A Baseball Bat Named John

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Hail fell from the sky. John turned the corner and spotted the old lady. He had followed her for the last few blocks, and he knew she had seen him. Her pace had quickened, but for an old lady that didn’t mean much. John scanned the street. It was dark and nobody was out. There were a few lights on in the windows, but all the shades were down. The old lady turned her head around and glanced at him. John smiled and waved. The old lady looked forward, rubbed her neck, and quickened her pace.

John ran until he was behind the old lady. She heard his footsteps and turned to face him before he reached her. The old lady held the umbrella in front of her and blocked John’s view of her. He grabbed the umbrella’s wooden point and yanked it. The umbrella flew out of the old lady’s hands and John threw it to the side.

“Why you playing, lady,” John asked. “I wanted to talk and you up and tried to ran away.” John shook his head and clicked his tongue on the top of his mouth. The old lady looked scared now. She was backing up and clutching her pocketbook to her chest. She wore an unbuttoned burgundy raincoat. Plaid lined the inside of the coat, like the ones John saw in the mall. He tried to think of the name of the store, Berries, Bradley’s, Burgundies, it was something like that.

“Where’s that coat from?” John asked. The old lady stared at him and started making a noise. The hail fell down harder and John pulled up his jacket’s collar around his neck. “The coat, lady. Where’d you buy it?”

“Bur…Burberry,” the old lady said. John reached with his hand to feel the fabric of her coat, and the old lady screamed. Larger balls of hail fell from the sky, drumming the cars lining the street.

John pulled out his gun and held it inside his open jacket. “Enough of that, lady,” John said. “We’re talking and that screaming ain’t cool. Get it?” The old lady stopped screaming, but her lips quivered violently. John reached out and flicked the top of her lower lip as he would a guitar string. She made a small noise like ‘ba-ba-ba-ba.” John laughed. “That’s better, lady. This can go easy or not.”

The old lady looked away and held out her pocketbook. “Take it. Just take it and leave me alone. Please.”

“Nah,” John said. “You’re not understanding, lady. You ain’t going to choose what happens. That’s what I’m for. Get it?” The hail slowed and a cold wind picked up.

The old lady let out the breath she had been holding. She looked directly into John’s eyes for a minute, and then shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes were a cloudy blue, and John would swear he saw cobwebs in them. “I’m Mildred,” the old lady said. “I figured if you were going to rob me, you might as well know my name.”

“Don’t think any of that psycho-shit is going to work with me, lady,” John said. He turned his head until only his left eye could see the old lady. He learned this trick when he was small. His right eye had always been weaker than his left eye, and when he looked at something with two eyes, the image was blurry. He could have covered his right eye, but he learned that it was more intimidating to roll his left eye as far left as possible. He practiced the look in the mirror until he had it just right.

“No. That wasn’t my intention, young man,” Mildred said. “I know at your age, you don’t like to be called ‘young man.’ If you give me your name, I’ll use that instead.”

“What’s crawled up your head, lady?” John asked and looked at Mildred with both eyes. “This ain’t sit down with Oprah time. This’s a gun,” John said, waving his gun. “And this’s a robbery.” A drizzling rain fell in place of the hail.

Mildred smiled. “Yeah, I noticed that. I thought we could be cordial about this is all.”

“You ain’t scared, lady?” John asked. This was the strangest reaction to a robbery he’d ever seen. John thought he’d seen it all: most people were very cooperative, and the robbery went down quick, like buying a pair of sneakers. Others turned into quivering masses, and the robbery was more difficult because of the crying and begging. John couldn’t stand those people. And then there were the heroes. John had run into only one hero, and John had pistol-whipped him to unconsciousness. He was proud of that one, and sold the guy’s gold watch for two-hundred bucks.

“Scared?” Mildred asked. “At first, sure, but when I thought about it, at my age, what’s there to be scared of? I’m not going to live much longer, and to tell you the truth, I sometimes think it would be kindler to go out with a gunshot wound than whatever old woman sickness eventually gets me. This would be easier if you told me your name.”

“You’re definitely tripping, lady,” John said.

“Mildred, if you please. I haven’t been a lady in quite some time,” Mildred said. The rain slowed to a trickle and the wind grew colder.

“Mildred, lady, whatever. I’ve named this,” John again gestured with his gun, “Bob after the first guy I killed.” John smiled.

“Why’d you kill Bob?” Mildred asked.

“For asking stupid questions,” John said and grinned. Mildred chuckled and slapped her knee with her veined hand. Her bones looked brittle to John, and he thought if she slapped too hard her wrist would snap off.

“What happened to Bob?” Mildred asked.

John scrunched his forehead, which he knew made his nose seem shorter. “That ain’t your business, old lady,” John said.

“I thought that’s what you meant when you kept calling me lady,” Mildred said. “Mildred if you please. I know I’m old and I’m sick of constantly being reminded of it. My husband killed many people in World War II. He was a different man when he got back.”

“He ain’t going to save tonight,” John said. His hand was getting cold and he put the gun back into the inside pocket of his jacket. He rubbed his hands together.

“Oh goodness no,” Mildred said. “Unless his spirit visits, he won’t do any saving tonight. He passed some twenty years ago.”

“Then I’m not scared of no dead guy,” John said.

“No reason to be,” Mildred said. “What happened with Bob?”

“Bob’s here, lady,” John said and patted his coat.

“No, not that Bob. The Bob you killed.”

“Why you so interested in killing? You should be worried about surviving.”

“You’re not a drug addict, are you?”

“Nah, I don’t do that shit.”

