By J. Edward Kruft
My father liked telling the story of the two of us, on that fine September afternoon, sitting behind home plate as Satchel Paige got up from his rocking chair (a comment on his nearly 60 years on earth) and threw his first pitch against Boston, telling of how the ball left Satchel’s hand so quickly that it was only the thwap of the catcher’s mitt that let anyone know the deed had been done; how we all rose to our feet and let out a cheer altogether otherworldly, like Satchel himself; how he lifted me above all the other fans so I could see Satchel doff his cap; how every pitch, for three innings, birthed the same, infectious reaction from the crowd. I often wondered if he varied the story when I wasn’t around, or if he ever even bothered to tell the story when I wasn’t there, for I did sense that the telling of The Satchel Paige Story was always more for my benefit than any incidental audience. He told it with such gravitas and in such detail: I could hear that crowd – anybody listening could – and I could smell the popcorn and actually feel Satchel’s radiating charisma. I could feel my father’s hand upon my shoulder when he came to that part of the story, and I could comprehend that the look upon my father’s face, a face pulling hard on his pipe, the sweet smell of cherry and bourbon and clove mixing around his bald pate – was an emphatic statement: we will remember this forever, you and me. This is ours! And how – he had almost forgotten this part – we had driven the 394 miles from Champagne, leaving at 4am and stopping only once, just across the Missouri line, at a chrome diner that bore my father’s name: Bill. “I asked the kid: so, do you think they mean that as a noun, or a verb?” It wasn’t funny, but always, every time, the listener laughed and then continued to feign interest as my father told of what we ordered, how he’d let me have a strawberry milkshake even though it was only 7am, how the waitress thought I was cute as a bug. And just about the time you’d expect the listener to interject – with zeal, with relish – how my father should surely be named Father of the Year and then, to me, how lucky I must feel to be his son, how proud, how memories like these don’t grow on trees – he would tell of how Haywood Sullivan strolled out to the mound and pulled Satchel just before the start of the fourth, having given up only one run, and how the crowd booed and then cheered and then booed again, such a mix of emotions it all was, so much so that my father teared up – at the game, he said, but also as he told the story – and he told of how he leaned down and whispered to me, always know this: you can be whatever you set your mind to. We drove those 394 miles home entirely in silence, both of us dazed at being two amongst billions to bear witness, a father and son moment like none other, a moment, he said, that I would spend a lifetime in anticipation of telling my own kids, my grandkids, and that they will tell theirs and so on and so forth, in perpetuity. And when the story was done and told, always, he pulled hard on his pipe, the cherry and bourbon smoke circling his head. It was as though he’d spent every inch of his being in the telling. And then he’d look up, and wink. At me, always at me. The listener, should he have witnessed that wink, would coo at the affection, at the private message contained therein, having heard the story and the resonating, implacable bond, that bond that comes only between father and son, if ever. The listener, satiated, would sigh and grin at the sheer loveliness of it all. And my heart would plummet anew.
For of course, not a word of what my father said was true.
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He is a multiple Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in online and print journals, including Barren Magazine, Lunate and XRAY Literary Magazine, and he is editor-at-large at trampset. He used to collect Red Rose Tea figurines, and wonders whatever happened to them. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in NYC and Sullivan County, NY. His fiction can be found on his web site: www.jedwardkruft.com and he can be followed on Twitter: @jedwardkruft.
***Editors’ Note: With the publication of this story, J. Edward Kruft becomes the first writer to be published three times in MoonPark Review.