He was not much of anything, this Manuel Garcia. As a 14 year old teenager, he was still quite small but that could change. One never knows for sure with those and their power to transform themselves from one year to the next. Girls, he didn't care for yet. Or so was what his mother thought. Which was a mistake since Manuel liked a girl from his school but found himself too shy to say so and too proud to admit. The girl lived in their neighbourhood. Her name was Irma. Both she and Manuel had played together since the Sanchez had moved to St-Pete South 10 years before. And then, Irma had grown breasts and her silhouette had become that of an adult. In a matter of months, she had aged in such a way that Manuel felt lost and forsaken.
Manuel had dreams. Not that he was good at interpreting them. As a matter of fact, he knew nor cared anything for that science. No! He was into dreams as in having them. A lot of those he told about later like they were fairy tales out of books for children. In this way, he became a kind of celebrity wherever he procured an audience and was addressed by all as Dreaming Manu, which didn't bother him at all. As long as Irma remained his number one Fan. And that, the girl did, up to the day she became a woman and he got stuck into his boy's countenance.
2 o o o 2
There was a dream that had contributed to make him famous where he lived and a few streets around the Gulfport Library. He was 11 or 12 at the time. He had told the dream to Irma. They were then in the park that separated the town in two from the public library to the 22nd street south. They were alone. In that dream, there was one big black bird that croaked like mad near his bedroom window. He awakened and saw the crow perched in the highest branch of a Spanish oak on their neighbour's lot. Suddenly, the crow had looked at Manuel and dared him. Of what? He couldn't say and there was not much time left to figure it out because the instant it takes to blink an eye, the bird had taken its flight, was no longer there. There was not much else to do than to follow the animal, which he did. The run outside, at night, in pursuit of the flying crow was the nicest thing he had ever done. Next, his guide touched the ground and picked something that he enclosed in both his claws. And he took flight again, Manuel chasing after the creature. They flew back over the bay of Tampa and then, he recognised the inverted pyramid of the Pier, the 275 highway, Boca Ciega Bay and Gulfport when the crow initiated its descent to the ground and made its landfall at the rear or Irma's mother small grey stucco apartment condo building, a few streets away from where Manuel's family lived. The crow let go of a piercing clamour, a repetitive uproar of noisy agitated nonsense that got him some mate's response coming from the east, and then, it was gone. Its catch, however, he had left there, in the grass, near the dog house. Manuel had approached the object. It was a woman's wallet kept firmly shut by one blue elastic band, the owner of it showing that whatever was put in there must stay there. At that instant, something weird happened because Manuel knew that inside that wallet, there was a one year old ticket from the Florida lottery and that this ticket was a winner. Four good numbers out of 6. One thousand dollar value.
So, that was the dream as he had told it to Irma when in school. The girl had braids and the end of the left one was in her mouth as she was munching it in a distracted kind of way. She had said to him:
- "You are making this up!"
- "Why would I do that. It is just a dream."
- "It's weird."
- "Why? Dreams are supposed to be that way. If they weren't, we would need no shrinks to interpret them, would we?"
- "And what do you suppose this one means?"
- "I don't know. You tell me."
- "As if I knew."
- "What about you. Don't you have them?"
She looked at him as if he was talking of some sickness or other. And then, she remained silent.
He was walking her home. It was three in the afternoon. Irma's condo apartment complex was on his way. At her building, a woman was already there in the parking area getting some bags full of groceries out of the trunk of a white Nissan Sentra.
- "Hi, aunt Paola." Irma welcomed her.
- "Oh, hello, Irma. Back from school now. I am just coming from the Publix. Got some stuff for Pralina. Why don't you ask your friend for a glass of lemonade?
Once inside the the two bedroom condo, Paola had said to her niece:
- "You will never imagine the fright I had this morning."
Paola was visiting them out of Tallahassee in the Panhandle, up North. She had slept in Irma's bedroom while the latter had joined her mother in the double bed that Pralina used. She served them lemonade.
- "So", had asked Irma, who was the most curious of them all.
- "Yes. I found this morning that I had lost my wallet. You had already left for school and Pralina was getting ready to go to work at All's Diner. That was terrible. Your mother did try to help me finding it but you know, she has her regulars and she had to leave. So I drove her there without my driver's licence and papers. You imagine if I had had an accident. And then, I came back here. Why, I was in a state! What if I didn't find this wallet and all my documents and credit cards and debit cards and everything? She showed them the purse out of an aperture in her ample garment she hid herself in.
