The Trestle — Chapter 2 (short story 2/2)

Right field is the toughest outfield spot in the major leagues because of the proliferation of left-handed sluggers groomed to pick on the proliferation of right-handed pitchers. Why not the other way around, the world will never know, but the opposite is true in amateur sports. The kid stuck in right field can barely walk and chew gum, and he is only on the team because his parents forced him. In adult softball, the right fielder can barely walk and drink beer. Easily the most intoxicated bastard camps out in right field because superstar lefties do not exist in adult softball. The good lefties play actual baseball, the only people left over are right-handed batters. It is the left fielder who has to be a real athlete or on a strict beer limit, definitely no hard liquor. Often it is whoever is 12 stepping at the time or who got really drunk the night before or earlier that week and was trying to walk the straight and narrow.

Cliff Daniels had never considered AA. The thought had literally never crossed his mind, thus he was perpetually in right field. Cliff drank a lot but it sure beat the heroin he was hooked on in Vietnam. When he told people about his heroin addiction and the horrors that he saw in Vietnam people practically threw beers at him, but the truth is, and Cliff knew this, he didn’t quit heroin because he was disciplined. He quit because it wasn’t around. Environment plays a large role in behavior and addiction. A lot of the Vietnam vets came home with terrible heroin addictions, but the drug wasn’t easily accessible in the states and they quit. Just like that.

Cliff drank a lot, but even his worst hangovers didn’t compare to his days in the shit. Crawling in holes. Watching his friends bleed out in the jungle waiting on a helicopter. Those were bad times for sure, and his morning headaches, which would be debilitating for most human beings and normal alcoholics, were pretty gnarly, but no headache could erase the pride he felt when he thought about the three lives he saved. Three specific lives that his quick thinking saved. Sometimes he couldn’t even believe he did it. But he did, and that was the reason he got out of bed every morning. On nights where he drank particularly heavy, really heavy,  and knew the morning sun would drive beams of light like nails into his skull, he put his medals in his pocket as a psychic analgesic to grip onto in the morning. 

Cliff drank a lot in Vietnam, but so did everyone else, but not everyone did heroin. Cliff did, but you didn’t do heroin in the jungle. Not if you wanted to live, and more importantly, not if you wanted your friends to live. There was no time for games out there and brothers held each other accountable in the shit. Out of the jungle, when you're off, you're off, and Cliff had been off since he got home.

At the plate, Cliff was in a bit of a slump. His drinking was holding him back, but softball wasn’t important enough to consider cutting back or at least his success wasn’t that important. He just liked being on the team, not because he particularly liked softball. Actually, compared to his previous life in the shit, he felt this game was a little too faggy, but it provided a great opportunity to drink and be around brothers, but not in a faggy way. Still, Cliff was aware that while he did not care about the team's record, the team did, and if he could not produce at the plate, then he would have to step up in the field. This wasn’t much of a challenge being that he was stationed in the distant foreign outpost that was right field. On average 0.7 fly balls make their way into right field each game. If Cliff made that one catch each game, then his position was secure. Plus, he had a car and was willing to drive drunk, just like everyone else, but unlike others, he was willing to drive his teammates around, piss drunk. In his mind, he was a good teammate, a brother, making sacrifices just like in the war. To others, he was just a drunk.

In the third inning, Cliff made a fairly routine catch near the right field foul line. This meant one thing, heavy drinking for the rest of the game. It was very unlikely that he would see another fly ball, and if he did and missed it, he could still hang his hat on his catch in the third inning. The chance of a third fly ball was very rare, like Haley’s Comet screaming across the night sky. Cliff read about this rare comet in a Reader’s Digest one long night in the jungle. The comet came every 75 years and last appeared in 1910, so it was still another decade away. His perfectly reasonable alcoholic mind calculated a very low probability that anything would appear in the sky for the rest of the evening. Cliff always thought that 75-year rock, ball of metal and ice or whatever it was, in the sky represented a life or something. He didn’t really understand the science or care about it. He preferred to personify the mysteries of the universe. Suddenly, his mind snapped out of his alcohol induced exploration of the universe, a dangerous place when expected to man a defensive position for a team sitting one game out of the playoffs. Comet or no comet, he thought, he was not going to worry about a third fly ball until he missed the second fly ball. He would also not worry about his drinking and playoff implications because squeaking into the playoffs only meant getting 10-run ruled in the first round by the league's top team. Besides, he could always sober up then, even though he wouldn’t, and he knew he wouldn’t. So when the ball hit his mitt in the third inning, Cliff could taste the flood gates opening and the crisp rush of alcohol through the back of his mouth.

