Vol. 3, No. 2: Today’s Baseball Fans photo

Here, Right HerePeyton Popp

The aggressive length of time before games makes Fridays very long. He is sitting at his desk, which he shares with Alexis-not-Alex, whose hair smells a certain way. Her hair smells a specific way, like he can recall the smell at any time, and that just makes him feel weird — and a little stressed. The teacher is talking about how the government has three branches that all work together and keep each other accountable, and Miles is thinking about how school is kind of stupid. He’s not thinking that school is stupid in an I’m-gonna-quit-school-ASAP kind of way, just in an I-can’t-believe-you’ve-spent-twenty-minutes-talking-about-this kind of way. Alexis is taking notes and making sure, as she writes, that every letter is perfect, which means she's about three sentences behind the teacher and losing ground.

The world has seemed dark to Miles for multiple years around this point, which (1) he knows is stupid because it’s not like just stopping existing solves anything and (2) he finds kind of concerning considering he’s only eleven. Granted, he has seen/been through/lost a lot. He is entirely aware of the fact that his parents will get divorced, but he’s not sure that counts as another loss, considering everything they seem to put each other through, which not even freaking Ghandi could understand. Or Einstein, perhaps Einstein is better or at least more known for being smart?

And when he centers himself on that darkness, as he does sometimes on accident, never on purpose, he doesn’t feel so much dead inside or, like, capital-S Sad but more of a punching inside his chest, a fog that settles in behind his eyes, either his chest shrinks or his insides grow to where he feels like a graham cracker about to be crumbled over a cup of yogurt, and a number of other very physical sensations he can’t describe. So, sometimes he can be “sick” without having a fever or going to a doctor and having them poke things down his throat, but instead he just feels, in his body, like crap. That’s what happening now.

It happens sometimes that he begins to feel like crap so much that he does play sick and convince his parents to let him stay home. Scooby-Doo does help, sometimes Snorks, but never the Smurfs, which doesn’t make sense even to Miles. He got the idea for this from watching Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. His mom and dad were less worried about him when they thought he was physically sick than when they thought he was Sad. But it couldn’t happen today because of the game.

His hair feels like it’s standing on end, but it is not because if it were, Alexis would say something to him. His sickness is always worst when he has a Little League game after school. It comes like clockwork. The teacher starts the day with Math, and that’s okay because then Miles has to sit there and think about something, but then when Social Studies time or Reading time starts, he can listen, and he can even half-listen or half-listen long enough to get the gist and move on to Not Thinking. When this happens, he feels the hair on his neck standing up, he feels something trying to get out of his chest with increasing wildness. He is watching a small bug fly around the room. His mind has settled into itself and made his head feel empty, and if someone were to talk to him he would have nothing to say, as though he had lost words.

To get his words back, he tries to think of the game because he has never felt sick during a game, or a practice, or when he was at Jamie’s house playing Wiffle Ball. At home, sometimes even when he is sick, he will sit and rub the laces of a baseball and he will feel a little bit better. But he is not at home, and he is feeling sick, and his heart will not stop pounding and if the teacher were to look at him right now, he fears she might cry, she might look in his eyes and see that there is something wrong with him and that pity might lead her, he fears, to cry.


The manicured grass leans against Virginia’s Tretorns, just like the ones she wore in college, which she now wears to every ballgame, threatening to muck up the still immaculate shoes. Wallace, still wearing his loafers, which are creased at the toe and several years older than Miles, faces her. His back is to the field, to the bleachers they should have been sitting in. Miles sits in the dugout, watches the game unfold in front of him, speaks to no one, only waits for the half-inning to end so he can go back to third base where he will crush the dirt beneath his cleats, pat his glove, and repeat to himself, hit it here, hit it here, here, right here.

“Alright,” Wallace says, “say it.”

Virginia looks at him, hands on hips.

“Say I’m a workaholic.”

Her nose is a little flared.

“Say I should apologize for making us late.”

She crosses her arms.

“Tell me how much Miles needs me.”

“Miles does need you.”