- "So, you found it in the garden, near the dog house."
- "What was that?"
There was real bewilderment in Paola's eyes as she was now looking at her niece that could have at that instant been a squirrel reciting verses. As for Manuel, he recognised on the spot the small object of his dream with the elastic band around it and said:
- "You should call the Florida lottery and check the number for the Miniloto that you have in there."
Paola had made a lot of signs of the cross and wouldn't be seen and wouldn't wanted to be seen around Manuel after that. She had even refused to use the Lottery special line to verify the number's validity on the multicoloured ticket that looked like silly currency in some far away country. What she had done was to emit a little cry, more like a bark and let go from her hand the bits of shredded paper that were worth nothing to her if it meant endangering her soul. Both kids had watched the fragments fly around like butterflies and when the pieces touched the ground, Irma picked them up. Paola left one hour later, which was two full hours before her otherwise previously estimated time of departure.
Manuel had learnt a lesson from that experience. People didn't like tricks much and when they looked at you as if you were the reincarnation of their great great grandfather, the feeling of having those astounded stares on you wasn't so great. So, from that time, he had decided to remain discreet about his dreams.
On her way back to Tallahassee, Irma had shown Paola the shredded ticket that she had scotched back together. She had asked the upset woman:
- "Will you want me to collect the money for you, aunt Paola?"
- "I don't care what you do, she had mumbled while introducing with some difficulty a golf cart in her car's luggage compartment.
- "Take it, insisted Irma. It's yours."
- "I don't want it."
There was nothing left on the sidewalk to be put in the trunk and she knocked down the boot with a bang.
- "Show me that ticket, she hissed at Irma."
She took it out of Irma's opened hand and then, in a decisive manner, she revisited the condo, got into the small all white tiles bathroom and threw away the small reconstituted lottery ticket in the toilet which she flushed afterward without saying a word more. Irma then said in a matter of fact tone:
- "Now, we will never know, will we?"
- "I know enough already. It would be a good idea if you were not to mingle too much with that fellow Manuel."
- "We go to school together."
- "Is he a good Catholic?"
Paola was. Not her sister. The proof of it? Nothing in this house to show that she was one. Not even a bible to remind they were at least Christians. Then, her aunt had added:
- "Never mind that. What I say is that Manuel is bad news. Better for you to keep away from him. I will say so to your mother.
Pralina who had laughed at the concept. Her silly sister and her religious nonsense.
- "I fear the Holy Spirit is not welcome in your home," Paola had said to her over the phone.
- "Nor any other kind," Pralina had responded.
And that was that. Her sister would get over it. Why? She always had since childhood.
3 o o o 3
Years passed. Manuel was good at school. He had many friends. And he kept his dreams to himself. There were others and most were unremarkable. While at other time, they seemed to allude to something real but as he was unable later to link them to any actual events, he forgot about those and was happy for it. He didn't like that dreaming business much. In fact, he was a little afraid of the dreams. Once, he was skateboarding and passed a parked car. For an unknowned reason, he perceived that there were firearms in the trunk of that vehicle. And that very same night, he heard in the news that the bank the car was parked in front of had been held up. Nobody injured though. A neat little operation. Three masked gunmen using the very same weapons he had perceived in his hallucination. Was he a psychic? He didn't like psychic. He liked down to earth people. He liked reality. He disliked the notion of one loosing his grip on it. He didn't appreciated lunatics of any variety. And psychics were lunatics. There was to be no discussion about that. He had seen enough people gazing at him as if he was a talking dog. Dogs, he tolerated. What about a discoursing one? Why? There was enough of one species with that ability on earth. Whatever, the life of a performing dog, he didn't want.
Manuel liked sports and as he grew, he became better at them. He practised several. Basketball, Football and Baseball. He would never be big enough for Football but he was fast. At five feet ten, there was not enough of him to make it in Basketball but still, he was very good at moving the ball and was one of the best for long distance shooters. But what he liked the most was Baseball. He was a passable hitter and a very good short stop.
