Walter L. Maroney
God and Baseball on the Roofs of Brooklyn
In my dream, in its earliest part, I am still entwined in Phoebe’s arms, wrapped in bed sheets that are tangled, damp and funky-smelling from the fucking we have just concluded. It is summer. All over Brooklyn the air shimmers over tar roofs. From my window, the World Trade Towers seem to dance in the sunlight across a wavering vista of brownstones and church steeples. We are slick with sweat, somnolent in the humid afternoon. Drifting in and out of consciousness, nestling against each other, our arms, ribs and legs touching as we move, our skin adhering then coming apart in a lazy choreography of two just satiated, but still unfamiliar lovers.
This is only the third or fourth time we have made love and only the second time that we have fallen asleep afterwards. Our breath hums together in a rough discordant unison. We have not yet (or perhaps we will never) achieve the soft contented cantata of two beings used to sharing unconsciousness together in the dark. We have never spent a night together, Phoebe and I. That would be too intimate, too close to the spiritual, too close to letting our souls touch. We are not ready for that, I think, at the margins of my dream. I am not ready. I am twenty six years old and she is almost forty. So we are friends, that’s all, fucking away an afternoon. I am sleeping beside Phoebe, my utterly grown-up friend. Who is letting me fuck her for inscrutable reasons of her own. We all have those. Mine have other women’s names and one of them has the face of my father. It is a Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn in 1979. I am fatherless and motherless and fearful in this huge and raucous city. I have just gotten laid. And I am utterly and completely afraid and alone.
In my dream then, I untangle myself from Phoebe and stand up naked from my bed. Outside my window, there is a noise: a soft rhythmic thwock, thwock, thwock of something hitting leather. I walk over to the window and raise up the blind. The sun is bright and sudden in my room. I am dazzled by the sunlight.
Outside on the tar roof of the next building, a man and a boy are playing catch with a baseball. It is the beginning of the century, when everything was clean and just beginning. The man is a Jew, Orthodox, old fashioned. He is wearing a white shirt, black pants, tefillin. His head is circled by a beard, pais and a black silk kipah that has fallen askew from sweat and sunshine and hangs piratically down near one eye. He is short and fat-bellied like my father and his forearms, exposed where he has rolled up his sleeves are thick and coarse-haired. Just like my father. But he is not my father, who is grim and Irish and drunk and Catholic and at this very moment is going crazy back in Massachusetts somewhere that I do not know or want to know about. The boy with whom he is playing catch also wears pais and black pants. Black suspenders stretch over his white shirt. He appears to be about twelve: all gangly and pre-adolescent, his chin dotted with the beginnings of acne. They are both wearing old-fashioned baseball gloves, not much bigger than their hands. Thwock! Thwock! The ball, as it passes between them, is new and store-bright: frighteningly white against the black of the roof tar and their dark pants and suspenders. I think, they must be terribly hot, that father and son. I open the window. The man tosses the ball to the boy, who catches and holds it with both hands, looking solemnly up across the gap between buildings at me. The man also turns to me. I notice that sweat has made dirt streaks that run down his cheeks into the brown shrubbery of his beard.
"So?" he asks. "What do you want?"
"It's not my fault," I tell him. "I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.” Behind me Phoebe turns and moans softly in her sleep. I hear her bare arm patting the bed in search of my body.
“Is that all?" the man answers and laughs. He turns and calls across the shimmering tar roof to the boy. “What do you think?”
“I dunno,” the kid says. “Things happen. Usually, they’re somebody’s fault.”
“Is that what you want?” the man says. “You want somebody to tell you it’s not your fault?”
“I dunno what I want,” I answer.
“Then I’ll tell you,” the man says. He reaches up and wipes sweat from his forehead with his shirtsleeve. “It is all your fault. You fucked up your life. You did a little damage to some others.”
“A lot of damage.” I say softly.
“Ach, how old are you?” the man asks.
“Twenty six,” I tell him.
“And you got into this trouble with what? Your pecker?”
“Yeah,” I tell him. “I guess you could say that.”
“Ah, your pecker, your soul. Anybody pregnant? Anybody have to get an abortion? Anything like that?”
“No,” I admit.
“So its just feelings. People’s feelings. Young people’s feelings. How much trouble do you think you can cause at twenty-six?”
“A lot,” I tell him. “I’ve caused a lot of trouble.”
“Don’t overestimate yourself. Don’t overestimate your effect on other people. You’re not the center of the universe, you know. You’re just some guy who’s acted like a schmuck with his pecker. You’re not the first. You won’t be the last.”
“But I’m sorry,” I say.
“So you’re sorry. And I suppose you want somebody to forgive you for whatever it is you’re sorry for?”
“Yeah,” I whisper. “Something like that.”
The man shrugs and looks over to the boy, who is still staring at me, holding the shining baseball in his two small hands. “So what do you think?” he asks the boy.
The kid looks at me for another moment, then shrugs back at his father.
“Okay,” the man says. “You’re forgiven.”
“That’s all there is to it?” I ask, puzzled.
“Should there be more? Of course there’s more. Now you gotta go on living your life.”
“And who’s the kid?” I ask.
“Adonai,” the man says. “The Lord.”
“No shit,” I whisper. “And who are you?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” the man says. “It’s your dream. I’m just some guy playing catch with the Holy One. Now go.”
“Where?” I ask.
"Wherever," the man shrugs and turns away from me towards the boy. “There’s somebody waiting for you,” he says. “Don’t fuck around with that while you’re wrestling with your conscience. Feelings aren’t that important. But they’re real. And they keep happening while you don’t pay attention. While you worry about the past.” Then the boy throws the ball high upward into the sky. It blazes in the sunlight above the roofs of Brooklyn. Behind me, Phoebe is sitting half up in bed, a tangled sheet and blanket falling from one bony shoulder. One small pink nipple stands exposed atop the tiny teardrop of her breast. She looks like a medieval Madonna, all undone and sexy after the angel has just left her.
“Come to bed” she murmurs, her slurry voice melting into the afternoon sunlight. “Come over here, my baby lover. I feel like I could stay here with you all day.”
And she looks to me as beautiful as creation. But I do not know how to answer her. Instead, I stare at her in the blazing sunlight, afraid because I do not know how to pray.
©2003 by Walter L. Maroney