The Truth About Paradise

by Oona Short

"Will I have a good view of first base?" Evie asked.

The usher shot her a nervous look and fled to the top of the stairs, where he disappeared into the crowds of people pouring into the upper decks of the stadium.

Evie glanced down at the field, then turned to the man sitting behind her. "Is this the best possible view of first base?"

"Whoa! You got some hair!" He put down his drink and stared. Evie tried not to bump her chin against his knees and repeated her question.

"Whoof! What hair!"

Evie turned around. A sticky wind blowing in from right field tousled her hair, dyed not the blonde she had hoped for, but a shade that exactly matched the orange of the home teamís uniforms. She brushed some strands out of her eyes and peered lovingly at the field. It was beautiful. "I am here, you beautiful field," she announced loudly enough to draw stares from some of the arriving fans.

She settled into her seat and drew the folds of her black dress around her. The saleswoman had told her the dress was designed to be draped in a variety of ways. "What could those ways have been?" Evie wondered. There were always leftover hooks with no matching eyes when she did it at home, and she felt lucky when she identified armholes. Sheíd done the best she could with it today and thought sheíd achieved a fun-Gothic quality, although some people on the subway had shied away from her, and one woman had offered her some spare change.

"I am here," she repeated softly to herself. No more sitting in front of the television set watching every game. The corners of her mouth turned upward. "When I cheer, everyone will hear me. People watching TV may see me." The thought made her happy. Sheíd have this game on videotape, as she did all the others.

Three young women entered and sat directly in front of her. "And as for these blonde people," Evie thought, watching the new arrivals toss their manes. "These blondes will know Iím here and theyíll be jealous." Just knowing he was now in the home team dugout, several sections below her, filled Evie with anticipation. "My presence will be known to all assembled here today," she thought, rising with the rest for the National Anthem, "me, Evie Berger, today..."

"Oíer the la-AND of the FREEeee..." A low mad whistle went up, like the cry of a fantastic bird.

"And the home" (cries and shouts from the fans) "of the" (scattered applause)" brave."

The stadium erupted into cheers, relieved the preliminaries had ended and the game could at last begin. Bodies thudded into creaking seats. "Screw the Braves!" cried a voice behind Evie, followed by a metallic pop, a slow fizz, and the pungent smell of beer.

"Now take it easy," Evie cautioned herself. She hyperventilated at the beginning of every game. It was why she only dared to watch from home. Anything could happen in baseball. A player could be standing out there in center field picking his nose and the next thing you knew the whole game -- the whole game! -- depended on him. But the thing about these people--and Evie told her theory to anyone whoíd listen -- was that they knew what to do when an object was hurtling towards them and people were running every which way. They knew how to relax and pay attention at the same time! They had a gift, a precious gift, for getting to the heart of the game, where there was joy.

A roar went up as the players took the field. Evieís eyes went automatically to the muscular figure assuming first base: Roger Paradise, the captain of the team. He knew more about baseball than anyone. Many women in the stadium shifted to get a better view of him -- dark and dashing, handsome enough to be a matinee idol, Evie had heard said -- though Evie herself would never think of him that way. The girls in front of her pointed him out and giggled. Evie was offended. She leaned forward and tapped one of them on her tanned shoulder. "Excuse me," she said. "Try to remember that Roger Paradise is the epitome of baseball. And baseball is the epitome of purity."

All three girls turned and stared blankly. Evie wondered which word they were hearing for the first time.

The line-up cards were exchanged. Evie had a good view of Paradise. She felt very close to him now, even though from where she sat he seemed not much larger than he did on TV. How unhappy he seemed, pacing around and muttering to himself! Evie was puzzled, especially after what had happened the night before. For one disheartening moment, considering their relationship, she was almost put off. Then she smiled knowingly and settled back to wait.

The game was underway. Patterns of players formed, dissolved, re-formed on the field, its grass lush and green with recent rain. Under the primitive blue sky, it was like watching wheat blowing, Evie thought -- although she had never seen wheat -- or waves whipped by the wind. The visiting team was retired quickly in its half of the first inning, and the home team prepared for its turn at bat. Evie couldnít see Roger Paradise, who batted third, but she knew all too sadly what he was doing: sneaking a cigarette in the dugout.

She was right. Paradise stomped the butt out quickly after the lead-off batter flied to right. He took his bat from the rack, inspected it, and headed for the on-deck circle, as a jet roared overhead and a train rumbled behind center field. He knelt, as if in prayer. "Screw airplanes," he muttered. "Screw the goddamn subway. Screw everybody whoís gotta travel someplace else the minute I gotta hit a goddamn ball."

