Mac's Elbow

27-04-08 Copyright  W.E.Allerton

 

I was challenged to write a story/poem about 'body parts' with the emphasis on 'Elbow' by my friend 'Aeppel' in California. Once I formed the idea, I wrote this almost non-stop and, I hasten to add, it is a first draft. No doubt there will be changes made as I resurface from the process and see all the glaring errors and doubling that is usually in there somewhere...

 

 

Mac's Elbow

 

From where he sat on the edge of the treatment bench, six feet below ground felt appropriate. In the corner facing him was the high level window looking out through the shelter of the dugout to the rim of the Schülter Motors stand. Above the hard plastic seating that Coach never let up on, between the hard metal frame of the window and the decayed edge of the distant concrete, the evening star appeared. He watched it burn, letting it soak in through his retinas to obscure the pain. Doc turned his elbow gently into a folded position.
     ‘Let me tape that to your side..’
     ‘No, Doc. I need the pain.’
     ‘Nobody needs pain.’
     ‘How else do I know I’m still alive?’
 Doc shrugged his shoulder and began to pack his bag. Through the window Mac saw the concrete steps of the stand darken as Ben turned off the last of the floods.
     ‘It’s your funeral…’
     ‘Never thought I’d be here to see it though, Doc.’
     ‘Guess that’s kind of unique… I guess…’
 Doc folded his glasses and slid them into the pocket of his holdall,
     ‘There has to be something you can do… coaching… perhaps…’
     ‘Doc… if you couldn’t do medicine… could you stand around and watch? Would you have the patience to watch ‘em fumble and stutter when you could… you know…?’
     Doc heaved the bag from the leather covered table, leaving an imprint of the base on the sewn-in emblem. He’d always thought the eagle had a kind of snigger.
     ‘Guess it would be hard to. But then I’d be passing on all that knowledge stored in my head that’s just sat there… waiting…’
     ‘I’m not a coach, Doc. I’m a player.’
     ‘Were…’
     ‘Huh?’
     ‘You were a player.’
     ‘Look, Doc. Three weeks rest and this arm will be as good as new. What do you say? Don’t tell Coach, huh?’
     ‘Mac. You’re done. That arm will never pitch again.’
     ‘I’ll heal. I’ve always healed… and if not… give me something for the pain, will you?’
     ‘Thought you didn’t need anything…’
     ‘Different pain, Doc. Different pain.’
     Mac slid around on the bench so that his eyes could avoid being drawn to that star out there rising and setting without him. He kept his right hand trapped between his thighs so the elbow didn’t move too much,
     ‘I can do this…’
     ‘No, Mac. Not his time. The elbow is shot. You had so much treatment in the past that the joint is calcified. No way around it. Even if you conquer the pain the joint will now twist and turn and who knows what will happen to the ball.’
     ‘That could be good. Couldn’t it?’
     ‘That could be foolish. Listen, I got to go. You coming with me?’
     ‘No, Doc. Thanks… I need a minute.’
     ‘Ok.’

     Outside the window the plastic of the seats was still red and hard, like the new Thunderbird in Coach’s magazine, like the thoughts slowly filtering into his brain. Coach always ranted about how he had better things to do than sit on plastic week after week getting a hard ass while watching a field full of stuffed dummies play catch out there. Now what was he going to do… join him? The light fading behind the stand etched the broken rim into stark relief, echoing the jaw of a great white. How many more players had this bowl of concrete and dust snatched up and eaten?
     Mac slid off the bench and a howl of pain echoed around the small treatment room.
     ‘Doc?’
     Nothing… but the errant sound of dust settling on his career and the lost echoes of studded shoes chittering the hard floor of the corridor. Somehow he managed to stuff his right hand into the waistband of his trousers so that the pain was almost bearable. He moved forward into a left-handed world where the doorknobs opened the wrong way and lift buttons were on the wrong side.
     In the car lot outside, his Edsel sat waiting.

