Writing

ROUNDING HOME

CHAPTER 1

I’ve wanted to be a sportscaster since second grade. You might say I was destined for it. I’ve been around men’s sports my whole life. When I was little, I collected baseball cards instead of Barbies, filled my scrapbooks up with sports heroes, rather than models and movie stars. I mimicked sportscasters on television. I used to sit in the stands and make up my own games, just to keep myself entertained. It was called Game Day. One day I’d pretend to be in Yankee Stadium where the Yankees met the Boston Red Sox. The next day I was in the Rose Bowl where USC played UCLA. I’d even sing the national anthem and create my own commercials.

“My tickets are under the name Ty Miller,” I say to a teenage girl behind the counter at the Will Call booth.

“Aren’t you Sally, Ty Miller’s sister?” she asks as she’s thumbing through her plastic filing box.

“Yes, how’d you know?”

“You look just like him. You’ve got same blue eyes, same nose and same jaw line.”

“Apparently those features look a lot better on him than they do on me, because men come up to me all the time and tell me how good looking he is. Do they not get how annoying that is?”

The girl blushes.

Before second grade my goal was to play in the Major Leagues. I’d never articulated my dream to anyone before. Then one fateful afternoon in our backyard, Ty was pitching to me, and I kept striking out. I got so mad that I hit my bat on the mound and yelled, “If I keep hitting like this, I’m never going to make the Majors.”

“There are no girls in the Majors,” Ty said.

“Yes, there are.” I’d watched all those games, but come to think of it, I’d never seen one woman in a uniform. Could he be right?

“Girls aren’t allowed in the Major Leagues. They can’t play on the same team as men. Women aren’t physically strong enough. It’d be too dangerous. They could get killed.”

“What’s Ty like?” I’m jerked back into the present by this girl’s high pitched voice. She sounds dreamy as she slides my tickets across to me. Every time I think of that day I remember how terrible I felt, how defeated and hopeless. I belonged in Major Leagues. If couldn’t play ball, I’d learn to talk ball.

“Sometimes he can be a real prick.” I take my tickets and leave the girl looking disappointed.

I know I shouldn’t talk like that. I should probably go back and apologize. Being a smart ass comes from growing up around men’s sports my whole life while sometimes feeling totally shut out of it. It’s not that I resent being an outsider. I’m used to it. In fact, sometimes I put myself outside the winner’s circle on purpose. Let Ty, like the winning stud, be roped off by himself on center stage, showered with awards and publicity. There’s safety in anonymity. Being outside the circle makes it easier to protect myself. What I do resent is this little voice inside my head that’s always insisting I get inside the winner’s circle. I’m in direct conflict with myself on a continual basis. It’s a setup for a lot of pain and disappointment.

Pushing my way through the crowd, I find Mom and Dad. “These seats aren’t even together.”

Dad grabs the tickets out of my hand and looks them over. “I’ll take this one. You and Mom can have these.” He disappears into the Pro Player stadium crowd. Big surprise. Dad doesn’t like to talk to us when Ty is pitching, so I’m guessing the seating arrangement is not accidental.

“Come on.” I hand Mom her ticket and we force our way into the throngs of people to find section 124. While Dad is probably sitting in the special section for players’ wives and families, we are headed for the nosebleed seats.

We climb half-way up the stadium stairs to row P seats 27 and 28. Mom slides in first and leaves me the aisle. Most of our row is empty. In fact the whole stadium is pretty empty; I guess nobody pays to see a losing team.

I flip through my program and look for Ty’s name in the starting lineup. Sure I get jealous of him and his accomplishments, but at the same time I admire him for it and even if I wasn’t born a great athlete, I want to have my own place in the sports world just like him. How am I going to do it? By being the best sportscaster. I’ll be in the booth. I’ll be one of the few women in history to call play-by-play for the Yankees.

“Small crowd here on hand for the Major League debut of Ty Miller. We are ready for baseball in south Florida as the speedy second baseman, Delino DeShields, is set to lead it off,” I say in my best sportscaster voice.

“I’m glad that cab driver found the stadium,” Mom says, riffling through her purse. “I was worried he’d get lost.”

I scan through the Cubs lineup in my program. “Delino DeShields is the Cub’s first batter.”

