By SARA ATTIA
(Why do you love what you love?
Why do you love how you love?
Couldn’t you find something better to do?
(No, probably not.)
Francis wasn’t much of a lover. But what he loved, he loved to the point of pain.)
It started with the old man. Francis saw him outside the CVS. His big hands were trembling around a cigarette, a plush of orange lighting up an otherwise unassuming, uninteresting face. His face was downcast, lines etching out a portrait of exhaustion in his cheeks, his wrinkled forehead, his silvery hair shoved beneath a faded baseball cap. The fluorescent lights flickered, and every so often Francis caught a glimpse of fire glinting along inside his eyes.
Francis didn’t make much of him– avoided eye contact as he slid into the store, not that the man seemed particularly interested in giving it up, and bought his toilet paper. It was only when Francis walked back out, plastic bag hanging loose off his wrist, that the man looked up.
“It’s-” he rasped, voice a little worn out, “it’s an awfully rainy city, isn’t it?” He smiled at Francis, and he shifted, shuffling his bag from one hand to the other.
Looking up at the sky– cloudy, but not yet raining, though it felt like the sky was just taking a deep breath, getting ready to let it all spew out soon enough– Francis smiled wanly, thinking about the dinner he was going to have to cook when he got back home, and the phone bill he hadn’t paid yet, and that damn package he was going to have to return sooner rather than later. “Yes it is,” he said, turning to stare at the car that zipped past, lurid yellow headlights painting their feet in a splash. “It’ll probably rain soon,” he continued, wondering if the leftovers in his fridge would hold over for another day or not.
“It didn’t used to rain this much,” the man mumbled, looking down at the ground. “Did it?”
Francis stepped back. “Ah- well- I don’t know; it feels like it’s been like this since I was a baby.” He laughed, but it was a choked off thing. He didn’t want to be here now that he thought about it. The rain wasn’t so bad- and really, it was a good thing, considering the state of things all around the globe- like, maybe the rain and the cold was fine when Arizona seemed perpetually on fire and the Atlantic Ocean was more oil spill than water. Every day Francis got up out of bed, stretched his arms to the ceiling and removed the sleep from eyes. He polished the dullness of the day into something close to a sharp object. Ignored the rain, which had become something like a warm coat a long time ago.
Francis wanted to go home.
The man’s eyes widened. “Oh, that’s right. It’s been around twenty years since-” he paused to flick away the cigarette- Francis held back a snort of disgust- and grabbed his hat, “Yes, twenty years since the last time they made the playoffs.”
He wasn’t much of a sports guy. “They?”
The old man huffed, twisting the cap in his hands. “The Knights, kid! It’s been twenty years!” He smoothed out the wrinkles on the cap’s brim, energy suddenly shot out of him. Francis checked the time. 6:50. What was he waiting for? “The rain didn’t used to feel so strong- or maybe I didn’t notice it so much. I was younger then. Now my bones all creak, like a skeleton.”
Francis checked the time again. Still 6:50. He didn’t have an umbrella.
It was supposed to rain soon, wasn’t it?
What did the weather report say?
It was impolite to check your phone during a conversation, though.
“So, what,” he chuckled a little. “It’s been raining so much because a baseball team hasn’t made the playoffs?” They hadn’t even won, if Francis remembered correctly.
The man shook his head slowly. His hands were trembling again. It irritated Francis. Didn’t old people get colder easier? He should’ve been wearing gloves. “No– just the floods. Nothing grows in this city anymore, heh. Gets drowned out.”
Rice grew well in heavy rains. Monsoon crops, right? Maybe, Francis thought, he should try to grow rice.
The old man sighed, like he wasn’t expecting an answer from Francis. “It was nice catching up, Frankie. You should go see a game soon. Sometimes it makes me feel like coaching you kids again.” Then he walked away, and Francis was left gaping on the corner, bag quietly thumping against his leg.
He hadn’t been called Frankie in forever.
And then it came around to his mother.
You know, sometimes Francis regretted going to college in the same state he’d grown up in. And it was a damn big state, and Francis didn’t have a car, and who even knew how to use the bus, so it wasn’t like visiting home was in the cards that often anyway. But he wasn’t one of those people who hated his home state either. It was just a state, wasn’t it? A place of access– you lived here, this place was yours for the blip of time you existed on it, it learned how your footsteps sound and the grocery stores you liked to visit and sometimes it had little blips of magic that other places just didn’t.