“I’ve become a bit of a drug addict myself,” Mildred said and waved her hand at John. “Really. You should see the drugs they prescribe to people my age. It’s criminal! I don’t have to buy them on the street, but I know I couldn’t get up in the morning or fall asleep at night without my pills. They change you, the pills.”

“I said I ain’t an addict, lady,” John said. “Your husband, he done in many men?”

Mildred looked confused and then nodded. “Oh, Rubin, sure, he was a bomber pilot in the war. He never talked about it after the war, but he killed many people. He was the kindest, gentlest man before he went off to war. Don’t get me wrong, he was just as kind and gentle when he returned, but he was different then. He wasn’t the man I married.”

“But he never seen the men he killed,” John said. “He just pushed the big red button and bam.”

“I guess so,” Mildred said. Mildred and John stood there staring at each other. Neither said anything as the wind howled around them. Mildred tied the belt of her overcoat, but never took her eyes off John.

“Why ain’t you scared?” John said. He felt confused. Why was he talking to this old lady? He should have taken her pocketbook and ran off ten minutes ago. She’s just a crazy old lady.

“I already told you that,” Mildred said and scratched her face. John watched to see if any skin peeled off, but none did. “What’s your name?” Mildred asked again.

“John.”

“It’s nice to meet you, John,” Mildred said. “You know why I’m not scared, John? It’s because you and me are the same. We might not look the same—I’m an old craggily lady, and you are, if you don’t mind me saying so, John, you are a bit of a hoodlum. But we’re the same inside here,” Mildred reached out and touched John’s chest.

“I ain’t no hoodlum, lady.”

“Mildred, please.”

“I ain’t no hoodlum, Mildred. And I certainly ain’t old like you.”

“No, you ain’t, John,” Mildred said. “And I know you never killed anyone either, regardless of what you call that gun of yours. And don’t even try it, John. I know you now. You’re too smart to be doing this, you know.” The rain had completely stopped and the wind died down.

There was a loud noise behind them and a man appeared on the lit porch one house down from where they stood. John whirled around to face the man. He couldn’t see what he looked like because he stood in front of the light, but he evidently was a large man and he held a baseball bat. “What’s going on down there,” the man said. “You leave that woman alone.” John felt in his jacket for the gun. He recognized the man. He didn’t know him, but he knew of him. He was the guy with the gold watch.

“Everything is alright,” Mildred said. “We were just chatting.” Rain fell from the sky.

“It is okay, Miss. I’ve dealt with guys like him before. Scram before I knock you one in the head.” The man walked down the stairs and approached Mildred and John. He held the baseball bat casually to his side. “The last time I saw one of you guys around here, I broke both his arms with this,” the man held up the bat. “You should have seen him trying to get up without using his arms. I helped him with the side of my foot. Now, I was going to let you run from the neighbor without introducing you to my wood, but seeing how you’re robbing an elderly woman, that’s not going to happen. Kids like you need to be taught lessons, and I’m batting a thousand with this baby.”

“Please,” Mildred said. “We were talking. Everything is okay. John was about to leave.”

“Calm down, Miss. Just step aside. I don’t want this garbage on my streets anymore, and there’s only one way to remove it.” The man started swinging the bat in front of him.

The man approached John and John’s hand grasped the gun under his jacket. “If you’re packing heat,” the man said. “I wouldn’t pull it, kid. It’s only going to make it that much worse for you.”

“Roger,” a woman screamed from the porch. “What are you doing out there with that bat? Oh my god, is that woman all right? I’m going to call the police.”

John pulled his gun and pointed it at the lady on the porch. “Don’t move, bitch,” John said. He swung the gun to Roger and then back to the woman on the porch. “If you like your woman, you’d stop swinging that bat. I ain’t no baseball.” The rain turned into small balls of hail, which bounced off the sidewalk and stairs.

Roger continued to approach. John swung his gun and pointed it at Roger. “What the fuck did I just say? Back off now.”

“Please, Roger,” Mildred said. “Do what he says. John, Roger’s going to back off and you’re going to leave. Nobody’s going to call the police.”

“Fuck that,” Roger said. “This asshole isn’t going to walk away after he points a gun at my wife.” Roger continued to approach John.

Mildred stepped in front of Roger and faced John. Roger stopped swinging the bat and John pointed the gun back to the woman. “John, please put the gun down and get out of here. Bob’s a good name for a gun. Roger isn’t.”

John lowered the gun. “Get inside and call the police,” Roger said to his wife. She ran back to the door.

“Don’t fucking open that door, bitch” John screamed and raised the gun to the woman. The woman stopped moving.

“John,” Mildred said. “Don’t do anything. Just get out of here. Please!”

“Shut the fuck up, lady,” John said. Hailstones pelted their heads. A large hailstone crashed into a windshield and the windshield exploded into millions of pieces. The sound was deafening. Roger grabbed Mildred’s shoulder and pushed her to the side. He lunged at John with the baseball bat. John fired a shot.

The shot went wide of Roger and struck Mildred in her side. Roger slammed the bat into John’s arm and John dropped the gun. John tried to turn to run, but he slipped on the ice and fell onto the sidewalk. Mildred screamed.

“I warned you, asshole,” Roger said. Roger raised the bat in both hands and brought it down on John’s head. There was a large cracking sound as the bat struck John’s head.

The lights in the houses lining the block were all on, and a siren screamed in the distance. Mildred held her side and walked over to Roger and John. She reached out her arm and put it over Roger’s shoulder. “It’s over, Roger,” she said. Roger nodded. He stared down at his hands splattered with blood. The woman on the porch was on her knees crying.

“I told John I’d like to die of a gunshot wound,” Mildred said. “After some thought, I’ve reconsidered.” Hail continued to fall from the sky.

***

Mocha, meet plot. Plot, meet mocha.