Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Catch After Dark

Well after cold March dusk the girl and the boy throw the football to each other. The park grass glistens orange beneath the tall light next to the monkey bars and the plastic spiral slide. The football, illuminated also by a light bulb inside, wobbles in the air and smacks into his clutching hands. He checks the nearby street for police cars, as the park closes at dusk, then turns his attention back on the girl.

She stands some ten yards away, smiling and curly hair aglow, some strands bright yellow, others the color of smoldering. In the night, he cannot see the delightful gap between her front teeth. He holds this appreciation unique to himself, having never heard of Lauren Hutton.

"Throw the ball," she commands.

He throws softly, mindful of the girl's long fingernails which will need to tap staccato on the desk next to him during History. His ball falls short, and the light bulb goes out. Fingers of shame poke him: an inferior throw from an inferior boy. Finesse should be his strong suit. The ball sits dark on the dark grass, then flickers, then brightens. He smiles.

The boy says nothing, as he has no thoughts, only feelings too large for his age. The simple pleasure of the girl's presence is so rare that it strikes him as fear. Each moment passes too quickly and cannot be recovered. There is only each catch, and each catch must be made.

She throws a pass which sails high to his left. Sharp with anxiety, he leaps and his fingers glance off the bottom of the wet ball, which twists high into the air. He spins toward the escaping ball and dives outstretched, chest banging the ground, wind gone. The ball drops into his hands.

After a moment he rises, imperceptibly nodding to himself.

"Are you okay?" she asks as she approaches, smiling.

He waves her off. "Oh yeah!" he says, turning away from her, cool, indifferent, gasping a little.

"Oh, yeah?" he thinks.

Showcasing his athleticism, he whirls, high from the catch and perhaps something else, and fires a low tight spiral. As soon as he lets it go, heat fills his face and chest. She has continued toward him rather than returning to her previous spot. He sees the speedy ball travel frame by frame toward her midsection. The ball and the "sorry" arrive at the same time.

Her eyes are shocked wide. She holds the ball in her hands, dumbfounded by her natural ability and his sick impulse.

"I didn't realize," he begins.

She laughs, a harsh metallic sound. "It's time for me to go home."


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