 

 


     ‘How much longer you going to sit there?’
     ‘What else you want me to do?’
     ‘Take out the trash would be a start.’
     Mac dragged himself from the confines of the couch and into the kitchen. With his left hand he lifted the bag of trash from the container.
     ‘Here… I’ll get the door…’
     Margery leaned around him to take the handle. Mac twisted violently around. The bag ripped. Trash scattered the kitchen. Margery dropped to her knees,
     ‘What on earth…?’
     ‘What am I that I need your help? Tell me, huh? What am I that I can’t even take out the trash single-handed?’ Mac threw the remnants of the bag at her. The lid of a can cut her face, bounced off and into the sink where it rattled around in the silence following his outburst.
     ‘What am I…?’ he pleaded, lifting his left hand in supplication. Margery’s tears picked up the blood and trickled it down her face, biblical as a river, bright and hard as the seats in the dugout.
     ‘I don’t know anymore…’ she replied.
     ‘Well at least I’m still a meal-ticket, if only a one-handed one.’ He held out his left hand, the fingers trembling and shaking apart, the gaps widening and closing like shears,
     ‘Eat out of that, can you? How much rice can you hold in there?’
     ‘Enough for today.’
     Mac shook his hand and put it back in his pocket where the trembling could continue out of his sight and he could perhaps for a minute pretend it wasn’t happening,
     ‘It’s tomorrow that scares me.’
     ‘Me too…’
     ‘What…why…? I thought nothing scared you. You keep telling me to go out there and find a job and not be afraid that I’ll get eaten again. Do you know what it’s like to be eaten alive by something? Something you can’t do?’
     Margery rummaged in the kitchen drawer. A piece of loose laminate caught the sleeve of her old cardigan and slapped back into place on the worktop edge as she closed it,
     ‘Here…’ she said.
     ‘What?’
     She held out the bank book,
     ‘Look…’
     He snatched the book from her. She drew her hand away as if she’d been bitten. Her shoulders set rigid, hunched and protective. The arch of her back increased until she was folding in, becoming smaller, less easy to hit and be hurt.
     ‘What?’ he looked at the bank book, turned it the right way around clumsily with the fingers of one hand,
     ‘What about it?’
     ‘The payments stopped last week.’
     ‘That can’t be right… Coach knows I’ll be back soon. Another 3 months and I’ll be ri…’
     ‘Doc told him.’
     ‘He promised me he wou…’
     ‘He did.’
     ‘Shit.’
     He turned the book back over and tossed it to her,
     ‘Here… I don’t want to look at it.’
     ‘Same old, same old…’
     Margery began to gather up the trash, scooping the dark squalid mess together with her hands.
     ‘Don’t you do that while I’m here!’ Mac leaned over her, his body twisting from inside where rage nested and incubated, dark as the pool of trash,
     ‘Don’t you use both hands like that in front of me…’
     Margery looked up,
     ‘Go back to your film, Hon. Sometimes I forget I’m supposed to understand.’
     ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
     Margery ignored him and corralled the trash into a corner using only her left  hand.
     ‘See! Now you know what it’s like.’
     ‘No, Hon… I don’t. I only know it’s awkward. It’s not eating me up. It’s just… difficult. Something I have to get over.’
     ‘That’s stupid. Don’t talk to me that way. I only want back what I had… is that too much to ask, huh?’
    ‘No, Hon.’ Margery turned over and sat on the floor, her back against the sink,         

    ‘Just don’t always expect an answer, that’s all I want to say.’
     Mac pointed at the bank book she’d left on the floor beside her,
     ‘What you going to do about that?’
     ‘Might as well go in the trash.’
     ‘No. What you going to do about having no money?’
     ‘I’ll get a job…’
     ‘No you won’t. I’ll go see Doc and get some more of those painkillers. Coach’ll let me play again if Doc says so.’
     ‘No, Hon, he won’t. A letter came with the last payment.’
     ‘Letter? I haven’t seen no letter…’
     ‘It was addressed to me.’
     ‘I still should’ve seen it. Where is it?’
     ‘In the trash.’
     ‘Where?’
     Margery stretched herself up from the floor and slid past his anger into the room  beyond, where the television flickered it’s subliminal life away in a stream of adverts for things they could no longer afford. Parts were getting difficult for the Edsel and if it broke down again she would have to shop local instead of going to the Mart and everyone knew how expensive that was and suddenly it struck her with a laugh how ridiculous that sounded. If you don’t have any money it doesn’t matter where you shop. You might as well eat gold-plated if all you’re doing is exercising your imagination instead of your teeth.
     ‘What you laughing at?’ Mac demanded from the kitchen. He scrabbled around one-handed in the trash pile until his fingers closed around a folded piece of paper. His skin could almost sense the desperation in the way that it was crushed.
     Margery called in from the tentative safety of the sitting-room,
     ‘Have you ever heard of ‘Irony’?’
     Mac snapped back,
     ‘Put down the crossword, I think I found the letter.’
     He struggled into the place Margery had just left, the sink base cold against his back through the thin summer shirt he wore all year,
     ‘Dear Margery…’ his face twisted into a snarl, his skin, once dark from hours on the open practice field, folding into creases as stained and white-edged as the letter in his good left hand,
     ‘What they doing writing to you?’

