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After forever, p.8
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       After Forever, p.8

           Krystal George
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  By: Cindy Bartolotta

  ©2013 by Cindy Bartolotta

  He knew from the sound, that the batter hit a home run. It had that certain THWACK to it, more than just a normal CRACK. It was how the bat resonated when the tempered ash met leather. Peeking through the worn knothole in the back fence, he was right. The ball gracefully arched, hung in the air, then dropped with amazing speed into the outfield bleachers. The crowd went wild, especially the man who held up his hand, clutching the ball like it was a huge diamond.

  It didn’t matter to the boy that the team was Class A and considered sub-par, many of the players were local boys and most everyone in town supported them. Tickets were not very expensive, but sometimes even twenty-five cents was too much for him.

  ‘Bottles’ Steadway watched every home game, though most were from the outside of the fence. He and the other veteran ‘wall rats’ were as well versed in team statistics and baseball rules as the players and coaches. Unfortunately, they were the only ones who knew it. Seeing a game from inside the fence was a rare treat.

  Born twelve years earlier, an only child, his given name was Ralph Waldo Steadway. His mother, a school teacher, named him after the poet Emerson, not realizing she doomed her son to being called Ralphie or Wally. Given the choice, he preferred Wally. That name blessedly lasted until he turned eight. Then the townspeople dubbed him Bottles, because he was always scrounging around for empty glass soda bottles to return for the few cents deposit. He took a fancy to the new moniker, proud that he was not only earning a meager personal income, he was helping keep the town clean by clearing out litter.

  Micah Carson, the town’s banker, once asked Bottles about the vast fortune he amassed, offering to open a savings account for the boy.

  Politely declining, Bottles explained he reinvested some of his money.

  Micah nearly choked on his beer when the boy told him what he invested in.

  With wide-eyed innocence, Bottles answered, “the Raytown Raccoons. What else would someone invest in?”

  The boy had it figured to a science. An outfield bleacher seat cost twenty-five cents. At the rate of two cents per bottle, he needed to find thirteen bottles per every game he wanted to see from the inside. You would think he found every last bottle in town. It was easier than it sounded, because out in the mid-west, it got mighty hot and dry during the summer. Everyone drank sodie-pop and after a while, he had a regular, exclusive clientele.

  Yes, life was good for Bottles, until he turned ten. Then one of those life-altering events happened. You know, the kind of life event that becomes a movie plot. In one brief week, his world turned completely upside down.

  His mother had severe stomach pains and went into the hospital. They ran a few tests and discovered her appendix was inflamed. They operated, a routine surgery they said, but her appendix ruptured and she died from blood poisoning.

  Bottles couldn’t understand that. They ran tests. They knew what was wrong. They operated. They were doctors. How could his mother die? She had always been so healthy.

  Being healthy had nothing to do with it, his dad explained. Appendicitis happens. Think of it like a tire. It could run for a long time, with no problems, but you overinflate it and BOOM, it explodes.

  That analogy, the boy understood, having several bicycle tires blow up on him.

  So, in a rare summer rainstorm, Bottles stood dutifully at his father’s side with the other townsfolk while his mother was lowered into the ground. Afterwards, the church ladies delivered pot-luck covered dishes to the house along with an urn filled with strong, hot coffee. Guests came and went, all stopping to offer their condolences. He mumbled a few words, but was overwhelmed by everything.

  Later that evening, after everyone was gone and the house straightened, father and son sat at the kitchen table staring at the empty chair. Neither spoke to each other. Neither knew what to say. Bottles eventually went to bed, leaving his father sitting next to a jug, half-full of moonshine.

  When the boy woke the next morning, the jug was empty and his father gone. Bottles wasn’t concerned, because his father sometimes disappeared for days at a time. The family had an understanding.

  This time, however, it was different. Conrad Steadway was now gone for a week. Bottles became worried. He rode his bike to the factory where his father worked. He was shocked to find the parking lot empty. He wondered where all the cars were. He pedaled to the guard’s hut, happy to see Stan Majors still on duty.

  Stan greeted the boy with, “so sorry about your mom, Bottles. She was a good woman.”

  “Where is everyone?” he blurted out.

