The Mickey Mantle
by Joni Abilene
Baseball season is upon us so I felt it appropriate to post this snippet today. I remember well my brother playing baseball May through August, and me, sitting in the stands with my mother who wore a bright yellow t-shirt reading: I’M POOR AND LIVE IN JOHNSON COUNTY. An in-joke, if you know how affluent our zip code happens to be. And us, scrapping every week, barely making it on government cheese and powdered milk. But alas, there’s always baseball to carry one away from life’s little miseries. This story, from a book of interconnected tales amid a fictional Midwestern town, concerns two brothers, Saul and Pete. Saul is angsty and wants to escape before anyone else makes a grab for his dignity, and Pete, older and wiser, is helplessly tied to the surroundings via Vera, an amazonian sex-starved pistol wielding girlfriend. A missing Mickey Mantle card might be the ticket away from all this chaos, but who’s willing to sell the remnants of their soul to get it?
From ‘Woodsocket, U.S.A.’ Free for download for the next two days. As always , thanks for reading!
The Mickey Mantle
“Bases are loaded,” Saul announced, loaf of French bread raised to an angle. “I’m gonna hit this sucker into the meat department and have myself a home run. You got that, Pete?”
Pete shook his head real slow. He drew his arm back for the pitch then spun forward, releasing a tangerine bullet. Saul’s eyes locked onto the citrus. He took a swing and stumbled. The two of them watched it fly over their heads in a perfect arch. It could get real quiet in the IGA at eight a.m.
In the next aisle a painful cry rang out.
Pete and Saul ran to see.
Mrs. Kuhn stood in a green moo-moo rubbing a hand at the back of her neck.
“You all right, Mrs. Kuhn?” Saul was trying so hard not to laugh.
“I don’t actually know. Something hit me. Out of nowhere. I—I was just reachin’ for a can of tuna.”
There was a red mark the size of a baseball on her neck, and a juicy tangerine at her feet. Saul watched Pete’s boot tip punt the thing so it disappeared under a nearby shelf. “Maybe something fell off a row here, Mrs. Kuhn. You should be more careful.” Pete grabbed some Fish of the Sea and put it in her cart. “Tell the girls up front that this is free, okay?”
Her eyes darted back and forth between the two brothers. “That’s nice of you. How you two boys doing? Your father is sorely missed in this town.”
Pete got real shy when folks mentioned Dad. Saul just felt like smashing stuff.
“We’re just fine, Mrs. Kuhn. Don’t forget to tell ‘em it’s free.” Pete shooed her off and the two of them stood in the aisle for a moment.
Saul hauled up and hit his older brother in the shoulder. “You think we can go to the Pit Stop tonight instead of eating that hamburger you left in the fridge?”
“No. It’s goin’ rotten and we gotta use it up. We can go to the Pit some other time. I don’t wanna be hanging out there anyway, not with Vera coming around with that pistol of hers. She didn’t take so well to me and her breaking up the other night.”
“Well, maybe I’ll go and you can stay home.” Saul really wanted to go to the Pit Stop. He didn’t enjoy hanging around the house every night watching the boob tube. Living with your brother was supposed to be fun, not like being married.
“Go on then, if you dare, but she said she might take aim at you as well. She’s plenty pissed.”
Saul started to rethink his plans. Vera, when vengeful, would torture a man until he’d beg for a kick to the crotch, just for mercy. Just then he heard a shuffle coming from the next aisle. Sharon Wilke turned the corner in heavy white sneakers and pants too tight for someone to be wearing with a rear end like hers. Sharon was the direct opposite of someone like Vera, and was as soft and malleable as veal. He loved to tease her.
“Wallomp, wallomp,” Saul chanted.
She stopped in place and turned around real slow. She raised a nervous hand to her neck. “Good morning, Saulie.”
“You’re too fat for those pants. I can see your underwear.”
Her bottom lip trembled. Saul pretended not to see the starving way she looked at him in his jeans. He threw a fist into his other palm, like an invisible mitt was there. “Don’t ya got anything insulting to say back to me today, huh Sharon?”
She sniffed a second, then threw a hip out and reached inside her shirt. “Yeah. Look what I got, a Willie Mays. A real, honest Willie Mays. Got it in the mail yesterday. Pretty, ain’t it?”
“Ah hell, everybody’s got a stupid Mays. Show me a Mickey Mantle and I’ll get excited.”
“Maybe I have one of those too. Maybe there’s one in my house right now, you never know.”
“I’ll bet there ain’t.” Then he called her something terrible. The worst word of all.
She looked about to cry. “Well, there might be.”
“Might or is?” He was a little worried she might get him fired for using a word like that, but he was almost past caring. She hadn’t earned that manager job, she’d been born into it just because her uncle owned the store.
She stuffed Willie Mays back into her bra and stopped pouting. “You’re right. I don’t have a Mantle. I was just bullshitting you for fun and you almost fell for it. Guess I’d better go open those front registers.” She shuffled off, shoes leaving a squeak with every step.
Saul emptied two boxes of legumes before he said anything to Pete. “I bet she doesn’t have it.”
“Bet you’re right.”
“‘Cause if she did, she’d be waving it in my face.”
“Mmhmm.” Pete was probably thinking about the hamburgers and how he could dress them up with red onions, Vidalias, like they’d put out the day before.
“But if she does have a Mantle, why, I might go have a look in her house just to see. What do you think?”
Pete shifted his legs. “I think you’re crazy.”