In his day, Raleigh was a dream. He’d spend his summers sleeping out on the ball field under the stars, or standing on the pitcher’s mound. He would only head homeward during the occasional storm and for three squares a day. I personally was most fascinated with how well Raleigh kept up his hygiene in spite of sleeping with ants and night crawlers. He was a peculiar boy with a flare for living passionately, and what he was most passionate about was baseball. I knew nothing of the sport myself, but I knew enough of the townsfolk, and who they spoke most of. Raleigh was one of the greats…even Old Chicken Lips said so once. Mayor Mayer once mentioned, “That bo-ah is single-handedly unitin’ the county,” to my momma in the hushed tones of casual conversation. I thought all the whispering was odd, but more so how Mayor Mayer was always over, talking to my momma.
After the first summer, we were all thankful it was over. That boy being alone in a poorly lit area had everyone on their toes playing watchdog. After the second year, we established that it was proper to put up a single streetlight. Year three, we fenced the ball field in. Year four, Raleigh was joined on the weekends by his team—coach Truman included. Year five, three of the older boys joined Raleigh in his quest. Year six, we were undefeated. My momma would let me sit out on the bleachers until around ten. Mayor Mayer would be gone by then, and daddy would be home around eleven. I’d fall asleep looking over the ball field from my top bunk. The trailer was a double wide, but a trailer nonetheless, and made for a tousled night’s sleep. I spent the majority of those summer nights awake until the wee hours of the morning, and waking only a few hours later. Raleigh had my every attention.
Raleigh also had the attention of every girl west of Hanover. Girls would come down all the way from Crete to see our boy. All the girls agreed he was a looker, but I, to this day, don’t remember a thing about Raleigh other than my momma telling me that he was, “Out of your league.” Of course, I figured out she was a boozehound long before I gathered she was a cheat, too. Year seven, the entire team spent the summer on the field. The boys made it to state and to nationals. I still have the news clippings announcing their defeat by some team from Nowhere, Montana. It was still a damned amazing summer. Year eight, Raleigh discovered the girls that had, years before, discovered him. Half an hour of Spin The Bottle and I got one kiss out of the entire game, and from Jenny Morris, no less.
Year nine though, year nine was my year. Raleigh and I were graduated seniors, and he was soon to head off to USC on a baseball scholarship, though not without one last summer. At a time where most kids would find themselves trying to break into the adult world, I found myself clinging to those young, summer days. No doubt it was a painful place to remain. I was the daughter of the town slut and the daughter of a dignified laughingstock, it was indeed a painful place to be stuck, but had I been in a better place, I’d have missed that summer. Everyone jumped ship on us. All my friends found summer jobs two counties over, or took the summer for travel. All Raleigh’s teammates left early for school (with the exception of Sam Jones, he joined the Navy). So I guess our friendship that summer was really by default, but it was better than nothing.
Two days before I knew Raleigh was slated to bus off, I was finally ready to damn it all. I wanted to see what had been such a big fuss all those years ago. So, I took my daddy’s sleeping bag and flannels, my fuzzy slippers, and my pillow to the ball field around ten and dropped myself off right next to Raleigh.
I said, “Kid, I don’ understand. What’s the big deal?”
He told me, “A clear, starry night—like one of Van Gogh’s paintin’s and the smell of victory? Don’chu know yer on Cloud Nine, girl?”
I supposed so, but it sure was drafty as all hell.