Last baseball season, my husband, Cody, killed a man. Not just any man. A good man. A husband. A father of two with one on the way.
At Price Veterinary Clinic, my stomach churns as I yank at tufts of stubborn yellow hair on the scrotum of the sedated cat splayed out in front of me. I’m having a hard time concentrating on the task before me. Right before coming to work, I found out for sure that I was pregnant, and I’m terrified of how Cody will react tomorrow when I show up on the doorstep of our Memphis house and tell him. I’d missed a couple periods, was having trouble keeping down food. I took $35 worth of pregnancy tests before going to my doctor for a blood test. But I already knew. I think I knew that last night I’d been with my husband, the first time we’d so much as touched one another since that awful game, save for my clinging to him at Garrett Rainey’s funeral, with a pregnant Anne Rainey looking on, or ahead, to some invisible spot beyond the mourners, her two young boys gripping her legs and peeking out beneath suits that made them look like little men. Hands shaking a little, I grip a bottle of surgical scrub and commence to giving the cat’s back end a good washing.
After the funeral, Cody went back to catcher, but his year-long slump of hitting .144 in 26 games didn’t improve much in those final weeks of the season, despite the almost sickening support from his teammates, the scripted exhibition games, the debut of a new stadium. The whole thing hurt me so bad that I couldn’t go to a single game after, and I had a hard time understanding how Cody could. It was in all the papers—how, on August 12, nearing the end of the season, with a runner on first and no outs for the Travs, my husband, the pinch hitter in for Bobby Ramirez who was out with a shoulder sprain, hit a line drive foul ball that struck and killed Garrett Rainey, the Arkansas Travelers’ 35-year-old first base coach.
I try to turn my thoughts to work. With the cat laid out like he is, unconscious and oblivious to what’s about to happen to him, I feel a fleeting sense of sadness, though I’ve done this enough times now that it shouldn’t bother me anymore. I rinse the prepped area with alcohol, swabbing hard until the skin is pinked with cleanliness and my eyes well up at the sting. Then I spray the antiseptic, which turns the pink to a brilliant, blazing orange, so bright it’s startling.
“He’s ready,” I call as I drag a damp paper towel across the exam-table countertop and dump it into the trash can beneath.
Dr. Price emerges from his office. He is a tall, older man who looks like he belongs in a lab coat. With soft features and hair graying at the temples, he’s the kind of doctor who puts his clients at ease. I’d go to him if he treated humans. He doesn’t yet know about the baby, though I’ll have to tell him soon. It can’t be good for me to breathe in so many chemicals.
“Thank you, Carrie,” he tells me as he scrubs up and snaps on a pair of latex gloves. He always thanks me for prepping the animals, which I find nice, a vestige of a time when a person appreciated another’s presence and support. It’s moments like this I try not to curse Cody, who, after that horrible game, pushed away the meals I cooked for him and refused to talk to me, even when I tried to force him.
“Any plans for the long weekend?” Dr. Price asks as he opens a foil-wrapped scalpel blade.
I get one Friday a month off, and the clinic is closed on the weekends. I’ve already packed my bags. I can feel my pulse quickening. “Not really.” I grab the tail to pin back out of the way.
He makes a careful, steady incision on the plucked skin, exposing the white to be removed.
“I might go to Memphis,” I confess, before I am able to stop myself.
He tugs at the sinewy threads of bared matter, forcing a gloved finger to separate the cord into two pieces, the ripping sound like when I unwittingly step on a dog tick and send dark, purple blood splattering across the kennel floor.
“You going to visit Cody?” Dr. Price asks as I pull out the trash can for him to drop the little white mass in with the rest of the unwanted items his clinic produces each day. He begins stitching up flattened skin that only minutes before had protruded from the cat’s body in a kind of bulbous pride.
“Yeah,” I say, ducking my head.
