M. Keith Smith
Copyright by M. K. Smith, October 2001, all rights reserved, no reproduction in any form except with the written consent of the author.
“GET YOUR BAT up, Randy,” Randy’s mom yelled at him. Well, maybe screamed was a more apt word. Since she was in the scorer’s box with the announcer, and the mike was open, then yeah, screamed was correct.
Yes, it is against the rules to coach from the booth. Deb had been doing it since Randy was five, and nary an opposing coach, or field official or league director or school administrator had been able to stop her. This or any other baseball field wasn’t theirs; it was hers, Deb’s diamond. Wherever her son played make no mistake about it, the field belonged to her. It would be interesting to see if that was true if – when Randy made the majors. He’d already been scouted by the Rangers, the Yankees, the Pirates, even the local team down in Seattle, the Mariners, had come up to watch, and he was only a junior in Whatcomtown High with another year to go before graduation.
Randy flinched at her voice. But then his elbow came up, and the bat with it, as Deb Duvall had instructed.
Randy’s coaches flinched too, as did most everyone else in the Rebels’ dugout, as well as the Warriors’, even the line coaches, and the families packing the creaking, splintered bleachers, including the Koenig family’s dog, a Rottweiler named ‘Cobb’, named after the illustrious professional baseball player with the personality of a trained killer, or so I’d been told. Cobb didn’t just flinch, though; he whined and looked as if he were going to dash away from the shrieking voice.
At the concession stand a hamburger pattie slipped off Mike McGowan’s spatula as he was transferring it to a bun and landed on the dusty floor, while his thirteen-year-old daughter Sheila dropped two cups of Pepsi she was about to serve a couple of 11-year-old boys ogling her breasts.
The toddlers fooling around under the bleachers also began to cry and yell for their mommies, poor things.
Just as important, the Everett Warriors’ pitcher out on the mound flinched. At least he didn’t pee his pants like in the first game of the series. What was supposed to be a fastball became a floater that seemed to dangle out there forever before reaching the plate.
Randy could usually hit just about anything tossed his way as it was, but this, this slow-motion hardly spinning baseball was T-Ball stuff for him. Imagine Babe Ruth hitting against a 12-year-old Little Leaguer. The 17-year-old Varsity All American Randy Duvall swinging at a seven-year-old’s pitch was comparable.
The bat sang as it connected and the ball became Randy’s season homerun number 31 in the Rebels’ final game of what had been a longer-than-usual season, knocking in the base runners on first and third and winning the game 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth.
It was almost deathly silent as Randy trotted the bases. Except for his mom, who was whooping and hollering like the idiot she could sometimes be.
When Randy crossed home plate the crowd joined in, tentatively at first, and then louder when they realized it was the season’s last game and would be another nine months before they had to endure another night with Deb in the booth.
Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for me. I am Don Duvall, her husband.
Deb, whose body was like an hourglass with its top half cut off, had no problem bullying her way through the Rebels’ dugout and rubbing up against all the other players to greet Randy as he came in. Coach Williams had a chance to high-five my son but that was about all. Deb shouldered the six-four, two-hundred and thirty-five pound, beer-bellied Williams aside to hug her boy, jumping up and down with him like a bobble-head doll, hauling him back out to the center of the field.
No one would look me in the eye as they scrammed for their cars. One would think they’d have hung around to celebrate being Washington State 4-A champs.
Wouldn’t you think so?
* * *
RANDY SAT QUIETLY at the table with his pizza while Deb regaled the small crowd of kids celebrating at the Whatcomtown Pizza Palace. You could hear her bragging about how she’d been teaching Randy about baseball since before he was in diapers all the way over in the dark booth where I sat alone. We were the only two adults there. Or maybe that’s I was the only adult there.
When she tired of bragging about baseball, she told her other customary stories that I’d heard too many times before. So had everyone else, except total strangers.
Randy’s MVP trophy, thrust into his hands for a brief moment by Coach Williams before Deb had snatched it away in the teams’ dressing room, sat in front of him, finally. His girlfriend Gloria had tried to sit next to him, but Deb had almost squashed her when she had commandeered the chair.
