“Ready to go, Slugger?”
He ruffles my hair, an unnatural move for him. He’s attempting to bond, to show camaraderie, to make up for the fact that every other moment of my life, I don’t exist.
The drive in is spent in silence as he listens to people on the radio tell him what to think. I listen, and I know what they are saying is what Granny would call “codswallop,” but I don’t tell him that. He’s best when he’s not angry, and I want funnel cake.
As we pass by people—parking lot attendants, ticket takers, ushers—he lays on the charm. Everyone is his friend. To the rest of the world he is a glowing beacon of charisma, a shining flame to their moth minds. To me he is the man who is always looking down.
I know the top of my father’s head like the back of my hand. If he’s not angrily replying to messages he’s studying news feeds for things to disagree with or laughing at things he won’t show me. His phone is his connection to the world, and with it in hand he is disconnected from me, right next to him, and I have to pee.
“What’s that?” he asks, dragged from his electronic world into reality by my squeaky pleas. He begrudgingly takes me back up the steps to the restroom, waiting outside the door and staring at his phone. When I’m done, we retake our seats. He got us good seats, right behind the home team’s dugout. He tells me they are good seats, and then he bows his head and disappears from everything again.
I don’t even like baseball. I only go because it’s the only time he will spend time with me. Even in this he fails, though, because what is meant to be a bonding exercise becomes something else entirely. Determined to get some benefit from the day I study the field, the players moving in syncopated rhythm with the antics of the ball. I see the effort they put into every movement. I see how much they want to be there on the field, and I find inspiration in it. Now I want to be there, even if my father does not.
“Can I have funnel cake?” I ask at the bottom of the fifth. I am hopeful. I have been good and not bothered him.
“It’s bad for your teeth. And you’ll ruin your dinner,” he answers, and then he is gone, again.
Disappointed, I return to the game. I feel the fever of the crowd, hoping for victory. I desperately want that victory. With each pitch I hold my breath. Every fly ball I watch, hoping they will drop it, or we will catch it. I am one of the team now, joining in their movements, shifting in my chair.
The game is almost over. My team is down by one. The other team is likely done, their chances of advancing further ruined by a captured pop fly. We are at bat. We can do this!
“Let’s go,” he says, “I want to get ahead of the traffic.”
How can he do this to me? Can’t he see that it’s all down to this? If we score two runs the day isn’t a loss after all. We can’t leave now! I have to see it!
He stands and gestures for me to stand with him. The crowd gasps and I feel like they are on my side, defiant of the man who wants to ruin the only good thing coming. The crowd points, and I look to where they are pointing.
My father, impatient to leave, looks up quickly to see what has caught my attention, so he can dismiss it. He chooses the absolute worst moment to look up.
A shower of blood rains down as the foul ball hits him square in the nose. I hear the sickening crunch of demolished cartilage and see him fall backwards clutching his face, his phone abandoned as his senses reel.
Then there are people all around us, scrambling to grab the ball. I reach down and pick up his phone, tucking it in my pocket so it doesn’t get crushed. The ball is found and the crowd disperses, leaving the two of us alone for a few seconds before the medics pull us away. My father is looking for his phone.
In the medical office I happily eat the funnel cake a nice man brought for me. My father complains, and I reach into my pocket to retrieve his phone, handing it to him and smiling to myself as I see the spiderweb of cracks that cross its cursed surface.