The TV show folks came wandering onto my place, October just started and the fields bare, dragging cameras and driving vans and pulling on cables, alarming the hogs and spooking my Guernseys, saying they had been put onto me by somebody in New Memphis. I knew who that had to be. Jim Lanier, the most nervous man in Southern Illinois and the most likely to dwell upon things out of the ordinary, and when they asked me their question, showing their hand as they did, I knew it had to’ve come from the Huck’s Convenience in New Memphis, Jimmy behind the counter.
The one that started talking, the short overweight fellow with the beard that looked like it had been combed and had curlers put into it, started right out with the question he was burning to ask. “Sir,” he said, “Are you Carl Heidegger? Because if you are, I understand that you have witnessed several Sasquatch sightings. You have actually seen one, people say. And they call you an honest man.”
The rest of the bunch stood around, waiting for me to answer, their cameras all blinking and zooming and whirring. That’s the crew I’m talking about. The ones you see on TV didn’t look interested at all, especially the big one, who kept looking around the front yard of my farm like he needed to find a place to sit down. The little skinny woman with real short hair was leaning up against a van reading a book. Her skin was as white as the inside of an orange peel.
“Seen one?” I said. “Hell, I played baseball with one. I sure saw him, yessir. You do notice your teammates.”
I went on to tell them the truth about what had happened way back in the mid seventies, way before cable TV got this far out in Washington County and a lot longer before any kind of satellite flying through the sky made so many channels available in this part of Illinois. Now nobody goes outside except if they’re sick and headed for a hospital.
What us young guys did back then, having got out of high school and so couldn’t play baseball on the New Memphis High Wildcats team, we joined up with that non-affiliated minor bunch named the Farmers and Merchants League at the time. It had some good players in it, too, and some real good baseball got played in communities like Germantown, Aviston, New Heifer, Gin City, Patriciana, and a few more.
I was playing right field for the New Memphis team, that one named the Red Yearlings, and so I had a lot of time to be wandering out there close to the patch of woods the baseball field backed up to. It was a Sunday afternoon in 1974, and we were playing the Highland Corn Planters. Right field being the position it is, I always had a lot of time just to stand around, pull up some grass stems to chew, look up at the crows flying over, watch infield play when something was going on, think about what I was going to do the next day, and so on. That afternoon, I believe it was in the fifth inning, but I can’t tell you what the score was, I heard a kind of a noise coming from behind where I was standing kind of slapping my fist into my glove. It sounded a little like a grunt a hog will make when it’s eating, but it was more focused than that somehow. It didn’t seem random. That’s what I’m saying.
I turned my head to see what had come up behind me and what might interfere with me fielding a well-hit ball to right, if one happened to come, and that’s when I seen him. He was holding a big limb that looked like it had been broke off a red-oak tree, and that limb was in his left hand. In his right he had a green mock orange, one of that fruit that does nobody any good, rock hard as it is and coming off all those limbs full of thorns and tasting so sorry that even pigs won’t eat it.
He was looking right at me, and at first I thought all that hair on his face was a beard, but it didn’t take me long to see that hair like that was all over him, like it would be on a bear. But it wasn’t a bear, though he was at least a foot or more taller than me. And he saw that I saw him, and he kept his eyes on mine like he was trying to tell me to watch, and then he threw up that hard green mock orange, grabbed that red-oak limb in both hands and laid the wood to that old piece of useless fruit. That thing sailed out of there like it had a rocket fastened to it, and him and me both watched it take off toward downtown New Memphis, getting littler as it went. When I lost sight of it as it went over the Catholic church, that green mock orange was still climbing.
“I believe you got all of that one,” I said to him, and he opened his mouth to grin at me, like a batter will who’s just knocked one out of the park and now doesn’t have to worry about running the bases and taking the chance of being put out. But the player’s trying to look like he ain’t surprised by what he’s just done
When I told the folks from that TV program standing in my yard about my first meeting with the creature we got to calling Hoss when he was playing them few games for the New Memphis Red Yearlings, they just looked at each other, and the boss of them, one you never see on screen, said “Naw, we can’t do this. There’s not a nut in Nebraska much less anywhere on the East Coast who’d buy any of it. They’d cancel our asses in a month. This show’s got to continue to look at least a hair possible.”