She kept her arm wrapped tight around his shoulders the rest of the night. Even when she stood, it was behind Randy with her hands on his wide shoulders.
She knew baseball; there was no doubt about that. I’d never been much of a sportsman, of any kind. She’d grown up with baseball, though, an only child to a father who would have murdered for a son to nurture all the way into the major leagues, where’d he played for four years himself before an injury had taken him from the game. For her, during her time, it’d been softball, because that was all the girls were allowed to play, then, even though she watched the real thing on television with her dad. She’d even played softball during the early years of our marriage, until she’d slipped two disks in her back sliding into home, going for an in-the-park homer. Her father had never lived to see what she’d done to Randy. Excuse me, for Randy.
Randy’s slice of pizza lay next to the trophy, just as untouched by him.
A COUPLE OF the seniors on the team stood a bit too close to Deb as she bid them adieu after the party. Sure, Deb’s like a pear with tits no bigger than a normal woman’s balled fist, and she does have that wart on her chin, although it is small and looks more like a picked zit. But she exudes more sexuality than Brittany Spears can, naked. Dancing auburn hair and liquid green eyes that my dad would have called ‘bedpost’ eyes, a quick and wide smile always at the ready and hardly suspicious the first time you saw it, were the other carrots in her snare. She really wasn’t all that hard on the eyes, as long as the eyes kept above the neck. Shaving the mustache every other day helped some. My dad would have had something to say about that, too, the mustache, and a hairy-armed woman. Something about ‘one like that’ liking sex as much as a man…or wanting it as much.
Thank God he’d died before I met Deb. He was the kind of father who would never tell you a mistake was about to train-wreck right into your face. But afterwards you couldn’t shut him up about it. He’d remind you of every turn you’d taken on the way to the wreck, smirking about it the whole time.
That’s how I met her eighteen impenetrable years ago, at a Grievers Group meeting, where a bunch of whiny grownups met to sob over the loss of myriad loved ones. We’d lost our fathers at the same time of that year. Both in our early thirties and never tortured…eh, married, and with the common vacuum of grief we quickly found other things in common and salved our grief together in bed that first night. We’d met and tied the night in less than six weeks.
I finally got out of the car and leaning in, pressed on the horn. Deb finally turned and stared. I kept pressing. Back to the boys she smiled and managed to touch their shoulders as they said their goodbyes.
“Dad,” Randy said from the back seat.
I let off the horn.
The smile fell off her face when her back was to the kids as she stalked towards the car. Her green eyes weren’t dancing anymore, either.
“I swear,” she said as she got in, forcing me over into the passenger seat. She slapped the column shifter into drive and we bolted from the parking lot. “Sometimes you can be so embarrassing. What, are you jealous of a couple of kids? You’d think I was giving them blowjobs or something.”
“Mom,” Randy said from the back seat.
“Oh,” I said, “not where everyone else could see you, I know better than that.”
Randy was quiet.
Deb, she just stared at me with the blank slate of a face. Her eyes, though, her eyes were laughing.
“YOU’RE JUST JEALOUS,” Deb told me later in our bedroom, her head on my bare chest. She’d dragged me into the bedroom while Randy had retreated to his room to log onto the Internet, perhaps to be alone with Gloria, at last.
She hopped my bones like the pro she was, as intense a fifteen minutes of sex any man could want, momentarily rinsing the sight of her with those high school kids from my mind.
For fifteen minutes it had, anyway. I am a man, after all. That’s about the only time I could say that, though, that I was a man, when I was thrashing her with connubial bliss.
After I’d caught my breath, laid on my back and let my heartbeat drop fifty beats, I’d broached the subject about the way she’d talked to Randy’s teammates.
That had been her way to blow it off, tell me I was just jealous.
Normally over the years when she had said something like that, I might have said something back like I was just thankful they’d warmed her up for me.
Not tonight. Eighteen long years. Did I mention that yet?
“Yous’ just jealous,” I said.
“What? What’s that mean.”
