The Sign to Swing Away
Author’s note: From the book “Tasty Morsels: An Anthology of Short-Short Fiction”

Never good at small talk about big decisions, Dominick scrambles from aisle to aisle at Cub Foods. He’s avoiding Harvey Parson, his former high school baseball coach. Unsure if he was spotted, Dominick presses against a shelf of tuna fish, wishing he could dive in.

“Dom,” shouts Parsons, the eternal third-base coach, approaching with a full cart. “What’s it been, four, maybe five since I had you at shortstop?”

Dominick answers with a shrug, holds out five fingers then offers a half-hearted handshake.

“Has it been that long since I had a decent double play combination?” Parsons asks, then says with admiration, “Dom and Nellie – nothing got by you guys.”

Hearing his longtime friend, Nelson, called “Nellie” almost made Dominick smirk. No one called Nellie, except Parsons, frantically waving his arms at his one-time lead-off hitter and second baseman.

Dominick met Nelson in Freshmen Lit class, and they remained close on and off the field. Both lived in single-parent homes, although Dominick’s family situation included chilling twists.

His mother died of lung cancer before Dominick entered kindergarten. By Dominick’s teens, his father chose to “combat” alcoholism alone. Blessed to be away from his Dad, Dominick was sent from Chicago’s rugged western suburbs to live with a harried aunt and her big family in rural Wisconsin.

Overnight, Dominick became the only dark-skinned Italian-American at Ripon High School, where Dominick was treated as something of a novelty. Lunchtime stops at Burger King brought inevitable jokes from classmates about him ordering a Whopper. At its worst, opposing team players called him, oddly enough, Hispanic nicknames.

Nelson always deflected the vile with an encouraging word to Dominick and gave one racist Fort Atkinson player an “accidental” knee to the chest after tagging him out on a steal attempt.

Almost five years after high school graduation, Dominick stays in contact with Nelson and visited him last fall in Madison, where Nelson’s a first-year law student.

“I’ve got Nellie’s brother, Jamie, on my team now. No stick at all,” Parsons says gravely about Jamie’s batting woes, then looks up. “Jamie said you’ve got a little boy of your own now.”

Dominick nods and shows him a picture from his phone, taken at the boy’s third birthday.

Parsons smiles at the photo and looks closely at Dominick’s hand.

“No ring,” he says.

Dominick flinches. “We never got married. It wouldn’t have worked out anyway. I still see my boy every month.”

Parsons lifts his Ripon ballcap and runs a hand over his balding head.

“Sorry, it didn’t work out at the junior college for you,” Parsons says about the sport-zealous tech school that Dominick attended for less than a year. “To break your ankle in the second game; that’s tough. But, Dom, you should’ve stayed in school.”

A voice comes over the intercom, asking for help bagging at register three.

“Are you working now?” Parsons asks. “Resourceful guy like yourself, you’ve probably got something on the stove.”

Dom searches for words. “I do some business work: inventory and such.

Perkins brightens up. “That’s good. Where at?”

Dominick tells him the name of a popular candy manufacturer, leaving out that he’s a part-timer during the graveyard shift.

Parsons pauses as if sorting through files in his mind. “That’s the factory near Milwaukee. What do they make there? Lemondrops? No … lemonheads, lemonheads!

The pair stand as rigid as concrete. Parsons starts to fiddle with the bill of his ballcap, a nervous tic.

“Hey, be sure to stop by the old ballpark this spring,” Parsons says and scurries to the check-out line.

For a moment, Dominick can’t find his footing, then flings the tuna can back deep on the shelf.

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