Jenny was somber and silent. Kenny was a little more anxious and rightfully so, he was about to die. The trestle was a train-track bridge enclosed by steel walls on each side held up by giant cement pillars. You could climb underneath the tracks to the pillars or you could climb on top of the trestle’s side walls. No one climbed on top of the trestle’s walls. It wasn’t easy and it was dangerous. Climbing down to sit on top of the cement pillars was a common habit of marijuana smokers. Climbing on top was a red flag. So when a couple of people in the crowd noticed Kenny and Jenny perched on top of the trestle, they had a pretty good sense of what was about to happen. 

At first there was a low murmur among several wives and girlfriends begrudgingly in attendance (they would never return to another softball game), but soon the children joined in and began shouting. They didn’t know why they were shouting, they were just following their parents’ lead and banging on the backstop fence. Not long after, the players realized the unusual sight of cheering fans at a men’s adult softball game, and even more unusual, the fans weren’t cheering out of joy or anger, but terror. That is, all of the players, but Cliff. He was drunk and in right field. Even on a sober night, if there ever was one, it’s hard to say if Cliff could have interpreted the cheers of the crowd. He may have developed a mile long stare in the shit, but he did not have mile long hearing. In fact, he was partially deaf like most men that got sent to Vietnam. At times it was a gift to not hear the world anymore, but most of the time it was the constant maddening ringing of tinnitus. It was pretty terrible, but yet another reason to drink.

Finally, Cliff noticed the look of death on the second baseman’s face. Cliff knew that face from Vietnam and he was wondering why Jimmy was facing the wrong direction. More disturbing than Jimmy not looking at the batter, was that he wasn’t even looking at Cliff, but over Cliff’s shoulder. Cliff slowly turned around, and Kenny and Jenny were now standing on the Trestle’s wall.

“Oh shit,” as if the words were sucked out of Cliff’s lungs with a vacuum. He began to run towards the trestle. As he sprinted to the anticipated drop zone, he flashed back to sprinting towards Hueys landing in the jungle. He felt alive again, and the thought of sobering up crossed his mind. Then the thoughts began to get muddled. “What am I doing?” He thought. “Catching a fly ball?” “No a body,” something in his head said. “What?” He replied. He was drunk, confused and sprinting.

Thud! Two bodies pounded the grass in front of Cliff. He collapsed to the ground and crawled over to them like he was dodging sniper bullets. The wives and girlfriends stood in disbelief. Two people committed suicide and Cliff was hunched up next to their bodies having a flashback episode. He was using an imaginary radio to make a distress call. He was ordering an air strike to provide cover because one of the soldiers was still breathing. Of course no one in the crowd knew this because it wasn’t a real radio. It was just his hands cupped like receivers.

Kenny was alive because he hesitated, though he would later swear that he did not. He swears that he fell second because it was impossible to perfectly time a suicide pact jump. It’s not something one practices. The crowd that witnessed the tragedy all saw something different, and most had been drinking, so most of their testimonies were thrown out and the DA did not pursue manslaughter charges.

Kenny landed on Jenny. She broke his fall. The coroner ruled that the fall did not kill her, the ground was too soft from the constant flooding of Paint Creek, it was definitely Kenny landing on top of her. They both would have lived had Kenny not insisted on holding hands. He thought it was the right thing to do, and he didn’t care if anyone knew it. Perhaps he didn’t want to live with the secret for the rest of his life, but now he had to live with people knowing the only reason Jenny died was because they jumped close together.

When Jenny went to heaven she was not joined by the son she never had because it doesn’t work that way. But she did go to heaven and Kenny got to spend the rest of his living days in hell.