     Margery appeared at the kitchen doorway, leaning against the hard frame, its safe solidity reinforcing her sense of outrage,
     ‘Because when they write to you, you throw them straight in the trash because you’re afraid to open them. Because it might be this one. Because they all were but you won’t listen to nobody.’
     ‘Calm down… calm down…’ he shook a wrinkle out of the paper… a slice of peeled onion hit the wall and slid slowly down. Margery watched it leaving a trail, as if the snail of her life the last three months was slithering inexorably downwards into the pile of trash.
     ‘ ‘Dear Margery’… at least they spelled your name right… ‘ it is with regret that I have to tell you that the insurance payments have reached an end.’…
bastards… How much have I paid into that Plan, I ask you… how much?’
     Margery was fixated by the onion slipping down the wall… Mac went on…
     ‘What?… ‘because Doc lied to the Insurance it has made it possible to continue to pay Injury Benefit for the last three months but now they are asking questions. I hope you can convince Mac to keep quiet if they come around…’ What does he think I am? Some kind of dummy? What about my lump sum payoff? Hey? Where’s that?’
     Margery, emboldened by the sudden static stuttering of the TV in the corner shouted back,
     ‘In the trash!’
     Mac stared at her through the opening, wondering what had happened to this once-blonde, once-slender emblem of his successful career. Was any of that left, hiding behind the faded summer print working shirt and the jeans now stained at the knees with the dark ooze of the trashcan? Maybe if he looked hard… but the harder he looked the more he could see of himself,
     ‘What are you talking about?’
     ‘In the trash. What else do you have there?’
     Mac cast around him as far as his left arm would reach, looking for something that would make sense of her words,
     ‘Nothing… Utility bills… repairs to the car… City taxes… grocery bills… Nothing.’
     ‘That’s about the size of it. Nothing. That’s where it went.’
     ‘How can you spend all our money on things like that? How do we eat?’
     ‘You already ate most of it. You still eat like you were in training. Look at you!’
     Mac caught sight of himself in the reflection from the glass door of the stove. A growing paunch hung over the belt of his trousers. His chin was in the process of doubling, no.. trebling. He fingered the unshaven whiskers,
     ‘OK. I could ease off a little…’
     ‘You can ease off a lot. All we have is in the fridge.’
     Mac eased himself up the side of the unit and opened the fridge door. The chill air spilled over him like the breath of a premonition,
     ‘Two pints of milk, half a loaf of bread… tin of sardines… three tomatoes.. that’s about the size of it… chuck in a few more fish and a Bible, we could have a regular feast.’
 
     The Edsel slid backwards out of the garage. Mac leaned over and pulled up the brake with his left hand but the drive was steep and the car continued to roll down and onto the road. He swung the wheel dramatically with one hand and managed to keep it close to the kerb. He hit the start button and the engine dragged into a knocking, rattling frenzy. He twisted around, nudged it into drive and parked it at the bottom of the lawn. Margery leaned out from under the garage door,
     ‘Mac? What you doing? You Ok?’
     ‘I’m cleaning the car, Margery. Is that Ok?’
     Margery turned away back into the dark cover of the garage. Mac heard her shout, ‘I’ll ask my brother to fix the TV tomorrow…’ before the door slammed shut behind her.

     Mac struggled his hand into the glovebox and pulled out the bunch of papers he had hidden there the week before. He dropped them in his lap and sifted through them slowly, counting up the numbers at the bottom of the sheets until he got to the total. He breathed in, then out again slowly… -$2800… his net worth. He’d had the house valued and offset the mortgage, including the extra interest on non/late payment as the accountant called it, against the sale price, and come up with negative equity. The Bank was overdrawn to another six hundred and they owed money to the car shop, taxes… you name it. He punched the horn on the Edsel wheel… but only managed to shift the gear. He pulled up the last piece of paper and read it again, very, very carefully, taking great care to check even the spelling of every word and meaning that might be hidden behind what it actually said. Satisfied, he stuffed it into the pocket of his shirt and got out of the car.

