Authors: Gene Fehler
I kept seeing that scene at home plate.
Now the red numbers on my digital clock
are flashing a bright 2:14,
and I'm still seeing Luke on the ground.
That image keeps blocking out everything else.
My wife passed three years ago.
The hardest part of being alone is nights like this.
Why is everything black?
Am I dreaming?
I want to pinch myself and wake up,
but my arms are too heavy to move.
My throat's dry.
It's hard to swallow.
What kind of dream is this?
Where am I?
This doesn't feel like my bed.
I need to sleep again,
to wake up from this dream.
This .Â .Â .
I've been working on the surgical floor six years now.
You'd think after all this time
I wouldn't get so torn up by the sight
of purple disfigured faces
half hidden beneath mounds of gauze,
of kids teetering on that slim fence
between life and death,
of families waiting for news
that all too often brings them to tears
or, even worse, sets off wails that echo
up and down the halls.
But this boy .Â .Â .
I know him. I know his family.
I see them at church sometimes.
I don't go oftenâmost weekends I work.
But when I go, I always see them there.
Michelle, Larry, Luke .Â .Â . I know them.
That's why this case seems worse to me than most.
Nobody's called me with news about Luke.
Not that I expected anyone to.
It's not as if I'm a close friend.
I want to talk to somebody. Who might know?
The hospital? Coach Hucklebee? Andy Keller?
They'll know at school tomorrow.
I don't feel like going, but I willâ
just so I can find out about Luke.
He has to be all right. He just has to.
But I'm scared.
I watched him every second
from the time the ball hit him
until the ambulance took him away,
and he never moved.
If Kyle's pitch had killed Wallace, we would've heard by now.
But nobody here at school seems to know what's happened.
I couldn't stand the guy, but I don't want him dead.
I don't want anybody thinking that.
What happened to him,
I wouldn't wish on anybody.
As much as I hate the guy,
I felt bad seeing him lying there like that.
I really did.
I didn't hear about what had happened to Luke
until I got to school today.
I could tell right away something was wrong.
Faces were grim. Everybody seemed to move in slow motion.
“What's going on? What's the matter?” I asked.
“You haven't heard? Luke Wallace. He died last night.”
I've never fainted in my life,
but I almost collapsed then.
I felt lightheaded. My legs started to melt.
I had to sit down.
Not Luke! Not that dear boy!
I don't know how the rumor got started or who started it,
but it was another ten or fifteen minutes
before I learned that he was aliveâ
in critical condition, but alive.
Sometimes, when I don't have a ton of essays to grade,
or when I don't have some meeting or activity after school,
I'll stop by and watch a game.
I'm glad I wasn't at yesterday's game.
It's hard enough just hearing about what happened;
seeing it would have been so much worse.
This was my first day subbing at Oak Grove High.
Not at that school.
Not for the kind of money a sub gets paid.
Not that they'd ever ask me back anyway.
I've never had a class as unresponsive
as that first-period class.
Some subs just sit and give kids study time.
I like to actually teach,
and I'm good at it. I am.
I know it takes a while for kids to wake up in the morning,
especially eleventh graders.
So I tried to liven things up with humor.
Most of them wouldn't even fake a smile.
One boy was so rude, I ran from the room
before they could see my tears.
I should have stood up to him, but I couldn't.
I just .Â .Â . couldn't.
That damn substitute teacher cost me two days' detention.
I guess I'm lucky it wasn't worse.
Principal Jenks cut me some slack.
The sub was up there joking around, a goofy grin on her face.
Luke is in the hospital fighting for his life,
and here's this dumb woman trying to get laughs.
I should have kept my mouth shut,
but finally I just couldn't take it.
I slammed my book and yelled,
“Hey, lady! This isn't the damn comedy channel.
We're supposed to be learning something.
Just teach, if you know how.
Your jokes aren't even funny.”
She got this shocked look, like I'd punched her in the gut.
She grabbed her purse and ran out.
Didn't even look back.
I knew I was screwed.
I figured I'd get called to Jenks's office.
Instead, he came to our room. Alone.
And stayed with us until the bell.
Sometimes it's on fire.
Sometimes it's not even there.
Do I have a nose?
I can't see.
I can't even raise my eyebrows.
My whole head feels like my mouth does
when the dentist gives me Novocain.