When I decided to move back to Arkansas over a month and-a-half ago, Dr. Price was the first person I’d called. It was through him that I’d met Cody. I’d been working at the clinic for a couple of years, biding my time as a tech until I could get into vet school, when Cody, newly signed to the Travelers, brought in this mangy dog he and his teammates had found lurking outside the gates one afternoon. Ray, Cody called the dog, in honor of Ray Winder field, the baseball stadium that would soon be replaced by a newer, shinier one over the river, all lit up with the backdrop of downtown Little Rock and the equally new Presidential Library squatting on its glass haunches on the horizon. Ray Winder was also where Garrett Rainey would die, just two weeks into his position with The Travs as hitting coach, where my husband would race to the first base bag and crumple over his new coach’s body in the glare of the old stadium lights, so sorry, it appeared, already, for what he had done. The dog, like the stadium he was named for, eventually had to be put to sleep. Turned out his system was too weak to handle the stress of those ticks sucking the life out him.
“How’s Cody doing?” Dr. Price asks as he snips carefully at the end of the buried, invisible stitch.
“Good,” I lie. The last time I saw my husband was the night before I moved out, not long after Christmas. We don’t talk much, and it’s usually me who calls. “He’s been taking an accelerated term class at the community college,” I say as I try and calm my nerves by examining the cat’s ears for mites.
“Well, that’s something,” says Dr. Price as he peels off his gloves and chunks them in the trash barrel. And, after a pause, “Maybe he can take courses at Knoxville when you get in to vet school.”
I shrug because that will never happen. Unbeknownst to Dr. Price, who promised to do all he could to get me in vet school if I made one more go at it, I never sent in the application. I quit applying when I met Cody. I figured it was fate’s way of turning my life in a different direction. Now that there’s a baby on the way, maybe Cody and I can work things out. I gather the cat in my arms, take him to the kennel, and lay his limp and sagging body atop a folded towel in a clean cage. Before long, he will awake, groggy and drunk and perhaps calling hoarsely from behind the metal bars. “Yeah,” I will tell him, “life kind of sucks like that,” even though I doubt he’ll miss what’s gone.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if Cody really misses me. We were an unlikely match from the start. Before him, I’d never even dated seriously; I used the excuse that I hadn’t the time, though secretly I wondered if I scared men away. But Cody actually pursued me, and I fell for him hard. Timing, like in baseball, was everything, and for us, the timing just seemed to work out. When I failed to get into vet school the first, the second, then the third time, I was relieved to move on to a new phase. Having grown up on the outskirts of Memphis on his dad’s delta farmland, Cody had a good old boy quality to him that reminded me of pickup trucks and campfires and afternoons on the porch. I liked that. Memphis wasn’t my first pick, a dirtier city than Little Rock, where the ostentatious Orpheum and Graceland and Rhodes College just masked the grit of the place’s underbelly. But it seemed important to Cody to be near home, no matter how little he was actually there. Amid his young teammates, Cody was one of the handful of married players. They’d travel so much, it was hard to get settled. I got lucky with Cody, but maybe I should’ve known better. After what everyone has come to call “the Tragedy,” when Coach Harden told Cody to go home and spend some time with his wife, it felt like having a stranger in the house. He seemed so uprooted then, restless and uncomfortable in our own home, constantly moving between the kitchen or the garage and the living room, opening and closing cabinets and drawers like he’d forgotten what was in them. I felt horrible for him, I really did. Like everyone else, I knew it was an accident, that it was no one’s fault. I only wanted my husband to talk to me about it. In the week he took off from baseball, I spent a lot of time sitting on the back porch of the Memphis house, alone while Cody banged around indoors with the TV turned up so loud I could hear it from outside, delta mosquitoes sucking at my ankles and leaving raised, irritated whelps that would itch for days.
