Headhunter Brendan Gillen
Sometimes I have this dream that I’m in the Bigs, on deck, forty-thousand breathing fire, and our second baseman, a speedster with the Delino DeShields double-earflap, has just grounded out to first. My walk-up music begins to chime from the heavens and it’s not Thunderstruck or Ambitionz Az A Ridah or Shook Ones, no, it’s Jesus Was a Cross Maker, Judee Sill, because what is hitting a baseball if not a miracle, and I carry my bat over my shoulder like it weighs a ton. The home crowd is baffled: what is this song, what is this shimmering resonance? Is it religious? Is it cosmological? Is it a spell? But there’s enough of a countrified shuffle to get even the skeptics moving, and suddenly everyone knows the words—A bandit and a heartbreaker—and as the chorus rains down, I dig into the batter’s box, coolly raising my hand for Time like I know precisely how all of this is going to end. I spit into the dirt, the mark of a true hard-ass, but my phlegm is all busted, too thick, too red, a pool of copper on my tongue, a rusty sludge at my cleats, and when I look up at the pitcher, I can tell by his crooked smirk he’s got a blade tucked in his glove. He nods, pitch selected, and this is the part where even in my dream I know I’m staring down a night terror, the kind that only ends in a thunderclap headache, the kind that jolts me awake in a stew of sweat, the kind of white-hot brain burn that makes my nose run and my eyes water and swear I’m about to die for the thousandth time, the kind that can turn you into a Believer. But before all that, before I’m reminded that pain is a long game and acceptance is hard-won, the music turns warbled and viscous like somebody pulled the plug on a turntable. The pitcher begins his wind-up, a high-legged twist of limber violence, a headhunter with a knife in his fist, and instead of parking my weight on my back-leg, instead of squashing the bug, instead, even, of squaring to bunt, I lay my bat in the dirt and get down on my knees and hear a collective gasp cascade the horseshoe fortress as I close my eyes and silently begin to pray.