Thea Bannister didn’t like her first name. It was too close to tea and tea reminded her of China and she was afraid of Chinese people, especially old Chinese men because of the hair growing from moles on their naked arms. She had read in one of her mom’s Readers Digest magazines that Chinese mole hair symbolized wisdom. Thea was afraid of wisdom and perfection and power. She preferred gutters and drains and hunchbacks in corners talking to themselves.
Thea didn’t like her last name either. Bannister. Kids at school called her TB and Thea was no Einstein but she knew the TB were her initials and that to Thea was like cancer and not because she was born in the astrological month of Cancer, in July, like Andre Dawson and Mario Soto and hundreds, maybe thousands of other baseball players, but because TB upset people, got them whispering about boils, malaria, leprosy, polio, mumps, measles and how the world was suffering and that pissed off Thea. She didn’t want people to be upset and death was ok to her. She liked cemeteries; she liked the quiet and the sound of leaves on trees rustling from the wind and she liked frogs too. She saw one down by the swamp. No one believed here, especially her dad. He said there was no swamp in their town and even if there was, there would be no frogs in it, but she knew; Thea knew; she’d seen a frog and she never forgot the way it sat still for so long and those big eyes.
Thea’s dad said they had a great family name, that Floyd Bannister was the name of a former big league pitcher, a pretty good one too, not HOF good, but good enough to win 134 games and pitch 15 seasons, including one with the “winning ugly” White Sox 1983 season and daddy Bannister had dozens of them games recorded on old VHS tapes from that season and while he watched and cheered on the Sox and Bannister, Thea dreamed of becoming a sniper or a mercenary or someone who panhandled up enough change to fly to the Amazon and go searching for frogs.
Thea did share one thing in common with her father. She was drawn to the basement of their two bedroom house. It was humid down there, perfect for a frog and six feet under. Her dad liked it too. He built himself a makeshift bar and collected bottles and drank at night and sometime in the morning too. Thea grabbed one of her father’s middle age replica swords one late night and brandished the sucker high above her head like she was being yanked by a drunk kite, but she was in complete control as she slid her feet, sword still above her head, slid towards dad’s Hartland baseball statues lined up along the bar rail. There was Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn and a bunch of other Milwaukee Braves players. She wasn’t gonna do anything to them, just scare her dad and hopefully get him to go upstairs. She knew all the player names because when she was a toddler, they were her dad’s sweet lullaby equivalents, a roll call of Braves baseball players to help her sleep and yeh, she fell asleep, out of boredom, but now she was older and she practiced ways to get under her father’s skin and it worked. He did go upstairs the “night of the sword. Thea had the entire basement to herself, but it was late so she went to sleep and she had a nightmare of being chased down an alley by kids wearing Milwaukee Braves uniforms wielding baseball bats and mitts, cornering her under street lights and threatening to steal her milk money.
There really were boys at school who stole her milk money so this was no nightmare fantasy. This was reality and these boys were smart boys who always made Thea feel stupid in English class because she could never remember the prepositions and the teacher, a Mr. Edwin Hanover always called on Thea to sing the preposition song, “Aboard, about, around,” and so on and it wasn’t that Thea got tongue tied or suffered a brain freeze, she just didn’t know and that damn teacher used to raise his upper lip to his curled down nose and inhale heavily and shake his head at Thea.
Thea didn’t want to lose her milk money or get mocked by the teacher, so she didn’t go to class that day. She walked in the other direction of school, far away, to the other town whose name Thea always forgot, but she knew a man that lived beside the railroad tracks in a shanty with a blue plastic tarp. She had never seen him, but she had heard him. He spoke with an accent from inside the shanty. Well, on that day, he appeared and she watched him. The old man ran a hose through a fence and towards a wall and fastened it to a spout or whatever you call the place where water flows. Thea thought that was a nice thing to let the man have water like a restaurant or drugstore that leaves a sign in the window that says, “if you’re gonna sleep in the doorway under the awning, it’s ok, but when you gotta piss, use the empty bottle beside the window. Thanks.”
Thea walked closer to the man. He was small, smaller than Thea, and he looked Chinese and without any formal, hey, how you doing greetings, the Chinese man said, “DURING the storm and AFTER the war and ABOVE the clouds and Thea thought that maybe these were prepositions and she wondered how this old Chinese man knew and then he added, UP and DOWN, more prepositions, thought Thea and then it hit her and she wondered how she hadn’t known before, that voice, that broadcasting voice on one of her father’s VHS tapes, the voice of Chris Berman saying, Floyd “up and down” the Bannister and as she thought, this the Chinese man indicated with his hands UP and DOWN. He raised them high above his head and then brought his hands way down low and Thea didn’t know if this old Chinese man had mole hair, but she didn’t mind him at all because she mighta been barely 16, but she knew plenty about up and down.
Thea walked home slowly and the next morning she woke early and made coffee for her father, but she couldn’t remember if he liked milk or sugar in his coffee or both or nothing at all because she had never made coffee for him so she asked him and before he told her how he’d like his coffee, he told her about Eri Yoshida, that she once played in the Arizona Fall League and Thea had one question after another and so she asked them and her dad answered and they talked about Yoshida worshipping Tim Wakefield as a kid, about her wanting to one day throw a knuckleball like Wakefield and Thea drank the first cup of coffee in her life. She didn’t need any sugar.