“Hey ‘dufus,’ are you going to get off your butt and help me?” said an edgy female voice from outside the apartment door. Luther thought she meant ‘dumbass,’ but didn’t have the heart to tell him. This was her way of being polite, trying to avoid a scrape because she wanted him to do something, a routine honey-do. He was sitting on the edge of his Barcalounger, still with the TV on. He was watching the final game of a four-game series featuring his beloved Nationals vs Cincy on a “gorgeous Sunday afternoon.” That’s what the game announcer called it. Isn’t there a better time to go floating down the river?
“C’mon, there’s a lot to do if we want to get to the park before everyone else. It’ll be a nice day on the Channel, lots of sail boats. Besides, if you wanted to see the game, why didn’t you go to it?”
Luther squinted his eyes, focused on Bryce Harper at-bat facing a full count. Luther’s thick brown eyebrows raised into the wrinkles on his forehead where further back along his receding hairline was a patch of stubble down the middle of his dome, in the style of a Mohawk. This was a stunted Mohawk, given his quarrels with time. The sad hairstyle, a fad that came and went, fit with his faded orange Hawaiian shirt hanging open over a faded red Nationals T-shirt. In his lap, he held a green Tupperware bowl filled with soggy nachos. His thick legs contained by the khaki cargo shorts extended to his chubby feet and toes, exposed by thick-soled sandals. His wife called them Chanklas.
Luther grumbled. The Nationals were crushing the Reds, and Harper whiffed on a curve ball low and away. Not his style. He was 2-for-4 on the day with a homer that counted as insurance in what ended up being a 12-1 rout. The inning ended, the Washington team trotted back out onto the field to take defensive positions, and coverage broke away to a commercial.
“Beers, cars or insurance,” he said to himself, trying to guess the popular advertisers on ESPN’s sports telecasts. It was Allstate, ‘the good hands people.’ I win. Luther beamed on the inside.
“Is that game almost over,” Barbara Ann yelled from the kitchen, “I’m making a few bologna sandwiches to take with us.” That sounded better than the limp chips and stale cheese sauce, less cringe-worthy.
“Soon as I’m done here we need to get the kayaks loaded,” Barbara Ann said.
“Oh yeah, those damn kayaks,” Luther said. Leaning back in his chair, he could see her moving through the open view of the kitchen. She was moving from the counter to the breakfast nook with a box of wax paper and a jar of mayonnaise in her hands. She set them roughly on the surface of the table, moving with purpose. Her aim was to make enough noise by opening and closing cupboards and drawers, packing the picnic basket with flatware, napkins and a bottle of Chardonnay.
“A little louder, please,” he said. “There’s only two more innings in this silly game.”
“If it’s silly, why are you watching it?” She said, smartly.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” he retorted. “We already won, but I want to see if No. 37 might shut them out.”
“Well, say what you mean!”
Luther put the bowl on the coffee table, then pushed the lever back on the Barcalounger. This was going to take a while. Might as well enjoy what little freedom I have left this weekend. Barbara Ann’s long tan legs kept him somewhat distracted. She wanted to think they’d enjoy the day with everything she planned. The relaxed lacy sleeveless blouse didn’t match the elegant but stern all-about business expression on her face. Her bobbed hair and shallow bangs gave her the appearance of someone taking charge. The short white shorts made the color of her skin even brighter, more vibrant. He felt thankful she made the occasional trip to the tanning salon, otherwise, her legs would be glowing in the dark. Altogether, Barbara Ann made an alluring picture when she wasn’t mad or faintly following the rules because she was trying too hard to please him. Even her 1960s bob couldn’t detract from a cute round face the size of LuLu’s in ‘To Sir with Love.’
Pitcher Stephen Strasburg made quick work of the Atlanta batting order, while Luther thought about digging his hands into the front of his wife’s shorts. That lacy blouse left little to his imagination, though she wore a black bikini top underneath it. It did little to contain her ample bosom.
“Did you put gas in the Jeep?” she yelled. His passionate thoughts faded instantly as he saw a gas nozzle spraying fuel all over him.
“Yes,” he grunted.
He hated when she couldn’t wait until the baseball game was over. They’d have all day to get out to Hains Point. All they had to do was cross the bridge over from Pentagon City where they lived in a cramped, overpriced one-bedroom apartment. He didn’t mind the location too much given his flexible work schedule with the National Park Service. Being at the center of things was better than living somewhere in northern Virginia and riding that God-forsaken train into the office.
Zimmerman was up. With no one on base, he popped up to right center. The first baseman was a workhorse. If he had started them off right, the Nats could have kept their scoring machine going. Luther was hoping all the Nats would get on base in the final two innings, and they might just do it with good cuts like that.
“I’m almost done with the sandwiches,” Barbara Ann said. “Is there anything else you might want? Remember we’re not coming back for a while, especially with traffic the way it is every year. OK honey?”
