Batter Up, A Short Story by Jack A. Urquhart

Batter Up (1951 words)
by Jack A. Urquhart ©2012

For the second time in as many days, David awoke with a shout, gripping himself like a ballpark corn dog, fist gooey in condiments.

No wonder Ginny had gone running for home.

“Christ!  I heard you!” she’d screeched, clobbering him awake with a pillow in the middle of the night (was that just twenty-four hours ago?).  “You said ‘Ross’!  I heard you call his name!  And look what you’ve done to my nightie!” she’d cried, horror-struck, blotting tissue against her rump as she bolted from bed to bathroom.

It had taken her less than an hour to throw her things together.

“Thank God I haven’t finished paying for my wedding gown!  I must be the dumbest girl in town, not to get it,” she’d ranted in the midst of her mad dash to vacate their expensive hotel suite and, presumably, his life.  “All those sports-bar outings, the two of you?  The softball leagues—you and him off to Fenway last summer?  Good Lord!  Even your bachelor party this weekend was a theme on pitching and hitting!” she’d crowed, snatching from the floor the wadded commemorative t-shirt he’d been presented hours earlier.  “‘Batter Up’ indeed!” Ginny snarled, practically rubbing Ross’s tacky phallic double entendre, with its over-sized up-arrow, in David’s face.  “I bet you guys hired the Chip and Dale boys, partied-down while comparing woodies!”

Nothing David could say had convinced her otherwise.

“You’ve got it wrong!  It’s never been like that!  Jesus, Ginn!  Ross and I don’t even live in the same state anymore!”  But there had been no getting past Ginny’s I heard you’s!

“You called out ‘Ross’!  That’s not my name!”

And then the final, enduring shame of his encounter with Ginn’s mother—a woman big enough to go bear hunting with a stick—in the 4:00 a.m. hotel lobby:

“This is what comes of trashing tradition!  Shacking up!  Throwing your simultaneous Bachelor/Bachelorette parties!” she’d brayed before using Ginny’s over-night case to swing a base hit against the left side of his face.  “I hope you’re happy, Mister!  You’ve ruined what would’ve been a perfectly adorable wedding!”

Game over.  Two hits, one run, one very big error.  Not in a million years would David have guessed he’d wash out like this—dazed and alone, in the middle of a hotel-edition California King, blackened eye, bruised ego, fumbling for Kleenex.

“This can’t be real,” David whispered, afraid that his natural voice would convince him otherwise.

Almost a full day since Ginny’s flight, and he’d spent every minute of it holed-up in his musty hotel suite, growling away all comers at the door with a “Get the Hell lost!”  Just three days since Ross had flown in, and not a moment’s peace in all that time.

What a difference a year could make, David considered; and how unprepared he’d been for it—the sight of Ross ambling toward him in the airport terminal, loose legged in ridiculous madras shorts and that ancient Red Sox jersey; his best man grinning like a mule chewing briars.  David had gone weak-kneed on the spot.

And now this—this nightmare!

Who’d ever heard of a recurring wet dream!

Again and again, here it came: Ross, sliding into his dreams, into his bed, as soon as he fell asleep.  Ross pressing against him, like warm flannel, threatening plum-colored bruises at the base of his throat; Ross’s sandpapered chin husking at his nipples, stealing steadily toward home plate.

Hard to believe hallucination could wreak such havoc.  But here he sat, the digital clock blinking relentless a.m.’s: 1:01…1:02…1:03, scared shitless, domestic future uncertain.

Yet—David had to admit—feeling very little remorse.

What could it mean?

He’d have to wake up to find out.  Enough of this lying about.

A hot shower—or should it be cold?  Perhaps that would do it, David decided, staggering from bed.  What he needed was stimuli, he told himself—strong fortification for the work ahead—strong enough to neutralize the relentless desire to fall back against the pillows, to surrender himself to sleep, to the dream that wouldn’t quit.

His face in the bathroom mirror provided additional incentive.

“Fuck me!” he, hissed, pressing a cold washcloth against his purpling eye.  How in Hell had he wussied away so much time—hours, or was it years?  “Step up to the plate, man!  Get a grip!” he barked, stepping into the shower.  “Keep your eye on the ball for once!”

Only one man—his best friend—would be worth that much effort.  And why hadn’t he understood that a year earlier before Ross had taken himself off to Boston?

