What’s a sure sign of spring? The start of the baseball season.
Today is opening day for Major League Baseball and my beloved Chicago Cubs are already taking it on the chin in Atlanta. As any baseball fan knows, the Cubs have had their share of public relations nightmares, due in large part to a century and a year drought in winning the World Series. Ah, but maybe this year.
Regardless, despite the absence of winning the big one, inept play on the field, boneheaded front office decisions and some purported curse caused by a goat, the Cubs remain one of the best brands in all sports. Sold out crowds at Wrigley Field and lucrative TV contracts attest to that. Hey, I’d take a public relations job with the Cubs, if for the sake of getting into the ballpark to see a game now and then.
But, for you loyal readers, enough talk of the Cubs. Here’s the fourth and final installment in my work of fiction, “Snapdragons in November.” Thanks to all who’ve read it; I’d welcome any comments.
The door opened and he could smell the cleansing rain for a moment. A couple, mid-twenties, somewhat reserved and looking slightly rumpled in their torn dark denims and faded leather jackets, took seats to his right. They studied the food menu – burgers, sandwiches and wings, mainly — for what was a long time and scanned the chalkboard that listed the dozens of beers available. He tried to listen to their conversation and heard the guy offer thoughts as why the pale ale was a better choice than the kolsch. The girl, almost pretty in a gaunt way, listened intently. For some reason, he liked these two. They probably are artists, or want to be artists, but have to work at some crap retail job to afford a one-bedroom flat in one of the buildings that line this once working-class neighborhood on the upswing. They had conviction, even in ordering a beer and food from a bar menu.
He wanted to talk to them, and find out more about their lives and what brought them together and to Wellington’s on that early Sunday evening in late fall. He wondered: What will their conversation be about a year, five years from now? Will they find a common bond built upon something so everyday like what kind of beer to drink? He sort of envied them. Together, life was unfolding and could take any direction they pursued.
Finishing his fifth Metropolitan, he gestured to Sam for a check. “Hey good lookin’. What’s the damage today?” he asked. “It’s time I started dinner. Otherwise I might get to like this place and stay here all night.”
“Don’t wear out your welcome,” she said. “You could walk out of here for sixteen.”
“I always knew you were a cheap date,” he said, leaving a $20 bill and some singles on the bar. “When’s your swan song shift?”
“Oh, you mean when’s my last shift here?”
“Well, I’ll plan on being here and plan on being thirsty.”
“It’ll be a little emotional, you know? I’ve been in Chicago for four years, and I’ve been here three years. Tried to make it work here, but I’ve got to put down new roots where I think they’ll have a better chance to grow. Sometimes, you gotta take that first new step.”
“And, I’m ready to step out and navigate my way home. Goodbye for now, California girl. You ain’t seen the last of me,” he said, pushing open the heavy door.
Damn the rain, he thought, walking at a deliberate pace home. Like the old lady said, it washes the bad crap away. So what if he got wet. So what if he stayed at Wellington’s longer than he planned. So what if dinner would be ready a little later. So what.
He knew she was not home when he unlocked the back door. The lights were off and the shades were not drawn. The house was dark inside save for the yellow glow from the street lights. It looked warm, welcoming. And there, on the kitchen counter, were the snapdragons. She neatly pruned away the nearly dead leaves and blossoms to create a small beautiful monument to the end of a long, long season. Little bursts of color in a vase against the black counter top.
There was no note, but he knew where she went, off to buy her milk and probably lots more stuff they didn’t need. Her unpredictable spirit. That’s part of what defined her, part of what made him fall in love those seemingly simple years and years ago. There was goodness in her soul, and perhaps he was too inflexible to recognize this. Perhaps he had better reap whatever good things – big and small – he could gather.
Keeping his wet jacket on, he went back outside in the rain to wait for her to return. He would inspect every car that drove up their street, toward the home they built together, and hope the next car would be her’s. He would rush to help her carry the groceries they didn’t need. He didn’t care how long he had to stand in the rain.