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FICTION

Elmira
By Tom Snee


Karen spun the knob once more, leaning so close to the radio her face glowed an electric green from the dial, stopping at every baseball game she heard in hopes it was the game from Elmira. She rubbed the ring on her finger as she listened, the jewel glinting in the jags of silver moonlight that shot through the window, as if it held some sort of magic that would make her wish come true and that the next game would finally be from Elmira. But the ring wasn't doing its job. None of the games came from Elmira. After five or six times up and down the dial—both AM and FM—she finally settled on the Cardinals game because it came in the clearest. She hoped the announcer would eventually give the Elmira score, but after a half hour she had still heard nothing so she resumed her channel surfing and made a note to ask Todd what radio station carried the games from Elmira.

Karen had never heard of Elmira, Todd neither, until the Phillies drafted him and assigned him to their minor league team there. It was in New York, the team's scout said when he called on draft night, and Todd fairly jumped at the news.

"New York!" he shouted. "That means I can go to Mets and Yankees games on my off days. And when you visit me," he said to Karen, "we can go to the ocean and see the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. Won't that be great?"

No, it won't, Karen thought. She didn't want to see the ocean or the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, or anything else in New York. When she looked in her family's road atlas she saw Elmira was four states away from Lucksville, Illinois—all the way across Indiana, Ohio, Pennsyvania, and a good chunk of New York. Why does he have to play in New York, anyway, she thought. Why can't he play closer to home, in St. Louis or Chicago or Peoria? They have teams there; why can't he play for one of them?

"Think about it, I'll be just a sprained ankle away from playing for the Phillies," Todd said on draft night, wearing the red cap with the white P on it, the cap he hadn't taken off his head since the Phillies scout gave it to him at the draft workout and told him the team was interested. "If there's a sore muscle or pulled groin or broken leg, I'm there . . ."

"Now, don't get too far ahead of yourself; you're only going to Single A," his father warned, Karen deciding to ask later what "Single A" meant. "You're a long way from the Phillies."

"Yeah, but once they see me hit the ball, they'll call me up quick and I'll be playing in the big time." Todd swung his bat in the living room, just missing the lamp as he hit an imaginary ball and watched it fly over the imaginary fence in deep center field. He wanted to be with the Cardinals, his favorite team, and become the next Mark McGwire or Stan Musial or Lou Brock, bashing home runs all over the place and stealing every base imaginable, but decided that Philadelphia would be an okay place to start.

"I'll play a few seasons there, then sign a big free-agent contract with the Cardinals and come home," he told Karen.

"When will that be?" she asked.

"Well, you become a free agent once you've played in the majors for six years, so—"

"Six years!" she shouted. "You won't be coming back for another six years? We have to wait six years before we can get married?"

"Well, no, we don't have to wait six years," he said. "We can get married whenever we want, then you can come live with me in Elmira or Philadelphia or wherever I'm playing. And with the $10,000 signing bonus they're giving me, that'll keep us set for awhile."

But the thought didn't appeal to Karen, not even with the money thrown in. She wanted to stay in Lucksville with her family and with Todd and work for awhile as a bank teller or a convenience store cashier then have babies, lots of babies, three or four of them at least. That had been her plan for years, the plan Todd agreed to when he asked for her hand in marriage last summer, just before senior year—that they'd marry after graduation, buy a house, and start having babies. Todd would work at the furniture factory, like most everyone else in town, or maybe her father could pull a few strings and get him a job at the steel plant where he worked, a union shop with better pay and benefits. She'd work at the Pump 'n Go for a year or two until they were settled and then they'd have babies. She had the names picked out already: Justin or Enrique for the boys, Christina or Britney for the girls. She started that list when she was five and while the names had changed over the years, she didn't expect them to change again. She liked those names. She never told Todd but he wouldn't mind because he always left those sorts of decisions to her. So Baby Justin it would be. Or Baby Britney. She couldn't wait.

She already knew what house they would live in, too; the Silverton place, just two blocks down the street from her own home. It was a beautiful house, with robin's egg blue siding, cedar bushes in the front yard, a big apple tree in the fenced-in backyard with blossoms so big in the spring they filled the whole neighborhood with their sweet smell. Even as a little girl, when she walked past the house every morning on her way to school and again in the afternoon on her way home, she knew it would someday be hers. It was inevitable, as inevitable as having kids, as inevitable as marrying Todd. She pictured all her babies in the backyard on warm summer days, playing on the swing set Todd would build from redwood lumber and splashing in the plastic wading pool they'd buy at the Farm King. Sometimes when she walked by the house, she'd stand on the sidewalk and stare for so long that Mr. or Mrs. Silverton would come out and ask if everything was okay.

"Oh, yes, everything is wonderful," she'd say. Of course, she and Todd couldn't move in right away because Mrs. Silverton still lived there, but everybody knew it wouldn't be long before she'd have to move to the county home because she was too old and sick to care for herself now that Mr. Silverton had passed. That was a terrible time when Mr. Silverton died, and Karen felt guilty for weeks, thinking herself partly responsible because she thought once that it would be nice if the Silvertons died soon so she and Todd could move into the house right after they married. She prayed for God to forgive her and take Mr. Silverton to heaven, promising to never wish such things on people again. Still, she couldn't help but notice how everything was coming together so nicely for her and Todd. All the pieces of their lives falling into place exactly the way she had planned. The engagement, their graduation, now the Silverton's house. If things kept going so well, she'd be pregnant within a year.

But then Todd was drafted and sent off to Elmira or Philadelphia or wherever he'd gone. She hadn't planned on this complication, although she'd started worrying about it the summer before, when scouts and college recruiters showed up at so many of Todd's games and pointed radar guns at him and clicked stopwatches and scribbled on their clipboards. "He's got pop in his bat," they'd write. "Power to the alleys." "Good speed on the bases." "A rocket of an arm." They often smiled and nodded their heads, and after a game would tell him that he was going to be a great ballplayer someday. From then on it was all baseball for Todd, and Karen felt like an afterthought. She pushed him to help with the wedding plans, to start looking at tuxes, to pick out invitations, to even set a date, but he said she should do it. He didn't have time; he had to work on baseball. She wanted to tell the scouts to go away and leave her and Todd to live their lives as they'd planned and stop filling him with these dreams of playing baseball in faraway places. Damn scouts, she said to herself, then quickly prayed for God to forgive her cursing, promising she would try harder not to swear. Damn baseball.

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2006 issue.

—EFQ

TOM SNEE lives with his wife and son in Iowa City, where he has no connection whatsoever to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has previously been published in such forums as Exquisite Corpse, The Long Story, and The Wapsipinicon Almanac, as well as in Fenway Fiction, an anthology of short stories about the Boston Red Sox. This is his fourth piece for EFQ.

© 2006 Tom Snee

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