Twenty minutes later the front-desk voice on the other end of the line was surprisingly chipper considering the hour:

“Yes Sir, Mister Mayer is still a guest.  It’s late; shall I put you through to his voicemail?”

Voicemail my ass, David thought!  Nothing but the real thing this time.

Towelling off, he grabbed the first things that came to hand: bedraggled running shorts, well-worn flip-flops, that damnable t-shirt.  Two minutes and he was off, flip-flapping down the hall.  No waiting for the elevator.

The two flights of stairs he took in leaps and bounds.  In no time, he stood outside Ross’s door.  Number 53.  Of course, it would be prime!  What else given Ross’s superstitious fixations?

Seven years they’d been buds—long enough to know Ross wasn’t about to change his irksome ways, which were as numerous as fleas on a yellow yard dog.  David picked a few of them off: how Ross was late for everything, so dense sometimes he couldn’t tell a cow pie from second base, forever broke as the ten commandments.  A hundred small annoyances David could name, not the least of them Ross’s fixation on prime numbers.

If his business had been less serious, he would’ve laughed at this latest manifestation of his best friend’s craziness.  Even so, he could well imagine what it must have cost Ross to secure the room number—the endless telephone chats with hotel reservations staff that Ross made whenever he had to travel on business.  Something along the lines of:

“You have to understand, Miss.  I know it’s crazy, but it’s imperative I be booked into a room that’s a prime number!  That would be a number greater than 1 that has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself?  You know, like 19 or 23, 29 or 31?  I can give you a list.”

Some things were just weird enough, endearing enough, to give a man courage—enough courage to play Babe Ruth, slamming away at door number 53 in the middle of the night.

It didn’t take long for his racket to rouse attention.  By the time Ross opened the door, several other sleep-addled faces had popped their heads into the hall to glare at David.

“Jesus, you’ll wake the dead!” Ross, a scruffy vision in rumpled boxers, hair cow-licked into weedy sprigs, growled before yanking him inside.

The door had barely closed behind them before Ross, arms akimbo, was in his face.

“You’ve a helluva nerve showing up like this when I’ve been doing vigil at your door for, ‘lo, these twenty-four hours!  I was beginning to think I’d have to call the coroner!”

And then, just like that, Ross turned and shambled ass-scratching back into the room.  “I need another drink,” he barked over his shoulder.  “God, what a pain you are!  Put your brains in a bird and it would fly backward!”

For a moment, David lost his train of thought.

“So, you’re still here,” he said, feeling like his opening line had been thoroughly trodden.

“Jesus, Dave.  Where else would I be?  Figured you’d come around,” Ross said, hopping of a sudden on one leg.  “Shit!  Damn Charlie-horses!  Always happens when I’m exhausted.  Guess you’ll be wanting me to run interference with Ginny now?”

David followed him into the room.  Too late to turn back, though surely here before him was the most exasperating man in the universe.

“Ginny and I are done.  Finished.  That’s why I’m here,” he began.  And then out of nowhere: “I think I’ve been asleep all this time!”

“Yeah, well good for you, buddy,” Ross said flipping the light switch to reveal a hurricane zone of tangled bed linens and candy wrappers, the detritus of a decimated mini-bar.  “‘Cause I sure wasn’t getting any—waiting for you to get it together, wondering what the hell had happened!  You can be a real arse, you know,” he said, flinging himself into a chair.

Stung, David caught his breath.

“Me!  Jesus, man.  It’s because of you!  This whole disaster!” he shouted, wringing his hands, turning aimlessly this way and that in the middle of the room, looking for a way out where none existed.

“That’s right, blame the best man.  That’s the easy out, isn’t it,” Ross laughed, grabbing at what looked to be the last surviving mini-bottle.  “I’ll have to file that for future reference,” he cracked, strong-arming the resistant twist cap.  “Keep it stored against the next time you decide to propose marriage to some poor chick.”

And there it was: the slow pitch to home plate.

“There won’t be a next time,” David said, thinking how easy it would be to strike out.  “I told you!  That’s why I’m here,” he began, hoping he could at least make it to first base.  “Ross, I don’t want you to run interference with Ginn.”  David took a deep breath, and then swung: “I’m thinking…I think maybe I just want—you.”  And then, sprinting ahead:  “So I need to know if it’s only me.  I need to know—if you ever—do you ever dream—about us?  Together?  Because, I do.  Lately I can’t seem to stop.”