There was a disturbed hubbub about a called third strike at the plate that turned to cheers when the name Roger Paradise was announced. He strode to the plate, a nagging voice in his head growing louder and louder. "Tap the bat on the ground...tap your helmet...hoist the bat...align the knuckles, wrists,, thatís not right." He stepped out of the box, exhaled, and stepped in again. "Tap the bat, the helmet, align the knuckles, wrists, shoulders, hips...".

The pitcher, sly and wiry, gave Paradise a knowing leer.

"Nothing fast and inside, not with this guy," thought Paradise, windmilling the bat. "Itíll be a breaking ball, I know that -- but does he know I know?"

The pitch was low, for a ball.

"I wonder if heís remembering last night," thought Evie.

Paradise stepped back into the box, tapped the bat, tapped the helmet, checked his knuckles and wrists, positioned his shoulders just in time. He couldnít remember when this ritual had started. When heíd first played baseball -- before he came to The Show -- everything had just seemed to happen on its own. He missed those days.

The next pitch was outside. Ball two. "Somethingís gonna come over the plate now," thought Paradise. "I gotta connect."

"Maybe heís wondering where Iím sitting," thought Evie.

Low and away. Ball three. The crowd murmured its approval.

"Connect!" thought Paradise.

The pitcher cursed himself as his fourth pitch bounced off the plate. Paradise flung his bat to the ground and cantered to first base like a landlord making an inspection. Thirty thousand people cheered him and he never heard a sound. The first base coach praised him, and he never heard a word. In a wary crouch, just wide of the base, Paradise was sad.

"Walked him, well thatís good," thought Evie, relieved he was on base where she could see him. Still, it wasnít quite the same to just walk there. Everyone must want to flail out and hit something sometime. The thought led her to glance at the girls in front of her. Three young men in adjoining seats had noticed them, too. The girls seemed to be tanner now, if possible, than they had been an inning ago. "Exposure to the sun makes you ugly," Evie consoled herself, pulling a flapping length of fabric over her pale arms. "Eventually..."

People of all ages streamed up and down the stairways around her, carrying pennants or giant inflatable baseball bats, hot dogs, popcorn, sodas leaving wet blotches against thin cardboard carrying trays. Evie leaned her head against the metal section divider. What a day. And it would get better.

She looked expectantly down at the field. Paradise had been left stranded at first. The second inning was about to start. She sighed with the knowledge that heíd sneak another cigarette before going out on the field. She waited patiently for his sign.

Evie's invitation to the stadium had come the night before, during a long and hardfought game, twice delayed by rain. She lay on the couch in front of her television in a baseball stupor, trusting the cries of an enthusiastic announcer to wake her if she fell asleep. Just before an expected double play, Paradise, at first base, signaled to the second baseman. In a strange, hypnotic ritual, he touched his chest, his right ear, his left shoulder, and his chest again. Twice he did that: chest, right ear, left shoulder, chest. Then he looked directly at the camera and said, "Evie." Evie jumped up and rewound her VCR. Maybe he had been saying, "easy." But no -- she played back the tape -- a dozen times she replayed it -- and he had said, "Evie."

She could barely sleep. She arrived at work late, exhausted from a half-hour struggle to get into her dress. Her co-workers ignored her. Evie dove into the pile of materials on her desk, but her gift for putting things in alphabetical order seemed to have abandoned her.

"Up all night again watching baseball?" asked the woman in an adjoining cubicle, hearing Evieís sighs. "I donít understand it, a young girl like you, liking to watch men spit."

"Dorothy, Thereís more to baseball than spitting."

The woman never looked up from the forms she was stamping Disapproved. "You want my advice, give it up. Find a man who doesnít spit."

"I donít need any other man."

At this, Dorothy peered over her glasses. "Other?"

"I have a very special, sacred relationship," mumbled Evie, turning back to her work.

"Yeah sure," Laurie chimed in, sticking her head out of a cubicle decorated with Strawberry Shortcake posters. She and Dorothy laughed together.

"As a matter of fact," said Evie loudly, "Roger Paradise has invited me to this afternoonís ball game."

"No kidding -- you know him?"asked Laurie.

"Not exactly. He...beckoned to me through the television screen last night."

"You donít say." Laurie swivelled in her chair and yelled to a young man wheeling baskets of interoffice memos. "Danny! Roger Paradise wants Evie to go the ball game today. He beckoned her on TV."

"Way to go, Evie! Mickey Mantle once asked me to kiss his..."

Evie slammed down her files and headed out the door.

"Whoa, Paradise! Whoof!" A leg slammed against Evieís shoulder. She joined in the cheering for the play at first base: a graceful leap and elegant throw impossible for anyone but Roger Paradise.