 

     In the kitchen, Margery stood fascinated by the trail the onion had left down the wall the day of the argument. For some unknown reason she couldn’t bring herself to clean it off. After the argument with Mac she’d stood there, like this, and watched until the onion had finally reached the pile where it became just another layer of trash like all the days of her life since Mac stopped playing.

    Exhausted by the thoughts that flickered in her head as if she was some old unbroken TV on standby, the tiny impulses springing to life then being extinguished before they had a chance to become reality, little more than sporadic ions, brief as dreams and as quickly dissipated, she moved to the sink and plunged her hands into hard, cold water. The shock opened her senses to the hiss of the pipes as Mac turned on the hose inside the garage.

     Outside, Mac reeled the hose out by the roadside. He led it over the front of the car to where the single, central grille glared at him in reflected, baleful, cyclopean fury.
     ‘I hate you, too,’ he thought, draping the hose in an almost accidental fashion over and around a rear wheel, anchoring the end with the nozzle under the closed lid of the trunk. He picked up a slack length and felt it under his thumb, the stiffness of the fluid inside trying to push outwards making the plastic hard and unforgiving. He nodded and dropped it to the floor.
     Inside the garage, the hose rose up as it entered the door and ran horizontally over two roof timbers then descended again towards the back where it was anchored to a tap fixed firmly to the wall. Mac jumped up at full stretch and pulled down a section of hose in the centre of the two beams and, by trapping it under his right armpit, managed to throw a double loop into the length. He placed a heavy wrench into the loop to hold it to the floor while he went back down to the car.
    Mac sat himself firmly in the driving seat, hating this car in the way he had ever since he’d bought it. He recalled thinking how clever it had seemed. He knew they’d be a short run. Not everyone liked the style and it was such a departure that soon, if he could keep it for a few years, it would become a collector’s item.
    Somehow that Edsel represented every investment he’d ever made. He sat there a moment then, without knowing why, he began to kick at the pedals. He punched the wheel, the radio, the dash, the speedometer, tore his nails against the upholstery, screamed at the windshield, but nothing changed. The car, as implacable as ever, continued silently sinking out of sight in the sea of unimaginably poor investment, becoming another rock in the financial debris against which he continually barked his shins.

    The street outside was on a slight slope, hardly worth the name, little more than one or two degrees, but Mac figured it should be enough. He slammed the door with a final fury. In the kitchen, Margery felt the slam as if it had rattled the windows and the pots on the shelf, but didn’t dare turn around.

    Once back in the shade of the garage, Mac picked up the double loop of hose and widened it so it would fit over his head. He pulled it down and took out some of the slack. He felt the cold around his neck, seeping into fragile muscles and frail tendons. With his good arm he reached up to the length of hose beyond the loop and tugged hard. The hose unwound from around the rear wheel where the stiffness of the water inside the plastic had held the tyre fixed to the spot. Mac waited impatiently for gravity to take over.

    Handbrake down as far as Mac could push it, gearshift in neutral, the Edsel began its final journey. Slowly, the wheels began to turn. Chips of asphalt made way for rubber, spitting out sideways under pressure, tyre marks imprinting in the sun-warmed pitch. The hose loosened imperceptibly as the car crept silently past the end of the drive, gathering speed and momentum. By the time it had travelled twenty feet more the collected energy lifted the hose clear of the path. Mac watched it as if it were alive then suddenly it straightened and yanked him off his feet leaving him flailing in the air, feet jerking and kicking, tearing at his neck with one good hand in a last moment of regret. As he struggled, the life insurance document fell out of his shirt pocket into a vivid black pool of oil left by the Edsel on the garage floor. Calmer, as the oxygen left his brain, he saw the light bulb dim and the daylight fade beyond the door. As the blackness overtook him his knees banged painfully into something hard and red.

   

 

