Last night, I went to a T-Ball game with my wife. We sat in the bleachers next to some guy I know from work. Our wives were discussing begonias when the scrawny-looking five-year-old at the plate hit a laser into the right-center gap. Despite the oversized helmet and enormous facemask, I recognized him as one of my son Leeland’s friends. (At his age, Leeland has lots of friends, and I’m too busy to keep track of those sorts of things.) Anyway, after the kid hit the ball, he remained in the batter’s box, as if paralyzed by the daunting uncertainty of his future. The other parents shouted words of encouragement amidst chuckles—“Come on, Timmy! Run!”—and I was among them.
But Timmy didn’t move. The other team in yellow jerseys had started after the ball, carrying their mitts like baskets as they ran. The shouting from the stands intensified. Timmy’s coach, Mr. Davies, had come down the third base line and appeared ready to pick up the pint-sized ballplayer and fireman carry him around the bases. Our wives laughed—they thought the whole scene was hysterical. Timmy’s father—at least, that’s who I assumed he was—had jumped off the bleachers and was screaming at his son through the chain-link fence to run. Timmy, wide-eyed, looked from his coach to his father, resembling a doe caught in the bright rush of a car’s headlights. I’m not sure, even now, if he knew where first base was.
“Timmy, damn it all, run!” his father bellowed. The vein in his neck was visible from where my wife and I sat. The redheaded center fielder reached the ball first and made a throw that landed five feet from her and twenty feet from the cutoff man. The pandemonium in the stands continued to build, and I found myself rising to my feet and joining the chorus of shouting parents.
“Where are you going?” my wife asked, but I was already halfway down the bleachers.
I trotted behind the home team’s bench, where Leeland stood along the fence with the rest of his teammates, urging Timmy to forsake the safety of the batter’s box. I found the gap in the fence that led onto the field. All I could hear were the parents’ shouts, which bordered on hysteria. They rose to a chilling crescendo, and then I was sprinting past Timmy, down the first base line in my loafers and pressed Chinos. As I rounded second and headed for third, the fourth or fifth relay throw finally reached the infield. I’d like to say I thought about Leeland, and the other parents and kids and what they might think or say at work or school tomorrow, but I didn’t. My foot hit the inside corner of third base and I turned for home. Coach Davies simply watched me, open-mouthed. I was winded; I hadn’t sprinted in years. I realized then that the shouting had stopped. Everyone was watching.
Note: Originally published in February 2012 at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.
The idea for "Chalk Lines" first came to me while I was making the mile-and-a-half trek from my apartment to the Bursar's Office to cash a financial aid check. The story arranged itself in my mind so quickly that, by the time I arrived, the words and images were already tumbling out of me and all I needed was some way to collect them. Instead of taking my check to the front desk, I found a bench in the hallway and scribbled on whatever spare piece of paper I could find as fast as I could and didn't stop until I had the entire story down. Afterward, I spent several hours writing and rewriting, tinkering with certain sentences—originally, I wrote two or three lines past what ended up being the very last line—but the story I jotted down is largely what you see here. Every once in a great while, a story arrives so urgently, so unexpectedly, that it demands you drop everything and listen.
Joseph Pfister’s fiction has appeared in PANK, Juked, decomP, The Fanzine, and Right Hand Pointing, among others, and was long-listed by The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions 2013. He is a graduate of the MFA Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their dog, Roary. He is currently at work on his first novel. Visit him online at josephspfister.com or @joe_pfister.