Tucker. Rusty. Calvin, Connor, Cooper. We have names that once belonged to Golden Retrievers.
Everything about us comes together like chalk and weeds and clay. We’re separated only by fence posts. We share our mother’s crushed geraniums, their yellow garden trowels in half-dug holes, red checker-print tablecloths, flies and oniony potato salad, hammers and drills on pegboards, the smell of paint and grass clippings and stilled hose water dripping without sieves, birthing the puddles that draw millipedes and catch cottonwood seed.
We bored. We Cat’s Cradle gazes. We silent five. We breathless nothing. We pebble-kicking misfits of our own alley.
Ants rain from the oak that hangs over home plate. They crawl behind ears, underneath collars, line the brims of our hats. They bite, but we do not take our eye off the ball’s stitching. We swing. We miss. We curse and search the weeds behind us. We’re at fault. We’re our own catchers. We hate the curve, the knuckle. We love the slider but always call for heat.
We joke that Calvin jerks it to Rusty’s sister. He pictures her Keds—virginal white soles, pink laces, red tongue. We say we don’t masturbate at all. Until one of us admits it. Then we all admit it. It’s every day. It’s our morning coffee. Our afternoon tea. Our bitter nightcap.
Connor’s heart palpitations eat him, gnaw his ribs. He says it feels like the frog’s croak, the slide into second base, the catch, grip, and grind on gravel. He beats his sternum, the one-and-two-and-one-and-two, reminding the heart of its rhythm. We stomp our feet with him, accent the two, grunt the and. We remove our gloves and slap mosquitoes to our chests. The one. The one. The one. We taste dust. We count red dots and mashed wings.
We chase strays as they bark and nip, run in circles, round bases from third to first to right field to left. We never conceived the rules. We never established a way to win. We are speed and torque and centroids. We are nature, unleashed. We wield the club, our ancestral tool, and we strip ourselves of civilization. We territorial. We one. We aim. We swing. We maim. We kill. We pant. We breathe. We won. We scatter. We howl.
Timston Johnston received his MFA from Northern Michigan University and is the fiction editor of Passages North. His work appears in Midwestern Gothic, Ghost Town, and Cartagena. He likes Reese's Pieces.