    When Mac awoke, the only things mobile were his eyes. He stared at the ceiling trying to recognise something, a patch of damp, a flake of paint… anything that would identify where he was. Light crept in from the corner at high level. Maybe that was a clue. He had a vague memory from behind his eyelids as though someone had leaned over him, obscuring the light. Off to his right a brightness was echoing off the wall but somehow his head was clamped into this position. He heard the bright clatter of instruments in a metal tray…
    ‘Jesus…’ he thought, ‘I’m in the morgue.’
    He tried to speak but his lips wouldn’t move. His eyes would only describe a tiny arc and all he could glean were the sounds of  metal on metal and the soft underlying ruffle of cloth on cloth. Straining as hard as he might, over to the right of where he lay he could sense rather than see a moving shadow, perhaps no more than a darker shade in the brightness there. He laid back and waited for the sharp sensation of the knife that he knew would start deep in the folds of his neck and continue describing a bloodless line all the way through his sternum, his peritoneal cavity, until it met the hardness of his pubic bone. He wondered if he would cry out, or if this was what it felt like to be dead. But if he was dead, why would he still be able to hear? Christ, this was another mistake. He was as inept as Margery had said that day in the kitchen.
    He gathered his remaining wind into his throat and pushed. He heard a soft croak fall into the air around his ears and realised that it was the sound he himself had made. He tried again but there was nothing left within him for his vocal chords to gain a purchase on. He relaxed… and waited to die… again. Perhaps this was better than he had imagined. The insurance company couldn’t argue if it turned out that the pathologist had killed him. Margery would be safe. And so would the little lump that, laid here, he could almost feel growing and stretching inside her, soon to be kicking her awake in the middle of the night. He felt tears overflow his eyes and trickle down his face. Awareness. Awareness.. returning. He’d felt the tears. Try again…. ‘croak’… CROAK.’
    He collapsed into himself, exhausted by the effort. He swivelled his eyes as far as they would go. The shadow, no, the space within the bright light, was stilled.
    ‘You awake in there, Mac?’
Mac didn’t recognise the voice, but it sounded solid, and somehow competent. It was a useful voice. He let it soothe him and slow his heart rate until the panic went away. The Devil would be harsher than that, especially now that he had him. He managed a small grunt by way of acknowledgement.
    ‘It doesn’t matter. Try not to move for a minute.’
    Mac grunted involuntarily. The thought was presumptuously amusing. As his consciousness returned his skin came alive with an awareness he’d not noticed before. Underneath him was a cotton sheet, he could feel the weave imprinting his skin, and beneath that… was the stitching that he knew was formed into an eagle.
    ‘Doc…’ he managed.
    ‘Yeah, I’m a Doc,’ came the voice again, ‘but not the one you think. Be quiet a minute. I’m working.’
    Mac closed his eyes and relaxed again. As the darkness fell behind his lids he thought he could feel someone tugging at his arm… in fact… at his damaged elbow. A voice cut across him as he lay there trying to imagine what was happening. And this time he recognised it.
    ‘Coach?’ he managed.
    A hand touched his shoulder lightly. He could sense a tremble in it that meant Coach had gone at least eight hours without a drink. The fingers tapped him gently in recognition. He smiled and gave himself up to whatever was happening. Coach would never let him down. No matter what.
    A vibrant buzz filled the room as a tremor filled his arm and shoulder, then a smell… like burning bone. Jesus! They were amputating!
    ‘Wha…!’ was all he could manage.
    ‘His heart rate just jumped again. It’s sky-high… is that the blood pressure?’
    ‘Yeah, that one there with the silver stuff in.’
    The other voice still seemed laconic, laid back to beyond the centre of gravity that Mac could sense in Coach. Coach’s hand left his shoulder,
    ‘He’s waking up.’
    ‘Ok. We’ll let him wake up. He’s panicking in there about what we’re doing anyway. Can’t afford to lose him now.’
    ‘Thought you said that was impossible?’ Coach’s voice had adopted the same tremor that his fingers had displayed.
    ‘No, I said it was improbable.’
    ‘Then wake him up. He needs to know.’
    ‘Ok. You’re the Coach.’
    Mac felt a needle slide silently and without pain into his neck. There was a sensation of utter cold, then his head began to clear. A hand slipped under his head and lifted him gently into a slightly raised position. The first thing he saw from there was his right arm, disconnected at the elbow, with his forearm and hand dangling by skin and cords and tendons. His upper arm was supported in a shaped block that fitted neatly up to his armpit. A tall, dark-haired man in protective glasses and theatre smock smiled knowingly at him. Mac couldn’t take his eyes off the circular saw in his hand long enough to return it.
    ‘Here…’ the man picked up a piece of raw white bone from a small stand beside him. ‘Look at this.’
    ‘Wha… what is it?’
    ‘It’s your elbow… or what’s left of it. Look…’
    He took hold of the bone at each side of the joint and tugged lightly. The joint came apart with a sick, sucking sound. Mac gagged.
    ‘Don’t worry,’ the man said calmly, ‘it’s only redundant connective tissue. Here… this is what I want to show you.’
    He exposed the inner surfaces of the joint. Mac could see that there were spurs growing on the inner surface and that these had worn away any pretence of lubricating tissue there might once have been.
    ‘There you go…’ said the man, ‘that’s what pain looks like in the flesh, so to speak.’
    ‘Please…’ said Mac, ‘don’t cut it off. Even if it doesn’t work…’
    ‘Hold on,’ the man said, putting the broken joint back into the dish on the stand. ‘I have something else to show you.’
    Behind him was a tall cabinet like the ones they had in the car shop, but this one was bright red and polished, like the T Bird in the magazine and had a label on it that read ‘Snap-On’. The man opened it and reached in as a small surge of frigid air escaped the lid. It tainted the room with the faint scent of antiseptic. He took out a parcel wrapped in a fine film of sheer plastic that Mac had never seen before. Watching it unravel, Mac almost forgot about what was in it. The man held a cylindrically shaped piece of jointed metal into the light where it reflected brightly.
    ‘What is it?’ Mac’s vocal chords were gathering strength as the injection fed through his entire body, bringing back all his sensations except pain.
    ‘It’s your new elbow. Look…’ The man twisted it around and it shone in gold and white and the movement was silent and smooth and…
    ‘What’s it made of?’ said Mac
    ‘Gold plated rhodium and silicone.’
    ‘Will it work?’
    The man smiled,
    ‘Trust me. I’m a Doctor,’ he said, as a second needle slid into Mac’s neck.

