The buoy was a home run. A young man named Broom grabbed a stumpy stick, and, throwing a stone in the air swung and missed. Then Broom tossed the stone higher, waited patiently as he lined himself up, swung, made contact and gazed with glee as the stone soared, and sunk, and splashed, and sunk some more, several yards in front of the buoy. Another man, Jason, commented and chattered about, while side-swinging his arm and releasing a smooth stone out to the raging waters. The wind whipped waves that day out at Tuttle Creek, and the skipping-stone hit the waves from the side and surfed along from one to the other. Broom tried, but failed. His skipping-stone faced the waves head-on, and upon impact flew high in the air, landed upon another wave, which sent it high before it submerged.
Broom and Jason continued down the shoreline, feeling the wind against their faces, as the sinking spring sun sang its song. Spring in Manhattan, Kansas is a delight—a mixture of warmth and cold, dry and wet. Just northwest of town, across the Tuttle Creek Dam on Kansas highway thirteen, a small parking spot leads to a path that follows the western coast of the reservoir. The main path wraps around, about halfway up, a high hill, overlooking shoreline nearly fifty feet below with the top of the hill another hundred feet above. The path is lined with trees to the left, all blooming in their unique way during the spring. When the sun sets from that spot, a man can catch it between two trees that overhang the cliff, and at the right moment, he will see three suns, two of which play in the whipping waves of the water. Then, the path curves downward to the right and opens to a large, barren field, full of dead bushes. A small cove is tucked into this area, and many a man takes his dog to that cove, tossing tennis balls and sticks while watching the canine fetch in the water. Though the path continues around the large hill, away from the cove, Broom and Jason wisely left it for the wild.
The peacefulness of this area is enchanting. A few cars can be heard passing over the dam, but they cannot be seen down in the cove. On their way back, Broom found a tennis ball in the water, hitting the shore with the waves. Picking it up, he tossed it in the air and swung with his club, missing.
“Aye! Sa-wing batta, batta, batta, sa-wing!” cried Jason, sitting on a log and drawing in pebbles with a stick.
“Strike one,” said Broom, readjusting his stance.
He tossed again, too high and too far. No swing.
“Ball one!” he cried. Jason continued his heckling from the cheap seats.
“One and one, two outs. Bases empty. Gordon is up,” said Broom.
A good toss, and good stance. The swing came too early!
“You call thatta swing!” came heckles from Jason.
“Ah. The one-two, coming up!”
Another bad toss and the count was tied. Then, a good toss, a fine stance, followed by patiently waiting, and then, pure contact amidst cries of disparagement from Jason. The ball flew high and far. It soared at least fifty yards and then, plop! It landed nicely amongst the waves. As it flew against the sun, a small yellow ball chasing another, Broom stood and watched with ego blooming in his bosom. He stood leaning on the club like a cane, fully ready to talk smack back to Jason.
“A triple,” he said. “Gordon’s on third.”
“You can’t do it twice, the way you swing!” heckled Jason. Broom joined Jason on the log as the two men stared out into the sunset and waves, watching the tennis ball slowly make its way back to shore. Broom also took a stick and began drawing in the ground while Jason dug a big hole. Then, he began carving his initials, and Broom noted that he could make a decent signature with a J and an R. Jason showed how, and after sometime pointed to the distant shore where the tennis ball was nearing.
“I got it!” he said, dashing off like a gallant gazelle being chased by a lion. He grabbed the tennis ball and brought it back to Broom, taking his seat back on the log.
“Perez is up! Bumgarner on the mound!” Broom shouted, squeezing water out of the ball.
Up went the tennis ball, a terrible toss. 1 and 0 the count, and Broom was feeling good of his chances to smack another good ball. So tossing again, he waited patiently, but not enough, swinging too early and missing the ball entirely.
A reign of boos and disparaging remarks proceeded from the log.
“I go this,” said Broom. He adjusted his Royals cap, made another remark about the game situation, noted the crowd, and tossed.
It was a nice toss, giving Broom plenty of time to regain his stance and line up. He waited a second longer this time, knowing that he often swung too early when he missed. He judged better this time. He struck the ball with good contact, yet his timing was still slightly off, for the ball careened into the water but clearly out of play. Ire sprung in Broom’s breast, cursing himself for lack of patience and focus. A remark was heard from the log about hitting the ball forward not sideways, and picking up the club with both hands, Broom smote the ground with furious rage, yelling angrily about foul balls and being down in the count. He paced and took some practice swings to let off steam, and resolved to hit the ball properly once it got back to shore.
Jason meanwhile, took the on the persona of a broadcaster, yet continued to heckle backhandedly.
When the ball returned, Broom knew he was on the ropes, down 1-2 in the count. He gathered himself, and after throwing a bad ball (some wondered if on purpose), proceeded into the next pitch tied in the count two and two. Then the game-defining swing came. A perfect toss, maybe too perfect for Broom, for the time was hard to judge. Yet he managed to focus this time, waiting, waiting, waiting, as the ball appeared to drop ever-so-slowly into the strike zone. Poised, he planted his left foot firmly into the rocks, turned his body in mechanical preparation for a swing and released the club from its hold. The bright yellow ball met an enraged club that could not have been swung with harder velocity and near-perfect precision. But one thing was off. One split-second changed the entire outcome of the evening. Contact was made, but too early, and the ball soared forward a fair deal, yet too high, far too high for a base hit. As his imagination took over, Broom saw Pablo Sandoval jump out of the water and wait patiently for the ball to fall into his glove, and nightmarish memories crashed through Broom’s conscience and tormented him, while a color commentator could be heard saying something about poor hitting and a pop up.
A pop up! Broom stormed around, flung the club at a fire-pit, threw his cap on the ground, kicked rocks, and cursed fate.
Another bystander watched from the cliffs.
The game was over, but Broom knew his psyche must be restored. He picked up his club again and was resolved to hit one more, nice ball. The bystander came down from the cliffs to the opposite shore, apparently watching the madness. This time, however, Broom would not disappoint himself or his fans. After a few strikes and balls, Broom gained control of one perfect pitch. The ball soared farther than it ever had, and he wondered if the dying waves would be able to bring it back. Watching that ball sore, with the club his in left hand, resting on his shoulder, Broom imagined all the bitter memories soared with it, and it pleased him to think they would not come back to haunt him.
The two men left for the evening, enjoying the hope which sprung from a new season.
Broom Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at Thee Ole Midshipman,
April 18, 2015
Painting: “Bare Log in a Field”
By William Darling McKay,
Oil on board, n.d.