“Yeah, but he tells it good,” the big one you do see on screen said. He had found himself a box to sit on, and seemed to have got comfortable. “I was convinced.”
Everybody laughed when he said, even the little woman wearing no makeup and with real short hair and holding a book. “Let’s go on back to St. Louis,” she said. “Isn’t there a prospect at the University? We need a PhD to talk to.”
“The university ain’t in St. Louis,” the big one said. “Big MO is in some little town in the middle of the state.”
“We can get a decent meal in St. Louis, though,” one of them said, a man I never before saw on screen. “ It’s not an utter loss. Give this story teller a finder’s fee, and let’s get back across the river.”
He meant the Mississippi, and after they had all got their gear loaded into the trucks and vans and pulled out of my yard, I looked down at the check the boss had given me. It was for a hundred dollars, and that amount will spend, certainly. Then I went into the house where Sierra was cooking supper. “Squatchers?” she said, and I groaned and nodded. “Well,” she said. “It’ll be a little while until it’s ready. Get you a drink and cheer up.”
I did that. Got me a double shot of Evan Williams and sat down in the recliner in front of the TV, but I didn’t turn it on. No, I said to myself, let me think again about the best long ball hitter I ever saw, and I swear this is the last time I’ll let myself do that. It always does me in, and I’m getting too old to do a quick comeback from that. But I do like to remember what happened the times that Big Foot came to bat. I’ll replay just the one, the last time I ever saw him on the field, and I swear I’ll quit for good after that. I won’t think about the last at-bat again. I swear I won’t.
It was late in the season, only two or three more games left for the New Memphis Red Yearlings to play, and we’d be through until the next year. None of us was looking forward to that, all the corn to harvest and the winter to come and nothing about baseball to see or read about in the newspaper, much less anything for us to do having to do with baseball except maybe to oil some gloves and worry about whether they’d even be a Farmers and Merchants League in 1975. Everything was day to day back then.
We were playing the Patriciana Patsies, and they were leading the league by one game, and everybody but us was purely surprised to see the Red Yearlings nipping at the heels of the Patsies. We’d never done that before, and we weren’t ever expected to, but then things had changed for the New Memphis team, and they’d changed for good reason. He was there, pinch hitting when we needed him and now and then even playing a full game at desperate times. I call him “he,” and I always did, though a lot of the Red Yearlings called him only by the name we’d given him. That was Hoss, and it fit him everytime he came to bat. One or two guys called him IT, putting a kind of an edge on it and that caused me one time to come up beside the head of Mickey Kant, an infielder who had mouthed off about our pinch hitter who’d just hit the first offering to him by the Gin City Swallows pitcher, his best fast ball, putting it over to rest in Alfred Janning’s back pasture which was a full two hundred yards away. “Look at it run them bases,” Mickey Kant had said. “All that hair covered up by overalls and still hanging out the bottom. It’s just a grinning like a monkey.”
Mickey wasn’t grinning by the time he come to and got up off the ground where we all had been jumping up and down because we’d beat the Swallows and pulled into second place behind the Patsies. Right after I had unloaded on Mickey for calling him “it” and pointing out how hairy he was beneath them overalls and long-sleeved workshirt we made him wear, I was sorry I’d done that. But the Big Foot wasn’t. He give me a great big grin, showing all them big yellow teeth, after he’d crossed the plate and come back to the dugout. He knew what I’d done, but he couldn’t say anything, of course.
