Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest Writer: T.R. Healy

Catch of the Day

Hunched over his handlebars, the chin strap of his helmet fastened as tightly as he could get it, Lanier hurtled along the wood chip path that wound through Powder Springs Park. Every couple of weeks, early Sunday morning, he rode his mountain bike on the bumpy trail. Sometimes he was joined by friends from work but usually he rode by himself, which he preferred because then he could go as fast as he liked and take more chances.
"You're delirious, Dennis," one of his friends remarked after riding with him one morning. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were possessed."
About a quarter of the way down the path, careening around a sharp turn, his back tire caught a tree root and he spilled off the bike and plunged into a hawthorn shrub. Its sharp points stung his hands and scratched the sleeves of his windbreaker.
"Damn it," he groaned, futilely trying to rub the sting from his hands. "Goddamn it."
He squeezed his eyes shut, as if hoping he had only imagined the crash, then opened them and saw his bike sprawled against a cedar tree. Slowly he got back on his feet and limped over to it, and as he did he noticed something lying behind the bike in the bushes. Still a little groggy from his spill, he thought for an instant it was a hand but then realized it was a baseball glove---a large one with a thumb the size of a cucumber. He picked it up and slipped his hand inside it, sure he could fit a couple of his fingers into one of its fingers it was so large. It was a pretty old glove, the pocket was very thin and a couple of loose threads hung from the web, so he assumed the owner wanted to get rid of it. He was not surprised. Lots of things were scattered along sections of the path that were adjacent to the lone road in the park. Still, the Rawlings glove appeared to have a few more catches left in it and he slipped it off and looked for some identification. And there under the strap, the same place where he used to put his name and address on his gloves as a youngster, he found the name Krumholz printed in black ink. There was no address or telephone number, however, so it was unlikely he could return it to the owner and started to toss it back in the bushes then hesitated.
Maybe some kid in his neighborhood might like it, he thought, strapping the glove over his handlebars, and if not, maybe he could locate the owner who might regret having got rid of it.

*

The three kids Lanier offered the glove to weren't interested because soccer was their game, not baseball, so he set it aside on a shelf in the kitchen. There it remained for nearly a week, collecting dust and the occasional paper clip, until one evening he decided to see if he could find its owner. Eighteen Krumholzes were listed in the telephone directory, three times the number he expected, but he was determined now to find out whose glove it was and proceeded to call one name after the other.
The sixth person he called was ecstatic when he told him he found a Rawlings glove with his name on it. Indeed, before he had a chance to ask, the guy described it in considerable detail, including some of its imperfections, to prove that it was definitely his glove.
"Someone swiped it last Saturday when I was at the park," he explained. "It was in my backpack, which I'd put under a bench for a couple of minutes while I helped some woman look for her dog. When I returned, it was not there."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I had a lot of valuable things in my pack, including my wallet and car keys, but what I missed most was my glove."
Lanier was surprised by the admission. "Is that so?"
"It belonged to my father, you see, and is one of the few personal items of his I have."
"Oh."
"And I was sure I'd never see it again."
"Well, then, I'd like to get it back in your hands as soon as possible," he said. "So is there some place where we can meet?"
Krumholz thought for a moment. "What about the park?"
"Sure, that'd be fine."
"Say, at noon, this Saturday."
"I'll be there."
"I'll see you then, sir, and again thank you for calling. You don't know what a relief it is to know that I haven't lost my father's glove, after all."

*

After dinner, Lanier took the scuffed glove from the shelf where he put it shortly after he brought it home and set it on the drainboard beside a bowl of hot soapy water. Then he picked up a sponge floating in the bowl, squeezed the water out, and slowly wiped it across the sweat-stained heel of the glove. Then across each finger and all around the web, determined to scour away every bit of dirt and grime. He wanted the glove to be as clean as possible, not the filthy rag it was when he found it in the bushes, figured that would show that he understood how much it meant to its owner. After he was through, he hung it on the clothesline on the back porch.
He never really had a father, not someone he knew anyway because his father left his mother when he was an infant. One of her brothers sometimes came by with his glove and they would play catch together but that only happened a couple of times in the summer. For as long as he could remember, he wished he had a father like Krumholz's who played catch with him all the time, someone who would pass his glove on to him one day.

*

He agreed to meet Krumholz at the east end of the Fly-Casting Pool, which was located almost in the middle of the park. He arrived a few minutes before twelve, not wanting to be late, and, according to the description Krumholz gave him on the phone, looked for a bearded man wearing a faded Dodger cap. Soon after he got there, he thought he spotted him, jogging from the direction of the tennis courts, but then realized the guy was wearing a Cubs cap so he continued to scan the park.
Some twenty minutes passed, and still there was no sign of the guy, so he was about ready to return to his car when he saw a Dodger cap bobbing above a swarm of children at the west end of the pool. At once, he held the glove above his head and waved it back and forth until the guy saw it and headed toward him.
"Lanier?"
"That's right," he said, handing him the glove. "And you must be Krumholz?"
The bearded man nodded. "First of all, I want to apologize for being late. My damn car wouldn't start and I had to wait for someone to charge the battery."
"No problem. There's probably not a better place to be than in a park on a day as warm as today."
"I can't disagree with that," he said, slipping on the glove and pounding his right fist into the pocket a couple of times.
A fisherman strolled by them, a scarlet rod poised on his left shoulder.
Again, he pounded his fist into the glove. "I never thought I'd ever see this again so I can't tell you how grateful I am to you."
"I'm glad I was able to return it to you."
"You know, I'd like to give you something for your trouble."
"Thanks, really, but that's not necessary."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded, jangling the change in his pocket.
"Most of the kids who come to the park couldn't be nicer but there are always a few who are troublemakers and I suspect they are the ones who stole my backpack."
"But you don't know for certain who took it?"
"No, but I've got a pretty good hunch," he said, tucking the glove under his arm.
"Well, maybe you should stay away from the park for a while."
"What?" he snapped, his green eyes flaring in anger.
"I mean, just until whoever took your glove is found and arrested."
"No one can keep me out of the park," he said defiantly. "Some people might think they can but they can't."
Lanier, startled by his sudden flash of temper, wished now he had kept his opinion to himself.
"I don't have any children of my own, you see, so I often come here with my glove and invite boys to play catch with me," he explained, almost in a whisper. "Maybe there are some people who don't like to see a grown man tossing a baseball with their kids but I don't mean any harm."
Lanier felt a little uncomfortable as he listened to Krumholz insist that he was not a threat to anyone. Not ever, not at anytime.
"You believe that, don't you?"
He glanced across the casting pool, not sure what to say.
"You do, don't you?"
Nodding weakly, he wondered now if some father stole his glove to keep him away from his child, wondered too if he was right in returning it to him.
In another minute, the guy spotted "one of his boys," as he called them, and thanked Lanier again and went over to ask the boy to play catch while Lanier walked away in confusion.


© Thomas R. Healy 2011

T.R. Healy was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and his stories have appeared in such publications as Freight Train, Milk and Sugar, Rusty Truck, and Stymie.

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