“OK, Dad, you’re up.” Jim Harper grinned up at his Dad, as he handed him the bat. “We’re going to get you out this time.”
Dad flicked Jim’s baseball cap on his way to the batters box. “Not on your life, buddy!”
Rose smiled as she backed deep into out field. Dad and Jim carried on like this every time Dad went to bat. That’s what made the game so much fun.
The summer sun felt warm on her back. She removed her glove, peeled off her hooded sweatshirt, folded it up, and set it off to the side. She pushed her long black hair away from her eyes, and put her glove back on preparing for the fly ball that was almost guaranteed to come her way.
At the pitcher’s mound Dora Harper stood waiting, grinning as her favorite uncle started doing his ridiculous warm-ups.
Ben Harper flipped the bat into the air, caught it as it descended, tossed it from one hand to the other behind his back, and then flipped it up into the air again. He caught it and pointed it out toward Dora before planting it in front of him, stomping his feet, and placing himself firmly in position with exaggerated care. “OK, Madame Pitcher, give it all you’ve got.”
“All right, Uncle Ben, you asked for it,” she laughed as she took a quick warm up and pitched a perfect fast ball directly over home plate. Wham! It soared way over their heads.
“Wow! What a hit!” Rose ran backwards to catch it reaching as far as she could stretch, but it sailed past and landed in a weed patch beyond her. Dad was making his way around the bases, but his long legs seemed to be dragging. Maybe she still had a chance to get him out. She dashed back to retrieve the ball and then fired it with all her might past her cousin Dora, straight toward home plate. Jim was standing with a foot on the plate and his catcher’s mitt raised. The ball was about to connect, but Dad collapsed at Jim’s feet just as the ball hit his glove. Dad had made another home run. Rose and Dora ran forward to congratulate him.
“You did it again, Uncle Ben,” Dora laughed. “I should just give up and walk you from now on.”
Jim tossed the ball into his glove several times and spoke with pride. “You ought to know by now that my Dad is the best baseball player on the whole reserve.” He looked down at his father. “Aren’t you, Dad?”
Rose smiled at her brother’s enthusiasm and waited for her Dad’s comment, but Dad was silent. He was still lying where he had dropped.
“Come on, Dad, get up,” she urged, but Dad just lay there holding his chest. Rose felt a wave of fear rising over her. Why wasn’t Dad laughing and teasing them about still being the grand champion at Indian Baseball? This wasn’t like him.
“Dad,” she dropped to her knees, “Dad, what’s wrong?” Dad just closed his eyes and groaned.
“Hurry, Jim!” Rose cried. “Run to Aunt Terra’s and call the Nursing Station. Tell them to send help. Something’s wrong with Dad.”
“No, wait,” Dora interrupted. “Nobody’s home at our house; it’ll be locked. You’ll have to go to our store.”
As Jim dashed away, Rose lifted her father’s head and slipped her arm under it. She looked up at Dora. “Can you find my sweatshirt from out there somewhere?” she pointed with her chin. “I need it for under Dad’s head.” As Dora ran off, a tear slipped quietly down Rose’s cheek. She brushed it away quickly before Dora returned with the sweatshirt.
Finally, Jim appeared with his uncle at his side. Dora ran over to them. “He can’t get up, Dad. What’ll we do?”
Blake Harper bent down over his brother and checked his pulse. “I think he’s OK for now. We’d better wait until the van comes.”
Just then they heard a vehicle racing along the rutted road. It turned into the driveway and skidded to a stop. Jack Silver jumped out and ran toward them. He knelt down and spoke to the sick man. “I’ll have to move you, Ben. We need to get you to a nurse as fast as possible.” Ben Harper lay limp as he was lifted and carried to the bed in the back of the van. Jim tried to jump into the van to ride beside his dad, but Jack pushed him aside, hopped into the Driver’s seat, and swerved back onto the road.
Jim started to race after him, but Uncle Blake caught him by his hood, and dragged him to a stop. “Take it easy, Jim. If you and Rose come back to my house with me, we can get my car. You’ll get to the Nursing Station faster than you would on foot.” He turned to his daughter. “Why don’t you run to the store and tell your mom what’s happening. You can help her run the store for me for a while.
The gang had been his idea from the start. Life at home was rotten. Dad was usually too drunk to pay any attention to his only son, and Mom was gone most of the time, and when she was at home, she was either screaming at Dad or being beaten senseless. He was glad he didn’t have any brothers or sisters. They would just get the same kind of abuse he had been receiving all his life. He wasn’t even sure that they were his real parents.
Anyway, the gang was his family. At least that was how he had envisioned it when he had started pulling them together. They would be like a brotherhood, a group of guys and girls all looking out for one another. But somehow, it hadn’t turned out that way. No, they were really nothing more than a brawling bunch of squawky crows, and they couldn’t help a guy out of his depression any more than a bird could lift a rock. They only seemed to weigh each other down. They had figured out how to smuggle in the alcohol and the drugs, but in the long run, that only made the darkness thicker. He thought of the times he had been rushed to this Nursing Station when the dark emptiness had become overpowering, and he had attempted to end it all. But somehow, there always seemed to be an unknown force that had kept him alive.
He looked up as a car pulled into the Nursing Station parking lot. Rose Harper got out of the car and headed towards the building with her little brother and her Uncle Blake. He noted, almost subconsciously, that her expressive brown eyes did not hold their usual steady sparkle, and he wondered dully what was going on. They stepped through the front doors and disappeared from his sight.