That was the main problem we had in hiding what he really was. It was easy enough to get him a great big oversized pair of workboots to wear when he was with us during the games, and by the time Sierra had sewed together three shirts into one extra-extra-extra large to wear under the giant overalls she had patched together, he was pretty much covered wherever he was hairy. Which was all over. But nobody worried back then in the 1970s about a man with a lot of beard on his face, even if it did grow clear up to his eyes in his case. Hell, Dennis Ryan down at the New Memphis Silo had more hair showing on his face up to his eyes than Hoss did. I ought to add that Sierra and I weren’t married at the time, and I think she didn’t know a thing about his true nature when she was making that big shirt. She never said a thing about it, anyway. She did after it was all over with, though.
But like I was saying, he didn’t speak a word of English, nor of anything else that sounded like somebody talking in a foreign language, German or French or the way they talk in California, so that was the main problem we had in keeping quiet about what he really was. He would just grunt, but you could tell it wasn’t because he was dumb or ignorant. He was trying to communicate, he just didn’t have what my English teacher at New Memphis High, Mrs. Hazel Chambliss, called “verbal skills.” Dumb? Hardly. He was a lot smarter than several of us players on the Red Yearlings baseball team. Have you ever tried to converse about a topic of general interest with a first baseman? What about talking to a catcher about politics when he ain’t squatted down behind the batter’s box making his fingers wiggle to give signs? Ignorant is as ignorant does, I swear.
Anyway, he didn’t play in many games, and he sat on the bench most of the time when he was waiting to be called on to pinch hit, and here’s the the way we handled it when somebody on another team or the reporters from the New Baden News or the Lebanon Advertiser asked about who he was and where he was from and where did he live and where did he work and how did he learn to knock a baseball so damn far it had dew on it when it finally came back down to earth. Our manager Tom Stephens come up with the right answer to give to all questions about our pinch hitting outfielder. “Boys,” Tom said, looking way off when he talked like he always did, “whenever anybody asks about him, say he’s a Big Foot moved here from Washington state. There ain’t a single man or woman in Southern Illinois or the Metro East who’ll believe you. They’ll just cuss and walk off. At least the men will.”
And they did, too. Everytime somebody asked me or any other Red Yearling or even him himself anything, we’d tell him he was a Big Foot, and they’d leave us alone then, saying stuff like “that ain’t funny” and “oh, go to hell.” He’d just grunt when they asked him anything at all, showing his big old teeth, and they’d throw up their hands and slam shut their notebooks and walk off.
We all got nervous, of course, along the way, and we figured if they found out what he really was that they’d take away all of our wins, and that’s a thing a baseball player cannot bear to think about. It’s a lot of would-be lawyers around any baseball organization looking for a way to get ahead without having to swing a bat or make a good pitch. Did you ever see a TV replay of the way George Brett came out of that Kansas City Royals dugout when Billy Martin claimed George was using illegal pine tar when he hit that homerun against the Yankees? Brett would have killed Martin if he could have got to him.
Don’t get me wrong. I ain’t saying it was or was not illegal pine tar Brett was using to improve his grip on the bat, but I will admit us Red Yearlings using a Sasquatch to pinch hit and play right field now and then could be looked upon as a rule violation. We knew that, and it made for uneasy minds.
Here’s what it finally come down to, the situation that caused Hoss to have to leave that part of Southern Illinois and go off to somewhere else. And no, I don’t know where that was, and it was a long time ago and who could know where he could finally end up. I couldn’t tell, though I wish I could.
It was success that did him and us on the New Memphis Red Yearlings baseball team in, not no failure of any sort on his part or on ours. That’s the way it always seemed to work back then, and what goes on now in America I don’t even want to talk about. In 1974 we lost what we had with him on the team because we won. We caught the Patriciana Patsies fair and square, and we left them behind, and all that was to the good. It was the best feeling I ever had outside of getting Sierra to agree to marry me back when she broke down and gave in. I felt satisfied and surprised like that when we won that last game against the Patsies, and we had ourselves a party, us Red Yearlings did.
