Not All Southern Girls Glisten

A laundromat is stuck in time, as are players who are past their prime. (via Alisha Vargas)

This piece is appearing as part of a fiction series here at The Hardball Times. We’re thrilled to highlight the baseball-related fiction of seven talented authors and think you’ll enjoy these works, curated by Jason Linden and Amy Ryan, as much as we did.

“Not all southern girls glisten,” she said.

I sucked the remnants from a sip of whole milk off my upper lip before answering. “What does that mean, mom?”

Hearing her hang up, I did the same. The laundromat was quiet. A thumping emanated from a couple of the machines as uneven loads were lifted and dropped. The place felt sterile as opposed to dusty. It was the only laundromat I had ever been in, but I preferred the ones back home. Outside, in what would have been an overgrown lot had the town built up around it, a woman in jeans and a bright tank top instructed an older, all-American man in operating a recently rusted backhoe. It did not appear they were doing anything, but they were working.

I looked back into my book but did not read. My legs ached from running the day before, and I massaged them with the calloused palm of my right hand. It was not the satisfying ache of hard work and progress; it was the angry pain of a body unwilling to repair itself. Since I rolled over my left ankle eight months ago, I hadn’t been able to exercise. Then I didn’t want to. I gave up and put my book across my thigh, binding up, pages straddling my denim pants.

Dryers continued to thump, and the backhoe outside had warmed up, the nasally rumble of its tired joints now audible. A stack of magazines had been left next to a metal rack meant to contain them. A few glossy pages had escaped their bindings and slipped out from behind the cover. They showed thin women and expensive cars; one was all black with white writing on it that vanished behind an image of the bayou. I finished off the carton of lunch milk and started collapsing the corners between the callouses of my thumb and index finger.

I thought about stepping out for a cigarette. Steam rose from a small truck that had just parked, and the way it gently rose off the hot surface made me crave the sensation of being about to cough. I rubbed my palm into my leg harder, forcing the muscle to skip across whatever it was tied to. The pack in my back pocket was empty. I picked up smoking with the cook at the school. They needed someone to keep things going—prep work, clean up, serving—and I needed money. It was a perfect match. Before and after lunch we stood outside by the walk-in fridge. He handed me my first cigarette the day after I left the field. I accepted it without a word.

Any semblance of a career as an athlete had evaporated. There wasn’t much to speak of before, either; 16 years of pitching to 20-year-old meatheads in front of a few dozen fans too lazy to drive the extra hour to Boston. Each start gave me a couple hundred bucks. Most of the first season went to my uniforms, and the rest went to getting by. Food and beer, mostly.

For the first few seasons, I was sure each would be my last; any day I’d get the call. Then a bad day here and a bad day there, and I’d be back again in the spring. I had been getting by on a kitchen gig ever since I moved up. I had been angling for a coaching job now that I needed something to do in the evenings.

A bell above the door rang. A Chinese restaurant used to occupy the linoleum and glass box. When it closed, all the employees seemed to evaporate. No one bothered to take down the bell, even though it didn’t matter when someone entered a laundromat. Joel didn’t see me at first, and I weighed my options. He would notice eventually if I ignored him, but I didn’t want to say “hello” either.

“Hey, Joel.” It was half-hearted, but he wouldn’t care. He looked up, bewildered but somehow relaxed at the same time. Older folks, who move at the pace of Joel Hardman, have a way of reacting this way. He eventually focused his eyes and a few seconds later recognized me.

“Hello Axel” he murmured, the skin on his neck wobbling slightly as he spoke. I was relieved to find he was in no more of a mood to see me than I was to see him, but he went on anyway. “I don’t expect you’re here washing your home whites.”

“No, sir.”

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

“You’re staying on Myer’s Road though. Not heading back?”

“Yes, sir, I’m staying.” Joel moved up from Georgia when he retired a dozen or so years ago. I was raised in Tennessee, making us the only two southerners in New England, a designation more important to him than it was to me. “The south in’t what it used to be,” I think he said once.

“Family must be pleased,” he said. I didn’t know whether he was being sarcastic or insulting, and the flashing wink of his right eye gave nothing away.

“Just hung up with Ma and she wants me to come home. Said she found a girl for me but I said I…”

“Well you should go then. Southern girls have done me some good.” He didn’t wink this time but turned away and placed one pair of jeans, seven beige undershirts, plus some whites into an over-sized machine.

“Joel, you don’t have a machine at home?”

He didn’t turn. “Broke. I can’t get the part. So that’s that.”

Later, a second man arrived outside. Older than the first man, he too wore a faded black cap and a white beard. He chatted with the other two, but they did not seem like friends. Family, maybe.

Greg Goldstone once executed an unassisted triple play at the hot corner—unfortunately, there was already one out. He lives in Brooklyn.

Comments are closed.