  

 

    ‘Mac?’
    ‘Margery?’
    Mac opened his eyes into the bright light streaming through a gap in the closed bedroom curtains. He knew instantly that he was home. He’d bought those curtains himself a year ago. They were too short then, and he’d refused to take them back. So he told Margery he liked the gap. It meant they could keep an eye on the neighbourhood, even while they were asleep, so they could see if it was running down… or something. Margery had shrugged and climbed into bed, pulling the covers over her head,
    ‘The neighbourhood can also keep an eye on us…’ she said, ‘See if we’re running down… or something.’
    ‘Some chance…’ he’d replied. But now he was glad to see them, too short or not.
    ‘How do you feel, Mac.’
    ‘Coach?’
    ‘Yeah.’
    ‘I don’t know… I don’t know how I feel.’
    ‘You’ll be fine in a day or two.’ This voice belonged, he remembered, to the Doctor. He tried to turn his head but the pain had returned, to everywhere in his body it seemed. The skin around his neck was stinging like a third degree burn and his right arm was a source of pale fire tightly strapped to the ribs on that side. The Doctor stepped around the bed so that Mac could see him.
    ‘Did… did it work, Doc?’
    ‘Yep. Good as new. Well, in a week, maybe a month… or two.’ He looked sideways at the coach, ‘You got the date, right?’
    Coach patted his jacket pocket,
    ‘Written down. Square as you like.’
    Margery pushed her way between them,
    ‘What is this? Can’t you let him rest? Look what he’s been through…’
    ‘Margery…’ the Doctor said.
    ‘Who are you? Who are you to call me Margery? I don’t know you. I don’t even know your name.’
    ‘And that’s how it will stay, I’m afraid,’ the Doctor said, ‘Now, Coach and I need a few minutes alone with Mac.’
    Mac looked at them all. Throughout this he knew where Coach stood, even though he didn’t know who or even what the Doctor was, and if Coach let him operate on Mac’s arm, that was good enough for Mac. He nodded to Margery.
    ‘Oh, Mac…’
    He nodded again. Margery closed the kitchen door behind her.
    ‘Coach, pull up the chair. Doc? Can you open the curtains a little please?’
    The Doctor drew the curtains right back and turned to see the reaction on Mac’s face. Apart from a slight squint in the brightness of the day, he seemed alright. He came and sat on the bed as the sun clouded over outside and the light fell in the room. Mac relaxed a little more,
    ‘Ok, what’s this all about? Are you sent by the Insurance?’
    ‘You could say that,’ replied the Doctor. Coach shook his head as Mac turned to him,
    ‘Sorry Mac, I don’t know myself. But I should listen to what he has to say. I listened to him, and though I don’t agree with everything…’ he cast a look towards the Doctor sat at the other side of the bed, ‘…I decided I could square it with my conscience.’
    ‘Fire away then, Doc.’
    ‘Alright Mac. Have you heard of ‘OmiGor Gum’?’
    ‘Guess so. What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?’
    ‘Remember the photographer who came around… when was it Coach?’
    ‘Around six months ago. Did the team pictures… you remember, Mac.’
    ‘Yeah, I remember. So what? Is he paying for this?’
    The Doctor laughed out loud,
    ‘You could say that, too.’
    Mac tried to push himself into a sitting position with one arm. Coach got up and lifted him gently and shook out the pillows.
    ‘Listen, Doc. I’m getting kind of tired here, and there’s only so long I can keep Margery in the kitchen. God knows she spends long enough in there.’
    ‘Ok.’ Doc waited until Coach sat down again,
    ‘The photographer, without the knowledge of the Coach here… sold the pictures to OmiGor Gum.’
    ‘So now they have a team picture. So what. So do half the kids in town.’
    The Doctor smoothed the bedcover with one hand. Mac watched the slender but strong fingers iron out the creases,
    ‘They also had the individual pictures of the players.’
    ‘Big deal.’
    ‘Maybe not now. But it will be. You see, OmiGor used the pictures on their bubblegum cards.’
    ‘So I’m famous…’
    ‘No, not yet.’
    ‘So now they owe me some money. Is that it? And they sent you to fix me up and buy me off? Huh, Coach? Is that the long and short of it?’
    Coach shook his head slowly,
    ‘Nope. It ain’t that easy. Wait and listen.’
    ‘Ok, Doc. I’m all ears. Go ahead.’
    ‘While you’ve been wallowing around in self-pity and driving Margery to distraction, the OmiGor Gum factory burned down.’
    Mac narrowed his eyes at the Doctor,
    ‘How come you know all this?’
    ‘Because I torched it.’
    ‘What!’
    ‘I torched it. The whole place. Went up in the sweetest smoke you ever did smell. Burned for three days. All the firemen were on a sugar high.’
    ‘Why would a Doctor do that? What kind of a Doctor are you?’
    ‘Orthopaedic Surgeon, actually. And a good one at that.’
    ‘Then how come I get your service for free?’
    ‘Oh no, Mac. It’s not for free. There’s something you have to do to make it work.’
    Mac slumped back down in the bed,
    ‘Ok. I know… sort of… what these things cost. Who do I have to kill?’
    ‘Nobody.’
    ‘Nobody?’
    ‘That’s right. Nobody.’