Tom Stephens had got the Lions Club to let us use their hall for a place to celebrate, and he got donations of a couple of kegs of Stag from Ed’s and Millie’s Bar over in Highland, and the wives and girlfriends had got all kinds of potato salad and brats and I don’t what all together, and we were ready to have ourselves a time. We’d already heard the news that the East Missouri Show Me League had offered a challenge to us to play their champion if we could all find a way to work it out. That was a brand new twist on the season, and it had us wild as could be. We felt like we had just won the National League title and was ready to take on the Yankees. High times it was.
And when Marie’s Fine and Delicate Bakery brought out that great big flat cake with the name New Memphis on it and just below that a picture made in the frosting of a big old head with a full red beard and a baseball cap on it, the noise in that Lions Club meeting hall sounded like a convention of barbers drunk on sloe gin fizzes. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world. Washington County, Illinois was the center of things, the way I felt.
Then it all started up, the situation that ended the best season of baseball ever played in the Farmers and Merchants League, and to tell the truth the last full season there ever was for that collection of teams from Southern Illinois. After then, people in several of the towns and communities tried to get things up and running again for baseball, but it was like trying to repair an old Studebaker sedan after you can’t find parts for what’s wrong with it anymore. They don’t make that model or even that brand any more, and the transmission that lets the engine drive the wheels that make it run is gone, destroyed, not ever to be replaced. It does not function, and the body will not rise again.
Here is where success succeeded in destroying us. It began when our main pitcher, in fact the only one the Red Yearlings could ever really depend on, Royce Schneider, took it in his head to get Hoss to try some Stag beer. Hoss was there in the Lions Club hall all right with the rest of us, and he was wearing the patched-together pants and shirt that Sierra had made into a uniform for him. He was barefoot, that red hair all over his insteps, just as quiet as he always was, and he was grinning real big and holding what looked like half a ham in one hand, just chewing away at it, once in a while grabbing up a piece of fried chicken to go along with that chunk of pork, staying away from the vegetables pretty much, and not touching any of the baked goods, when Royce went up to him with that great big pitcher of Stag.
“Here, Hoss,” Royce said, “it’s yum yum time. It’ll taste as good to you as a big old chunk of raw meat does.”
That bothered me, what Royce had just said, since it seemed kind of mean, like he was putting Hoss down for being what he was and eating like he did. Yeah, he liked meat. So? I could tell Royce had drunk himself a little too much of that Stag and whatever it was in that bottle that the third baseman for the Red Yearlings, Duane Stumpf, was passing around. Royce usually wouldn’t have acted like that to Hoss when he was cold sober, but he was the kind of man who would begin talking big and acting a little nutty when he had drunk past a certain limit. His head would start going wrong. Anything he’d been holding back would come on out.
“Royce,” I was beginning to say, taking my time to choose the right kind of words that wouldn’t get him ticked off and would still get him to shut up, when Hoss took the pitcher of beer from Royce and upended it. He swallowed the whole thing in three or four big mouthfuls, and when he finished doing that, he looked at the empty pitcher like he’d just discovered the answer to some question he’d been puzzling about. Then he pushed the empty container back toward Royce, threw back his head and let out a holler like I’d never heard him do before. Usually he’d just grunt when something happened to get his attention. When somebody hit a long fly, say, or a player had to slide into a base and knocked up a cloud of dust doing it, or when somebody looked him in the eye and said something. He couldn’t answer, but he could make a noise to show he was paying attention.
When he hollered there in the Lions Club hall, it was so loud and sudden and long that everybody stopped what they were doing and looked around to see where that bellow had come from. “Oh, relax, everybody. It’s just Hoss having himself a beer,” Royce said. “I do believe he likes it, and I bet he wants some more.”
