Brent only made deals with God when he was in center field, and only between pitches. “Please let me do something good,” he said aloud, far enough out into the grass that he was sure no one could hear him except, of course, God.
After his ground out in the first, Brent was ready to compromise. “Just a single, maybe with a runner on, but nothing big, and I’ll do my homework all week before video games.”
Three innings and a pop-up later, Brent would be up again in the bottom of the fifth, so he reminded God, “It doesn’t have to be a triple or anything. Just a little hit. Just something good. Maybe a walk. A walk and then I can steal a base.”
The game was tied and with Donny Phelps coming to the plate, Brent took a few steps deeper into center field. He recognized Donny by the slow, heavy steps he took to home plate, like he was sore or tired. But Brent knew better. Donny always waddled like an old man, then he’d explode with a big hit or a great catch. The guy always did something good.
Donny took the first pitch for a ball and Brent promised to take out the trash every day this week without being asked. After ball two, Brent promised that on Monday, at recess, he wouldn’t sing any of the naughty limericks Uncle Declan taught him, even the new one: “There once was a girl from Clare, whose arse was always bare…” He wouldn’t even start it, no matter how much those limericks made his friends laugh, no matter how much those friends, including Donny Phelps, begged.
Brent felt it was a good deal as he watched Donny’s eyes lock in on the pitcher, daring him to throw one anywhere near the plate. But the pitcher didn’t. He missed high and outside for ball three and Brent knew he was scared of the things Donny could do. He’d spent the last half-inning asking everyone in the dugout if they thought Donny would charge the mound if he hit him with a pitch. “A slow pitch,” he added. “Not to hurt him or anything. Just so he doesn’t hit a double or something.”
At school, Brent and Donny were kings of four-square, working together to stay on the court all recess. When Brent became class President for January, Donny was his Vice President. In February, when Donny became President, Brent was Vice President. It was perfect until March when they ended up on different Little League teams.
“No more throwing rocks at birds,” Brent said aloud so God would know he meant it, his mind in the alley behind the liquor store, the power lines drooping with crows waiting to pick through the trash bins. Then a swing/crack/blur, all-at-once, sent Brent sprinting to right-center, his mind catching up with his legs in time to widen the arch of his run and snare the ball on its second hop, just before it could skip past him to the fence. He spun and flung the rock hard to second, watching it sail over the cutoff man then dive for Osmar, the shortstop covering the bag. Only then did Brent recognize what a strong throw it was, what an accurate throw, and what Donny Phelps was doing: trying to stretch his long single into a double. But there was no getting it back now; the throw beat Donny, Osmar’s glove popping and slapping the dirt in time for Donny’s foot to slide into it like a boot. “Out!”
The second-baseman, who Brent should have hit with a cutoff throw, gave Brent a raised fist-pump, letting him know it was alright, that breaking the rules was okay if you got the results.
As he loped back to center field proper, Brent tried not to notice Donny trotting off the field. He had at least two more batters to shake the sudden tingling just beneath the surface of his cheeks. Two more outs to make sure the tingle didn’t climb up to his eyes and begin leaking out. He forgot all about his deal with God, even in the bottom of the inning when he got high-fives and handshakes from his teammates, first for the throw, then for the sacrifice bunt that put the eventual winning run on second. Brent wondered what he’d say to Donny on Monday, if they’d even play four-square now, and when something good was finally going to happen.