Paradise circled his base, using his spikes to arrange the dirt just the way he liked it. "Couldíve moved in on that sooner," he thought. "The way I used to." He couldnít get the old feeling back, no matter how hard he tried. Dreams of bad swings and botched plays haunted his dreams. He had visions -- dreadful visions -- of the day heíd disappoint millions by not being able to play at all.

The humid, buggy air tickled the sweat on his neck and ears. Paradise took off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. "Goddamn day games," he thought, pulling the cap back on. He heard a hum. A mosquito flew around him tantalizingly. Frustrated, Paradise reached out to grab it, swatting everywhere: his chest, his right ear, his left shoulder, his chest again.

Evieís eyes widened. There it was again. That strange hypnotic ritual.

Paradise stood still as the mosquito hovered above him. "Stay there...stay there," Paradise muttered. "NOW!" he cried, squashing the bug with a bold upward wave.

Evie bolted from her seat and headed for the field.

"Oh my God," she thought, racing down a series of circular ramps. "Iím gonna meet him, Iím gonna meet Roger Paradise. What shall I call him? Roger? I canít very well call him Mister Paradise...that sounds silly....I canít help it if it sounds silly, thatís his name..."

She grabbed a railing just in time to stop herself from tumbling into the parking lot below. A young couple ambled by, saw Evie, and backed away hurriedly. "Youíll see," she thought, resuming her run. "Iím needed here."

She took the next two ramps at a steadier pace, until she emerged into the seating section level with the field. She could see him now. He was waiting.

"Here I come," she whispered. She threaded her way through the fans moving to and from their seats and, before anyone could see what she was doing, slipped under a railing and onto the field.

"God, itís dirty down here," she thought. Her shoes were filling with pebbles that would ruin her nylons. Paradise had his back to her and was farther away than she had thought. She ran towards him, feeling the full force of the heat accumulated in the well of the stadium. "Why doesn't he turn around?" she thought. "He invited me." Paradise, his head lowered, was patting down the grass around his base.

"He must want me to surprise him!" Evie thought. She was close enough now to inhale the musty, smokey odor of his uniform. "Whew! You don't get that on TV," she thought. Her hand reached up past the numeral embossed on his broad back, past his name, and hovered there. Paradise, sensing a presence, turned quickly to squash another bug. What he saw made him reel back in terror. This was no bug! This was a bat! A black-winged creature with a deathly pale face and hair the color of his jersey! And it was on his base, like one of those three ghosts -- the Ghost of Baseball Past, or worse -- much worse -- the Ghost of Baseball Yet to Come!

"What do you want from me?" he cried, clutching his chest.

"Oh my God, I"ve killed him," thought Evie. It was becoming clear to her now. She was on television in a dress that didnít fit, her nylons in shreds, a freak at first base. And she was videotaping this? She felt tears start to roll over her lower lashes.

"Sheís so sad," thought Paradise, marveling at his urge to reach out and hold her. He fought it off. If word got out he was an easy hugger heíd have to embrace every weirdo in the stadium who was having a bad day. Still, he held up a palm to delay the approaching security guards.

The stands were absolutely silent. No jets roared overhead. No subway rumbled behind center field. "Goddammit," thought Paradise. "Why isnít it ever this quiet when Iím batting?"

He spoke. "Are you all right?"

Evie nodded.

"What are you doing here?"

"I thought you needed me," she blurted, wiping away a tear.

"Need...? What I need is to play better!" He didnít know why he told her that. He didnít know why he was talking to her at all. He was starting to like her. She was different from most of the people he met at first base.

"You play fine!" said Evie. "You want to hear my theory?"

Paradise listened in bewilderment as the visitor spoke. It was something about a guy in center field picking his nose and something about how he, Roger Paradise, had a gift, and then she got to a part about joy, and something inside him went click, like the sound of a well-hit ball.

The guards, tired of waiting, headed towards them. The crowd was getting restless. Paradise longed to go back to playing baseball again -- this game, and all the games waiting to be played -- not to please the fans, the managers, the coaches, the writers, his teammates, but because he loved baseball so damn much. That was the Godís honest truth, and here it took this strange, winged creature -- this baseball bat -- to remind him of it.

"Whatís your name? " he asked. "Eerie? Evie...Well, if I ever start forgetting the spirit of baseball, Evie, Iíll think of you. He gave her a dazzling smile.

"Thank you, Roger," said Evie.

The crowd stood and cheered as she was escorted from the field. "Everyoneís so nice here," thought Evie, touched by the fansí support. She made a mental note to come out to the ballpark more often.

©1990 by Oona Short

Oona Short writes frequently on sports, the arts, and a wide range of other topics. She has published fiction and non-fiction in numerous national magazines, written documentaries for PBS and Lifetime Television, and has had two works produced off-off-Broadway. She is currently at work on a novel.

Art print by Currier & Ives,
National Game of Baseball

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