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Stealing Second


Rita has children. Twin boys. They play baseball. One is more talented than the other. How can that be with identical twins? Apparently identical twins aren’t identical in every respect, he thinks.

Mike’s at the ball field at her request. Night game. The field lights are harsh. His head aches in the distance like an arriving train. He’s a little bit drunk. Drink is what it takes to tolerate the not-quite-identical twins and her enthusiasm for their all-too-ordinary athletic prowess. He has learned that all children, especially in America, are gifted and destined for greatness in their mother’s eyes.

He wonders if she knows he is a bit hammered. Probably. But she isn’t making a fuss. He is the most recent in a long parade of disappointments and she’ll make the most of it until a white knight comes along who can truly appreciate her brats.

He leaves his seat to go to the bathroom. He goes to the concession for a couple of beers and hot dogs. On his way back he dumps one of the beers down his leg. He hands her a dog and the remaining beer. Takes a bite of the other dog. She smiles, impressed with his lack of beerness, until she notices the drenched pants leg, then frowns and shakes her head.

The more talented son misplays a fly ball to the outfield. The ball rolls all the way into the thick grass at the perimeter where the change in the grass defines the field. There is no outfield wall. The twin can’t find the ball. Just stands there stupefied. Inside the park home run. Rita is crestfallen as if she, herself, has somehow committed the error. The pressure, unspoken or not, that parents of a certain type put on their offspring is enough to crush their spirits and turn them into sheeplike corporate drones. Or push a select few, the lucky ones, into open, creative rebellion, Mike thinks. “Baaah!” bleat the twins.

The dry hot dog sticks in Mike’s throat. Rita hasn’t offered him a sip of her beer and he isn’t about to ask. “Are you having a good time?” she asks, turning to him with those pale blue eyes that are icily beautiful. He knows that she is working up to a deeper, more important question. “Of course I am”, he says, “I’m spending the evening with you.”

“And the boys”, she corrects.

“Right!”

Rita was late having children. She turned 47 last week. She had been married for almost twenty childless years. Mike suspects the twins are the result of some biologically induced shenanigans though they’ve never talked about it. They also haven’t talked about the fact that the marriage pretty much went to hell immediately after the spawning.

A strike out by one of the progeny. Mike can never tell them apart. He suppresses a yawn. Rita is boiling over with frustration. With the boys. With her stagnated life. With Mike. At times like this she launches a full frontal assault.

“What are we Mike?”, she asks with her steely blues narrowed to slits in her still pretty face. “Are we a couple or are we just fuck buddies?”

“Can’t we be both?” He wants to retract his response having not thought through the opportunity she presented. She stares at him. He laughs nervously. “Of course we’re a couple. We’re a fantastic couple. I love you more than I can possibly express.” This brings the smile he had hoped for, her face open and beaming for a moment but just as quickly clouds over again.

“Tammy said she saw you with Jennifer.”

“At Tony’s. We’re occasional drinking buddies, honey. You know that. I would have invited you but it was last minute and I knew you were off doing something with the boys and we were only going to have one. Jenny bought a new car and offered to sell me her old Honda for a song.” He made this last part up to provide important authenticity. It’s time to shut up and let the crisis pass.

“Okay but you should have told me. I know the history between you two.”

“I understand. It was so brief and insignificant it slipped my mind. I’m sorry.” At this point he wraps an arm around her supple waist. Supple is a euphemism. Rita has thickened in the middle with age like warmed over soup. He doesn’t really mind. She looks damned good for her age. He’s too old and tired to be chasing after the thirty-somethings anyway. If not for the damned twins. She leans into him and rests a cheek on his shoulder. Her hair, flecked with a little gray, smells fresh and clean. Mike kisses the top of her head. She lifts her face and he kisses her warmly and sincerely on the mouth. She offers a little flick of tongue.

Okay, the opening he has been looking for, “Want another beer and dog?”

“No, but go ahead.”

Mike has been a good boy and is being rewarded. He slips from her side. She turns her attention back to the meaningless game.

He hears cheering as he walks away. He pretends it’s for him.

The concession stand isn’t busy. Mike orders two beers. Stands there gulping happily at one. Then attacks the other. He orders a third beer to take back to his seat. He’ll say there was a line. He’ll ask about the boys and whether she can get a sitter for the weekend so they can get away to renew their vows. It’s a joke between them. He’ll pander and set her up to grant him another reward.

 

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