I look up at the Jumbotron where Delino DeShields, the Cubs’ skinny left-hander waits at home plate. Then the camera zooms in on Ty as he steps up on the pitcher’s mound. His freckled, baby face fills the screen. It looks like he just shaved and got a haircut. He’s so close I can almost smell his after-shave.

“Ty Miller, 203 strike outs in 140 Minor League innings. It takes most high schoolers five years to get to the Majors; Ty Miller did it in less than two,” I say aloud in my best sportscasting voice.

“If someone sits down next to me, you’re going to have to stop calling this game out loud.” Mom hands over the binoculars, the ones I requested for Christmas last year instead of an iPhone or black leather boots, like most of the other girls.

“Why do I need to stop calling the game out loud?”

“Because it disturbs people.”

I sigh. The Jumbotron shows a three-quarter shot of Ty. His uniform is white with black stripes. “Marlins” is written in big white letters across the front of his jersey. When Ty turns around “Miller” is written in big white letters across his back. I love seeing my last name on his uniform.

“I’m surprised they had a uniform to fit him,” Mom says. Mom has never been that into sports, so she worries a lot about stuff like jock straps and cap sizes.

“Delino’s hitting .267.”

I watch Ty through my binoculars. Ty takes a deep breath, concentrates and throws. Delino hits a grounder, and races toward first. The short stop catches the ball and throws him out.

“A swing and a bouncing ball to short. Up with Gonzales. Throws to first. One pitch, one out and we’re underway at the Pro Stadium.”

“He looks tired,” Mom says.

“I talked to him earlier and he said he didn’t get his eight hours, because the pillows in the hotel room were feather.”

“Oh no! Why didn’t we send him his pillows from home?”

“I didn’t think about it.” I look through my binoculars again. “Michael Tucker, another left handed batter right at the top. Three of the first four hitters are left handed batters, and number three in the lineup is Sammy Sosa.”

Michael Tucker approaches the plate. He says something to the catcher and laughs. Two gray-hairs scoot past us and sit down in the seats next to Mom.

“Great.”

“How are you all? That’s my boy Ty pitching out there. I’m Mrs. Claire Miller.”

“Fine, fine. We’re the Knudsens, by the way, Bud and Gladys. Pleased to meet you all.”

I watch Ty through my binoculars as he breathes deep, concentrates and fires. Tucker hits the ball to the second baseman, who throws another easy out.

“Ground ball to the right side, scooped up by Castillo. Thrown to first. Two pitches, two outs. This is too easy,” I say as Tucker jogs back into his dugout, no longer laughing.

“You must be so proud of Ty. Where did he go in the draft?” Mom nudges me.

“Fifth pick of the first round,” I whisper.

“He was the fifth pick in the first round,” Mom says.

“Here comes Sammy Sosa, Someone reminded Ty Miller after he joined the ball club that when he faced the Cubs, he would face Sosa, the number three hitter, in the first inning, and Miller’s comment was “bring him on.”

“What’d she say?” the old lady asks Mom.

“Oh nothing,” Mom leans into me. “Tune it down.” Then Mom sees Sosa step into the batter’s box on the Jumbotron, so she covers her face in her hands, “I can’t watch.”

The camera zooms in on Ty’s face. Ty says something to himself. I can’t tell what it is, but I’m sure it’s something surly and demeaning about Sosa. That’s how Ty holds himself together. He tells himself nobody’s that good.

“The Cubs are bringing on Sammy Sosa, hitting .318, 53 home runs, 137 RBI’s and Sosa will make sure Miller has to work here.”

“Is she calling the game?” The old man seems shocked and yes, impressed.

“Yes,” Mom sighs.

“Fastball over the outside corner,” I say in my quiet voice. “Sosa doesn’t swing. That was 94 miles an hour. Strike. Ty Miller stands 6’4” weighs 215 pounds, 21 years-old, born and still lives in Buckhorn, Texas.”

“How did she learn to do that?” His wife appears equally impressed.

“She sits at home in front of the television with the sound turned down and talks into a tape recorder.”

Sosa paws the dirt like a bull. He hits the plate with his bat a few times then waits for the pitch. Ty fires.

“The wind and a pitch. The breaking ball.” Sosa swings and connects.

“Ground ball to short, stopped by Gonzales.” I’m up out of my seat, my voice rising, “Throws on the mark at first base.”

“Sally.” Mom nudges me.

“Three up and three down. And the rookie’s Major League career is underw-a-a-a–y.”

