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Mr. Martini MAG
The only reason I survived school and gotany real friends was my goofy neighbor, Mr. Martini. I met him the firstday I moved in next door to him in Sun Creek. It was quite a differentclimate than what I was used to, I’m more of a mountain girl. Iwas just taking out the trash, with my striped t-shirt sticking to theback of my neck, when I caught a glimpse of an old man leaning over hisgarden. At first I thought he was tending his tulips, but if I saw thesame thing now, I would know better.
The man was bald, withwrinkly skin, large glasses and gnarly fingers. He was peering down intothe earth and muttering to himself, his voice a little raspy.
Idropped the garbage into the can and stared, wondering what on earth hewas doing. By then I figured out he wasn’t looking at flowers butsomething in the soil. I squinted and moved a little closer. Idon’t know what possessed me to do this. I was just about to seewhat it was when his crackly voice made me jump.
“Comecloser, little girl. Don’t worry, I won’t bite.” Hisvoice made my heart beat faster. I really wanted to see what he waslooking at, but I also didn’t want to go any closer. I had no ideahow he knew I was there, since I was sure I had not made a sound andhe’d had his back to me the whole time. Ready to sprint back home,I crept forward.
Peering over his shoulder, I looked down to seethe most beautiful little caterpillar. It was black with delicate littleantennae, pink and yellow markings, and the tiniest feet you had everseen. It was inching along, destined for a big leafy tulip.
Usually I don’t get ecstatic over things likecaterpillars, but it looked so tiny, making its journey to get to thatplant for its dinner, that I smiled.
“Is there a bug downthere?” asked the man. “Do you see a bug?”
Ifrowned. Why was he asking me something so stupid? “Yes. A littlecaterpillar. Why?”
“Pick it up for me, child.Please. Now hold it in your hands, be gentle.”
I let thecaterpillar crawl up my index finger and onto the back of my hand. Itslittle feet tickled, and I had to fight the urge tosmile.
“Now come with me.” The man stood up. I drewin my breath. He wore black glasses, and lying beside him was a whitecane, which he picked up and used to tap the ground. He was blind! Howhad he known the caterpillar was there in the firstplace?
Walking across the elaborate garden where each flowerseemed perfect, we came to a large tree with what looked like a tank ona string hanging from a branch. The old man reached out to open a tinylid and looked straight at me.
“Put him in,” the manordered, and I looked at the caterpillar. It was innocently crawling onmy palm, then up to my wrist, where it circled like a bracelet. Ididn’t want to put the perfect caterpillar into captivity. I heldhim close, and ran my pinky along his delicate backprotectively.
“Do I have to?” I whispered. I reallydidn’t want to disobey him, I felt sorry for him. He was blind,and I didn’t want him mad at me.
The man laughed, and Icould feel my cheeks redden. “Look closely around you,child.”
The only thing I saw was a robin digging up anearthworm. I watched as the robin tipped its head back and the worm wentslithering down. The bird ruffled its feathers, then took off into thesummer sky. The man pointed at it until it disappeared. Was he reallyblind? The only thing he seemed not to be able to see was thecaterpillar, and perhaps he was faking to win my pity. I feltcheated.
“What was that?” he asked, but he seemed toknow. “What did you see?”
“A robin eating aworm.”
Suddenly I understood.Suppose the perfect caterpillar had been that worm? I got goose bumpsjust thinking about it.
“It’s not a trap,” theman said simply, as if stating the obvious. “It’s asanctuary. There’s plenty of food and water in there, and whenthey evolve into butterflies, I’ll set them free.” He turnedand began feeling the ground in front of him, shuffling toward aspotless yellow house with lace curtains. Once he got onto the porch, heturned to me. “Well, are you coming?”
Carefully, Iput my arm in the sanctuary and let the caterpillar crawl off my wristto join his friends. I knew it was safe in there, a shelter from crows,robins, pesticide and chemicals in other gardens he might have venturedinto. He immediately crawled under a leaf and disappeared. I grinned,and followed the man into his house.
Inside, my mouth fell open.I stood in a living room with overstuffed green couches and blue walls,but the only way I knew they were blue were the little edges that showedin the few centimeters that weren’t covered with pictures, postersor banners.
I was in a baseball shrine. Signed pictures of starplayers stared back at me. The couches were covered with throw pillowsembroidered with names of sports teams. The rug was round and lookedlike a baseball, which reminded me to take off my high tops. I noticed acabinet covering one wall. I walked over and was mesmerized. Signedbaseballs, trophies, even a bat signed by the great Bambino himself withBabe Ruth scrawled in black ink. And I was less than a meter away fromit!
“You like Babe Ruth?” The man had returned,balancing a tray of lemonade and chocolate chip cookies. “Ididn’t know girls were into that sort of thing.”
Ismiled. “I love baseball. I used to play in my old town ...”
“What is it? Spit it out.” I grinned. He wasquite forceful for an old man.