4 o o o 4
Joe Black was 54 year old. He was a big man. His hair was thinning but he kept his weight under 220 and that gave him a fair silhouette, that is, in the world he was in. He was a man that knew what he wanted and what he wanted, he usually got. He liked to think of himself as a no nonsense kind of guy. He didn't talk much but when he did, people were better listening, because he was not one to repeat himself. He knew his way around. He knew how to make things happen. That is why he was the Devil Rays team manager. Of the American League of Baseball. (AL). In Tampa Bay.
He was now on his way to pick both his kids. They were living with their mother in her new husband's mansion. The guy was a solicitor. He was super rich. He also had one name with the idiotic addition of the third or the fourth at the end. The residence looked over the Bay of Tampa near where its water converged into the Gulf of New Mexico. He got out of the 275 at the 54th avenue South and turned right on the Pinella Bayways. Immediately after he drove his black Lexus 450 on the first toll bridge that overhung the water that separated the Bay of Boca Ciega from the Bay of Tampa, turned left in the direction of Point Brittany and then, left again where there was, at the end of a small road, a very exclusive gate house community protected from undesirable characters by a guard in full uniform who accomplished his Cerberus like task from one sentry box, more like a cabin, with control over a gate that one could open with the right code, though, or through the sentinel gracious help. Joe did not recognise the watchman of the day who was looking at him with suspicious eyes even if he was driving a Lexus 450 and was the Devil Ray's manager, for Christ sake. Not to mention that he was coming there on a regular basis. Why? The guy looked foreign. He was probably into Soccer. Silly game, that was. He punched the number he had been told under the critical stare of the Mediterranean alien. 4571. And waited for the gate to open.
And the guard was gazing now. He gazed back, his eyes laser like that passed through the insignificant individual, making him disappear or deleting him computer like. What a nasty business that was. Barbara had insisted from the start that he come to pick up the kids himself. That was years ago. Now they were adults but why, there was not much public transportation around and they had got used to the royal treatment, these children of his, and if he wanted to see them, that's what he had to do, wasn't it?
He had called on an impulse. Wanted Thalia and Martin to be with him at the stadium that night. The Boston Red Sox were the visitors. The Rays were playing .666. And it was Thalia's Birthday. They would have hot dogs and such. They would put on the Ray's uniform so they could be with him and the players during the game. A Wednesday night. His kids that were living with their mother and this witless lawyer millionaire, the fourth of the fucking line or was it the fifth? The pedantic useless raving moron that she had remarried a few years back, one ridiculous prig that appeared either pompous when he was right or plain silly when he wasn't. Barbara had nothing planned for that night. The family tradition wanted that the birthday parties were always the first Sunday after the date original. So he had asked to get the children for that night even if they were no children anymore, what Thalia being 20 this very day and Martin, aged 17 already. They would get to see the game with him, in the dugout. And it had taken five minutes of palavers and Barbara throwing out all her capricious objections, not one of them that made any semblance of sense and still, he had listened and said nothing. Let Barbara tire herself of the crazy foolishness as she usually did. At their age, one would have thought that the boy and the girl could do as they pleased. But he refrained saying the obvious. She was a lawyer. She was intelligent. She knew all that. It was all just a show. Better let her do her thing. He will get what he wants in the end. So she wants him to drive them out and back? He can live with that. That is why she gave him the password. That damned password that doesn't work. And this S.O.B. of a guard who does nothing, offers nothing, just looks at him as he was a dignified carpet peddler. He got his arm out again and punched the number again but now, his shoulder hurt, his left index lacked assurance and the contact with the device's button seems approximate to his sense of touch. He locked his eyes into the guard's very dull and annoying face, those eyes that are used to instant submission, which is not his foe's attitude at that precise moment.
- "Is there a problem, Sir?"
He spoke with a heavy accent. Greeks talk like that. Zorba had the trait of one opponent manager when he had just seen the pitcher for the Rays strike out three of his own player in a row. Very, very pissed off. Joe had an impulse to sit him on the bench. But instead, he said:
- "What are you looking at?"
There was a T.V. running in the little room out of which silly Zorba planned with uncommon brilliance the best strategy so he could make a real fool of himself. Now, the sentinel affected to show interest at the image coming from the television. Joe imagined some bimbo rolling a big wheel full of numbers because he heard the voice of a woman shouting B-24. So Zorba was learning to play Bingo. Joe let go of a resigned sigh and did the number again, his left hand extended too far since he hadn't cared to manoeuvre the Lexus in a manner to insure easy access to the push button apparatus.
Still, the gate refused to budge.
