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Run! Run! Run!” Jamie shouted, a proud look on her sunburned face. Her team was in the lead: 3-0. The gravel-smothered vacant lot was filled with both noise and commotion as the girls-versus-boys game was nearing the end on that hot July afternoon. Nadi hesitated for a moment at second base as her mom’s far-too-familiar purple polka-dotted apron appeared on their stained wooden porch. Nadi and Will came sprinting across the field, getting a head start to impatient Mrs. Finly. “Dinner!” Mrs. Finly yelled as her shrill, high, voice pierced the muggy, summer air. Will and Nadi ran faster to their mother, leaving the chaotic baseball game just footsteps behind them.
One by one, the members of both teams left the energetic competition leaving only Todd, Mick, Jamie and Sarina left. They all were drenched in sweat and out of breath (well, all except for Sarina; she was happily minding her own business on an old, cool, stone wall on the side of the field). For what seemed like an afternoon game, ended up to be the start of something unbelievable to Sarina, even though she wasn’t playing baseball.
Sarina disliked baseball. She didn’t just dislike it; she hated more than Jujyfruits (or any other candy that sealed your mouth shut like hot glue). The only reason she was at the game was because she had to babysit her younger brother, Mick. Sarina was the oldest one at the game, and thought baseball was immature and un-ladylike -extremely likely for a germaholic much like herself. Mick and Sarina were only fourteen months apart, but Mick was much taller than she, and far too childish for her likings. Sarina didn’t really know anybody in her new house in southern Florida. Her family was from Kentucky and had no relatives whatsoever in their new homestead.
She sat in the grass with her personalized stationary that had red stripes and a blue “S” on the front. She was writing to her grandparents back home. “Dearest Nana and Gramps…” She was writing to her Nana but her eyes were focused on the baseball game in the sweltering heat. “Baseball is stupid,” she muttered under her breath as she continued to write. This was her only opinion and continually told herself this- like a ritual.
Mick loved baseball. He loved it so much, he used it against Sarina. He tortured her every waking moment saying things like “THREE STRIKES ‘YER OUTTA’ HERE!” while she poured her cereal, and “Hey batta-batta-batta-SA-WING-batta!” when she was doing her homework.
CRACK! Mick’s bat hit the ball…hard. The ball made contact with the bat with such force that Sarina jumped out of her seat then sat down again. She was extremely embarrassed. Up, up, up, the ball sailed. Down, down, down, into a bush on the far end of the lot. That particular section was littered with cans and whatnot. At that moment, everybody realized that it wasn’t just any bush where their precious baseball had landed, but none other than Mr.Ogely untamed lawn.
Nobody dared to go near his house (but it wasn’t like anybody had seen him for twenty years). Sarina learned that very quickly. If she asked a question about him, people would pretend to ignore her and continue what they were doing. She took the hint.
Rumor has it: the house was haunted. Everyone stayed far, far, away from the trash-drenched property. Late at night you could hear distant screams, shattering of glass, and big claws scratching at the door. Yelling and whimpers came from inside the old house.
The house itself was creepy. The sea-foam green paint was chipping off of the exterior of the house, the disgusting shingles dropping off of the roof every so often. The moldy windows were cracked, broken, and near impossible to see through the brown and green goop. In the yard there was a ton of unnaturally tall grass- brown and withered. “Nothing goes in, nothing comes out,” as the elder people in town would say. “He’s a crazy hermit- he is! Prob’ly so pale he looks like he’s seen a ghost!”
“Would you get the baseball?” squeaked Sarina.
“What are you? SCARED?” Mick taunted. As usual, there was a challenge in his voice, mocking her.
“Scaredy-cat! Scaredy-cat!” everyone else chimed in. Each time the chant got louder, Mick’s smile got wider. If they kept it up, Sarina was sure his face would split in half. Tears stung in her eyes and she felt small and helpless, like the puppy next door to her that had to have a synthetic hind leg when it was born without one.
“Then you get it!” replied Sarina boldly, blinking the salty tears away. There was a deafening silence. Mick was slowly creeping away from the lot, speechless. Sarina was normally shy and quiet, doing what she was told. She never talked back. She was fuming; not catching the fact that Mick was still staring at her with wide eyes as he backed up towards the house- now aware of her bravery. He had a weird feeling inside- defeat. Mick had a sense of defeat.