It reeks in the kennel area, and it’s more than just the putrid stink of animals waking upon having their insides removed. This stench is thanks to a Parvo puppy that had held on a surprisingly long time but sometime in the night finally succumbed and is now hardening in an industrial trash bag in the deep freezer. We’ve got a break in surgeries, so I unwind the water hose and go to work washing shit off the run walls. Choked by the smell of necrosis and given too much time to think, I guess, plagued by visions of me raising a fatherless child, of the Christmas photo Anne had sent of her, the two boys, and the new baby girl, Garrett Grace, I start to cry. It is the first time I’ve really broken down through the whole ordeal, having not cried the night it happened, when I was sitting in the stands and heard the crack of bat connecting with ball then the dull thump of ball connecting with skin. I didn’t cry, either, in the week that followed, when Cody balled up his emotions, told me he was fine, that he needed time to himself, and then he was gone again, back to playing until mid-September, when he found coaching jobs and even took to waiting tables at the Red Lobster a few nights a week. I didn’t cry at the headlines boldly bemoaning lives shattered by freak moments in time, or when ESPN picked up the story because it was the first time a player had died on a baseball field since Ray Chapman was hit by Carl Mays’s submarine pitch in 1920. There were no tears when Anne stoically told the papers that Garrett would want Cody to keep on playing ball. And this morning, mere hours ago, I didn’t cry at the sight of that little blue line confirming my fears. But here in the clinic kennels, the tears roll down my face as I try to focus the hose on blasting the brown spots on the concrete block walls. Then Dr. Price walks in. “Smells better already,” he begins.
My back is to him. I turn and force a smile.
“Oh,” he says, the look on his face embarrassing me plenty. “You alright?”
I try to play it off like I am simply having a bad day, the shit getting to me, I joke and then assure him that my personal problems will not be getting in the way of my work. I am resolved to do something about it. The first step is going to Memphis and having a conversation with my husband.
We’ve finished the remaining surgeries by lunchtime. Our receptionist takes off for her usual at Wendy’s, and I check on the spays and neuters one last time then head to the parking lot. It’s nice out with the sun shining, surprising for this time of year, since February in Arkansas has been known to bring ice storms or sleet or a last-of-the-season snowfall. I have to squint. My eyes are puffy and sensitive from the crying, and I can’t squelch the anxiety roiling in my gut. It seems like the crisp, cool air should smell clean and fresh, with the hint of spring to come, but I can’t shake the stench of sick animal, of clients who come in smelling like garlic and flea powder and dog, of watered-down bleach that fails to disguise what lies beneath.
I groan when I walk up behind my Blazer and realize it’s sitting lopsided—the right rear tire is shriveled and shrunken, loosely hugging the metal rim. I kick at the sad-looking tire a couple of times, knowing that I’m being foolish, that it won’t solve anything. It’s been a while since I’ve had to change a flat myself, but after my earlier display of emotion, I’m too embarrassed to bother Dr. Price, who generally spends his lunch inside, catching up on files. Sometimes, his wife brings him something to eat, a gesture I find sweet, since they’ve been married for twenty years. Now, I even view it with a pang of jealousy. I grit my teeth and pop the hatch.
My bad luck has me flustered, clanging around the lug wrench, jack, and tire blocks, throwing the parts down on the gravel lot and choking at the chalky dust that rises from the rocks. Used to, I’d go to The Travelers’ home games to watch, so proud that I had snagged such a man. At Ray Winder, it was always more of a carnival than a serious game. There was midget wrestling or Captain Dynamite blasting out of his cannon between innings. Shelly, the mascot, looking something like a cross between a horse and a rabbit, would roam the stadium, energizing the crowd during Luby’s Cafeteria Bingo. I’d usually sit in the same spot amid strangers in the stands, but sometimes a player’s girlfriend or a coach’s wife might join me, and we’d laugh when they let the children run the bases after spinning around with their foreheads stuck to the ends of bats. Cody thrived on the energy of the minor leagues, never seemed disappointed that he wouldn’t ever be good enough for the majors. He loved the game, however he could get it. I loved being there for him. When Cody was catching, he had this habit of squatting and bouncing behind the batter’s box before a pitch, his glove grazing the ground beneath him. A fine, red dust would gather around his ankles, and sometimes, before pulling the guard down over his face, I’d swear he’d look to me and grin.