And he could sense the smirk on the bone head watchman physiognomy. He mumbled:
- "Can you open the damned gate, please."
- "Don't you have the number, Sir?"
- "My wife gave it to me. It won't work."
- "What was the number she gave you, Sir?"
He told him the number.
- "But that was last week number, Sir."
Joe looked at the guard, saying nothing. Behind him, there was now a Chrysler 300 with a guy his age driving it, red hair and very red in the face. At that instant, Red Hair showed ostentatious carelessness and tolerance for being made to wait. Unperturbed, Zorba said:
- "The last week number won't work today, Sir. Can't you punch the right number, Sir?"
Incredulous, Joe erupted:
- "What I mean, Sir, is this week number."
Where were these people coming from, he asked himself. Could this guy be descending from Plato and Aristotle? He cursed Barbara who most probably had planned all this. He surveyed the simpleton as he would a recruit he knew for sure had not one run in him for the major league. To the non entity, he then barked:
- "I came here to pick up my kids. Will you now stop that nonsense and let me in."
5 o o o 5
At last, he had been able to make it to the Tropicana Field in time. On the way to the stadium, Thalia had him stop at one of her friend's place and they had picked her up. Irma was her name. Not much money in the family if he was to judge by the place she lived in. But what? He knew that kind of neighbourhood. He had grown in one of them. Not to say that he would care to return to such a life. But he was not a snob. Irma looked like a nice girl. And furthermore, she was a real knock out.
Now, both girls were babbling happily in the back of the Lexus. He asked Martin who sat next to him:
- "Sorry business, me getting stuck at the gate."
- "Yup. Mummy isn't good with number."
- "This being the understatement of the year."
The sentence got him a laugh, though. Martin was 17, looked too serious for his own good and needed loosening up. At their right side appeared the massive structure of the immense stadium and he did signal his intention to get out of the auto route at the next exit. From the rear, he heard Thalia say:
- "That can't be true. You are making this up."
And then, Martin who didn't care about girl's gossip asked him:
- "Will the Rays make three in a row?"
- "We sure will try, son."
What were the girls talking about? They were whispering and the name Manuel didn't cease to come out. What was this about? Maybe one of them was with child and that fellow Manuel was the father. Just that same year, two players in the Devil Rays organisation hat got themselves involved in similar situations. He interrupted the plot like colloquy.
- "What are you scheming, you two, behind my back?"
- "Oh papa, you will not believe the story Irma told me."
But Irma was not too happy with him sharing it.
- "You do not want to know it, Sir. It is a silly tale and it is not for me to tell it."
- "Therefore, he responded, I assume this is an indiscretion."
- "Yes Sir, it is. I know that my friend would not appreciate it if he was to learn that I have betrayed his confidence.
- "Oh shute, Irma, Lydia then objected, this is the greatest story ever. If he told you, it must be because he wanted it to get out. Don't fret like you were a virgin nun."
- "Thalia may have a point, hasn't she?"
And then, Martin said:
- "Is this about the magic bat?"
6 o o o 6
So that was the night when Joe learned about Manuel and his magic bat. The Red Sox had had the best of the Devil Rays. Joe wasn't happy about the loss. They had played 40 - 20 before that game and now they were 40 - 21. He felt like getting down from the bathroom scale and finding that he had gained five pounds. Or finding a scratch on his car door. He hated the feeling.
They were all having a shake at the Dairy Queen on Gulf Boulevard near Pasadena. Martin was commenting the match while his quite dejected audience sipped the thick chocolate beverage out of straws the color of the American flag. Joe looked around and noticed here and there placards for the republican candidate in the coming presidential election.
- "A home run in the seventh would have done them right," Martin concluded his monologue.
The Rays had left three men on bases at the end of that one. Harry Zed, called the Marvel, with an average of .331 and 21 big one up to now had hit a pop flight that had been caught easily by the Boston short stop.
- "Yup, that would have finished them up, mimicked Thalya who, Joe was sure, wouldn't know for sure the score of that last duel, maybe not even who had come ahead.
- "Home runs usually do that," he now said.
Martin was burping his way to the last of his milk shake and his sister shouted at him:
- "Will you stop that racket," you horrible slob.
Martin looked her over, then smiled and said:
- "I am not yet finished."
And next, made noise enough for three or four patrons to turn around and look at them.
