The Incognito Parallel -5-

Sometimes you know what team you're on, and sometimes you don't.

The Incognito Parallel

by Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 5
Needles

Jimmy hit a towering fly to deep right field, I tagged up and made it home before the relay from the field. Then another argument started as to how many outs there were. The score stood at six-nothing-ten. I sat on the bench and grinned a lot, I had something to do with four of those runs. Finally, they pitched to Greg and he hit a come-backer to the pitcher for our third out.

In this weird three-sided version of the game, we were now Out and we headed to the outfield. Jimmy took center, Pete left, Matty shortstop and Greg right, leaving short field for me. It's not a position that exists in Little League and I felt a bit lost. It didn't matter, only one chance came to me when a high bouncer got past the second baseman. I fielded it cleanly and threw the runner, Julio, out at first for the third out.

Jimmy said, "Ayiii!" and shook his hand like it hurt and laughed. My hand really did hurt in the glove but I just grinned and moved over to second. Julio's team had scored twice, making it eight-oh-and-ten and with Jimmy pitching we got the middle team out one-two-three which ended the game 'cause they got disgusted with not scoring in three innings and four of them wanted to go home.

"We won?" I asked Jimmy and he grinned and nodded.

"Next time," said the captain of the middle team, "we get la guera on our side." And he pointed at me.

"What did you call me?" I said, trying to sound like I might do something about it.

Jimmy laughed and so did the other boys. "La guera means your hair, the blonde."

"I'm not blond," I protested.

"Look around you," grinned Tony.

I did. Almost everyone had black hair, darker than my dad's, I'd noticed it before. With light brown hair, in that group, I guess I did count as blond.

The boys laughed some more but they didn't sound like they were being mean, just like they were having a good time. Tony said, "All las chicas want to be las gueras."

I frowned at him. "I'm not blond," I repeated. And that set all of them to laughing again. Maybe I said it funny, I don't know. I think I rolled my eyes and they laughed at that, too. Then I stuck my tongue out at them and Tony almost fell down laughing.

"You okay, chiquita," said Julio. "You don't get mad unless someone try to kiss you, huh?"

I ran over and picked up a bat and they laughed some more. I even laughed a little when some of the girls came over and stood near me. Two of them picked up bats, too.

The tallest girl, Brenda, said to me, "They're all pendejos, dumb-heads."

I nodded. I stuck with the girls while the older boys figured out how to keep the game going.

Brenda said, "You got dirt in your hair."

"Doesn't matter," I said. I may have turned red.

"Such pretty hair, you better wash it tonight."

"I will," I told her. Well, duh? Like I'm going to go to bed with dirt in my hair?

She grinned. "You ain't that much of a tomboy, huh?"

I made a face and she laughed.

Besides the four from the middle team, two other kids wanted to leave which left us with only nine players. But one of the spectators joined bringing us back to ten. Not enough for team play, so the guys worked out rules for a kind of fungo workup.

Three batters, seven fielders, nobody pitching or catching, reaching third counts as a run. The batter hits a ball he tosses up himself; two strikes or three fouls and you're out. No base stealing. No bunting. On a force play, the batter is out, not the runner; that one takes a little thinking to see why it's more fair. If you're out, you go play right field and everyone shifts over a position: right to center to left to short to third to second to first and first becomes a new batter.

"Shortest kids start at bat," said Jimmy. "Tallest kids in the outfield." No one argued that, when the tall kids got their turn at bat they would likely not make an out as fast.

Being the second shortest kid playing, I batted second. The first kid made an out on a weak roller to first. I wasn't that used to hitting my own fungos but I got lucky and hit a seeing-eye grounder between second and first. The third kid, one of the girls, hit a blooper to second and was out.

"I wanna go home," she said.

"If you go home, Luz," Jimmy told her, "we'll have to do without a shortstop to make this work."

"I don't care."

Julio said something to her in Spanish and she said something sassy back.

Matty said, "Oh, go home, Lucy. You don't see Blondie crying."

"She knows how to play!" Luz protested.

I felt good and bad about this discussion. I would sure hate to be a whiner but I felt bad that Luz wanted to quit. Plus, being called Blondie steamed me a little.

We would have had to quit playing or changed everything again but Tony offered to solve the problem. "Hey, Luz, I'm shortstop now, I trade with you. I go to rightfield and you play short."