I manage to switch out the tires and heft the flattened one into the back of the Blazer. I wonder if I should be moving about and lifting things like this, if it will hurt the fetus. The literature I picked up at the doctor’s office tells me it’s not even a fetus until after two months, that now it’s only an embryo, a distorted lima bean no bigger than an inch and a half long. It’s a boy, too, I’m convinced, though I’ve learned that sex organs don’t really develop until nine weeks. It’s a boy, and lord knows he’ll play baseball. I throw my already packed bags into the back seat to make room for the crap tire. The spare looks ugly on the vehicle, with its exposed lug nuts and missing hubcap, and I worry that I may have to buy a new tire if the busted one can’t be repaired. Worse would be the expense of a whole new set. I refused money from Cody since we’ve been apart, until he quit offering.
I go back into the clinic to explain things to Dr. Price. He’s eating a tuna sandwich. “Back already?” he asks, wiping at the corner of his mouth with a paper towel.
Then I tell him what has happened, Dr. Price abandons his food and goes out to the parking lot to have a look at my handiwork. He taps at the tire with his loafer then grabs the lug nut wrench, which I’ve left lying on the gravel.
“Good thing it didn’t happen while you were on the road,” he says, tightening the lug nuts until they sound like they’re being stripped. I try not to feel resentful that he thinks he has to go behind me, that what I’ve done isn’t good enough. Maybe this is a sign—maybe I’m not supposed to go. He hands the wrench back to me. “Why don’t you take the afternoon off, get that tire fixed.”
I bite my lip, realizing my boss must wonder when his employee will pull herself together. “Are you sure?”
“We’ve only got a few appointments scheduled. We’re all caught up. Go. This way you can still make your trip tomorrow,” he says and pats my back awkwardly, quickly retracting his hand as if he’d been reaching for something he shouldn’t.
“Thank you,” I say and start to feel weepy all over again.
In the three hours I sit at Tire Kingdom, I about convince myself it’s foolish to drive to Memphis. It’s not going to solve anything. I’ll still be pregnant, and Cody’s hitting coach will still be dead. I do some pacing, switch seats often, and tear through a bag of Bugles and peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. I’m trying to distract myself with an episode of The Andy Griffith Show on the hospitality-room television when a mechanic pops his head in and says my Blazer is ready.
At the counter, a young man hands me my keys. “You’re good to go. They patched it, checked for any additional holes.”
I pull out my checkbook. “What caused it?”
“Gnarled piece of metal.”
“Huh,” I say, digging for a pen. “I wonder how I managed that one.”
“You’d be surprised the stuff we’ve pulled out of tires—coat hangers, a steak knife.”
I laugh, ponder briefly how a steak knife gets wedged in a tire without a driver knowing it. “Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to buy a new one. That tire will hold up a while yet?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’d wager another 15,000 miles at least. There’s no charge today.”
I read the man’s face. He’s young, definitely younger than me, and I wonder if I have heard correctly. “I don’t owe you anything for your work?”
“No ma’am. We thank you for being so patient,” he tells me and hands over the pink invoice copy. “Come back and visit us.”
“Oh, I will,” I say, and I smile my best smile, the kind I reserve for the sweet old men I see waiting patiently on the bench outside the Wal-Mart pharmacy, hunched over their canes and taking it all in, waiting for their wives to finish shopping. Then I leave nervous and pleased all at once, thinking that this niceness must surely be a sign of good things to come.
It’s late-afternoon by the time I get out of Tire Kingdom. It’s not but two hours from Little Rock to Memphis, and I can’t tolerate the notion of waiting through the night to head that way, so I strike out. It has turned cloudy while I was waiting for my tire to be fixed, and the thermometer on my Blazer says it’s dropped at least ten degrees outside, so I’ve got the heat blasting. I decide to stop midway through at the MAPCO in Brinkley to buy a decaf coffee—on account of the baby—though I can’t quite fool myself that it’s as good as the real thing. The MAPCO is quiet and smells distinctly like gas station sausage biscuits and fried chicken, with just a few old timers drinking stale coffee at stained café tables. I like Brinkley. It’s a town with some history. There was a big brouhaha last year at the supposed sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker here. Cody joked that maybe that could be my new career track—in search of the elusive bird we all suspect doesn’t exist. I bought my wedding dress in Brinkley, at Low’s Bridal in the old railroad hotel, an eggshell-colored gown that cost too much, long before any sightings of white-billed birds.