“Say I’m stuck in the past.” Tears, scalding and stubborn, refuse to stream down his face. They swish around his eyes, blurring the green with the brown. “Scold me for everything, list it all out here and now. Tell me I’m a terrible father.” A tear clouds the leather of his loafer. “Say I’m a coward.”

She lets her hands fall. “We’re all still struggling.”

“I should be okay by now. Able to move forward.”

Virginia starts to say something about how she still sees Lucy everywhere and in everything, but the crash of a ball off a bat startles them both, stifles her voice. There is a second sound, another collision. A single grunt, a communal gasp. Virginia watches a body fall, limp before dirt flies up around the sound of it. Wallace only hears it.

No one moves. The wind roars, and the ball follows the body to the ground. Now Wallace is running, sprinting, gasping for air. There is no one faster than a parent in crisis mode, rushing for their child.

He is led by instinct. I cannot lose another, cannot lose another, cannot lose, cannot, he almost whispers the words. He is at the boy’s side, rocky dirt and soft chalk soiling the knees of his khakis.

Wallace’s shoulders drop, relax, and he realizes the body bears a red, not blue, shirt. This is not Miles. This face, broken, belongs to a stranger. Wallace says something to the other team’s coach, stands and walks slowly toward the gate, which he does not remember opening.


Miles is staring at his father, a moment that stands out to his young mind and will continue to stand out to him when he is no longer young. Less than a minute ago, he was enjoying the game. He had his quirks already as a ballplayer, habits, superstitions. They will change as he gets older, but the rigidity will remain in his heart, the repetitions and routines that made the game enjoyable. He breathes unbearably slowly when he waits for the pitcher to throw the ball, he counts and breathes in for a count of ten and when his breath is about to pop within him he releases it over a count of thirteen. Each number is denoted by the crunching of the dirt, and he does it so regularly he has stopped thinking about it, but it remains ten in, thirteen out, even as he thinks of other things.

These other things he thinks about do not have to be things, in fact usually they are as clear of words as he is in the middle of a sick spell. But Not Thinking in a game, as long as you are still feeling, is not the same as Not Thinking outside of the confines of a baseball field. He is focused. He is determined, watching, he is feeling. He is hungry.

When the other player is hit by the ball — was hit, a few seconds ago, Miles was enjoying the game, the feel of it, the shouts of his teammates in the dugout. He was trying to get his gum to sit in his lip like dip sits in some professional baseball players’ mouths. And when the ball made impact his mouth fell open, and it has stayed open since. He notices a blur, realizes it’s his dad, and then stares at him.

His mom is behind the bleachers stunned. Back to his dad, mouth still hanging open, his dad is frantic, searching for something with his eyes. They are afraid, his eyes are screaming. He looks briefly up at Miles, and the scream of his dad’s eyes is burnt into his mind. They are about to relax. Wallace is about to realize he has made a mistake, gotten worked up for no reason, but for this moment, his son understands their connection, the panic and anxiety Miles has no words for have expressed themselves on his father’s face. This is what it is to be sick, this is what it is to hide that sickness from the world because who will understand the darkness of the world but those of us who have already lost it? Those of us who have been left behind, in a state of panic, in a state of please don’t take anything else from me because I will shrink into nothing.

Miles decides not to react. His dad walks calmly away from the field, and Miles sits calmly in the dugout. He puts his glove on. He rubs his hand into its palm and prepares to walk back out onto the field, to stomp on the dirt and hunger for the ball to be hit toward him.


And Wallace walks past Virginia, whose cheeks are scarred by nearly restrained tears. He keeps walking. When he returns, the game has resumed, Miles stutters his feet in the same spot where the boy fell. Wallace is carrying a bag of ice, which he takes to the other team’s dugout and hands to a man with tears still wet on his cheeks, and a Gatorade, which he places on the bench where Miles always sits.

He finds his seat next to Virginia in the bleachers. She slides her arm into his.

“He’s gonna be fine,” Wallace says.

Her smile is gentle. They sit together, watching the rest of the game in silence. She looks at her shoes and reaches down to clean off a green smudge, rubs for a second. The stain doesn’t go away.