Excuse me, sir, he said. I couldn’t convince you to give me one of those beers, could I? I ain’t trying to ask for your money or nothing. Just one beer. The slender old man was nearly drowning in an oversized coat, and he carried a small transistor radio, clutched tight to his chest. It was early autumn and colder than it had been. But the crackling noise of a late-season baseball game that drifted out of that small box sounded like every good part of any summer that meant anything slipping away, begging to be remembered.
I was going to make an excuse or simply get in my car and shut the door. I’d done that dozens of times before. But I wasn’t as lonely then.
Who’s winning? I asked and ripped open the top of the beer box.
The old man’s smile was gracious. It’s tied in the eighth inning, he said.
I handed him a beer and pulled out another one for myself.
Can I join you? I asked.
He was surprised—scared almost, it seemed.
Well, I—sure. If you want, he said. Perhaps he thought it bad manners to refuse.
I’d like to hear the end of the ballgame, I told him. We stood there for a long moment, looking around and at each other, not knowing what to do.
Let’s go over there, he said. We crossed the street from the liquor store and settled in the shadows under the overpass. From there, we could see across the river to the Ohio side; we could see the stadium where the game was being played, lit up and full of noise like a picture on a postcard.
Some player—the right fielder, I think—hit a long drive and as the ball flew, the old man turned the volume up on the radio. The announcer’s voice lifted in jubilation, up to the concrete over our heads and down again. The arena across the river sent a wave of sound that sounded something like a battlecry hurling across the black Ohio and right into us. It was a homerun and fireworks shot into the air, reds and whites, sound and joy, cutting up the night and reflecting back off the top of the water.
The old man cackled with delight and raised his beer can to me. I toasted him and the fury faded back down.
In that part of town, you can stand in the lot of one liquor store and see two others down the block on either side. Looking back, I could see their neon signs and shadows moving in and out underneath them, other shadows stopping them to ask for change or cigarettes.
Were scenes similar to this one happening at those other places? Somewhere out of my line of sight, maybe. Were there two other men hiding in some other dark, drinking cheap beer and listening to something close to a ghost, knowing full well that it’d be a long time until it was summer again?
About the Author: Billy Russell lives in Cincinnati, OH. He likes to sing songs with friends and tell stories and shoot pool. Find more @ thevirginiablues.com, @BillyWallaceVA and www.facebook.com/
Story Song: "Just Be Simple" by Songs: Ohia