Not fifteen minutes beyond Brinkley, I’m back on I-40, the radio going and my stomach rumbling from my nervousness and the coffee when I hear it—the unmistakable pop and roll of a tire coming off its rim. In seconds, I’m braking and trying not to weave, thankful the Interstate’s relatively empty as I bump along on the blown tire, easing as far onto the shoulder as the ditch will allow.
“Dammit,” I mutter, and after checking for cars whizzing up behind me, I grab my phone and my wallet and get out to inspect. It’s bitter cold out now, and the sky is clouded over like stacked bolls of dried cotton, no sun like earlier to warm me. I pull my zip-up cotton jacket tighter about my body, the chilling February wind nipping at my face and whipping my hair about. The back right tire, the one patched for free by those men at Tire Kingdom, is as flat as though it’s never seen air before, pulled nearly free of the metal rim it was once connected to. I call AAA, thankful now for Cody’s insistence that I have roadside protection. Frank, the dispatcher, is nice enough, but there’s a tone in his voice, like he’s either bored with his job or not surprised that it’s another woman calling, stranded. He tells me he will call back shortly once he locates a tow service. For a moment after I get off the phone with Frank, I sit on the edge of the ditch behind the Blazer, staring into gray woods, imagining I hear an Ivory-billed Woodpecker somewhere deep within. I draw my arms around my legs and brace against the wind that chaps my face until the damp grass wets my bottom and I become wary of traffic flying past. Before long, folks will be getting off work and driving home, though here in the rural lowlands, I can’t imagine what those jobs must be.
I get back in the car to sit with the heat on, and I’m so agitated about the delay, I decide I’d better call Cody and leave him a message about what’s going on, when to expect me. To my surprise, he answers. “What are you doing?” he asks.
I feel a crassness rise in my throat. “Sitting on the side of the Interstate between Brinkley and Forrest City, waiting on a callback from AAA. My tire blew out.”
There is silence on the other end. “Hello?” I ask.
“I’m here.” I imagine him, his big catcher hands running through the hair he’d let grow out over the past few months.
“I was coming to see you,” I tell him.
My stomach hurts, and a truck barrels past, shaking my Blazer. “Is that okay?”
“Sure, yeah, of course. I’ve missed you.” I don’t like how he sounds, can’t quite put a finger on it. He doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the car or if I’m alright.
I find that I am gripping the steering wheel with my free hand, my elbow locked in a stress position. I turn on the car and fuss with the heat. “How’ve you been?” I ask.
“Fine,” Cody says, but it’s hesitant, like there’s more he wants to add but isn’t sure how to put it. And then, in a rush, “I got offered a spot on the Tulsa Drillers. I’m going to take it.”
I am sick at the news. How can this be? He wasn’t even playing that well before the Tragedy. This doesn’t make sense. I want to reach through the phone and shake him, to say What are you doing? We’re still married! What about me? Instead, I say, “What about school?”
“Aw, I can go to college anytime, anywhere. You said so yourself.” I had said that, when he’d told me he was going to Southwest Tennessee, a Memphis community college. Two kids had been shot in the parking lot outside one of the buildings the year before. I wasn’t excited about Cody being there, but I guess I somehow thought that his taking a class or two might turn into something more permanent, that maybe he could be through with baseball and move forward.
“You can’t go,” I say.
“To college?” he asks.
“No,” I say, nearing a holler. “To Tulsa.”
I want to tell him Because we’re having a baby. That’s why not. And when, as I know he will, he asks me how that’s possible, I want to remind him of our last night together, of the part where I begged him to look at me, how he’d curled away after with his broad shoulders, and when I woke up the next morning he was gone and stayed gone for two days, until I got so mad I packed my bags. All I manage is to say his name.
“Yeah?” He clears his throat.