“And guess who’ll be driving,” Luther grumbled again, thinking he’d rather be staying home and lighting Black Cats off the balcony like he did last year, sipping on beers from Trader Joe’s, instead of wasting life in stop-and-go traffic across the bridge. He loved when people walking by yelled at him. It conjured up some profanity he’d never ever heard before, and made them jump like alley cats. Last year, there were a few drunk kids who thought what he was doing was “cool,” watching the wrapped gun powder go off in midair, and asked him to throw some Black Cats down so they could light up the sidewalk. The apartment complex rent-a-cop showed up for that one when too many of the residents complained, wondering if it was gunfire. Luther ducked back behind his patio door. The security guard and the kids looked up, they were on their own. Barbara Ann never knew about it. She was passed out on the couch from drinking too much wine. She had he missed the entire fireworks show.
This year, she vowed, that wasn’t going to happen because they’d be on the river. There was no way the colorful blasts were going to escape her witness. If she had her druthers, she’d spend all day on the Mall, even if the weather was unbearably humid and she had to fight through the throngs of people to end up letting her body collapse in a nice shady spot next to a big tree. She knew it would get cooler as the day wore on and the stars winked at them from a clear sky. She’d lay back in Luther’s arms to watch the Disneyesque display on the Fourth of July.
She felt they had to do something different this year. Not doing anything was almost like sacrilege in her book. Her brother was in the Army, working at the Pentagon, and she would have strong doubts about her own patriotism if the younger noble sib ever brought up the subject. ‘What’d you guys do on the Fourth?’ She felt a sense of duty to celebrate the birth of the nation, especially in these times when the guy in office made them feel like watching fireworks was the only normal thing they had done since all the crazy campaigning started.
To Luther, what was more American than baseball? She emerged from the kitchen with a picnic basket and set it on the dining room table. Placing hands on hips and extending her neck, chin jutting forward, she asked, “Well?” Her tall frame shook in front of him.
He kept his eyes on the oversized TV and said aloud, “two more innings, and Strasburg is so close to a shutout,” over the loud cheering fans. Closer Blake Treinen was doing his best to put the finishing touches on the Reds before the Nats could put a bow on the series, Luther was sure. Another one bites the dust.
“Doesn’t that mean another 20 minutes? What if they rally?” She asked.
“What if who rallies?” Luther said.
“Well, you figure out when you want to go,” she said, and went into the bedroom, slamming the door, feeling the early afternoon was being eaten away by the slow-moving contest, whittling at time, at her life.
Luther felt enough was enough, the weekend celebrating the Fourth could have two kinds of fireworks – the yelling and screaming of another silly fight or the reward that comes from being a compliant man trained to heel, wreaking of good manners, the kind of energy he saved for visits with the monster-in-law. Barb would nibble and bite his ear, then his neck, thanking him for staying in the good graces of her mom, even when the elder woman derided his family about being brought up in the poor backwardness of rural West Virginia. He knew Barbara Ann would make love to him like it was their honeymoon. Without behaving, there’d be no homerun, not even first base.
He grabbed the remote off the coffee table. A quick press of the button and the TV went blank. The black box had him by the eyeballs and was pulling him closer. In the silence, somehow he felt like a weight had lifted. The sound faded and he was back in the real world. There was a long season and he’d see those guys again. Turner, Werth, Murphy, Rendon, Wieters and Taylor, too. They’d all be there for another game, one he could go to with her – maybe bobblehead night.
Down in the garage, Luther pushed the mountain bikes aside to get to the locked overhead storage where they stashed the kayaks. The smooth hard plastic flotation devices had been collecting dust since last summer. He started to pull them out, along with the flopping yellow life jackets. He was struggling a bit with the awkwardness of being in a tight space, and standing on top of the Jeep’s bumper, hoping the kayak didn’t fall on the hood. She might notice another scratch on their baby. There was a chance he’d get that speech about taking better care of their car – they had three more years of payments, it didn’t have to look like a piece of shit even though it was 10 years old. As he did his best to prevent the kayak from taking a dive, he could feel it slipping from his hand. He grabbed the tip of the boat but the tail end gained momentum. If it came out of the storage space with force … He stepped down off the Jeep’s bumper, hoping. As he did, Barbara Ann appeared out of nowhere, holding the other end. Her cherub face was brimming with a toothy smile. She giggled, the lunch basket at her feet on the concrete floor.
“Holy shit! Thank God you were there,” Luther said, stepping back onto the bumper. “Now, we gotta get the other one down.”
“Oh by the way,” she said. “I watched that last part of the game for you. The Reds scored a run? So, no shutout. Is that what it’s called?”
“Yeah, that’s it. At least it’s a win,” Luther said, admiring his cheerful helper.
“For us or them?” Barb asked, walking up on the Jeep’s hood and taking a wild tug at the second kayak. “Takes teamwork, huh?”
Luther’s world went dark. The last thing he saw was a red blur thwacking him in the forehead. Laying on the cool hard floor, he came to, gradually opening his eyes, feeling her wet kisses on his cheek.
“What the fuck?” he yelled, shaking off the blow to his head and laughing wildly, while a large red mouse formed on his skull. She joined him with her high-pitched giggles, helping him get his bearing.
“Yeah. Takes teamwork!” Luther said. Their jovial sounds echoed throughout the garage. At the gate to the subterranean parking lot, the same security guard from last year, suspicious as ever, stood up and wondered.