    ‘Ok. Let’s hear it…’
    ‘It’s simple. All you have to do is to take this…’ he held out something like a playing card wrapped in the same sheer plastic that had covered the joint, ‘…and slip it behind the door liner, passenger side, of your old Edsel.’
    ‘That’s it? Then what happens to it?’ Mac began to unravel the plastic. It stuck to his fingers but there seemed to be no glue on it,
    ‘What on earth is this stuff?’
    ‘It’s called… never mind. You’ll see a lot of it in the future.’
    By now, Mac had unwrapped the card,
    ‘Hey look! It’s me. Hey Marge…?’
    ‘Shush…’ Coach clamped a hand over Mac’s mouth.
    Mac’s eyes bulged in their sockets from the suppressed yell but he quietened down and Coach removed his hand.
     They waited a moment but the kitchen door remained firmly closed. Inside, Margery was staring fixedly at the onion stain, wondering why she could never seem to pluck up the courage to wipe it off.
     The Doctor took the card back and wrapped it again very carefully, sealing the edges with an easy pressure between finger and thumb,
     ‘You must do exactly as I say or this won’t work. For any of us.’
     Mac shrugged,
     ‘Ok.’
     ‘Here’s how it goes…’ the Doctor shuffled himself into a more comfortable position on the bed, ‘In time, these bubblegum cards will be worth a lot of money…’
     ‘The kids swap them for peanuts down at the lot…’
     Coach touched his shoulder and nodded him to silence.
     ‘More money,’ the Doctor said, ‘than you can imagine right now.’
     ‘There are milli…’
     ‘I know, there are millions of them right now. But there won’t be. They’ll get burnt in house fires, thrown out with the trash when the kids think they’re too old to collect stupid things like bubblegum cards. But then, those self-same kids will grow up. They’ll start to wonder what they had in life way back then and to wonder why they lost it. Some of them will have more money than they know what to do with. And one day, they’ll be back there down that lot swapping these cards again. But this time it won’t be for peanuts. Do you know how much an early Mickey Manley or a Sandy Koufax fetches?’
     ‘Who’s he?’
     The Doctor thought for a moment, then laughed, mostly to himself,
     ‘Wait around a while, you’ll find out. Anyway, let’s just say that it’s an awful amount of money.’
     ‘And this one?’ asked Mac, holding up the card.
     ‘Three of each. Minimum.’ The Doctor unwrapped the card again and handed it back to Mac,
     ‘Handle it carefully. Don’t crease it or get finger marks on it. Hold it by the edge. That’s right. Now read the back.’
     Mac held it into the light,
     ‘Says here ‘He never made it into the Majors. Best up-and-coming pitcher for three years running then invalided out of the game with a broken elbow.’ What good is that?’
     ‘The card is wrong. Do you know how many cashiered players ever made it back into the game? No? One. That’s you.’
     Mac looked at Coach. Coach smiled back and nodded,
     ‘I have the date here, squared away in my pocket.’ He tapped his jacket.
     ‘I don’t believe this…’ said Mac, ‘I still don’t believe I don’t have to kill somebody.’
     The Doctor took the card gently from his fingers and held it up into the light,
     ‘Do you know how many of these there are? No? I’ll tell you. One. I burned the rest. Do you know what that makes this? Unique.’
     ‘And you’re going to give it me… For what? It ain’t worth a hill of beans in this town. It might be where you come from but who’s interested in the lower leagues?’
     ‘You are going to put this card into the door liner of your Edsel like I said. Then, you’re going to drive it one last time into the rear of the garage, put it up on bricks and leave it there.’
     ‘Then what do I drive?’
     ‘Don’t worry, we brought you a new car,’ said Coach.
     ‘Ok. Then what do I have to do.’
    ‘That’s easy,’ said the Doctor, ‘Just play ball.’
    ‘I don’t get this yet, there’s something here you aren’t letting on about.’
    ‘Look,’ the Doctor said, ‘In around fifty years, I buy the Edsel from your son.’
    ‘My… my… my son?’ Mac’s eyes filled with tears, ‘My… son. How good does that sound? Hey Doc? Don’t tell Margery. She’s says she knows she’s having a girl.’
    ‘She’s only teasing. Anyways, by the time he’s fifty you’ll be freshly gone and planted and he’ll be stood there out on the street and scratching his head and wondering what the hell to do with this old place you neither sold nor rented out and I’ll come along and give him the best price ever for it.’
    ‘You will? I mean, you wouldn’t gyp him or nothing?’
    ‘No. Or the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.’
    ‘Ok. I’ll do it.’ He turned around whichever way he could for best, smiles wreathing his face, his breath caught in the middle of wonder and decision, coming soft and then hard, ‘By God. I’ll do it… My son, eh? How does that sound? What’s he like, Doc?’
    ‘Just like you. Gives his wife a hard time.’
    ‘Margery! She has to know!’
    ‘No, Mac. She can never know. You’ll have to take the flak for keeping the old Edsel tucked away and be quiet about it. Don’t worry, It’ll be good for your soul.’
 