At that, I did venture to voice an objection, but it didn’t have any effect in slowing things down. People started bringing more beer to give Hoss to drink, and he did just that, emptying pitchers and smacking his lips and letting out another big hollering sound with every round he consumed. I tried to get folks to let up with the beer sharing, remembering in my experience what it had been like for me to take my first drink, how it had messed me up and me not knowing it was doing that. I thought I was fine and more focused than I’d ever been before in my life. So did Hoss, I could tell. But things were far enough along by then for nobody to listen to me. They thought it was funny, the way Hoss was acting, and when Duane Stumpf stuck that pint of whisky out toward our long ball hitter and we all watched it vanish down Hoss’s throat, everybody hollered and carried on like our ace pinchhitter had again just put a baseball over the fence and into another county.
“Ah oo,” Hoss started hollering, acting like he was listening to himself and was surprised he could make such sounds come out of his mouth. I swear from the look on his face he was starting to believe he was actually talking like the rest of us did, and he was showing signs of thinking he was making sense. “Ah oo,” he said four or five more times, drawing out the sound of it so that it reminded me of the way somebody singing a song they don’t know the words to will just fill in the gaps with noises that don’t mean anything.
“Ah oo, your own self,” Royce Schneider said, holding out another pitcher of beer, “you crazy thing.”
“It’s something I been wanting to say,” Duane Stumpf said, “and I’m drunk enough to say it out loud. Here it is. I don’t like Hoss’s feet. I don’t like the way they look, all hairy and big as out of doors. They’re funny, and they’re scary, and they ain’t right. They ain’t human.”
Everybody got quiet at the same time when Duane said that, and then one other fellow spoke up. It was Jimmy Lanier, who played a little infield now and then when somebody else couldn’t make it to one of the Red Yearlings games for one reason or another. “I go along with Duane on that,” he said. “And something else about this thing we got playing for us, besides it going around naked all the time unless we make it wear clothes. It looks funny out of its eyes, like it hadn’t got good sense, and it never says a thing you can understand.”
“It smells funny, too,” Oral Puldew said. “More than that, I’d say it stinks.And its teeth’s all big and sharp and crooked.”
“I never seen it take a shower,” Jimmy Lanier said, sounding like he thought he was settling any and all questions about Hoss. “I know that for sure.That’s my opinion of it.”
“All of you go to hell,” I hollered out, the words coming out of my throat so hot and feeling so heavy as they moved they seemed to be scalding me to say them. “What do you mean saying shit like about the man who won the damn league championship for us?”
“It ain’t a man,” Oral Puldew said. “It’s some kind of a freak animal. It’s a swamp ape or something.”
“It’s a damn Big Foot is what it is,” somebody hollered. I didn’t notice who it was that said that since a kind of a film seemed to be coming over my eyes and my fists were balling up without me telling them to do that. “We ought to turn that thing in and make some money from it.”
“Yeah, put it in a show, wash it down real good with a hose, and take it around places and charge folks to look at it.” That was said by Royce Schneider, showing exactly what happened to his reasoning power when he had two or three drinks too many. “That’d get some good out of it. Hell, Hoss wouldn’t even know what was happening, dumb as it is.”
“You goddam sons of bitches,” I said and watched myself swing my fist at the man closest to me. It was Duane Stumpf, and it landed on his face right where the jaw joins the skull. It felt so good to me that I threw a left at Duane before he hit the floor. That missed, though, and then the rest of my teammates swarmed me, swinging big roundhouse punches, pulling at my clothes, and cussing me for everything they could lay tongue to.
That didn’t last longer than it would take for a bird to fly in the open window of the Lions Club hall and realize it was in a bad place and turn tail and leave, though. Because what happened then was that Hoss threw down the pitcher of Stag he was holding up to his mouth, let out a bellow louder than anything he’d hollered before, and waded into the ruckus between me and that bunch of ungrateful infielders and pitchers and weak hitters for the Red Yearlings. I saw what Hoss was fixing to do, and I was able to start hollering up at him where he was looming over all of us as he went after Royce and Oral, Duane having crawled away to get up underneath a table loaded with potato salad, brats, buns, jars of mustard, cans of soda, pecan pies and German chocolate cakes and every condiment known to the women of Southern Illinois in that day.
