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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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I HATE THE WORD

 

by Tony Press

 

 

 

I remember a kid in Little League who had a hole in his heart.  He missed more school days than everyone else, but I don’t remember him ever complaining, and there was nothing to see on the outside.  In swim lessons at the Y, his chest looked like every one else’s.  I had looked, I remember now, because I thought something of such significance must be visible.  It wasn’t.

 

Jeremy played second base and batted first, despite his affliction.  It didn’t slow him as he barreled around the bases, diving headfirst into home if that’s what it took to get the run for the Tigers.

 

My mother used to tell me about watching Jeremy’s mother sitting in the bleachers with the other parents, her arms raised against the setting sun, trying not to look.

 

But that’s not what Nicole meant, and I knew it, when she tossed it over her shoulder just before the door closed behind her with a clarifying click:  “You have a hole in your heart.”

 

A couple of weeks earlier, when she said it the first time, I thought she did mean it, that she must have misheard my story about my childhood friend Jeremy.  I thought she confused Jeremy with me, and that I was the one with the damaged organ.

 

This time, I understood.  She wasn’t the first to walk out that door, wasn’t even the first to suggest that I lacked something vital, though no one had used that particular phrase.  I stood and watched from my second floor apartment, following her taillights until they finally disappeared as she turned left and up and over the bridge that carried her eastward from Davenport, Iowa, across to Nowhere, Illinois.

 

             I turned back to the kitchen table.  The diving trip brochure remained where she had unfolded it, offered it, the brochure a mute witness to the train wreck that followed.   It was her surprise for the dead cold days of February, when even the hope for Spring was so bitter an illusion it burned the tongue, but why I had responded as I did was already just another entry in a lifetime catalog of missteps.  It’s the word “hope” that sets me off.  It is too much future, not enough present.

 

 I picked it up:

 

South of the island of San Pedro, off the coast of Belize, is Blue Hole. Descending on its depths, it has been said, divers surface miles away, emerging from another hole.

 

             Is that what I need?  Plunge deep into my own, finally to rise in the heart of another?  Dizzying.  I pulled out a yellow chair and fell onto it, forehead and hands damp with sweat.  I felt equal parts Jeremy and Jeremy’s mother.  I counted my breaths.  I saw a web address on the cover of the brochure.  I tapped my laptop.  I hoped there might be space for me.