    Mac lifted one foot from the floor, screwed his body until he was coiled like a human spring. He hesitated. Lifted one finger from the ball, then quickly another two. He turned his head to the right. Margery was there somewhere, lost in the sea of faces in the new stand. Without looking, he spun around and unleashed the ball. He knew exactly where it was going. The new elbow had no shake or shudder like the old one. The Catcher took it full on and staggered back off field. Mac nodded and waited for the ball to come back. He plucked it from the air and in a moment of supreme fluidity swung it around in an arc towards third base, hitting the plate square on.
 

    Coach got up from the seat in the dugout, the bright plaid cushions screaming contrast against the reds and greens. He looked up at the scoreboard and for once, the eagle seemed to be smiling.

 

    Mac walked out to the car lot after everyone else had left. His was the only car there… but he would know it anywhere, that red T Bird with the scuffed hood.

 

    He pulled into the drive and Margery opened the garage door. They were moving house next week. Coach had sold him into the Majors and pocketed a nice fat fee in the process, just the way the Doctor had said he would.
    They’d keep this house on. He’d visit here once in a while and sit there in front of the old TV that didn’t work and be grateful for what little he knew. Margery could come in and stare at that old onion stain until she could pluck up the courage to turn her back on it and walk away again.
    He pulled the T Bird up the drive and under the shade of the canopy. He got out of the car and closed the door behind him. On his way through to the house he patted the grille of the old Edsel.
    Best damn investment he ever made.

 

Bill Allerton
27-04-08

 


 

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