“There’s this guy I used to work with, at my first factory job when I was just a kid. I was about Randy’s age, actually. Anyway, when we got to joking around, taking cuts at each other – telling each other how stupid they were or how fat their momma was, that kind of thing – he’d get to where he couldn’t think of anything funny to retort.
“So he’d say, ‘Yous’ just jealous’ like it was the funniest thing in the world. The most perfect cut of all. Well, he was the kind of guy, his hairline was just a half-inch from his brow, you know what I mean? He probably had a ninety I.Q.”
Deb sat up. Her nipples jutted at full attention. I’d measured them once, one night when she was in a sensuous torpor: they were a full inch-and-a-half long, big as a man’s thumb and about as succulent. To this day when I see actors making out in the movies and get to the nipple-licking part I have to turn away.
“You’re calling me stupid?”
Tears welled in her eyes. Don’t worry, it was just part of her routine. The longest-running play on Broadway.
Did I mention she sold cars for a living? A major brand’s used car lot, too. She regularly placed in the top five percent of their national sales force.
In other words, folks, she was a hell of an actor. The best of liars. She’s in sales, get it? It was either that or become a lawyer.
We’d been married for 18 years that seemed like fifty. Did I say that yet?
“Yeah, I guess you could put it that way, you want. I mean, if you’re going to use the word ‘jealous’ instead of ‘embarrassed’.”
Her eyelashes batted rapidly, but not out of drama. She couldn’t believe what I’d said.
Hell, I couldn’t either.
“I mean, what else you call that, rubbing your teeny tits against boys your own son’s age? Embarrassing to me, Randy, too.
“Not only shaming him, but sullying the best night of his precious young life? He won the state title, not you.”
Deb got up and jerked a granny-gown out of the dresser drawer and snaked into it. That was a message, her selection of nightgown. Her nipples were like taunts the way they strained against the gown, almost as far out as her belly.
“You know, Don –“ she said ‘Don’ like it was something nasty you didn’t want to step in –“you’re the only one being shamed.” She leaned in close to make her point. “You know that, you’ve always known it, too.”
The smile on her face was not the one she’d used on the seniors. It was the one she used when Randy had won the game tonight, and it been aimed at the losing team.
Sure, I’d been cuckolded since probably the honeymoon. I’d known for sure the second year of our marriage, Randy not quite a year old and we’d been arguing and started seeing a family counselor. We’d gone together at first.
But I’d insisted we spilt our time; see the guy alone, wanting to deal with my own issues.
Then the counselor called me one day after his appointment with Deb and said – and these are the exact words, their branded into my brain and I wish daily I could forget them –“Now, Don, didn’t you know that by accusing Deb of adultery she was going to cheat with me?” Pause. Then he’d hung up. Deb walked in five minutes later. I never mentioned it. I did give her the dark, silent brooding treatment for a couple of days.
I never saw that counselor again. I tried to tell myself he just misspoke, had meant to say something else, like warn me I might cause her to cheat by accusing her of it.
Sounds plausible, right? Logical?
Then there were the trips for company conferences out of town. The late nights when she had claimed she’d had a customer almost sold and had to finish the deal.
It would be sloppy sex those nights. Her not into it much and it, you know, her, you know, it, was loose and sloppy.
Believe me, a man knows when another man’s wiped his feet on the mat first, okay?
Eighteen years. Yeah, I’d known. She was right. What could I say?
I just sat there staring back at her, thinking that qualified as being defiant.
“I’m going to give Randy his goodnight hug,” she said, and walked out.
RANDY WAS BLUSHING, the way his mom was hugging him, rubbing on him, now, like he’d seen her do with Gary and Shane outside the Pizza Palace when his dad hadn’t been looking, walking to the car.
“Now, aren’t you glad I was there tonight?” his mom said.
“Huh?” He stared back at her with those pale blue eyes that were like his fathers, and reminded her every time she looked at him of him, his father.
“Huh? That pitcher, he struck you out twice tonight, just like the first game in the series. If I hadn’t been on you he’d have struck you out again. I rattled him, didn’t I?” She laughed.