Sometimes, Francis didn’t know if that felt like love.
Sometimes, Francis called his mother.
“You won’t believe this,” she began as soon as she picked up the phone. “I found your old mitt, from little league, remember?”
“Ma?” He said, staring down at the ground beef sizzling on the pan. Spaghetti bologna, he thought. No, wait. Bolognese. He blinked. Little League? “Since when did I play Little League?”
She scoffed. “Since you were a baby, that’s when! You were terrible, but everyone’s terrible when they’re babies. Those stubbly little hands can barely hold balls, it’s adorable. Are you cooking?” She asked suddenly. “I can hear something sizzling. You shouldn’t have the heat too high if it’s meat, you know, it’ll burn before it browns–”
“Ma!” Francis interrupted. “I know how to cook!” Silence. Mom silence. “I’m making bolognese,” he mumbled, chastened.
“Oh, the recipe your father sent you? I like that one, but I think it goes heavy on the worcestershire sauce, you could–”
A baseball spun around in his mind. An image of the dirt, a red smear against white clothes, appeared. He didn’t know if that was a real memory, or if it was just– cultural osmosis. People loved a baseball story.
“Hey– you know I really don’t remember playing little league?” He asked, pulling out the garlic.
His mother went quiet. Francis added the worcestershire sauce, albeit less than the recipe called for. The pan sizzled. “You played shortstop, I think. Does that help? And you wanted to play on the Knights when you grew up.” Her voice sounded gentle. Francis wanted to break something.
The Knights. Those damn Knights. It wasn’t really a big deal, was the thing. He couldn’t remember some minor blip in his childhood record, so what? People forgot things every day.
Really, people had to forget things. The brain wasn’t made to hold all the millions of minutes it’d been alive—Francis would’ve been alive for 11,044,800 minutes once his birthday rolled around. He’d checked.
All things considered, the importance of some childhood memories was probably miniscule in comparison to paying the bills, feeding the cat- hypothetically, since his apartment didn’t allow pets-, remembering to call his mom every once in a while. His reality was about moving forward.
Francis should’ve been grateful.
It’s not like there was anything to remember from those days, probably.
He didn’t even like sports.
“Yeah,” he said, and it sounded like a lie. “It’s coming back, a little bit.”
“Ah,” she sighed, falling into a bout of nostalgia. He could imagine her spinning round in their old black armchair, one arm patched up because the stuffing was always at risk of spilling out. Francis hadn’t known he could imagine her so well. “The Knights sure were something back then. Like– flukes of nature. Hey, maybe I’ll come up, and we can see a game together one day. Like when you were a baby!”
The beef burned. A lump lodged in Francis’ throat. His hands were stained in garlic. “Like old times,” he repeated, hand gripping the spatula tighter.
It was stupid. Francis wasn’t even sure he remembered the rules of baseball.
It was stupid. He didn’t even know if he liked baseball.
There was a weird feeling in his gut as he sat down, rolling a water bottle between his hands.
It wasn’t like- one game, and all his apparently locked away memories that Francis couldn’t access would come back. It wasn’t like- one game, and the city would stop flooding. It wasn’t like- one game, and things would magically, suddenly, be better. So what the hell’s the point, right?
It was just that sometimes, Francis sat in class and lost himself. He stared at the blackboard, at his hand writing notes and couldn’t remember that it was his hand, really, that was writing those notes. He thought about how little he wanted to be there. He thought about blue skies- or slate grey skies- or even those nights where it was dark, yeah, but the sky looked almost orangeish instead. He thought about how little he wanted to be anywhere at all.
So: what the hell’s the harm, right?
Watch the game-
Be terribly confused for a few innings-
Wonder when the giant epiphany was coming-
Watch the outfielder catch a fly ball-
Wonder what an epiphany was supposed to look like-
Listen, listen, listen-
Listen to the crowd-
Listen to the smack of a ball against a bat-
Watch the ball soar, fly up against a blue sky in the middle of the fifth inning-
Hope for something-
Watch it leave the park-
Realize it wasn’t a run for the home team-
Wonder if you were supposed to be sad-
Wonder if you were sad-
Wonder if your heart was like the ball-
Hard and heavy-
Capable of being lifted to great heights-
Maybe against your will-
Listen, listen, listen-