I Think You Know
The blankets rustled as Callie moved. She grabbed my hip and shook me.
“Did you hear that?” she said. “In the backyard?”
I hadn’t heard anything, but I’d been lying awake, as I had on too many nights, unable to slow my heart, my mind churning with memories, images, plans, with conversations remembered and imagined.
Our ten-year-old son, Jerry, had died a little over a year ago. I’d never asked Callie exactly what she’d been doing when Jerry ran into the street, chasing that baseball. What would be the point? Of course she’d defend herself furiously. But I’d been to the play group; I’d seen how the mothers clustered together, yacking, starved for adult company. Sometimes they lost track of the kids. One time when I went I saw a boy and a much smaller girl on the teeter-totter, the boy lifting her too fast, bouncing her down too hard. The mothers were gabbing, so I headed over to put a stop to it, but before I could reach them the girl toppled off. She broke her arm.
“Somebody’s out there,” Callie said. “Please go look.”
“I don’t hear anything.”
And now the latest – Callie’s affair with Bill Jenks, one of her co-workers. I’d been tipped off by a friend. Callie wasn’t aware I knew, and I hadn’t figured out what to do, how and when to confront her. But she’d been lying to me. I knew how I felt about that.
Too much, coming too fast. Hard to believe I’d once regarded life as a blessing. Now the only thought I could find that felt true was “Time passes and things change.”
“Someone’s jiggling the back door, Raymond.”
“Oh, for godsake.”
I heaved out of bed, pulled on jeans, sweatshirt, running shoes. Down the hall, I stopped outside Jerry’s room. We kept the door closed. Since Jerry’s death I hadn’t gone in there. I just couldn’t. Callie had disposed of most of Jerry’s belongings. But not all.
“I don’t want him to be completely gone,” she said.
“Callie,” I said, “he’s completely gone.”
Downstairs, I picked up Jerry’s baseball bat by the front door. He’d kept it there so he could grab it as he raced out to play, and Callie insisted we leave it there. I slipped out the front door as soundlessly as I could. Cool, moist night air bathed my face and shivered up my arms, and immediately I felt strangely excited, almost elated, every sense on alert. From a house nearby I heard a television or radio, faint and indistinct. The breath of grass and leaf and the rich, mineral pungency of earth rose into me. I crept around the house, heartbeat rising, the hunt on for real. If some motherfucker was trying to break into my house, I was ready.
But the backyard was empty. Chairs, loungers, and a table on the patio, but no sound, no motion, nothing stirring but a breeze. Still, I couldn’t stand down. My heart kept racing and my arms felt tense and swollen. I hadn’t swung a baseball bat for probably ten years, but I took my old stance and swung it as hard as I could. It cut through the dark with a gratifying whoosh. Damn it, I would have welcomed the opportunity to smash someone’s head in, someone who richly deserved it. A disturbing state of mind for me, though, thoughts like that. I’d never had that sort of viciousness in me, not even close.
On the patio I stumbled over a planter full of Callie’s petunias and barely restrained myself from smashing the wretched thing to bits. Why the fuck would she put it there, right where people would be walking? I sat down in the Adirondack chair, in no hurry to go back in. Callie could wait. Let her toss and wonder and worry for a while.
But I couldn’t sit there peacefully. Thoughts kept coming. I tried to slow my breathing and look at things in a gentler light. The truth is anything can happen in this world, most of it beyond our control. In an instant an excited kid can dart into the street without looking. Maybe no one could have stopped Jerry. And love is nothing to count on. You might as well lash your bundle of dreams to a passing cloud. Grownups know that. People change. You can fall in love with someone new, even when you’re married. Callie’s affair I could probably forgive. But the deceit enraged me. Fall out of love with me, okay, it happens. So come and tell me. But don’t humiliate me, goddamn it.
I could see there’d be no peace until I brought things to some resolution. I went back around the house and in the front door. I don’t know, maybe the spin and tumble of my thoughts distracted me, but I carried the bat upstairs and didn’t realize I had it until I reached the bedroom door. It felt good in my hands, Jerry’s bat. Comforting. A weapon, a tool I could use to defend myself or assert my will.
The bed creaked. Callie lay waiting in there, in the dark. My wife, who’d been lying to me.
I started into the bedroom with the bat, then stopped and leaned it against the wall out in the hallway. Easy to grab it there if I wanted it.
“What’s happening?” Callie asked.
I slid beneath the blankets. “Everything’s fine,” I said. “For the moment.”
“What do you mean ‘for the moment’?”
“I think you know.”
I waited, but she didn’t respond. Soon, mercifully, I fell asleep. The next thing I knew it was morning and Callie was shaking me again. She was already dressed, standing over me, holding Jerry’s bat.
“Why’s this bat up here, Raymond?”
“Did you want me to stop a burglar with my bare hands?”
“Why bring it upstairs?”
“I thought I might need it again.”
For a moment, and for the first time in a long time, she looked right into my face. Then she turned and left the room, taking the bat with her. I heard her go downstairs. I got up and started downstairs after her, but stopped again at Jerry’s room. Maybe holding Jerry’s bat somehow changed things for me. I’m not sure. But I didn’t even hesitate. I opened his door and went in.
The curtains were drawn, the room shadowy and still, a yearning, expectant stillness, or so it seemed. I sat on Jerry’s bed, where his blankets and pillows remained, the bed neatly made. His big Philadelphia Phillies poster hung on the wall. For a ten-year-old, Jerry could really smack a baseball. He’d whip the bat around with a little grunt and launch the ball, and I’d watch it sail off into blue sky with a big smile on my face, feeling like a kid again myself. He was a fast baserunner too, his feet a blur of motion, hope, and heart. I leaned over and picked up his baseball spikes, one in each hand. Small black shoes.
He wasn’t completely gone.
Then I heard an odd, rhythmic sound – whack, whack, whack – coming from the patio. Still holding Jerry’s shoes, I walked over to the window and pushed a curtain aside.
Callie was raising the bat above her head and slamming it down on the concrete, rapidly and fiercely, as if she’d knocked an enemy down and needed to strike the fatal blow. A wood splinter flew up and spun through the air, then landed upright, like a javelin, in that planter of petunias. Like I said – anything can happen in this world.
I turned away, thinking I’d go to Callie and stop her, bring to her senses. But I thought better of it immediately, and swung right back to the window to watch her. She wouldn’t be doing it if she didn’t need to. Let her work it out.
Let it all come out.
Douglas Campbell’s fiction has appeared in publications such as Many Mountains Moving, The Northville Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Vestal Review, and Short Story America. Douglas lives, works, runs, and writes in a little town in southwestern Pennsylvania.
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