Small Differences

Prompt: Write half a page or more in which you experience a specified situation as your character, a stranger to this situation, would. Describe the situation in vivid, precise details that appeal to the senses, using active verbs.

 

The crack beckoned a howl I never knew I had.

***

I’ve been in the United States for two months, visiting from Lünen, Germany as an exchange student. Back in May, I watched through my living room window the rowdy celebration along my drive after nearby Borussia Dortmund won their seventh Bundesliga title. My father was among the celebrants chanting songs to prove his fandom and drinking a liter to justify being 49 years old wearing an overpriced yellow jersey bearing a 23-year-old’s name. The name wasn’t even German, but Polish. Although what did that matter to my father, who waited nine insufferable years during the prime of my puberty for another championship.

I hated that spectacle outside. The gentleman’s game, they called it. So of course the grace they found so endearing on the field had no place in the streets where they pissed on hubcaps and puked on curbs, all in the name of victory. I knew then that I had to be off to America, a land that doesn’t know a soccer ball from an overweight housecat.

***

It turns out Americans glorify another ball altogether: a rock wrapped in two white leather strips bound together by obtrusive red strings.

When I made it through passport control, I found my host brother Kenneth and his family waiting to greet me with a bright red Cardinals baseball cap. If I wanted to experience St. Louis, I’d have to become a Cardinals fan. So that first night, jet lagged and all, I watched six-foot-seven men hurl a rock to fat men whose sole job was to hit the white rock with a wooden club to a spot where no abnormally large and brown hand could snag it. I hate the game, but I can’t tell Kenneth that because he’s taken me to a game a week and I don’t think he wants to do anything else with me. So now I’m at some world championship, even though we’d never seen this game in Europe.

The game is about to end and the fans in Busch Stadium—named for Anheuser-Busch, a beer my father and his friends drink to celebrate—are drained. When the man with the tri-colored beard hit a dinger—that’s what Kenneth calls them—to start the game, the St. Louisans lost their voices cheering him along his free trot to home base. I was suddenly back in Germany, and my father was every one of the 47,000 people around me, drinking beer to excuse their overindulgence in an event played by athletes twice their size and half their age. Next to me Kenneth screamed, “’Atta baby, Lance!” He’d lost the southern accent his parents had brought from Mississippi, the one I thought all Americans had until I heard everyone hear talk, but as his passion rang so too did his twang. I hated it.

But when the Cardinals player nearest our seats missed a ball hit so high it nearly hit the TV blimp above and hit his head instead, the stadium hushed. Underneath my Cardinals hat I smirked, the way I did when I was 13 and my father screamed expletives at the yellow jerseys on the television screen. Next to me a man in his fifties with hair dyed brown and treated with a perm leaned over to his gray-haired buddy and grumbled, “Of course Hitler’s dream boy hates the most American team in the most American sport.” I slide my hat off briefly to run my hand through my blonde hair and I flash my blue eyes at the friends as my smirk turns to a full grin. There’s something delightful about irritating the irritable.

To my left Kenneth is rocking with his palms together and supporting his face, as if in prayer. Like God actually favors the Cardinals over this Texas team. Like he can knock them over with his own wooden club and march the Cardinals to victory. I lean back further in my seat as Kenneth inches forward, sweat glistening his face despite the nearly freezing temperature. Time stalls and the only sounds I can hear are the cheers from the Texas bench in front of us. I fill with a bit of contagious excitement as I realize that those actually responsible for the championship buzz. But even they hush as the man on the hump of dirt gears to throw. I don’t see the rock leave his hand, but I do hear a crisp crack, like the smashing of a bone. I notice everyone around me looking directly ahead and I catch sight of the white rock heading directly for the path of the tall black Texas player running awkwardly after it.

Oh, shit. Oh shit, he missed the ball. He missed it and they’re screaming. No crescendo at all: from country silence to a sudden and collective cheer that is shaking the ground below me. I’m trying to stay calm, but oh my fucking God he missed the ball and my heart is pumping. Kenneth’s heart stopped, I think, but he can’t stop leaping and screaming and hugging me then hugging his brother Hunter and then crying in his dad’s chest. The Cardinals player, the same one who let the ball fall on his head, kneels on the same base where he missed that ball and looks directly my way with his spotty brown beard and dirt-covered chest and howls to the crowd like a wolf to the bright yellow moon. I don’t know what to do, so I answer his howl, and I realize how my father felt that night just five months prior.

This story was inspired by Game 6 of the 2011 World Series

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