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"Don't Be Scared of the Ball," short story excerpt

Saturday 7/1/23

We were playing baseball at the park and as usual, Clayton was kicking ass with his fielding talent, just totally dominating. The kid can pick it like you wouldn’t believe.

The dimensions of the field and the diamond aren’t regular so it’s like playing in a warped parallel universe where if you chop one to short and Clayton charges in on the ball and you don’t run hard to first, he can actually beat you to the bag from across the infield, which is humiliating.

We were down to one ball and I popped it foul into the pond next to the third base side, and that was that, leaving the rest of the day to fill. Most of the guys go to someone’s house or off to wherever to hang out but we don’t get invited usually, me and Cooper and Sam, while Clayton is the kind of kid who doesn’t need anyone to invite him anywhere, but he had something for us because he said, “You want to come over and watch me fuck my mom?” which was fairly unexpected even though Clayton is a big talker.

He’s that friend you have who will say he can eat, I don’t know, seven jalapeno peppers at once—I mean the full peppers, not the slices—and that’s something he does all the time and it doesn’t bother him at all. Just has the mouth for it and a remarkable pain tolerance, he guesses, with this casual shrug that is completely by design.

When he acts that way it’s also as if he’s saying, “What? You don’t?” like there’s something’s wrong with you. But then if you were to produce the peppers and say, “Okay, show us,” yeah, he’d do it, but you’d know he was in agony, even though afterwards he’d go, “Is that all? I wish you had some more. Those were good.”

That type of kid. He says that he’s a sexual epicurean, which is this word I was waiting to find on a vocab test so I could get the answer wrong as to what it meant and then learn it after, but I never did so I just looked it up.

Really all It means is someone who likes new experiences with a given thing and trying a range of stuff with that thing. For example, a food epicurean eats a lot of various foods from all over the place, which sounds like an excuse to get fat, but that’s how the word works like it’s a positive.

We all bicycled to Clayton’s house from the park and sure enough, there’s his mom calling us into the bedroom after she heard us come in, all ready like Clayton said she would be, given that it was Sunday afternoon, which I guess is their regular time. You knew she wasn’t expecting us but it was still important for her to be polite, which says a lot about someone.

There were chairs surrounding the bed, and I had the impression they were usually there no matter if anyone was going to be in them, like the two sets of stands at the field that are really small because they’re just for parents, pretty much, one on the first base side, the other by third.

It was the kind of room where things get stored not because that’s what the room is for but because it’s usually out of sight from people. A single-person trampoline was leaning up against a wall, for instance.

I made sure to say, “How have you been, Mrs. Daniels?” like normal, so that it wasn’t strange, even though she was naked and we hadn’t seen her that way before, at least I hadn’t, and I’m pretty sure Sam and Cooper hadn’t either.

She’s divorced and I only remember Clayton’s father because he’d been our coach back in tee-ball and what I remember him for is being a dick because after practice he’d make those of us he was driving home stand in the batter’s box and he’d throw balls at us from the mound to hit us on purpose and then he’d yell at you if you tried to get out of the way.

“Don’t be scared of the ball!” he’d shout, and you’d have to get drilled—seriously, he’d stick it right in your ribs—which made me more scared of the ball. It was truly messed up.

But I still didn’t know all this time later if it was Mrs. Daniels now or Ms. Daniels or Miss Daniels. I have never understood how that works so I just say the first part fast, this blur that can sound equally like any of those words or mini-words or whatever you call them. Talk about confusing. And given that she was naked on the bed that could have been the same bed she used when she was with Mr. Daniels just made it more confusing.

She looked pretty good. I do have to say that. Cooper and Sam and me all sat down, because that was less awkward than standing since you never know what to do with your hands when you’re just standing there. Pockets? Sides? Behind your back? On your hips? Hands on hips feels like an asshole move, like you’re this tough guy or else a woman in a commercial for diet soda who’s proud of the weight she’s lost already. I end up clasping my hands in front of me, which still makes me feel very self-conscious.

* from "Don't Be Scared of the Ball"/Become Your Own Superhero: Intrepid Exceptions to Modern Fiction

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