it wasn’t clear what he longed for more – a little tail on his fastball or something, anything to arouse a sensitivity to the miracle – the gravity holding our body parts together…blood pumping our hearts alive.
he was putting on the years and day after month after year, he never noticed a stranger’s flirtation or figured they were eyeing his over-sized ear lobes.
All he had left was a name, Merbata, a name his father gave him, a reminder of an older people, his people, a south of the Sahara nomadic tribe who relied on the stars to know.
every day at 1:30 PM, he set up a telescope and aimed it at the horizon to see McGibbons the mailman appear and then he watched as he got bigger and bigger, closer and closer and when it was true, when McGibbons entered his apartment complex and jingled keys and opened the mailboxes, Merbata put the telescope away and waited and when McGibbons was gone, he peered into his mail slot and it didn’t matter what might be there…. coupons, jesus christ solicitations, local barber shop openings, warnings of lead in the water. he loved it all…reminders of passenger pigeons and emotions shared and he enjoyed an ember of hope that there might be some more of those emotions, but he never found any and yet, he knew about crocus plants sprouting above genocidal tombs and this thought of ‘maybe again’ danced through his daze and hope bred hope because one day there was a ball of yarn in his mail slot and along side it, birch bark, curled at the ends with scribbles on it, maybe letters? he wasn’t sure.
The town Merbata called home had more than one traffic light, a local community college too; been there for over a hundred years, back when the town was called Intanka which meant sky momma. the school was a Mennonite affair with pictures of carriages and butter churning machines lining the hallways. A Professor Shmoolie taught linguistics there, he, a fourth generation preserver of languages, new and old so Merbata grabbed the birch bark and hoofed it over to the house of learning and Professor Shmoolie, not accustomed to visitors, welcomed Merbata with a cup of green tea, a veritable hookah of hospitality he was and after some talk of traffic lights and local saloons, he got right down to it, dissecting and deciphering the codes on the birch bark and it became immediately clear that there were details mentioned of some old game and more specifically, ways of tossing balls, “hoop-hat pitches,” they were called, appearing as clear and visible as cave paintings, initially anyway, but then gone like spectres, impossible to hit and the breasts and bulge behind such pitches were christened as hermaphrodite deities.
“and are there instructions as to how to toss one?” asked Merbata excitedly.
Professor Shmoolie reached behind himself, to a bookshelf of dusty Harvard Classics and removed a red stitched ball and said, “Follow me” and off they sauntered to the courtyard, between Cummins Hall and the Sanctuary and Professor Shmoolie explained more of what was written on the birch bark. Merbata grabbed the ball and backtracked sixty feet-six inches or thereabouts and a catch ensued and Merbata never knew he had it in him, but there it was….that ball appearing and disappearing and indy league call ups followed and 60 scoreless innings and a major league contract and a minor league assignment…
but then he awoke and realized all was a dream and for reasons of leaky faucets and dead end jobs, he went to church and Professor Schmoolie was there too and they sat together and the professor closed his eyes and whispered in tongues, an acapella of confusion to Merbata and when the professor’s trance mellowed and his eyes opened, he explained that his speaking in tongues was ancient, as old as a redwood, and that his scholar, erudite buddies called it glossolalia, and that it was bursting with symbols.
Merbata smiled out of one corner of his mouth, a happy to learn something new smile, this glossolalia and on the other side of his mouth, a brother gut feeling formed, a reminder of Derek Deitrich, his catcher friend.
he took a small breath and told the professor that his baseball buddies knew symbols too and that “we call them a catcher dropping signs for his pitcher and that it was also ancient, Darrel Porter ancient.”
Merbata didn’t feel so numb anymore. tears came to life in his eyes. he looked at Professor Schmoolie… “You wanna go for a drink?”