  “Didn’t your dad tell you? The factory was sold last week. New owners came in and shut her down. Dang near the entire town is out of work.”

  Bottles sped away, not even hearing what Stan called out to him.

  The boy pedaled hard down the black topped driveway, then onto the dirt road. The wind blew dust into his face, but he didn’t notice the stinging from the sandy soil. “Why didn’t you tell me, dad?” he called out, eyes filled with tears. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  He wasn’t paying attention where he went. He only stopped because he reached the shore of the lake. They still called it a lake, even though it was nothing more than a wide depression of cracked dirt. Far out, in the very center, was a shallow puddle of water. Mosquitos buzzed over it. And, bordering the puddle were a few sparse blades of grass.

  Bottles leaned over the handlebars of his bike and sobbed—deep gut wrenching, soul cleansing sobs. “What am I supposed to do?” he screamed.

  He sat there, as if waiting for a sign. A sunray broke through the clouds, reflecting off something buried in the lake bed. He let his bike fall as he marched down the shore. Kicking at the dirt, he uncovered a bottle. He shrugged, marched up the shore, and put the bottle in the basket of his bike. On his way back into town, he found a dozen more.

  Glass soda bottles, it seemed, were his destiny.

  He cashed them in, pocketing twenty six cents. Stopping at the store, he bought some bread and boloney, enough for a couple sandwiches.

  Later that evening, after tidying the house, he sat down with a boloney sandwich, a scrap of paper and the stub of a pencil. He felt if he wrote out his plans, they were more apt to come true.

  “Let’s see,” he mused. “Number one: find out where my dad is. Number two: find out--”

  A car horn interrupted his concentration. Bottles ran out on the porch, just as a taxi skidded to a stop. A door opened and his dad emerged from the back seat.

  Bottles rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t believe it!

  “Hi, kiddo.”

  With tears of relief, the boy ran into the outstretched arms. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were going? Why didn’t you--”


  Bottled looked up. Standing next to the open door of the taxi was a tall, bleached blond woman wearing too much make-up and not enough clothes. Standing at each shoulder was a sneering teenager, each with a cigarette dangling out of their mouths. You could look at them and smell trouble. They were the kind of boys you avoided in school. They gave Bottles the once over and snickered.

  Bottles looked back and forth. “Who… who are you?”

  His father knelt before his son, gesturing, “This is my sister, Louise, from Pottsville.”

  The pair of hoodlums coughed.

  “Yes. This is your Aunt Louise and her two sons, Jimmy and Biff.”

  “Why are they here?”

  “Harrumph. Well I never,” Aunt Louise screeched.

  “She’s sort of moving in while I go out of town looking for work. I got a line on another factory job about fifty miles from here.”

  “Why not just take me and we could move?”

  He stood and leaned into the taxi. “Don’t leave,” he told the driver. “I’ll be riding back with you.”

  Louise marched onto the porch and into the house. Her sons both glared at Bottles before following he
r, letting the screen door slam behind them.

  “Dad…” Bottles started. “This isn’t right.”

  Conrad gestured to the tree swing out in the yard. “I know you don’t like this, son. I know I should have talked to you, but when the factory—“

  “I already know about it.”

  His dad looked down, his shoulders slumping.

  “Send them home, dad. We can survive.”

  Conrad shook his head. “I can’t. Louise is staying here. Her husband left her and she has nowhere else to go. She’s going to stay here while I work. It’ll just be for a month or so… until I get some money saved.”

  Bottles nodded. “Sure dad.”

  He looked into his son’s eyes. “I want you to promise you’ll behave. Don’t upset her. I swear I’ll come back.”

  Yeah, dad. I promise.”

  One of the bullies yelled from the porch, waving Bottle’s uneaten sandwich. “There’s no more boloney. I’m hungry.”

  His brother yelled, “Where am I supposed to sleep?”

  Conrad squeezed his son’s shoulder.

  After brief instructions, Conrad packed a bag and rode off in the taxi.

  Bottles waved, but as soon as the taxi rounded the bend, Louise dug her cheap fingernails into the boy’s shoulder and ushered him into the house.

  And, thus, Bottles fate was sealed.

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