Mick was always loud, so it was like a giant hand had slapped him in the face when the rare occasion of being outspoken had occurred (especially by Sarina). No one was willing to retrieve the ball from the thorny bushes multiple yards away. “Gotta’ run! Catch-up with you tomorrow!” Todd and Jamie cried out in unison, barely able to get the words out fast enough. Something moved inside the ancient house.
“RUN!” screamed Mick as he ran home as fast as his rotund, quaggley, legs would carry him. His remaining peers followed Mick immediately.
“That leaves me,” Sarina miserably grumbled to herself. She made a joke to herself and said, “Might as well go the whole nine yards”. She sarcastically laughed to herself, an evil laugh from the pit of her stomach.
She wasn’t a chicken and didn’t want others to think of her as one. She could hear the “bok-bok-boking” as the others teased her about something that they themselves wouldn’t do. They were all such hypocrites. Actually, she would seem braver for getting the baseball for Mick and the rest of them. She couldn’t go home, she wouldn’t. That would make her look dumb. Plus, it was the only baseball and it was important (well, not to her- but who knows what Mick would do if she didn’t. The thought of it made her skin crawl and the hairs on her neck stand on end. It was almost like that laugh she did a few minutes before), but because the closest sport’s store was ten miles away. Living in the middle of No-where-Ville had its ups and downs. This was defiantly a down.
She slowly approached the house, a determined smirk on her mouth. Each step was soft and quiet in the browning, itchy grass. Sarina didn’t know what lurked in the house, but she wasn’t in the mood to find out. It was bad enough that she was doing this in the first place. She took a deep breath. Ever so slowly, she knelt down in the grass, only her head and shoulders visible. Sarina stuck her hand under the bush ever so gently and… WOOF!
She abruptly stood up and brushed off her jeans as quickly as possible- before what was yet to come. Her eyes saw an old, crippled figure- but her brain saw an elderly, confused man. He limped towards her. He didn’t look menacing- but he also looked mad and confused, as if a fly was n his ear but he was just aggravated by the buzz. A large golden retriever bared its teeth and growled ferociously, protectively.
“What’s wrong, Munchkin, dearest?” the bent figure asked.
“Grrr! RUFF!” replied the dog. Munchkin licked the man’s hand daintily and sat down.
“Hello?” the old man asked. He sounded kind, but his voice was strong and powerful. “Speak!” he commanded, agitation and annoyance in his words. Sarina wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or the dog.
“Uh… Hi?” she began.
“Wha’? Who are you?” he questioned, a puzzled look on his wrinkled face. His expression was overcome with suspicion. Good thing Sarina was experienced a reading facial expression, so she was quick to speak.
“I’m Sarina, your neighbor, and have come to retrieve my friend’s baseball from under your shrubbery.” She held it up to prove it. “See?”
She sounded shy, but was aiming for a more respectful
Aura. His expression saddened.
He sighed: “Actually, I cant.” Sarina wondered if he had been hurt or insulted. Even this was challenging- she couldn’t read his expression. It was a mix of remorse, forgiveness, and admittance. He beckoned with his crooked, bony finger towards the house. She silently followed the stranger, wondering whom (or what) he wanted. Munchkin followed.
“I’m Albert Ogely. Just call me Al- for short,” he introduced himself as he walked into the house. Sarina gasped. It wasn’t the messiest, but it certainly wasn’t the neatest. Her mother would take one look at this place, grab a mop, and work ‘til it shined.
So you aren’t a crazy old geezer? She thought guiltily.
“Sit,” demanded Al. Again, he didn’t mean for it to sound harsh. She sat anyway (and very quickly- not to upset the man). “This room,” he began, “is my sanctuary.” He made a gesture to show he meant everywhere in that room.
And yes, by all of it, he meant the clutter, Sarina assumed. She was wondering why this man would invite her into his house, and then show her his “sanctuary”. She would soon find out.
She just began to put the pieces together. He lives here. She opened her mouth, and then closed it. Open, close, open, close. How embarrassing. He then pointed to a hall with trophies in floor-to-ceiling shelves, looking uncertain of the position of his hand.