There!  David sighed.  Safe!  At least for the time being.  Nothing but wait for the next play.  Would it be a line drive to the old kisser, or—oh God, he hoped not—a run of mean-spirited laughter?

He closed his eyes.

When he opened them, Ross was standing in front of him, fist extended.

“Here.  I’m not sure which of us needs this more,” he said, proffering the mini-bottle.  “But it looks like you could use all the help you can get.”

Any other time, David would have checked the label.  Any other time, he’d never have bolted the contents in a single throw.

But this wasn’t any other time.

As soon as the paroxysms hit, his doubled-over coughing, Ross’s laughter filled the room.

“Hell, I knew it!  I knew my lucky prime would serve.  It’s just been waiting for you to show up so it could do it’s stuff!” Ross spluttered, doubling over as well.  “Serves you right, buster.  Putting me through Hell all this time.  That’s schnapps, buddy!  Sixty-four proof,” Ross cackled.  “Cherry flavored.  That should put you straight.”

Still coughing, David was surprised to find his battered sense of humor still afoot.

“I seriously doubt—that’s a—possibility,” he gasped.

For a moment, at arms length, they blinked at each other.  And then Ross stepped up.

“Jesus, Davey.  You’re a case.  Chock full of surprises—and just when I’d about given up.  Better let me have a look at that shiner you’ve got going,” he said, smiling, finger tips, like warm flannel, reaching to graze the spot.  And then, eyes glancing pointedly, wickedly lower.  “Looks like somebody’s ready to hit a home run.  Batter up, eh?”

David felt the chilblains rise as Ross took a step closer—but not a shred of shame.

“Just one thing I want to know,” Ross said, sidling up to home plate, breath like a cherry cola.  “About that dream.  How good was it—for you?” he asked.

End

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About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in southern California.
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8 Responses to Batter Up, A Short Story by Jack A. Urquhart

  1. Your stories always upset me. Does that mean they’re good? Emotional reaction in the reader, so yes, they’re awesome 🙂 🙂 Of course, some of the baseball stuff was lost on me, but I got the gist 🙂

    • jaurquhart says:

      Glad you got the gist, Jessica. Don’t know much about baseball myself, ‘though my Dad was a semi-professional player in his youth. As for my little story’s merits, I appreciate your comments (‘tho ‘awesome’ is, I expect, too generous :-)). Wrote 5 versions of the little ditty last week — three in 3rd person, two more in 2nd person — all of them grittier than my normal groove. Drove me crazy. I was glad to get the darn thing posted and out of my head.

      • rlboyington says:

        I was glad too 🙂
        And, I liked the grittier parts as well.

      • I’m glad to hear someone else has difficulty remembering which tense or person they’re in at any given time 🙂 By ‘awesome’, I meant very striking in the juxtaposition of such a ‘manly’ sport with such an ‘unmanly’ subject, and of course striking again as regards one’s nerves. I use the word ‘awesome’ way too much. People parody me with it now.

  2. Natsha D. Lane says:

    I really liked this story. It may have been short but as I read through it I could feel the tension Dave was bottling up. Definitely a novel’s worth of tension and emotion. I feel like you didn’t hold anything back and that is definitely something that I can admire. Great job!

    • jaurquhart says:

      Thanks, Natsha. Very kind of you to take the time to comment. I keep trying to write a story in 700 words or less — something that can be read in five to seven minutes (which seems to be the standard on other well-trafficked blog sites), but I can’t seem to manage the constraint. Naturally verbose, I guess. I’m glad you liked my story. 🙂

  3. Once again I love your writing. And as Jessica pointed out, they always create an emotional reaction.
    Hope you don’t mind my sharing this, but when I was in Kindergarten there was a story line, I believe on General Hospital, about parents trying to get a teacher fired because she in a relationship with another woman. I remember saying, “it’s no one’s business who she loves as long as she’s a good teacher.” My grandma threw a fit! She said it was unnatural and blah, blah, blah…but I never understood. I say all of this because your stories confirm what I always believed- there’s nothing unnatural about the feelings you describe, and I wish everyone could see that.
    Can’t wait for your next story. 🙂

    • jaurquhart says:

      Hi Felicia, and thanks for your generous comments, and for sharing your recollections about General Hospital; different times then, in some ways. And yet, plenty remains the same, doesn’t it. Still, I find it encouraging that folks are beginning to understand that the laws of attraction, affection, love, are — as you point out — in many ways, universal. Best, Jack

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