Deb swatted her son on the butt, like a good coach, although a good coach didn’t squeeze it like that at the end of the swat.
She didn’t notice the tears in his eyes.
“You know,” she said, “there’s no reason to even finish your senior year.”
“Mom? But Mom, I want to.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t,” she snarled, letting her smile slip for a second. Then like a snap of the fingers, it was back. “I’m just saying you could. I’m meeting with a scout from one of the pros this weekend. He was there tonight, watching you.”
“Isn’t that, you know, illegal?”
He looked at his mom in her nightgown, glad he was under the sheets of his bed, then ashamed of what he was thinking.
His tears became a deluge.
“I’ll be your agent,” she said, ignoring his question. “No one else could take care of you like I have. A stranger, they’ll just rip you off. Why should they get part of your earnings, anyway, at least as big a cut as they take?
“You can trust me, though; I’m your mother. I got you this far, didn’t I?”
She stood and patted his head. “I can take you all the way. We’ll talk about it when I get back, okay.”
She laid her hand on his leg, squeezed it. Then she kissed him, almost on the lips – and he felt her tongue leave a spot of moistness there.
She turned and saw me standing in the door. Her smile could have freeze-dried a cooked turkey in a second. She brushed past me.
Randy shook his head at me, his t-shirt soaked with his tears. “Dad…no, dad….” He couldn’t finish, but I’d heard her, heard the whole damn thing.
“Son, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. You want to finish high school, then you will. It’s your choice.”
He stared at me through the tears, but finally shook his head, turned away and curled into a quivering ball under his sheets.
The look in his eyes had said it all. When had I ever taken care of anything?
DEB DUVALL NEVER came back from her trip that weekend. The scout she’d claimed to be meeting had testified she’d never shown up, even though the airlines confirmed her plane ticket had proved she arrived at his city that Friday night, only an hour behind schedule.
The police thoroughly investigated him, and nearly harassed the poor guy to death. Of course he lost his job after I’d made my statement to the police. His former team didn’t want to get tainted with the implications of what their scout would be doing meeting the mother of a major draft prospect in a hotel room.
The Whatcomtown detectives could never prove anything against him, though, and he was never charged.
I was happy for him, too, when they finally left him alone. Innocent until proven guilty, I always thought. That’s what the law says, doesn’t it?
Randy cried often and long like any natural son would whose mom had left his life from an apparent tragedy.
It certainly was a tragedy, Randy losing his mom like that, just gone, disappeared.
He skipped fall ball, but by the time spring training started he was ready, and at the opening game dedicated the year to his mom, Deb Duvall, and for all she’d done for him.
One might think such a dedication would be a dagger through my heart. It was not. In fact, I suggested it to him. If he wants to remember his mother as something she wasn’t, good for him. Let him think if her as a normal mom.
I just wanted him to be happy, that’s all, to feel…normal.
The truth is that she did in fact teach Randy everything he knows about baseball. That can’t be argued.
He hit one homer short of tying the state record that year, and even though the Whatcomtown Rebels didn’t make it to the state finals again, Randy Duvall was the state’s MVP and got a scholarship to Texas A&M. The big leagues could wait, he said. He wanted to be a kid just a little longer, if you don’t mind. It is, after all, a kid’s game, isn’t it, he had told a local reporter after signing for college.
Now that Randy’s away at college, I still come out to watch the local high school team play. It isn’t just for Randy, either. It’s for her, too, his mother.
After all, her name was Duvall and she’d been my wife. We’d been married eighteen years. Eighteen long years, true – have I said it enough, yet? – but married just the same. This was her place, if nothing else. She was pure at heart about baseball, if nothing else…yeah, nothing else, that’s for sure.
This field was her place, Deb’s Diamond, and when Randy became a major league star and retired and made it to the Hall of Fame, I’d suggest he have the park named after her.
In the meantime, if no one ever noticed the pitcher’s mound was an inch higher since Randy’s last year, so what. Does knowing that bother you?
I did tell you it’d been eighteen – yeah, that’s right, I did, didn’t I.