: a letter from my father.
If I told you that everything was all right, I’d be lying. It’s not that the food is bad or that the other soldiers aren’t great to me. No, it’s not that at all. Everything is fine on that front. It’s just that I’m dying.
I’m sorry you have to read it rather than hearing me tell you it for yourself. I wanted to tell you before anyone else does, I really did. But I don’t think that’ll happen. Someone will probably tell you and Ma before me. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for a lot of things.
Son. I do not want you to get mad at this war nor at its soldiers. I do not want you to get mad at the politicians nor any governmental official who delegate its cause. I know it may be a lot to ask, but I don’t want you to get mad at anything at all. That’s because I learned that to love is better than to hate, to hope is better than to give up, and to be happy is better than any anger you could ever produce. It took a war for me to realize that.
Now I can’t tell you how to find those things. I can’t even tell you how to get them. When I was younger man, I was always angry, depressed, and consequently, I was filled with hate. Maybe I was raised to hate. Some could say that. Most of my fellow soldiers say they hate the people here. The yellows, as they are called. But I think it’s different. When I was young, I just never found anything to be happy about.
That is, until I met your mother. She is the most wonderful woman I could ever imagine. Between me and you, I never knew how I convinced her to marry me. She is absolutely beautiful. Always will be. Now that I think about it, the hardest thing besides leaving you was leaving her.
Be strong for her. Be strong for me. Be strong for us all.
And son, remember that day when I left? I was staring at you so hard. In a way, I was trying to ingrain your image into my head so I could remember you forever. In a way, I was trying not to cry. And in a way, I was trying to tell you I love you.
That’s when I knew what I had to do. I grabbed the letter and found my mother’s white dress, went to the baseball diamond that never did change no matter much long time progressed, dug a hole at the pitcher’s mound, and buried them there.
I buried my mother and father in beauty.