Henry stood by the dogwood tree in his back yard, his third baseball bat in hand. The other two lay on the lawn, both cracked in half. Rage flared in his belly. With every ounce of might, he swung the bat at the tree.
Colliding against the wide trunk, the bat snapped in two, the big end flying onto the grass and skittering to a halt.
Henry dropped the handle of the bat, the anger starting to subside, being replaced by guilt. He stared at his shaking hands. They were numb from the sting of clubbing three bats against the tree. If only he could numb the pain in his heart.
After several minutes, Henry found himself standing at the threshold of his house, staring inside at the bleakness.
The living room was empty.
The afternoon had grown late. The dull light, filtering in through the curtains of the front window, seemed as gray as the overcast sky outside. As gray as Henry felt on the inside, so gray he wasn't sure if his heart would ever be able to shine through again.
Sarah was no longer here to rush into his arms and ask him about his day or call out happy greetings from the kitchen. No, she would never do those things again.
She was just gone. Gone forever.
Henry staggered through the front door. He gave the door a hard shove, wanting to slam it, but it caught on the floor mat and remained opened. Henry's breath came in short spurts. He squeezed his eyes shut, bringing a palm up to his forehead. He just stood there for a moment, trying to garner the mental fortitude to walk through this vacant house.
He made his way into the living room. It was a neat and tidy space, filled with Sarah's nick knacks, including several African wood carvings, an assortment of candles, and a dozen photographs waiting to be placed in the family album.
Sarah had transformed the entire house into a special place. The way she'd decorated their home in blues and greens. The bowl of fruit lovingly displayed in the center of the kitchen counter. And the stuffed bear laying in the baby's crib.
But what Henry appreciated the most was all the responsibilities that Sarah had taken on to make Henry's life easier. Like washing all of the laundry on Sundays. Mending the holes in his uniform. Cooking all those fine meals. And making the bed every single morning. Sarah had done all of these things, because she wanted to show her love.
Henry felt a pang of guilt as he dropped onto the couch.
Had he done enough to show Sarah his love?
Henry realized he should probably get up and turn on a lamp. The waning light in the room and the space around him was filled with shadows. Soon, he wouldn't be able to see anything at all. But he just didn't seem to have the energy to get up and move.
How could he move forward with the trivial tasks of everyday living?
It just didn't seem possible with Sarah gone.
Henry's eyes fell on the coffee table across from him. His baseball cap lay there beside his glove. He leaned over, picked up the cap, and turned it over in his hands. He read the words stitched across the front: Pioneers. That word seemed meaningless now ... nothing but a jumble of letters. He tossed the hat back on the table.
"You did a number on your bats," a quiet and raspy voice said.
Henry startled and looked up at the doorway, squinting through the dim light.
He could make out Albert's form, leaning on a cane.
Henry didn't know what to say. He stood and turned away, directing his gaze out of the front window behind the couch. The whole world seemed to be vibrating around him. A steady buzzing that filled him and dulled his senses. He tried to collect himself.
Finally, Henry knew what he should say. He knew what he needed to say. "You were right. I shouldn't have played that stupid game on a white team. I should have been taking care of Sarah. And because of me, Sarah's gone now."
Henry could hear Albert making his way across the room, his cane clacking against the floor. He came up behind Henry and patted him on the back.
"Come on," Albert said. "You need to stop thinking like that. You didn't cause Sarah's death. I sure can't explain why something like this happens for no good reason. But you can't blame yourself. Trust me, I know what it's like to live with all that regret. It's no way to go on with your life."
"Oh yeah?" Henry said, his voice laced with doubt. "What do you know about regret?"
Albert hesitated and released a soft sigh. "I regret the way my baseball career ended. I never did tell Sarah what happened. I probably should have. She was always asking me why I quit playing baseball and why I never wanted to go to a baseball game with her ..."
Henry turned around to look at Albert.
The old man's face appeared tight, his brow furrowed.
"What happened?" Henry asked, swallowing.
Albert screwed his lips and nodded. "Back at the height of my career, I had the owner of a white team come up to me with a proposition. He asked me to throw a Championship Game. He offered me five hundred dollars to do that. Only I didn't. I played my best game ... and we won."
Henry raised his eyebrows. "What happened then?"
Sadness seeped into Albert's expression. "That owner was so mad, he sent a couple of thugs to teach me a lesson. They beat me up pretty bad. Then they broke both of my thumbs."
"Yup," Albert said, sighing. "After that, I never pitched or played ball again. I just shut myself off from the rest of the world."
Albert continued. "Listen, I should have been stronger. I should have moved on. But I didn't. I let those men scare me away from the game I loved. I gave them that power. That's always been my regret."
Henry shook his head and turned towards the window again. "I can't believe those whites did that to you. It's the same problem we have today. If white folks didn't hate us so much, Sarah might still be alive. And what happened at the hospital –"
"Stop it!" Albert interrupted. He remained quiet for a moment and then spoke in a lower tone. "None of that's true, and you know it. Listen, you're angry, and I get it. But that rage is going to make you into a different person ... one you're not going to like. You don't want that anger to turn you into a person that Sarah wouldn't even recognize." Albert paused for a beat. "I think you should play in the Championship Game."
"I can't, Albert. Not without Sarah. I don't know how I'm ever going to be able to continue without her."
"My niece had a wonderful life with you, and she was happy. Sarah loved you, and she loved that silly game of ours. She'd want you to keep playing. More importantly, Sarah wouldn't want you to just do it for her. She would want you to do it for you. You're still alive, Henry. You can't just curl up and feel sorry for yourself. You're life ain't over yet. So you put on your mitt and continue being the best dang shortstop this town has ever seen."
Henry turned around and looked at Albert through wide eyes, the quiet darkness surrounding them.
Albert's eyebrows rose expectantly. "So what do you say?"
"I don't know," Henry murmured, his heart caving in. "I just don't know."
I'm keeping the AN pretty short this week. This chapter is one of the bumps I mentioned in the previous chapter.
Look for the rebound!
Hey! Thanks for stopping by!!
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Color (Completed)Historical Fiction
WATTYS SHORTLISTED! During World War I, a black baseball player gets a second chance to play ball on an all-white steel mill baseball team, an action that shocks and divides an entire town. Targeted by opponents, his own team, and mysterious vigilan...