- "Gross", hissed Thalya with a smirk that did nothing to lessen her natural good looks. Martin picked a note that protruded out of his breast pocket and passed it to Joe.
- "Dad, this is from mum."
His father unfolded the message, looked briefly at it.
- "Nobody told me that Clem had been sick."
Clem was his dog that Barbara had insisted he parted with when they had separated six years before. The animal was eight years old at the time and he knew she didn't care for it. She had pretended that the children were used to the canine which was probably true. He had missed the old beast though and now, Clem was older and sickly.
- "She is O.K., Thalya reassured him."
- "Four hundred dollars O.K., he smiled back with a straw in his mouth."
- "Anyway, she countered, Manuel would have got you a home run."
- "Ya, right!"
Thalya turned to Irma and begged her:
- "Please, please, do tell him the story."
- "This is childish, Irma objected. Your father will laugh at me. With reason."
- "No he won't, Martin interfered. What he will do is sign him up."
- "Can't you be serious, once in a while," retorted her sister's friend.
Joe was looking at the three youngsters in front and left of him. It was not so late that he couldn't listen to the silly tale. He was with his kids. He was happy in spite of the loss of his team, his new found average of .655 and the two wins he would need next to get back at 2 over 1.
So let them entertain him with this fellow Manuel and what… his magic bat! Clearly, Irma didn't put much stock into the yarn. While Thalya was another story. She had a proclivity toward credulity and had always been an easy target for all things that were not making much sense but looked good nevertheless. Reincarnation, levitation, moving objects from a distance, exorcism and all other kinds of exotic beliefs, she was a natural for those. As for him, he kept an open mind for all hypotheses that could be proven right. Martin, for his part, affected believing in nothing except republicanism and was constantly hitting him like they were little jabs in his ribcage with comments criticising his liberalism, his soft heart, his belief into God great design and his complacency toward Barack Obama since Martin shared his mother's companion opinion that the black candidate was no better than an American Fidel Castro. Yes, his son Martin could get on his nerves sometimes. But he was 17 and what, maybe a bit overextended on the right side of politics. At least, those didn't attach themselves to lamppost when they didn't have their way. Now, he looked at Irma and said to the girl:
- "I am all ears."
- "I don't…"
- "Who is this boy Manuel," he insisted.
- "A friend from childhood," Irma reluctantly admitted.
- "He was in school with us, Thalya interrupted. Now, he is in College."
- "And he plays Baseball for the Raiders," Martin announced.
Joe knew about the Raiders. Expected Martin to make the team himself in 2010. Except the fact that sport was not much into his son's agenda these days. Organising a campaign in school to promote republicanism was more to his liking, though, and that didn't leave a lot of time for athletic accomplishments. Joe then said:
- "So, what's the big deal about Manuel?"
Irma looked at him in the eyes.
- "As a matter of fact, this is an incredible story. I would not blame you if you said that I made this up. But I didn't. I swear. What, I couldn't even create, let alone imagine a tale like this, that's why."
- "Spare us with the suspense. Go ahead," Joe said.
7 o o o 7
That was in March of the same year. 2008. It was a Saturday afternoon. The Raiders were playing a game against the Invaders, a good enough team from one college in the second district out in Pensacola. The Invaders making them a visit and looking their name for they were actually winning 6 - 5 at the end of nine. Which Manuel could do nothing about, had got struck out at his last presence at bat for having piteously swung through air three times with one runner on second. Mr. Reynold, the Raider's coach, still had given him a slap on the back and that was what hurted the most. Receiving this little cheer, the kind a coach in college base ball gives to a looser participant that needs solace and is, well… paid to dispense. On the bench, nobody had looked at him. It was a bad day. The game was lost. The next and last at bat wouldn't make any difference.
And this is when he had had his vision. Without anybody around him noticing anything different while he had it. It just came and went. No trance, daze stupor, ecstasy, hypnosis, somnambulism or psychic like absurdity. Just some quietness that took hold of him for not quite five minutes and him seeing some scene like it was a movie on a screen.