“Sorry,” I put my binoculars down and smile at the Knudsens, “I get carried away. Hi, I’m Sally Miller.”

“We totally understand. You should get carried away. What an impressive brother!”

I smile at Mom.

“Call Dad.”

I pick up my cell phone and dial but the call goes straight to voice mail for the next six innings as Ty pitches an almost flawless game, no runs, one hit, three walks and five strike outs. Ty’s got them ahead 8-0 when he leaves the game.

“What an extraordinary performance by the rookie,” I say quietly when management pulls Ty after he finishes up the bottom of the sixth.

“Why are they pulling him?” Mom asks.

I start to answer but Bud interrupts, “He’s probably at 90. They’re going to be real strict on that 90 pitch count. They want to keep his arm healthy.”

“They didn’t even keep pitch counts when my husband, Harold, played,” Mom says.

“Mom, you’re thinking like a fan,” I whisper.

“I am a fan!”

I roll my eyes. When the middle relief pitcher steps out on the field bottom of the seventh, the entire stadium boos.

“Now they’re booing?” Mom sounds worried.

“This crowd wants to see Ty pitch a shutout and be a part of it. They don’t care about watching the same old relievers they see them pitch every night,” says Bud.

“Then I say leave him in,” his wife says.

“They hardly ever leave pitchers in for nine innings anymore. It’s unheard of.”

Bud winks and I smile. He’s cool. It’s nice to have someone to talk sports with. My dad knows the language of sports although most of the time he won’t speak it with me and my mom? Well, she doesn’t care to learn the language.

The boos rattle the middle relief pitcher. He ruins the team’s shut out in two innings by giving up two hits and one run in the 8th. Thankfully Acevedo, our closer, finishes off with a clean 9th, so we keep our 8-1 lead. Throughout the rest of the game, the cameramen zooms in on Ty in the dugout. We see Ty chew the side of his lip, ice his pitching arm, and adjust his jock strap. We watch all his teammates slowly warm up to him, come over and congratulate him. I’m glad because when I talked to Ty earlier, he said nobody on the team would talk to him.

“Great reception for Ty Miller as he’s coming out of the dugout,” I say at the end of the game as one teammate after another pats him on the back or shakes his hand. I pick up my cell phone and dial Dad for the seventh time. This time he answers.

“Yeah?”

“He was awesome. What’d you think?”

“He’s still got a lot of work to do. He didn’t throw any harder than anybody else. His fastball wasn’t moving, his breaking ball; I’ve seen better.” Dad hangs up.

It is tough having an overly critical father whose children never quite measure up to his expectations. And if he feels that way about Ty, just imagine how he feels about me.

Reading Retta

Honorable Mention-Austin Chronicle  Short Story Contest, 1998

by Amy Goodwin

The pediatrician blamed colic. The dentist blamed a nursery rhyme; a Wednesday’s child is full of woe. Her mother blamed herself for drinking wine while she was pregnant. Her father blamed her mother. Retta saw every doctor on her list of providers. They couldn’t help, so she saw a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a psychologist and a nutritionist. Retta still hurt.

Retta first heard about the curandera at work. Sitting alone in the break room, eating her one a day Snickers, she often heard the Mexican women talk of the curandera’s readings. She predicted that Sylvia’s husband would leave. She knew Delia was barren well before she even had a boyfriend. If a reading foreshadowed danger, the curandera had an intervention potion to bring a husband home and herbs to make a woman fertile.

Retta had nothing to lose. All day she’d walked around too tired to live. The night before she hadn’t slept; too afraid she’d die. With every ounce of strength, Retta ascended the rotting staircase and knocked on the curandera’s front door. As she waited on the porch, she looked out on a yard, overgrown, landscaped with poison ivy. An old Ford truck sat stationary just right of the driveway, useful only to the goat that stood atop its hood, lording over his chicken and rooster subjects. The porch on which Retta stood swayed like a bad bed, boards warped by standing water. A surveillance camera perched above the front door was the only marking of modernity.

Retta looked anxiously at her watch, then knocked again on the front door. She looked into the camera eyeing her suspiciously and waved, “I’m here for my two o’clock appointment.”

The curandera opened the front door and studied her. Retta felt suddenly aware of her young, frail body.

