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April 1, 2009 | BASEBALL, Fiction

Azul

Jim Ruland

Azul photo

The phone rings. You can a) get out of the hot tub, b) tell Graciela to get it, or 3) send Roberto. Answering the phone, however, would ultimately interrupt Graciela, who is in the hot tub with you, and you would very much like Graciela to continue what she is doing. There is no one else who can answer the telephone and this is exactly the way it should be. After what happened in Cleveland, no one will touch the phone that only rings in the offseason during contract years. Not even just to be funny. So the phone rings until Graciela finishes.

Wait.
Wait.
Wait.
Wait.
Wait.
Now?
Not yet; wait.

You get an e-mail. It is from a friend of a friend. One of the few ladies in your life your wife hasn't learned to despise. You have never been intimate with this woman, but this is only a formality as you have fucked nearly all of her friends. She is the go between. She lets you know when they need things. For their children or their husbands or themselves. She doesn't specify, but when the word comes you dispatch Roberto to take care of everything she asks for.

Today she tells you that Janet, a woman you were involved with in Boston during a memorable stretch of the 2004 postseason, the one you are determined not to let define your career, has passed away. Taken by cancer and just 30 years young. You have Roberto inflate the life raft shaped like a surfboard and drift in the pool, thinking about your time with Janet. You don't think about her ass (exquisite), appetite for spiced rum (capacious), or her laugh (harsh yet melodious); instead you dwell on how she never asked you for anything when you could have given her everything.

Well, almost everything.

The gulf between what you can and do give has no bottom and suddenly you're nothing, a spaceman in the void, a speck. Just a guy in a pool with a puddle of coconut oil in his navel. You drift and drift and drift and ultimately come to wonder how the peeling paint on the boathouse window shutters had escaped your attention.

"Did you get my fax?"
"Yes."
"Did they counter?"
"The offer is on my desk."
"The numbers?"
"Better than expected."
"Are they close?"
"Very."
"Make them closer."

You have a knack for numbers; it is your gift. Those who say all you're good for is baseball have never seen you study a contract or divide a restaurant bill into seventeen separate checks. If it weren't for baseball you'd spend your days at the track or maybe even teaching algebra at George Washington High. "You have a scientific mind," your mother told you. But what did she know of science? Only Scotty understands this about you, adores you for it even.

It happens the same way every year. You'll be at a party somewhere. A place where the heat stays inside the earth and when you close your eyes you can feel the sun stirring within you. This time it's at a cousin's rancho you paid to have built for the sole purpose of parties like this one. It is a place that isn't on any map on a dirt road without a name, a place your white friends would never have hope of finding without the GPS coordinates.

There is a pig in the ground and pollo on spits. The music is loud and runs continuously for twelve, eighteen, twenty-four hours. The drums seep into your skull, dance behind your eyeballs. You can feel the bass deep in your balls. It dances there, too. You keep time with bells, whistles, sticks, anything you can put your hands on. You cut open a pineapple with a machete and splash in the rum. You go easy on the rookies and make life hell for the veterans. You give them every opportunity to disgrace themselves so that they will tell no one of the things they witnessed. You shoot flaming arrows into the sea until you hit the gasoline-filled skiff and there are tears in your eyes when it explodes.

"The time for waiting is over."
"Are you certain?"
"Si."
"Absolutely?" Scotty asks because you have been down this road before. Because he knows you better than you know yourself."
"Si, si."
"Okay, see you in Arizona."

You phone your wife and tell her you'll be home soon. You leave the party without saying goodbye to anyone, not even Roberto. You climb into the back of the car, but you don't go home. When the sun comes up you are standing in a nearby village on the front stoop of a shack that belongs to a man whose reputation is clouded with cocaine.

He is surprised to see you, even more surprised by your question. "Does your father still have the store?" "Si?" the man says, more question than answer, wondering if this is another one of your pranks. "When he wakes up we'll go to the store." "I'll get him now," he says. "He's right here." "No trouble," you say, but don't stop him as he whispers for his papa.

The store is a humble shed with iron gates and several locks. It exhales rust and sawdust when he opens it up. "What color?" the old man asks. "Azul," you say and tell him all about the boathouse, far more than he needs to know, but it seems imperative that he understand why have you to do this, otherwise you will be standing at the plate, in San Francisco or maybe Denver — it doesn't matter where — and instead of thinking about the stuff, that which you've seen and that which is still to come, your mind will drift until you can feel the paint flaking onto our calloused fingers as you run your hands along the weather-beaten boards. You cannot help this. It is the spaceman in you.

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