He sees himself. He wears his week-end outfit. His shoes are loafers and his feet are bare. He walks in some street. It can be any street in any big town in North America. Some old town. Not the kind you find in Florida. More like a town up North. Like New York or Boston. A town with tradition and history. A town with streets that seem to say: "Don't expect us to go straight or anywhere." A town with old edifices and multitude crowding its sidewalks, getting in and out of stores in one inextinguishable torrent of insatiable bargain chasers. A town with buildings so high. A town standing upright. He walks in that town. On one street which seems to him like a canyon. Every one is bumping into him left and right. He can't progress in any direction without facing a barrage of serious looking pedestrians charging into him. And then, he sees an alley, more a passage between two close range structures and where does that lane go? He doesn't care. After all, he is going nowhere that he knows about and what, the trip is hard enough. Why not hide into that dark spot and wait it out, that anarchic flow in this city's avenues and boulevards. Here, where he now penetrates, the sun has no business and at first, he doesn't see much of what surrounds him. But, gradually, his vision clears up and he can make the width of the passageway. Not enough for a car to get by. Seven or eight feet at the most. So he proceeds further into the lane, twenty, thirty feet maybe and then, he distinguishes dustbins and a piling of green bags higher than him and that protrudes three or four feet from the wall that supports this sorry assemblage. One of the many bins has been left open and he can look at all the rubbish accumulate in it. Yet before he gets to take inventory, he hears a stifling sound, like the noise made by someone sleeping. And true enough, out there, laying through the mass of detritus, there is a man napping, all muffled up in one decrepit sleeping bag. The mendicant has all what he possess on earth in three brown bags near him and looking at those, it is difficult to make a difference between his stuff and the waste he is dozing in. The man has a five day old beard. In his left ear, there is one black and yellow earring. His bare left arm shows a Mickey Mouse tattoo and his t-shirt announces CAPITALISM IS…the rest of the quotation, he can't make out.
Out of the opening of light behind him, he can hear the honking of the occasional car and for the sound of it, it is like the useless protestation of beaten up machines. He remembers having asked himself: what was he doing there? The place was filthy and vermin was most probably crawling in all holes, gaps, cavities and recesses.
A sudden gust of wind gets his hair in his eyes and he puts it back in place, sees that one piece of newspaper has been displaced on the bin that is without cover and then he sees it, the baseball bat, that is. It was an ordinary bat, quite like the one he used with the Raiders. The kind that was major league approved. He can discern one small red strip up where the bat's circumference is the biggest and when he takes the object out of the bin, he notes that there is another red strip in the area of the grip where the wood piece is at its leanest. This bat is splendid and Manuel can't but asks himself who in his right mind would have thrown it away. Why? He will keep it. That is for sure. And find a way to give the Raiders a few hits out of it. That's when he hears some words and he looks everywhere around to discover where they are coming from and to whom they are addressed. What he is hearing is this:
- "So, you have come."
He realises that it is the old beggar talking to him. He has the bat in his hand and maybe the shock of hearing the voice has made him hold it in a way that looks aggressive. Seeing no danger ahead, he readjusts his posture, lets the bat touch the ground and using it as if it was a cane, at the risk of looking a little silly, he says nevertheless:
-"Are you talking to me, Sir?"
But the other just repeats:
- "So you have come."
- "What about, Sir?"
- "You are the one this bat has been designed for. You do listen to me now, young man. And you listen good because my mission is of saying it just once. This piece of wood that you are now holding is special. Very special indeed. With it, to you and to you only and nobody else except you, if used in major league baseball, it will give home runs at will. Now, son, do you understand what I have just told you?
- "Yes Sir, I do, Sir. I really do even if it is not making much sense, Sir. I am sorry Sir. I mean no disrespect."
- "This is not for you to decide. What I am telling you is the truth. Now, act upon it."
8 o o o 8
His friend, Peter, had gotten him out of the dream when crashing beside him on the bench. It took Manuel a few seconds to adjust to the reality of losing the game, the more irksome for the fact that they had been ahead 5- 2 up to the seventh inning. The coach would have them pay dearly for that slip up. Now, Peter was telling him:
- "I got my old man's Mustang. You care for a ride?"
So he had had a few beers out in one joint in Clearwater and that was it.
Two months later, that was early in June, the College had organised a trip to Chicago. Participants were to sleep in the Gymnasium and take their meals in the cafeteria of whatever institution they would sojourn at. In that way, the four days to sites and museums could be offered at minimum cost. Two hundred dollars, that is and he had put sixty of his own on the financing for the journey. His parents who were far from being rich had put in the difference. An excursion like that was too good an opportunity to be missed. And so, he went.
