The Number's Game

By Kate Harding

Charlie’s tan face and blond hair bring sunlight and ballpark smells into this dark little room. One hug is all he has time for and then he’s digging into his gear bag, pulling out his glove and two packs of Doublemint gum. “My surprise for you is in here somewhere.”

There is only one thing I want — an engagement ring.

Ten days ago I left school, my job, my cozy room in a boarding house to come to Cotton Valley with Charlie. I was so in love I couldn’t see past his dusty dashboard. But sitting here alone while he’s been on a road trip has helped to blow the dust away. Even though I’m still technically a virgin, Charlie and I are shacking up. If my mother were alive, she’d kill me.

“You’re all in white,” he says. “As if you already knew.” He’s grinning like a psycho. He must be new at giving presents. He pulls out a purse. It’s white and shaped like an envelope.

“It’s lovely.” I hope my chirpy voice hides my disappointment.

“Look inside.”

I unsnap the purse and pull out sheets of paper.

“My score sheets,” Charlie says. “They read almost as beautiful as Shakespeare. C. Fain. Four for four, first game at Modesto,” he says.

He spreads the sheets with the filled in diamonds on the table. “You’ll never guess what my average on the trip was — .555. I’m sizzling.”

“Congratulations,” I tell him. “I’m glad things are going so well for you.” I look out the window. The small houses were probably pretty ten years ago, before the earthquake. Now, porches sag, paint peels. It will take me five minutes tops to fold my clothes, grab my books and walk to the Greyhound bus depot.

“Things are going so well for us. My overall average is .430,” Charlie says.

“That’s wonderful. I’m happy for you.”

“Be happy for us. They have to start me now. I could be a jerk out in the field and they still have to put me in the line up.”

“I’m pleased for you. I really am. Now that you’re doing so well, it’s time for me to go home. I can use the grocery bags to pack my things.” I start toward the closet.

His crazy grin gets bigger. Maybe he really wants me to go.

“Today’s my day off.” Charlie unwraps a piece of gum, tilts his head and studies me. “If you have nothing better to do I thought we could get married.”

I stare at him.

“I know I put you through hell.” He looks around the rented room, the bed where I sleep, the couch where he tries to shrink his six foot two frame to five feet, eleven inches. “I couldn’t ask you to marry me when I only had a .196 batting average. Plus, I was a total jerk in the field.”

My brain feels like cotton candy, but those Fourth of July sparklers are going off inside me. “Do you mean if you were hitting better you would have asked me sooner?”

“I didn’t want you to be stuck with a loser.”

“Your batting average was what made you sneeze when the word marriage came up?”

Charlie nods. “I needed safer numbers. So, do you want to get hitched?”

My answer is a hug. ...

...

About the author: Kate Harding is a Pushcart Prize nominee in both poetry and prose. Her work has appeared in many journals including Poetry InternationalCalifornia QuarterlyBy Line, and Redbook. She is co-author of a chapbook, Maiden, Mother, Crone, and her chapbook What Women Do was a finalist in the Earth’s Daughter’s Chapbook competition. Kate is a winner of the Lucidity prize in poetry and the Julian Poetry Slam. Her movie, A Berkeley Christmas, was produced and aired by PBS.


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