“You’re an idiot,” I say, and I hang up the phone, certain he will call right back.
I am staring at my phone when there’s a rapping at the passenger side window. “Oh shit,” I say, startled when I look over to see a man grinning at me. It registers that this is not the tow service, that it couldn’t be that quick anyway, and I haven’t heard back from Frank yet. I roll down the passenger window a bit. Frigid air rushes in.
“You alright?” the guy asks.
I take a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m fine. Busted tire is all.” I gesture to the back. “AAA is on the way. I’m waiting for a call back from them.”
“Where you coming from?” He has turned a bit now, so he’s still looking in on me, but the side of his body is aligned with the side of my Blazer, and his left arm is stretched over the window, his fingers barely creeping in. His eyes, a muddy green, dart back and forth between me and the road ahead.
“Little Rock,” I answer.
“Yep.” I look down at my phone, though it is not ringing. I start to tell him that really, I’m fine. He doesn’t need to stick around.
“I’m from Little Rock!” he says hurriedly, like it just occurred to him. “Where you headed?”
“Memphis,” I tell him, and wonder if I should be saying. I give him my best sympathy nod. “Sir, thanks so much for stopping, but AAA is on the way, and I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
He smiles again, and I can see that, though he has all his teeth, they are badly crooked, and I wonder if he’s one of those people who is ashamed of his mouth, smiles close-lipped for photographs, the way I do, even though my teeth are perfectly nice. “I’ll just stay here and make sure you don’t get hit,” the man says, and I have no idea what this means.
My phone rings. Thank god. Cody. I go to answer it, and the guy is weirdly watching me, looking in so that now his nose is nearly sticking through the window opening, as if he’s breathing in my car’s interior scent. I motion to the phone as I speak into it.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the man says.
“No, no. You’re okay,” I tell him, though as it comes out of my mouth, I wonder why I am excusing him. I roll up the passenger side window.
“Ma’am?” a disinterested man’s voice is asking. “It’s Frank again, with AAA. I’ve located a tow service in Brinkley, Mizelle’s Quality Tow, and they should be there in 20-25 minutes. Are you okay to sit there for that amount of time?”
“Yes,” I say. “I’m fine. A man just came up to check on me.” I look at the guy and realize how close he has leaned in to the passenger side door, so much so that his left side is pressed against it, and I can see a slight condensation around the outline of his arm on the window. Mizelle, that’s a name you don’t hear every day. The man is glancing in then glancing back out, repeatedly, to the side of the road and to what, I can’t tell. It’s dry winter grass and woods beyond that. I swear I feel the baby move inside me, but I know this can’t be right.
“Actually, he’s a little creepy to tell you the truth,” I say to Frank, my head turned so that the man can’t read my lips. “I don’t want to be rude, but I’d rather he go away.”
“He’s outside your vehicle right now?”
“Yeah...” I trail off, look at the man, and observe that he is very short and slight, has thinning hair. I realize how odd the brittle, sparse hair looks on him because he can’t be more than thirty. “It’s just that I asked him to go, and he insisted on staying. He’s right outside the passenger side window,” I say out of the side of my mouth. I look to my lap and see that, with my free hand, I’ve cradled my stomach without realizing it. “Something doesn’t feel right.”
I can hear chatter on the other end of the line, like Frank is having a totally different conversation with someone else. A coworker, maybe. Someone more important. “Well,” he asks, “are your doors locked?”
They are not. I raise my hand from my belly and depress the button slowly, as if it might make any less noise. My movement, the sound either goes unnoticed or ignored. Instead, the man nods, closes his eyes. And suddenly, right there in the side view mirror, framed by “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear,” I can see clearly what is happening.
“Oh my god. Oh my god,” I say into the phone, turning my face toward the Interstate, as if I’m the one in the wrong for catching him in the act.
“Miss Dover?” Frank asks, perking up for the first time. “Miss Dover, are you alright?” I realize he is talking to me, that I am Miss Dover, and I am still on the phone. I want to correct him, tell him No, it’s still Mrs. I glance at the man, and his right shoulder is gyrating, the arm beating faster, his eyes still darting back and forth between the interior of my Blazer and the outside world.