On the last day of their little adventure, they were all preparing to leave for the airport. It was three in the afternoon. Their TOD for the plane from US Air was 18h00. Mr Camlot, the Art professor and trip organiser, had looked at his luggage. There wasn't much and that is probably why he had noticed the baseball bat that Manuel now carried. He most certainly would have ignored the matter if it had been an easel, a set of paint brushes or canvas. But a baseball bat? Really, those athletics were a silly lot. He could have asked; "when did you get that?" or something. He didn't. Just stared at the instrument in a dismissive kind of way, stared and stared a moment more, as if he were trying to issue something witty and not finding anything. So he just looked at Manuel as he would have a colleague who couldn't spell properly, why, those poor illiterates, you do not want to be rude with them.
- "What he told me is this", now said Irma, to her bewitched audience of three, while they were in the Lexus that made it back to Point Brittany:
- "From nine to one of the last day of the Chicago trip, the students were free to move around town as they wished. The school they were bedding in was at the corner of Halsted and Chicago Streets in the downtown area. Manuel had decided to walk the two miles that separated from the beach. The temperature was mild. He had dressed his usual outfit short and t-shirt. Chicago was a gigantic city. And beautiful too. And the buildings around him so huge and massive with that entire busy crowd driving through or walking its streets and sidewalks, chaotic looking and yet all of them moving in an orderly and determinate fashion.
And then, something happened.
Out of a building, hundreds of clerks flowed out and, in a matter of seconds, they were all around Manuel, knocking him left and right and pushing him against a wall, looking fierce and resolute in their decision to bulldoze their way to the entrance of a mall on the other side of the street. Manuel had then a sense of déjà vu, of once having lived that scene and then, he saw the opening in the wall and he remembered the passage between the closed ranked skyscrapers of his dream like vision of eight weeks back. He entered into the canyon-like alley and walked resolutely toward the dustbins and the piles of green bags that protruded three or four feet from the wall that supported them straight. And true enough, as he had expected, the snoring old man was there too all muffled up in his sorry looking sleeping bag. And it was the same man as he recognised not only the face but also the black and yellow earring in the left ear and the Mickey Mouse tattoo on his arm. And today, he can make out the full citation on the soiled t-shirt. CAPITALISM IS DOOMED. All he has to do is to move the art section of some newspaper that has been wedged in place between other stuff and here it is, a baseball bat with its little red strip bands both on the top and bottom. He doesn't hesitate to lay hold of the bat and then, he waited for the beggar to awake even if he did not feel the need to be told a second time what this bat was good for. And then the poor man snored. Beside him were a few bottles of cheap vodka, two empties and one almost full. From where he stood, Manuel could smell the sour breath of the decrepit old man. He didn't feel like getting the poor wastrel out of his slumber. So, he took his prize and walked toward the light and the street."
Irma was finished and a little out of breath. They had passed over the bridge on the Pinella Bayways and Joe turned left toward the entry giving access to the gate community of Point Brittany, six buildings of condo like apartments large and small for owner residents 55 and older. And another gate community of singular residences, mostly mansions, situated on an almost island that looked upon the Gulf on its northern side and on a canal that separated it from Point-Brittany on its opposite bank. At the gate, the guard recognised his children and let them in, no questions asked. It was eleven thirty at night. Irma was quiet, now. Joe let go of a sigh and said:
- "That was quite a yarn."
- "You asked for it, remember?"
From the back seat, Martin joined in:
- "I sure could use that bat myself…
Thalya had cut him off:
- "To do what? I bet you couldn't hit a basket ball with the device. What about a baseball."
- "Who cares striking silly balls or balloons? I would build a cathedral and put this piece of wood in it and have everybody pay one buck for the privilege to look at it, ten to touch it and one hundred to swing it. What about that?"
That got him a laugh from his father. Then, Joe asked:
- "What about you Irma?"
But Thalya was now rebuking her brother:
- "You obtuse slow-witted dummy who respects nothing except money making schemes."
- "I don't care much for baseball," Sir, Irma had answered.
- "I didn't mean that. I will get you home, now, yes?"
- "Look who's talking now, countered Martin, my big sister the democrat who would build a cathedral with public money if given half the chance and worship her own new divinity in it, that is the one with the name that starts with Barak."
- "Thanks," said Irma.
- "It is on my way home, Joe answered. No problem."