I dream that the pain wakes me up,
but then everything's numb.
And I sleep again.
It's been two days since Luke got hurt.
Hallways are still quiet.
There's less laughing and roughhousing than normal.
Faces are solemn.
No one knows yet if Luke will pull through,
or, if he does, what kind of damage there might be.
When Luke was here, it seemed I was always chastising him
for speaking out of turn or joking at inappropriate times.
I only wish I were able to do it today.
Luke's been in the hospital two days now.
Andy went to visit him right after baseball practice,
and he took me with him.
But they wouldn't let us see Luke.
He's in the ICUâthat means intensive care unit.
They operated on him again today.
They're saying he's in critical condition.
That means there's still a chance he could die.
I wish they'd let me see him.
Maybe what he needs is just for someone
to be there with him and hold his hand
so he knows how much somebody cares about him.
Clarissa and I tried to see Luke, but they wouldn't let us.
Since we couldn't see him, we didn't stay long.
I had to do some serious studying
for a test about World War II.
We've spent the past few weeks
on a unit called “The United States at War.”
We talked in class about how boys
not much older than we are
fought and died in wars.
Until then, most of us hadn't thought much
It was as if they were just numbers in a history book.
Not real people.
were all going to live forever.
Is it morning or night?
It feels like morning, but I don't think it is.
I kind of remember Mom and Dad
talking to me today.
Or was it yesterday?
A doctor, too. I'm not sure, though.
Maybe I just dreamed it.
But it seemed too real for a dream.
What is real?
I bet what I thought was a dream was actually real:
I was trying to run barefoot on the beach,
but it wasn't sand, it was marshmallows.
Melting, sticky, burning-hot marshmallows.
I tried to pull my feet out, but I fell face first
into more red-black globs of marshmallows.
Some got stuck in my throat.
I couldn't breathe for the longest time.
My face still burns.
My throat's still sore.
Sore and dry.
From the marshmallows?
I turned in my uniform today.
Coach was furious.
I listened to him rant for a while; then I left.
He just doesn't get it.
He doesn't know what it feels like to throw a fastball
that can bust a kid's head open.
The thought of facing another batter
scares me too much to do it again.
“You've got colleges and pro scouts looking at you,” he said.
“You'd be a damn fool to give that up.
You owe it to your school to pitch,” he said.
“We can win the conference with you pitching.
Don't make a rash decision,” he said.
“Give it a few days.”
I didn't try to explain that baseball's a game,
not life or death.
At least it shouldn't be.
He wouldn't understand.
For him, it's all about winning.
Take our “victory” against Oak Grove.
Coach says it's a win; it sure doesn't feel like one to me.
I thought they might call it a suspended game
and have the two teams finish it later,
but I guess they're not doing that.
When I put my uniform on Coach's desk,
all clean and folded,
I didn't leave my guilt with it.
But I felt fifty pounds lighter,
and I could breathe normally again,
and my hands weren't shaking.
At practice today, Coach told us Kyle had left the team.
It would be an understatement to say he was pissed.
He all but called Kyle a quitter.
I already knew what Kyle had done.
He'd phoned me the night before
and told me he was turning in his uniform.
I didn't try to talk him out of it.
Maybe someday he'll be ready to pitch again,
but not now.
All Coach cares about is wins.
If he gave a damn about Kyle,
he'd worry that he hasn't been to school since it happenedâ
except to turn in his uniform.
I phone Kyle a couple times every day now,
because I'm afraid he might do something to hurt himself.
He's got me scared as hell.
It's as if the ball had hit
as if it had smashed
just as bad as it smashed Wallace's face.
I was closest to Wallace when he got hit.
I heard the bones shatter.
I saw his bloody face.
Maybe Coach can forget about it
and pretend it doesn't matter,
that it's just part of the game.
But it does matter. It has to.
If it doesn't matter, we're all in big trouble.
If we could play that last inning over, I'd rather
Wallace had gotten a hit and Oak Grove had beaten us.
I wish I'd put him on base
and taken my chances with Anderson.
At least then we'd have Dawkins for the rest of the season.
I can't believe the kid quit on me,
quit on his teammates.
Now I have to figure out which of my other pitchers
can pick up the slack, get us those wins
I was counting on from Dawkins.
We can still do it,
but the kid just made my job
a hell of a lot tougher.
I started at third today against Palo Cove.