Somehow There Was More Here

by Danny Goodman

I took a sip of Delirium and told Josh he was a pussy. The cold of the bottle made my bottom lip numb. As the wind picked up, tossing all manner of garbage and particles into the air, the softball diamond became a swirl of infield dirt, a perfect aestival tornado. I was sweating, and I could smell myself something fierce, though Josh didn't seem to notice. He went on about Maddie and how he'd lost her and what a fucking idiot he'd been: it was there, and then it was gone, he kept saying. He said it, over and over, like a fucking mantra, as if the words made the sentiment real. It's all in your head, I told him. He shook me off and repeated the words. He was wrong about some things. I nodded and finished my beer. 

            “Thanks, douchebag,” Josh said. He grabbed the bottle and tossed it into a trash can. “Why do I even bother?”

            “Because, rock star,” I said, slipping an American Spirit between my lips, “nobody else gives two shits.” I cracked a smile and slapped him on the back.

            “You're a real fuck, Ben,” Josh said. He picked up a Louisville Slugger that belonged to our teammate, Canadian Jay, whose wife had recently used it to bash in somebody's windshield at the A&P, and smacked the aluminum against the bench. The vibrations settled at the tips of my fingers.

            Josh walked towards home plate and shielded his eyes.

            “Oh, come on,” I yelled, “you know you love me.”

            I blew him a kiss, and he gave me the finger. Cigarette smoke filled my lungs and paralyzed everything. For a moment I was distracted from the repetition of the game by thoughts of a recurring dream I'd been having for weeks—one I couldn't shake. I considered telling Josh, about the woman and her voice and how I woke up, each time, gasping for air. But he was in no state for such things, not right now.

            The ping of softball against bat echoed through McCarren Park. I imagined, somewhere in Manhattan, Josh's wife Maddie heard the sound and missed her husband. I hoped, anyway. She'd been staying at her sister's in Locust Valley, but that situation proved worse than her own home. I got a call from her a few weeks back, asking if I knew of any places she could stay in the city; it was curious, her calling me. She had plenty of friends. She never asked about Josh, but I could tell she wanted to. When she wondered what I'd been up to, I simply said, “Work. And fucking. You know.” There was the faint sound of a laugh on her end. I wanted to comfort her, bridge whatever canyon had formed between her and Josh. It didn't feel like my place, though. I promised to call my cousin, a night manager at the Chelsea Lodge, and arrange for an extended-stay room. Maddie thanked me. I thought she would hang up then, but she didn't. Instead, there was silence, breathing, then, “Don't tell him where I am, okay? Not yet.” The line went dead before I could respond.

            Josh and Maddie gave me hope. This was nothing I could tell him, though, being as emotionally stunted as he was. Sure, they fought. Unendingly, it seemed. And they never said the things that people should say when what they say means something. But when they looked at one another—when I caught them in the kitchen cooking dinner and forgetting I was there—they were incredible. Josh would touch Maddie's fingers, right at the tips, with his own. She would turn back to him and kiss the edge of his nose. There was more there than either would ever say aloud. This was nothing I could tell Josh.

Instead, we played softball. I listened until the ball settled into leather and the field cleared and all that was left was Josh, alone at home plate, and a swirl of burgundy earth mixed with scraps left by those who had just passed through. It was a hot Brooklyn summer. There seemed to be no end in sight.

(This is the opening section to the novella, "Somehow There Was More Here.")