He had dropped his kids at Mr. Nobody the fourth or the fifth. The place had all the cachet of a public building, big, comfortable and undistinguished. One unsuspected pedestrian could have confused the premises with a small museum or the St-Pete main library.
Joe lived in Pass a Grill. On the Gulf and the sand of the St-Pete beach. His cottage, Maine style, a nice two story wood structure, shingle covered, with a large veranda facing the ocean and half one side, cosy, large and beautiful. He loved that house. He loved his children. He loved the tale he had just heard. That night, he was ready to love everything. He was feeling good. He was contented. He didn't know why. After all, the Devil Rays had lost their match tonight. 40-21! He had to get back to a .666 average. Two wins. That's all what was needed.
9 o o o 9
The first article appeared in the Tampa Tribune of August 3, 2008.
That day and before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays that were visiting, Joe Black's Devil Rays ruled their division with a record of 63- 40. They were trailing the Chicago White Sox by two games for the league Championship. His team had still 59 games left to play. Joe was confident he would get there in time. 2008 was to be the Devil Rays big year. He felt it. He knew it. The same as he knew that Obama would win in November. He was good at prediction. He never had missed a presidential one before. And if a black candidate could make it in the US of A, the Devil Rays could certainly make it to the World Series.
It was ten in the morning. Outside temperature was the usual South Florida summer time hot, humid, oppressive and untenable. If you weren't a native, that is. As he wasn't.
From his living room, the ocean was driving over the sand a weak surf that reminded him of the Great Lakes and Ontario in particular. He had been born a Canadian. He was from the North. And some day, he would return back there. If he had to chose where he wanted to live, the American East Coast would get his vote. One not too large a town, more like Portland or Atlantic City. Near the big metropolis but not too near. He had no longer a wife. There was nobody important in his new life. Just his children and they were part of the old. He would stay near them if he could but soon, they would go their ways and who knew where work or romance would move them around the continent. So, when the time comes, he would go up North where a tree was a tree and where the word season meant something.
He originated from Toronto. That was the place of his youth. Where he had met the woman of his dreams, the girl he had dated when he was 19 and whom he married at 23 after completing a master degree and Barbara becoming a lawyer. This wife of his who was his first love and the only he would ever get since he didn't believe in that kind of experience to reproduce if you had it right the first time. He had lived with Barbara 25 years. They had had two kids. He still loved her. Love, once given, can't disappear totally. It will always survive somewhere, whatever you do or rationalisation you put in its way.
What had gone wrong between them? He couldn't say. Just that, in some kind of imperceptible ways, she had stopped loving him and that was it. His job didn't help. He couldn't blame her for not having wanted to follow him to California ten years back. Then, she had met the guy she was with these days. He was a big shot lawyer in a well established firm out there in downtown Tampa Bay. And a multi millionaire in addition. He had offered her a job. She had accepted.
That had started it all.
Some asshole of the fourth or the fifth fucking generation that had made her a partner and then, she had moved over to his place. He knew that life wasn't easy. Those days had been a difficult time.
Fate had it that he got an offer to manage the Devil Rays in 2004. So, he was there, living two miles from Barbara, that woman who was his wife and had remarried her new very rich boyfriend. But that changed nothing for him, did it? You can move out of your parent's house and they will always remain your parents, no? As far as he was concerned, it was to be that way too with couple like him and Barbara, in eternity if not on this earth.
In his eyes, this was so obvious that it needed no demonstration. But if one was needed, suffice to look at images of both of them when they were young. That was the most difficult thing to do, glancing at those mementos of the past, pictures taken out of booths in pharmacies, showing them as kids so juvenile, guileless and naïve, believers in things absolute. These kisses she had given him, he would never forget neither the first time he had touched her. These moments were for him and him alone. Nobody could take them away from him. This was what life was worth living for. Those moments, he would cherish till the rest of his life as the woman who had made them possible.
They said that nowadays, one had one wife when young and another when he grew old. He didn't believe that doctrine as applying to him even if it certainly looked true enough for other people. No. For him, there would be no other woman. Not because he had decided to. Rather because he knew so. Since he didn't believe that he could do it again. Have anybody the way he had his wife. Repeating that process was impossible and if he couldn't do it the right way, there was no point of trying to do it. It would be mimicking. A mockery. Faust was a damned fool for having tried it and so was Goethe to have penned down the silly dramatic. All he would achieve by engaging into another relationship was risking sullying what grace and magic he remembered from the initial experience.