Uniform

Colin left early for the ballpark that night. He drove himself. His legs were slightly sore, and he hoped he hadn’t tired himself too much before the game. Mowing the lawn had been work; the machine was heavy and ancient, not self-propelled. He really had to push it, get his legs into it. He didn’t understand how Wanda did it. The sun bore down, making him drip with sweat. He’d stored the mower in the garage and knocked on Wanda’s door. She’d paid him, said thanks and smiled, but did not act like herself, formal and neighborly, as if he’d never spent an afternoon with her. He wanted to talk to her, but couldn’t, not with his mother hanging around.

At batting practice, he did poorly; he made contact, but had no power, the balls popping up into the shallow outfield or dribbling weakly to second base. Only twice had he driven the ball with any real force. The coach asked him where he’d left his swing’s follow-through: “You look like you missed a few hours of shut-eye, Myers.”

Standing in the outfield, waiting to run down his teammates’ long drives, Colin let his thoughts dwell on Wanda’s terseness. Fans shuffled into the park and he tried to focus on the game.

Colin’s team took the field. The lanky pitcher struck out the leadoff hitter. Colin scanned the crowd behind his team’s dugout, looking first for his parents, and then for Wanda . Finally he saw his father, eating a hot dog, sitting beside Wanda, who seemed to be looking at other members of the crowd. He didn’t know where his mother was; she’d seemed interested. This was the first time he’d seen his father in two days.

The stadium was one of the largest in the state for high school games. Regional and national tournaments were held there each year. The town was fired up about the team’s chances in the upcoming state tournament.

The pitcher got the next two hitters to ground out. Colin trotted back to the dugout. He batted third in the lineup, not the team’s best hitter, but a player who always seemed to get on base. The leadoff hitter drew a walk, and the next batter arced a deep fly ball to left field; after the catch, the runner raced to second, sliding safely.

Colin stood in the batter’s box, swinging his bat loosely to settle his nerves. He took the first pitch, a ball on the outside corner. The second pitch was high and he swung, fouling it back to the stands. The third pitch he smacked up the middle, under the pitcher, the runner scoring from second. Colin stood on first base as the crowd applauded his efforts. He looked into the stands for his father, who gave him the thumbs-up before turning to talk to Wanda. She laughed at what he said, still clapping.

His father had always been comfortable around women, a trait Colin admired, since he himself was awkward, even though he played sports and girls seemed to like him. He’d never been comfortable, not like he was with Wanda. Colin thought she liked him in spite of herself, as though she knew better. She didn’t want love notes or prom dates or going-steady bracelets, like his teammates’ girlfriends. Wanda wanted of him what he wanted of girls. Attention.

She flirted with his father. Or was his father hitting on her? He couldn’t tell. They both were apt to flirt. Colin could never do it well. His father wore a blue linen shirt, a birthday present from his mother. It pained him to think of his mother’s gift, how his father wore it, top buttons open. Why would his mother want to be in public with him? And then a thought: his mother, at that very moment, could be with another man. He couldn’t imagine the details of the scene and didn’t want to, but he had to admit the possibility, every minute with her in the house now suspect. He didn’t really know his mother. She could be anyone.

The next three hitters reached base; Colin’s team scored four times before the inning ended. So much for superstition. They won by seven runs. Colin only had the one hit; in his other at-bats, he struck out once and popped up twice. In the field, he’d caught the two balls in his patch of grass. The game was not a challenge. He’d thought mostly of Wanda, of missing the chance to be with her that afternoon, of her easy interaction with his father, how each responded to the other’s slick charm. He thought of the distant afternoon when she’d pulled back the towel. She’d probably been with a man that morning and had showered to wash away the sweaty evidence. He knew the routine.

The stadium was old and without locker rooms. After the game, the coach talked for a few minutes and dismissed them. Colin wandered up into the bleachers to where his father and Wanda were still talking. Many of the other fans had left. Her legs were crossed, hands embracing her knees. Colin’s father tipped his head back and laughed; Wanda did the same. Wanda never laughed this much in their afternoons together.

His father noticed Colin standing on the first row of benches. “Mr. Baseball,” he said. “Get up here.”

Colin’s first impulse was to leave and drive home, but he joined Wanda and his father. He did not need a lecture on being rude to their neighbor.

“Your father’s kept me entertained,” said Wanda. She fumbled with her purse before finding her lipstick, which she drew across her lips. “Not much of a game after all.”

“Wanda says you’ve started mowing her lawn,” said his father.

The night breeze picked up. Colin crossed his arms. “Yeah, I wore myself out today.”

“Excuses, excuses,” his father said.

Wanda said, “You did fine. There’ll be other games.”

They spoke more about the early innings; his father offered advice about his swing—his father, who hadn’t played baseball since his own high school days, who hadn’t offered advice of any kind for years. Colin endured it as long as he could before saying, “I should go home and shower.” He excused himself and made his way to the parking lot.

The lanky pitcher caught up with him outside the stadium. He said, “The life of a ballplayer. You show up, kick some ass, and everybody loves you.”

“Keep pitching like that and they will, anyway,” Colin said.

“Were those your folks back there?”

Colin shook his head: “My dad and my neighbor.”

“I wish I had a neighbor like that.” The boy let out a long whistle.

He faced the boy. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“And you do?” the boy said. “Like you’re some expert.”

Colin drew back his fist, ready to uncork the fury bellowing in his bloodstream, but the boy flinched, his arms moving to protect his face. The boy’s eyes widened. “What the hell, man?”

Colin unclenched his fist, one lone finger pointed straight at the pitcher. “What you don’t know would fill that stadium,” Colin said. He turned back in the direction of the parking lot. “Get out of here. You don’t know anything.”

He opened his car door. His legs hung out of the car as he changed back into tennis shoes. He banged the cleats together away from his body, kicking up dust. From under the seat, where he hid them during games, he grabbed the keys and started the engine. He shut the door and looked forward to catching Wanda and his father emerging from the shadows of the stadium. He might never know the business between them. Perhaps nothing. He did know he would no longer spend his afternoons with her. He would not mow her lawn. He’d get another job to keep his mother happy. He would finish school, impress college scouts next season, and earn a scholarship to some far-away college. He’d side with his mother after his parents’ divorce, if that’s where they were headed. Above all, he’d keep quiet and to himself and try to forget this, and work to be different than the adults he knew. Nothing had been decided, he reminded himself. He couldn’t give up just yet.

Andrew Scott is the author of NAKED SUMMER, a story collection. He lives in Indianapolis.