By the time Hoss had lifted up that table to get to Duane and had flung it halfway across the Lions Club hall’s open area, which was used for dancing and meetings and playing bingo in quieter times, I was able to get his attention enough to slow him down. He had dedicated himself to getting Duane, of course, still scuttling across the floor like a rat sick on arsenic, close to its last throes but determined not to go down for good yet, and I swear Hoss was truly laughing. That was the first and only time I ever saw that happen.
I’m not saying he wasn’t irritated and grumpy because folks had got after me, showing every sign of wanting to do me harm, but judging from the look on Hoss’s face I could tell he was enjoying himself. Like I said, I had never seen him laugh before, and I had come to believe from playing baseball with him that a Big Foot or Sasquatch or Swamp Ape or unreconstructed Southern Illiniosan or whatever he was did not have a sense of humor. Don’t get me wrong. He had looked pleasant and satisfied when he did something good at bat or when he threw out some runner at third base from where he was standing in deep right field, but he had never so much as chuckled or smiled, much less guffawed the way he was doing as he chased folks in and around that Lions Club in New Memphis. He was having a hell of a time, and it was deep fun to him.
I knew I had to get him out of there, so I grabbed ahold of one of the straps of the overalls my future wife Sierra had made for him and I held on until he finally turned away from slinging Bob Lynn Davis around and around his head like a stuffed teddy bear and looked around to see what was slowing him down. Bob was crying and squalling and begging to be put down, and when Hoss let go of him, he hit the floor, skidded ten or fifteen feet, hopped up, and then jumped through one of the windows to the outside, carrying the screen with him. I didn’t see him again for three or four weeks as I remember now. And when I saw him downtown, he was walking right up close to the buildings on Main Street. Slinking, really, and hurrying across the side streets.
“Hoss,” I said, back in the hall and still hanging on to his overalls strap, “let’s you and me go outside and take a little rest. See what birds is flying over and how low in the sky the sun is getting. Listen to the trucks going by way over there on the highway.” I knew he wasn’t understanding a word of what I was saying to him, no more than a dog will take in directions you give it about how to act. But I’d learned a long time ago that talking to a dog in a friendly voice will calm it down. It will go along with you, understanding your words or not, if it believes you’ve got its best interest at heart.
That’s the way Hoss always was during a baseball game, especially when some kind of a crisis was at hand. Two outs in the last inning, and you’re behind two runs and your team has got two men on base. It’s 3-2 the count, and your last batter is up and the only hope left. When that kind of situation came up, Hoss would be there with that big bat in hand, and we’d all be hollering at him and giving him encouragement and telling him to get hold of one and knock it out of any and everybody’s reach. He didn’t know a thing we were saying, but he knew what we meant. Communication was being made. That’s what he did in his last at-bat , the game against the Patsies. Acted like he was listening to us and taking advice before he turned on that fast ball and put it out of sight.
The same thing was true when I started jabbering at him there in the Lions Club hall, saying stuff that he wasn’t equipped to understand a word of, but he got the message that he ought to stop throwing people around and knocking tables over and busting chairs into pieces. So he let loose of Pete Schultz, putting him down from where he was holding Pete up close to the ceiling, patting him on the top of the head like you might do to a kid you had been discipling and was now ready to let go of, and Hoss let me steer him toward the door to the outside.
I kept on talking a blue streak, but he seemed not to be paying any real attention now, looking off toward the treeline beyond the corn field next to the Lions Club hall like he was expecting to see somebody or some thing he had an appointment with. “They didn’t mean any real harm to me,” I was saying to Hoss, “or to you, neither. They’re all a little or a lot drunk, see, from that stuff they’ve been feeding you. They’re worked hard playing ball, too, and happy because the Red Yearlings won the league title. See, I know you don’t know what I’m saying, but it’s all right. They’ll all be fine tomorrow. Just like they always are when they’re in their right mind. They’ll act decent then.”
