Polly Bresnick is currently studying fiction in the MFA writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has
appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Weave Magazine, Six Sentences, and a few other small journals.
Kara’s dad’s car stunk. It was the same smell as the houses of friends whose dads were hunters or plumbers or fishermen or carpenters.
What I understood this exotic smell of Kara’s dad’s car to mean was indoor smoking and/or evening can-beer drinking and/or non-news television-watching and/or frequent threats of minor violence that no one seemed to take that seriously, which is to say that I didn’t know much about what it meant, but I was afraid of Kara’s dad because of his beard and the rough voice that came out from behind it.
The stink in Kara’s dad’s car was stale beer and stale cigarettes mixed with fresh beer and fresh cigarettes. Kara and I played the hand slap game in the back seat and he yelled back to us that he hoped we’d be good cheerleaders for his team. I looked up to catch him wink in the rearview. I smiled because it seemed best to assume anything he said was a joke.
We were on our way to a softball game in which Kara’s beery dad would pitch. It was summer, so it stayed light late. It got darker than I thought it would before the end of the game.
The tall ice cream man was there, in his truck with silver bald spots where the paint had worn away. We knew he was a creep, but we wanted something anyway. He reached his hairy arm down through the window to hand us ice cream bars in the shape of catcher’s mitts with gum baseballs that were supposed to be in the middle, but mine was closer to the thumb. Kara’s had slipped off into the pearly wrapper. She retrieved it and held it up to show me its hemisphere stain of cherry syrup, proof of where it had been. She said she never liked to eat that part anyway. I handed up some pocket-warm dollars and the ice cream man touched my hand with his cold fingers before I could get away. Kara threw her gum ball at my chest and it stuck briefly, then rolled to the grass, leaving a faint pink wake on my tee shirt.
Soon the night was heavy, with disembodied heckling and cigarette embers dancing bright and careless through the black air. Kara’s dad had been long-lost since we got there, but Kara pointed him out just then, his arms spiraling in unison to hurl the ball to the batter. The crack of bat on fastball; the sick flesh slap of ball on skull skin; the pitching tower of yelp on sky. When we looked for Kara’s dad, we saw the lump on the mound.
There was no going onto the field. It was a hot, sharp territory with very clear borders. A place where invisible objects and blind shouts shot through inky space and drew blood. A place where harm struck.
Kara and I followed the shiny dark spots on the dusty path to the black mouth of the men’s bathroom. Kara’s dad’s thick-lipped cursing echoed wetly. Someone said it was his nose, and we ran back to the bleachers, where the people too drunk to know laughed. Kara held her nose and in the dark I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying. Our hands still sticky, we waited. Soon a tall man sat beside us. Out of his truck, I almost didn’t recognize him. I whispered a cuss, like I knew what pain felt like, just to make him look.