Philip Newman Lawton
Late April, maybe early May, still chilly. We clumped down the front steps the way adolescents will, crossed the street to the park, walked to the diamond. I had my well-worked glove and my scuffed-up, grass-stained baseball. Malachy carried the Louisville Slugger in both hands. I demonstrated a proper batting stance, the one my father taught me. By the time I reached the mound he had choked up on the bat and held it in a vertical position. I looked at him over my glove, wound up in good form, beaned him with a fastball.
He dropped to the ground. I sprinted to the plate, helped him to his feet, took his bony elbow, told him to walk it off, but he was too dizzy. I got him home, his skinny arm over my shoulder, and his mother drove him to St. Francis. Concussion. She called my parents. I swore it was a wild throw, stood up to their hard look. “All right,” my father said, yet, to be sure, the next time I came within reach he cuffed me.
Malachy was my friend, we sat in the back of the same homeroom, ate lunch at our own out-of-the-way table, had study hall, music appreciation, phys ed classes together. But he was scrawny, cartoon arms, chicken legs, a chest that aspired to convexity. In gym one day we climbed ropes; Malachy struggled, fell to the mat, didn’t break any bones only because he didn’t fall very far. After that the coach made him take part in the warm-up exercises, then let him sit out the rest of the period. I hated his weakness. Yet, privately, I enjoyed his company, he read a lot, asked good questions, listened to my ideas. And I had so few friends.
Once in a while we met up after school or on the weekend. Occasionally at my house, but my family life was unpredictable, outsiders, generally unwelcome. My father met him once, called him Sport, and I knew he meant it in the biological sense. We usually got together at Malachy’s house, didn’t do much, just hung around, talked, listened to the classical music he loved, maybe did a little homework. Only played ball the one time.
The school year ended a few weeks later, we graduated from junior high, went to different high schools. For a few years I saw him around town, we nodded, didn’t stop to talk. Just as well. I could not have said why I threw a hardball at his head that Spring afternoon. Eventually he disappeared, and, until now, I did not give him another thought.
But Malachy passed away last week, the coronavirus took him, he probably didn’t stand a chance. And I’ll die, too, one of these days, I think about it all the time, carry it with me through the day, lie awake at night. Wonder if I’ll have to answer for my lifelong rancor and ready lies. Whisper an act of contrition just in case.
Formerly an investment professional at major insurance companies and international banks, Philip Newman Lawton now reads and writes in Albemarle County, Virginia. His narrative nonfiction has appeared in JuxtaProse Literary Magazine, the Bookends Review, Cagibi, Streetlight Magazine, the Bangalore Review, Dappled Things, and the Woven Tale Press, among others.“Hardball” is Lawton’s first published piece of flash fiction.