“Come,” the curandera said in a thick Spanish accent, motioning Retta to follow. The curandera looked buxom and strong, but her eye-catching beauty had faded.

They walked through her living room, lace curtains dancing as a breeze ebbed and flowed through an open window. A television shouted a Spanish soap opera to two stuffed chairs. Four walls bore the family photographs, still-frame proofs of a life’s investment. Retta’s stomach growled from the smell of fresh tortillas drifting from the kitchen.

The curandera reached in an apron pocket, pulled out a key and opened up the door to what had once been a walk-in closet.

“Sit,” she said assertively as she entered, motioning Retta to a folding chair. Retta sat down obligingly.

Little packages of dried herbs hung from a clothesline, clipped with pink plastic clothespins. Extending his stigmata, a tapestry of brown skinned Jesus hung on the wall behind her. Brightly colored candles filled the bookshelves — red for love, yellow for courage, green for wealth and fortune. Retta wished that she was Catholic for a moment. She wanted the pretty glass Rosary beads that were draped on a stand in the corner.

Lifting the reading glasses hanging from a chain around her neck, the curandera squinted. “Hablas Español?”

“No,” Retta said, then wished she hadn’t. The disadvantage might affect her reading.

“It’s okay,” the woman said laughing, reading her thoughts. “I speak English.” She reached into her maple desk and produced a pen and paper.

“Write down five questions,” the curandera said, as she pushed the pen and paper across to her.

Retta had her questions ready. Would she ever feel better? Would she find love? Would she leave her parents house and find her own place? Would she have a real profession? Would she ever be able to sleep in the dark? She wrote them down, then looked when she finished.

The curandera reached behind her desk and opened the bottom drawer. With a big heave, she then lifted the biggest Bible Retta ever saw and dropped it on the desk, dust flying out like puffs of smoke.

“Open it and point,” she said. “Then read me the verse where your finger lands.”

The Bible smelled of musty leather. Its pages, matted together, required peeling rather than turning. For convenience sake, she opened the Bible near the beginning. Her finger landed on Genesis 19:8 and she read aloud.

“Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to those men, in as much as they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

This wasn’t a good sign. Retta wanted another reading.

“Hum,” said the curandera pensively.

What did hum mean? thought Retta. She looked at the curandera for a sign. The curandera gave no sign. Instead, she bowed her head, rocked back and forth in her chair, chanting in a low, monotonous tone. “Holy Spirit come down on me. Use me as an instrument of your Word. Holy Spirit guide me, direct me. Show me the way, the truth and the light.”

Then she opened her eyes and answered Retta’s questions.

The answers Retta received were surprisingly promising. The curandera even offered up her nephew Domingo as a possible date. The pain, however was a curse that only ten prayers, two anointed candles and eight more visits could reverse. A curse was just another name for the same familiar pain. To be polite, Retta bought the candles, took the prayers and paid her for her services. Then she thanked her, left and never went back.

Nothing helped. Pills didn’t. Books didn’t. Talking didn’t. The only relief that remained was daydreaming, imagining herself somewhere else. Her favorite place to visit was her own funeral. Hundreds of people sat crammed into upright pews. Plastic speakers piped her eulogy, accommodating latecomers overflowing in the annex. Retta kept a running list of attendees in her head and secretly recruited. That was the main reason she went out and made friends in the first place. Her parents said it was morbid making death a reason for living. Retta said it was just a different twist on things.

In the mornings over breakfast, while her father read Sports and her mother read Lifestyles, Retta read the obituaries. Scanning the casualties of life gave her a sacrilegious satisfaction. In the race with the moving finish line, where bodies just gave out, Retta prevailed. The accomplishment spurred her out of her breakfast starting blocks and into the drudge of the day.

Weeks later, Retta came across the curandera’s name over breakfast. At 72 she died, leaving four grown children and a husband. Her Rosary was 9:00 a.m. at the Catholic Church. A graveside service followed at the Mexican Cemetery. Retta thought about the curandera’s clients. Would they be notified or come for an appointment and find out she was gone? She wondered what would happen to her walk-in closet office. The classifieds held her answer.

As Retta drove to the garage sale, she imagined the garage sale regulars, scavenging through the curandera’s possessions, searching for bargains. Opportunists, they came to capitalize on an American tradition; forget the dead and move on. The image made her angry.