I ran out of things to say after a while, and I let it get quiet as I walked beside Hoss toward the line of woods at the bottom of that hill where the Lions Club stood, looking up at him as we went along. I was hoping he’d look back at me in the way he’d always do those times when he hit the ball hard and deposited it somewhere way out of sight. Not laughing, since he didn’t seem to know how to do that, but pleased with himself. Satisfied, I guess, is the word I’m looking for. He’d done the thing he could do, and he didn’t have to consider that anymore, and he could turn his mind to something else.
That sounds funny, I know, to talk about what folks call a Big Foot as having a mind. But I think he did have a mind all right. Not like ours. I don’t mean that. He didn’t have the ability to talk out loud to somebody else and get across some kind of sounds meaning something. But the main thing he didn’t have that we do is this. Since he couldn’t talk, Hoss couldn’t lie. He couldn’t say something that wasn’t true. He was not built that way. And that’s a hell of an advantage, just from day to day and especially when playing baseball.
By the time we got to the fence line, Hoss had started taking off the overalls that Sierra had put together for him out of several regular sized pairs. He had left those big boots somewhere behind him in the Lions Club hall, the ones he wasn’t wearing when off the baseball diamond, so he didn’t have to shed them, like he did the shirt underneath the overalls. I had already picked up the overalls he’d come out of, and he handed me the shirt to hold. He turned once and looked down at me, still wearing his Red Yearlings cap that Sierra had put together for him, and he came as close to real smiling as I ever saw him do. He opened his mouth, showed me his teeth, and then he turned back ahead and walked through that fence like it was made of air or a spider web, and in no time all I could see to tell Hoss had been there was a broken huckleberry bush a few feet into the woods. It was still shaking from him walking over it.
After that season, there wasn’t any more organized baseball in New Memphis or in Southern Illinois except at the high schools, and that’s not real baseball. It hasn’t been any local baseball since the ‘70s, and it won’t come back again. I know that, and so does anybody that wants to think about it. Nobody in Southern Illinois but me does want to dwell on that, as far as I can tell. There’s the St. Louis Cardinals on TV, of course, in season. There’s baseball provided on cable everywhere. These days I don’t watch that or the Cards much, either, though.
I did use to go, now and then, by myself, back down into the woods along Silver Creek, on late summer afternoons, and I’d take two fielders gloves with me and a couple of baseballs, too. I carried just enough equipment with me to play catch if there’d been somebody else to throw the ball to. I’d holler a couple of times each time I did that, but nothing answered back. No one there but me. There never was, not even once, nor ever again.
“Come on to supper,” Sierra is saying. “I’ve fixed you pork steak tonight.”
“All right,” I say. “I’ll be there in a minute. I’m just sitting here thinking.”
“I wish you’ll just stop telling people about it,” she says. “Even the ones that want to believe it. I’m not talking the ones that are just cutting the fool and trying to make money off of it. I mean the ones that know it’s out there. Just stop. Let it go. Don’t talk about it.”
“Don’t call him it, Sierra. Say he. And he’s not out there anymore. He’s gone and been gone.”
“You don’t know that,” she says. “Come eat. It’ll get cold.”
“I know he’s gone. But you know what?”
“I know what, and I know cold pork doesn’t taste good.”
“It’s cooked,” I say. “Everything we eat and everything we do has had something done to it first. I’m not worried about supper spoiling. And that’s exactly what’s wrong.”
“Are you saying you want me to stop cooking and just feed you raw meat and vegetables right out of the ground, dirt still all over them?”
“No, I know we can’t do that. I couldn’t stand to eat it, much as I might want to.”
“Well, then,” Sierra said. “Come eat what you got to.” And I get out of my chair and I go to the kitchen and I eat what she’s cooked.
Gerald Duff has published 19 books of fiction, poetry, memoir, and commentary. His most recent is Playing Custer, from TCU Press. This novel has been named a finalist by the Western Writers of America in the category of Best Western Historical Novel of 2015.