“Come,” he said, breaking the awkward silence. One side of the hall was filled with various-colored books. It was almost like a mini-library. She wondered if they were in alphabetical order, like the public library back in Kentucky. Boy, how she missed Kentucky. They were all behind a clear, glass panel (that was obviously not clutter-covered like the rest of the space).
“These books are worth more than life itself to me,” he whispered.
Sarina could barely understand. It wasn’t the fact that he was whispering in that old-man-in-desperate-need-of-water kind of way but why were these books so special? He fumbled around in his pocket and took out a small, silver, key with little raised bumps on it. Then he opened both sides of the hall.
He carefully chose a maroon book with gold borders on the cover. Again, there were those little dots. Are they another language? She thought. The pages were brittle and delicate with small, raised, bumps on them. He ran his hand over the page wordlessly, while a small smile worked its way onto his face.
“I’m a champion reader,” he murmured, just loud enough for her to hear. “At least… I was.”
“How do you read DOTS?” Sarina questioned just a little too sarcastically.
Al didn’t seem offended one bit- he actually seemed relieved. “These dots are special,” he explained to her, “they are called Braille. I must use Braille for I am blind.” Sarina was glad he was blind so he couldn’t see the mixed expressions of horror and sympathy on her face. She finally understood. Everything fit together like a completed puzzle: the breaking glass, the blood curdling screams… Wow.
“Oh,” was her reply. Oh. She wished she could say more but for some reason, she couldn’t. Munchkin looked absentmindedly at the book in his master’s arms, as if it were an old friend. Munchkin was his Seeing Eye dog.
“A champion reader,” he muttered, his voice trailing off.
Later that night, Sarina stared up at her bedroom ceiling, insomnia approaching. Would she tell anybody about Mr.Ogely? No, she decided, it was her secret- and since she was the trustworthiest sibling out of the two- she decided to keep it that way. It must be hard being blind, she thought to herself. She repeated her encounter with Mr.Ogely over an over in her mind. She decided she would visit Al tomorrow, this time on purpose, every day this week.
“Yeah,” she said out loud, “I’ll be there.”
The next day, Sarina visited Al. She rang the doorbell three times before getting a muffled reply of: “Mcmn! Imndkttchn! Who’s there?”
“Hi! It’s me, Sarina!” she sang.
“Oh, come on in I’ll make us some tea. Which do you prefer: chai or green?” was the muffled reply.
Sarina liked both equally, but yelled out “CHAI, PLEASE!” anyway. She pushed open the torn screen door and walked into the living room to the kitchen. What a mess! There were cracked eggs and flour all over the counter and floor. The box of tea had Braille all over it and was a bland color. Go figure.
“Hey Al, do you need any help?” she offered.
“Nah, lets just sit down and wadda’ you kids say these days- chat?”
“Sure,” she replied with a grin. This made his old crinkled face break out into a matching smile. Munchkin led the two into the den and sat down. It almost seemed like Munchkin was smiling, too.
“When I was fifteen, I read five Braille novels in two days. My mother called me ‘champ’, my father… well my father left when I was very young. You would be surprised at how many books that you love are in Braille. The good classics like ‘Moby Dick’, ‘The Mysterious Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, and ‘Around The World In 80 Days’.”
Sarina tried to picture Al when he was very little and an older man playing with a train set together. Al looked like he was trying to remember something important. He let out a long, heavy sigh.
“I think the tea is boiled by now,” he announced and stood up from his chair clumsily. He began to hum Sarina’s favorite song from when she was little- Midnight Sun. His voice was smooth and even, hitting all of the notes of the melody. When he hummed, it brought back memories of her home in Kentucky, sitting in the back porch blowing bubbles, the old rusty radio blaring this song- the classic version sung by Rhonda Macintyre and the Blue’s Boys. “Dancing on a ray of sun, all yonder home towards the meadows… Take me to the moon and back, I’ll still love you…” It was as if he could read her mind. She joined him for Chai tea, singing along the words of memories, nonchalance.