“I’m not very good atit,” I said, as he beckoned me to sit. I took a sip of lemonade.“I just, well, never learned. I usually played outfield. I alwaysstrike out and it’s a bit discouraging. But I love to watch, andjust stand out there.”
The old man snorted, and shook hishead. He muttered something that sounded like “kids.”
We just sat there for a while, and then he asked in his scratchyvoice, “What’s your name, littlegirl?”
“Lily. Lily Marinell,” I sat upstraight, proud of my name.
“Well, Lily, come backtomorrow,” he said. “I’ll have something foryou.”
The next day, I returned, a bit unsure, fingering myred, braided hair. After taking a quick peek in the caterpillarsanctuary, I ran up on the porch and rang the bell. Instead of soundinglike a normal bell, it rang to the tune of “Take Me Out to theBall Game.” I suppressed a giggle, and waited until I heard thecall of “Come around back!”
I pushed open the gate tothe backyard. It was nothing like I expected. A scoreboard hung on theback of the house, just like a real one only smaller. There was apitching machine surrounded by a cage that lined up with home plate. Andthe old man even had a dugout cut into his lawn against thefence.
The old man wore an old coaching jersey with a whistle anda cap. It didn’t really suit him, he was too skinny. The biggestsurprise, though, was thrown over a lawn chair - a genuine Chicago Cubsjersey and hat, but instead of a player’s name stitched on theback, it had mine. Marinell.
The old man smiled as he heard mepull it over my t-shirt and slap the cap on my head. I wished he couldhave seen me, but he looked so happy. Then he straightened up andsomehow looked me straight in the eye.
“Okay, Ms.Marinell, are you ready to learn how to play baseball?”
Iwanted to cry. He was like the grandfather I had never had. “Idon’t even know your name,” I said, wiping away tears.
“Martini. Mr. Martini.”
That summer, Ilearned how to play baseball. The old man would sit in his lawn chairand listen to my bat. He told me how to work the machine and I adjustedit so it would throw me pops and grounders. But mostly, we worked onhitting.
One day, I asked him a question that had been botheringme all summer.
“Mr. Martini?” I asked, my voicesqueaky as I swung the bat.
“Well, I was just wondering, um, is iteasy being blind?”
He shrugged, and tapped his white caneagainst the plastic chair. “I’ve been blind for almost 60years, Lily. I’ve gotten used to it.”
I had so manyquestions, but I was getting more embarrassed by the minute. “But,how do you know w-where I am all the t-time? You can look right at meand k-know I’m there,” I stammered, fully aware of my faceturning crimson. “How do you know? Every time I come over, youknow it’s me.” I swung the bat, and missed, swishing theair.
He smiled. His smiles were always contagious, so I ended upsmiling too. “I know your footstep. Once you go blind, you learnto hear little things that you wouldn’t if you could see. I canhear footsteps easily, and I know when people move and don’t.That’s why I knew you were watching me in my garden when I firstmet you. The footsteps got loud, and then they stopped.” His voicewas getting quiet, so I dropped the subject. I swung and hit the ballwith a crack.
One day, I hit all the balls in the machine. Mr.Martini’s ears twitched. All of a sudden, he stood up.“You’re ready,” he said.
“Ready forwhat?” I pulled my helmet off and opened the cage, spinning thebat.
“You’re ready to play with other kids,”he said, grabbing me by the arm and dragging me along, out of thebackyard. He stopped, releasing me. “Go get your glove. Brush offyour uniform. We are going public with you.”
We walked downthe sidewalk, Mr. Martini tapping in front of him. It was odd, the twobaseball amigos actually venturing beyond the safety of Mr.Martini’s backyard. We walked to the park, where Mr. Martinicupped his hand to his ear and listened, sighing a delighted sigh, hisface lit up with excitement. This was what he had been waiting for. Igulped.
Some kids were playing baseball on the park’sdiamond, their happy shouts filling Mr. Martini’s heart. At firstI was worried, then determined. I had a mission - to make himproud.
We walked over and watched them play. A boy with curlyblack hair and a sneer was pitching, throwing heat across the plate.Nothing I couldn’t handle.
“Hey, kids, can Lily hereplay?” Mr. Martini shouted. The pitcher with the sneer called thekids and they circled us, looking me up and down. I punched my mitt andtried to look confident, but I could feel beads of sweat popping up onmy brow.
“This runt? Are you crazy? She’s not fit forthe outfield,” a porky girl in catcher’s gear stated, and amurmur of agreement spread around the circle.
“This fleabagcouldn’t hit the side of a barn,” the pitcher announced.“Come on, guys, let’s go play someball.”
Echoes of “Way ta’ say it, Bernie”echoed around the circle. Mr. Martini spoke up, “Are you scared ofher?”
Bernie swore angrily, “Fine. Get up there,runt. I could use a laugh.” Bernie turned and jogged out to themound.
I dug my heels into the ground and looked at Bernie. Thepitch came, and I swung the Babe Ruth bat to hit a home run. As Irounded the bases, I saw Mr. Martini on the sidelines, laughing.