"No," said Jimmy. Jimmy was a thinker, he had a better idea. He shuffled things around; the new rule was that the four shortest players and the one tall girl, Brenda, would start at short when they were out, not at right. I didn't say anything but I was kind of glad to know I wouldn't have to try to make a throw in from the outfield. I'm not a strong thrower.

Everyone seemed okay with the new rule and we got back to the game.

We played for another hour or more, just running, throwing, hitting the ball and screaming when someone made a good, or bad, play.

It got hotter and hotter but I made two runs before I got put out on a force play and I got to bat again and score one more run. Every time I scored a run, Jimmy threw me a kiss from wherever he was. I stuck my tongue out at him the last time and he thought that was pretty funny so I laughed, too.

And then suddenly, someone called from a long way off and two kids looked up and started off the field. The game broke up quickly, more and more kids heading away some of them talking about going home and getting lunch or doing chores.

I found Jimmy, putting gloves and base bags and bats in a pile behind home plate. "Where's everybody going?" I asked. A lot of the conversations were half in Spanish I didn't understand but I figured Jimmy would know what was going on.

"It's too hot," said Tony, flopping down in the narrow shade of the little concrete building. I noticed nobody lay or even sat down on the yellow needles under the trees without kicking most of them away and sitting on the dirt.

"We'll play again when it cools off some," said Jimmy. "Right now, a lot of kids have to go home to watch kid brothers or sisters for their moms." He made a grab for me.

I figured he was going to kiss me again so I ducked under his arm and ran a little ways away. "Okay," I said. "I'll try to come back when I see the game starting up again. I've got to go see about my mom. She's sick."

"You live in the motel?" Jimmy asked.

I thought he might try to catch me so I kept my distance. I shook my head, "We don't live there, just staying a few days, till Mom feels better."

Two other guys sat down near Tony, under the trees, after kicking bare places in the needles.

"You don't have to go right away, do you, chiquita?" one of the boys said. "You say your mom was taking a nap, let her sleep."

"Uh," I said.

Jimmy laughed. He put his hands up. "I promise, no kissing."

"You shouldn't be kissing her, Jimmy," said Tony. "She's too little. You're only nine, huh?" he said to me.

"I'm eleven," I said, annoyed.

"She told me that," said Jimmy. He winked at me.

The older boys all laughed and looked at each other then at me. "Stay," said Tony. "If he kisses you again, we'll put needles in his hair."

The needles looked dry but they had a sticky sap on them which is why no one wanted to sit on them. It would be pretty nasty to get them in your hair.

"Aieee!" said Jimmy, wringing one hand and laughing. "Okay, I leave chiquita alone till she's older. But one day, we'll get married." He blew me another kiss. I just closed my eyes and shook my head.

"You cabron," said Tony to Jimmy. Then he said to me, "I call him a goat; he's horny and he smells bad." They laughed again, teasing each other.

I really didn't want to go back right away, Mom did need to sleep and I knew if I went in and watched TV, I'd end up waking her up. Jimmy scooped away some of the yellow needles with the side of his foot to make a place for me to sit under one of the big shaggy trees. Then he sat down under a different tree, far enough away I knew he wouldn't grab me so I went ahead and sat down. I really liked these guys, except for them thinking I was a little girl.

We just sat in the shade for a while, talking about the game and the heat. I finally asked someone about the funny little cement building with no doors or windows. "It's a sump," said one of the bigger boys. "For water," he added.

"A pump?" I asked.

He nodded but he said, "No," which confused me. I'd seen several of them do that before, nod 'yes' but say 'no'. "Hey, Jimmy," he said, "tell chiquita what a sump is."

"It's for the water," said Jimmy. "The town has water underground." He pointed at the sump. "That thing is open at the top, you can't see it. They have to work on the water, they climb up the side and go down into the underground part." He showed me a sort of ladder made of iron staples about a foot wide in the concrete side of the building. I hadn't noticed it before.

I still couldn't figure out why they would make a thing like that. In the city we just have manholes in the street. But no one treated me like I was stupid for asking about it.

They didn't actually say much to me but they stuck mostly to English, guessing that I wouldn't understand much Spanish. When everyone had been quiet for a couple of minutes, Jimmy looked at me and winked.

I stood up quickly. "I got to go check on my mom," I said.

Everybody started getting up then. They all had things to do, too, but Jimmy said, "Hey, be back by four? We'll play some more before it gets dark. You, too, chiquita."

"Maybe," I said, heading toward the motel.

"You play pretty good for a girl," Tony called after me. "She does," he told his friends.

I didn't say anything to that, just trotted across the little side street into the motel parking lot.



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