“Oh my god,” I repeat because I am a grown woman and too embarrassed to admit what is happening, so flustered that I could have been this naïve. “Oh my god.”
“Miss Dover,” Frank demands, “do I need to call the police?”
“That man is masturbating on the side of my car,” I whisper into the phone, and as soon as I say it, it sounds ridiculous, like a joke or a prank call.
I try not to look at the man, try to keep from breathing like a dehydrated animal. Frank is saying something on the other end of the line, but my brain can’t think and it is as if, within the confines of my vehicle, time and my body have frozen so that I am unable to react. I think about the baby inside me, how I feel soiled, that my child is somehow tainted and will know all that his mother has exposed him to. And then, I make eye contact with the man. He smiles and jerks his head nonchalantly, the kind of glance ball players give one another in passing at the end-of-game lineup. It is cold and unfriendly and says, I see you, but I don’t really care to exchange words. And then he turns and walks away, back toward his vehicle, an older model four-wheel drive, maybe a Jimmy, which sits roughly twenty yards behind mine, the distance, I think, between the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box.
With Frank droning nonsense in my ear, I look in my rear view mirror and try to understand what has happened, how to process what this man has just done to me. I can see his arm move in a motion that tells me he’s zipping up his pants, and then he wipes that same hand on the side of his jeans. My head fills with heat, like the first time I assisted in a declaw, was dropping the glue into the cavernous holes where a cat’s claws had been and managed to say, “I’m not feeling so” before I hit the floor. A tiny, sparkling object twinkles—a necklace? a prism?—from the rear view mirror of the man’s vehicle. He’s getting away with this. I am letting him get away with this. I gently place the phone in one of the drink holders, next to my coffee cup. Suddenly, I am out of my car. I have reached to the back seat and grabbed the bat, an old Louisville Slugger Cody had given me for rare evenings when he’d be home, usually during the off season, and we’d drive out to his father’s farm, and, in the yellow of the barn floodlights, I would toss him terrible pitches that he would somehow always manage to hit. The man isn’t even walking quickly, hasn’t, apparently, heard me opening my door or bothered to turn around. A few cars race by, and I’m not thinking that drivers might be wondering what I’m doing. There’s a thumping deep in my chest, and I think, this is mine and my baby’s heartbeat combined, somehow fused together. I’m so close now that I can see a hole in the man’s shirt, on the cusp of the armpit, and it makes me want to rip it wider.
The first blow clips him at the back of the knees and he crumples a little in surprise, maybe calling out. The second, a harder, more forceful swing, catches him in the upper back and sends him sprawling forward. Why didn’t Cody call me back? How could he turn so callous? I am nauseated, that heat in my head, my body being uncooperative with my feelings. A semi-trailer blasts its horn from the highway. When I look down, there are splatters of blood like someone had started an expressionist painting on the faded blacktop, and the man is moaning, gets out what sounds to me like “You bitch,” though I know I have struck him across the side of face, probably knocked out some teeth. I swing one last time so that he curls in a fetal position and lies rocking on the ground, and with a yelp like a skittish dog that has been administered a vaccine, I toss the bat off into the ditch. Then I slowly walk back to my car, get in and wait because Frank will have called the police, and AAA will be here soon. I lock my doors, fasten my seatbelt, and make certain the ignition is on. My phone is still flipped open, but all is finally quiet. I will have time to think, and in that time, I will blame Dr. Price for allowing me to go to Memphis, the Tire Kingdom guy for making a repair he knew wouldn’t take, and Cody, for hitting that godforsaken ball and not dealing with the consequences. But mostly, and lastly, and forever, I will blame myself, for hating something that couldn’t be prevented, for creating a child in this world that makes no sense, for making the Tragedy all about me. And with my eyes glued to my rear view mirror, I will finally come to understand compassion for my husband, though I remain prepared to hit reverse, busted tire and all, if the man who so shamed me tries to get away.