Like an onlooker at a bad accident, Retta knew she shouldn’t look. The urge was too great, however, she couldn’t fight it even if she wanted to. Something called to her. Perhaps it was the spectacle of death. She rarely knew the people in the paper. Maybe it was reconciliation, a chance to bring an enemy closer, or an opportunity to stand in the wake of death and feel its power. She talked herself out of the guilt by promising not to buy anything. She wouldn’t get out of her car.

Retta pulled up to the curb in her Toyota. The poison ivy was gone now for show floor safety. There in the curandera’s front yard lay her shrine dismantled, attractively displayed for inventory close out. To Retta’s surprise however, there were no scavenging regulars. Instead she saw Sylvia and Delia from work, and many other clients, expending considerable time and effort evaluating each of the curandera’s belongings. News of the curandera’s death had somehow spread. They’d come like a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to pay their last respects and purchase relics of their gone Messiah.

One of the curandera’s middle-aged sons stood in the yard, wearing an Allen Auto T-shirt, holding a fistful of money.

“I’ll pay you ten dollars for that candle,” said one woman to the curandera’s son, handing him a candle.

Another woman standing nearby overheard the offer. She too was considering buying the candle and the competition solidified her commitment.

“Mira,” she to the curandera’s son. “I’ll pay you twenty.”

Like a Mexican version of Christie’s, each item sold to the highest bidder. The curandera’s son took the twenty dollars from the second woman and closed the deal.

The urgency for a curandera keepsake infected Retta. She forgot the promise she made herself and left her car. Retta walked around the yard, trying to look discreet. A card table stacked high with books caught her eye. She liked books. Retta flipped through a few pages. She saw diagrams that made her think they were books on Santeria, what whites called Mexican witchcraft.

She closed the books. As she moved to walk away, she stubbed her toe on the corner of something jutting out from underneath the table. There camouflaged in steeping grass sat the curandera’s Bible. Like an undiscovered treasure chest, it waited, large, vintage, arduous to open, yet promising a wealth and richness if unlocked. The Bible needed a new interpreter to decipher its hidden messages.

Retta couldn’t believe her good fortune. Adrenaline rushing, she picked the Bible up almost effortlessly and headed straight for the curandera’s shrewd negotiator.

“How much for the Bible?” she asked. He paused and stared at her a moment.

“Five dollars?” He was unaware the Bible was one of his mother’s most cherished possessions.

Retta nodded. With a concerted effort she balanced the Bible under one arm and reached into her pants pocket for a wadded up five.

Out of the corner of her eye she felt another’s stare. A Mexican girl, no more than seventeen, pregnant with toddler in tow, walked toward her.

“I’ve looked everywhere,” she said desperately as she reached Retta, pointing to the Bible. “Where did you find it?”

Before Retta could answer, the woman interrupted. “Please Miss, please. It’s all I have,” she said, handing Retta a Zip-Loc bag chock-full of quarters.

Retta stared at the woman, sadly. She couldn’t understand how someone could trust another human being that much, give another so much power in her life. The woman believed in someone that now was gone. Retta imagined the fear she felt, and the feeling of abandonment. That she could understand. She handed the woman the Bible. She needed it more than Retta did.

In one afternoon the curandera’s life was scattered across the countryside. Her belongings were placed in new shrines of their own. As she drove, Retta thought about the curandera. No longer a channel to God from earth, she now sat face to face with Him and could speak on her clients’ behalves. She realized they could still believe; they could still have faith. Retta stopped worrying about the Mexican woman and started worrying about herself. Where was her faith? Where was her trust? Why couldn’t she believe?

At the next light Retta made a U-turn and drove to the local bookstore to buy herself a Bible, a small version with crisp pages, the kind that she could carry. The original book of answers went to someone more deserving, but it wasn’t too late for Retta. She could teach herself to read the Bible, interpret and discover its hidden meanings.

Retta has her own place now, a small garage apartment a few blocks down from her parents’ house. Her new Bible rests on her coffee table. Two yellow anointed candles are proudly displayed on her borrowed entertainment center. Every night before she goes to bed, she reads her Bible and the ten prayers. Occasionally, she even burns her candles. She thinks often [of] the woman that prayed souls to heaven, sat with sin and sorrow, kept life’s many secrets and looked into tomorrow.

Mexicans called her the curandera. Retta called her a friend.

As published: http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/annual/stories/98/hm.goodwin.html