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A Fine Southern Morning

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It’s the shattering honks from the approaching motorcade that break me from my reverie. Muscles stiff, I hobble over to the window and glance out.

Nothing.

I nearly fall to the ground on my way back to the dusty crates stacked on the opposite wall. Sitting, drenched in sweat, I should be thinking about how to brace my elbow against myself, or how in the world I’m going to escape, but I’m not.

Instead, I’m thinking about something that happened years ago, before I’d met any “acquaintances” or done any favors for any friends. I’m thinking about almost fifteen years ago, at school one day.

You see, there used to be this kid I went to school with we called Slick. How would I describe him? Fat. Dumb. Lonely. He was the kind of kid where everyone could have a nice little bonding experience laughing at him. If two of us kids were screaming in those squeaky little nine-year old voices over something, even if we were on the cusp of a fight that would leave us black and blue, you can bet that Slick could give everybody a good laugh. All past enmities forgotten, good ol’ Slick would become the center of attention, drawing people together whose only connection was an appreciation for the comedic relief in a little fat kid tripping and slamming his face so hard on the ground there were big fat fingers of blood splattered around him.

What my mind is snapping back to is one day during lunch at school. See, Slick used to collect baseball cards as a pastime. It was the one thing he was good at, if you could say that. He had almost every card that you could think of.

It was right after lunch started that Slick opened one of those bright, shiny baseball card packs that he had been waiting all day to open. You only had to see Slick’s face to tell how good of a card it was. That fat grin and yellow teeth.

But he wasn’t the only kid who collected baseball cards. Some of the big jerks in the school did too. And right about then, two of them sauntered over to the patch of grass where Slick was sitting.

You know what’s going to happen even before you see it. Except that this time it happens a little differently. Instead of the two kids pounding Slick until he couldn’t open one of his eyes and taking his Babe Ruth, something else happens. It turns out the two jerks aren’t exactly planning to share the card. And while they’re arguing over who’s gonna beat up the fat kid for it, the fat kid chimes in.
“Fight for it.”
And they do. They fight until their knuckles are so raw that they bleed every time they’re bent. They fight until the teacher, coming outside to bring the kids back in, sees them both in a flurry of fists and feet and decides that this is their last day at school. Slick? Slick just smiled his yellow smile.
A little later some kid came over and slapped Slick on the back and guffawed something about how Slick really made a difference, about how he got rid of those kids for good. What no one except me noticed was that when Slick and all the other kids went back inside, Slick’s bloody Babe Ruth was still lying on the ground, the red portrait swirling with blotches of mud.
I sat in the schoolyard, thinking. I stared at the soggy Babe Ruth, and I realized that Slick’s smile, it wasn’t because he needed that card for his collection, it wasn’t because he thought he could make some cash selling it. It was because he knew what he could do with it.
His one chance to make a difference.
As far as I know, that Babe Ruth card is lying in that muddy playground to this day.
The sharp smell of my sweat brings me back to the present. There’s another honk from the motorcade, but I don’t get up this time. The only gift I’ve ever been given is lying fully assembled right next to me, caked with Texas dust. I reach out to touch its cold, metallic exterior, and my mind jumps back in time again.
I’m in a little warehouse just like this one, and I’m standing around with a few other guys. The one who brought me here reassures the other guys that I’m okay, that they have nothing to worry about. The other guys look me over and nod their approval.
Two weeks later I’m in another warehouse with some other guys. They tell me a time. They tell me a place.
A week after that I’m in yet another warehouse, this time by myself. In a few minutes a single car drives up, and a fat man gets out. He straightens his tie and pops the trunk. He takes out a long black case and hands it to me. It’s heavy. I expect him to leave without a word, but, perhaps sensing my foreboding, he speaks.
“Think about it this way,” he says. “This is your chance to really make a difference.”
He says, “This is your chance to live the American Dream, right?” And he smiles a yellow smile and laughs a fat laugh.
The bloody Babe Ruth.
And then he’s gone. And so here I am, the black case lying discarded at the other end of the warehouse and my gift lying right next to me. I take my gift and walk over to the window. I look through my scope and see a man waving, his eyes straining in the Dallas sun. A woman in a pillbox hat sits next to him.
This is your chance to live the American Dream, right?
And exactly five seconds before the man’s head snaps forward and then back, I realize that that’s exactly what I’m going to do.





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