Every day after that was the same. Eventually, Sarina began to make the tea and Al would talk about his childhood. Sometimes, she would make cookies or lemon meringue pie. She did some landscaping and organized the house. The only thing she didn’t touch were the books, which seemed to be in order anyhow. She even found that old transistor radio, and even though it didn’t work, she kept it ornamentally on the granite mantel place in honor. The words of remembrance rushed to her head when she looked at it. She hummed along with Al- it was now their song. “Take me on a journey- to the Midnight Sun- and find a lost adventure… I’ll cry me a river, then build me a boat, only to get me back home…to get me back home… back home…” The echoing words were a happy memory and she could now share those memories with her friend, pal, and companion.
Sarina did anything for her special friend. Al seemed happier and less alone. Knowing this song seemed to have an affect on their bonding. They sang when they cooked, or when they were bored. There never really seemed to be an occasion to sing- they just did. Months- even years passed. Sarina’s daily visits happened until very recently.
All of her neighbors had grown up and a few had moved away. The remaining ones were not kept in touch with- even with this new technology like cell phones and computers. They were out of her budget and she didn’t want them. Obviously, she didn’t need them- for she had one friend, which was enough. Mr. Albert Ogely was 91 and Munchkin wasn’t a puppy anymore. She almost considered spending a little at the shops in town to get Munchkin a new tag that said “Munchkin- the survivor”. He was the oldest dog Sarina ever knew (considering the fact that she only had two dogs as a child, a very young child on a Kentucky ranch). Sarina was twelve when she started seeing Al.
Now she was twenty-two and lived in her parents’ house, her childhood house. She went over to make her daily visit to Mr. Ogley, bringing gingersnaps and peach tea (which Al had grown to be very fond of). Sarina now knew all of his likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. It was like she was his brain, plus his eyes. If he said,” Now tell me, I sure can hear that beautiful bird- what does it look like?”
She would reply,” It’s darling- sir- all yellow and black!”
When she got there, he looked very weak and pale, with tears streaming down his sunken face. She dropped the groceries and ran to his side.
“It’s my time to go,” he admitted emotionally, “Take care of my house, Munchkin, and…this.” He paused and then pulled a small, metal object out of his pocket.
“Take this,” he repeated and handed Sarina the metal object with his shaky hand. “It was my first reading award. Keep it safe for me.” Sarina couldn’t help it. She broke out crying and hugged his brittle form and cried some more. Eventually, she put the medal into her pocket. Time passed so quickly and slowly at the same time. Her eyes were red, sore, and puffy from crying.
“Tea?” Mr. Ogely croaked.
“Yes, tea would be nice,” Sarina replied, wiping her swollen eyes with the edge of her J. Crew sweater. The only sound then was the hum of the rusted heater, and the chorus of two voices chiming “Midnight Sun”.
The next half-hour was a blur. They talked about when they were ‘young’ and how they first met. That day was forever plastered in both of their minds. This friendship started out with a baseball in a bush, and ended quicker than expected.
“Here,” he said as he groped around in his pocket and pulled out- yet another- metal object. This one was a chain with multiple silver keys on it.
“I want you to have the house. The key is for the house- the other -the bookshelf.”
“But I can’t read Braille.” This made Sarina’s heart hurt. She wasn’t sure if it was in a good or bad way.
“You’ll learn. Do it for me.”
“I will,” she choked out in between sobs, trying to sound brave. She pulled a tissue from her pocket. “I’ll try my best.”
Sarina’s vision blurred, but her voice quavered as she sang the last verse of the song: “Midnight Sun- only talking ‘bout getting home… Rest my eyes, for a while… I’ll getcha’ there, in heaven’s light, singing with the angels from above… And when I do-o then I’ll be with you-u and we’ll sing together- forever- my love…”
“…Under that Midnight Sun…” and those were the last words he ever spoke, holding that last note more beautiful than he had ever before, singing in harmony with the angels, his soul leaving the earth forever.
Sarina arranged his funeral. She was his only friend and everything went to her on his will, which was written in Braille. It was then when she realized that this was more than a good friendship, it was an eternal friendship. She had a connection to a man much older than her, their differences bringing them together.
The funeral was depressing, to say the least. She lifted a heavy paperback book out of a bag. It was called “Braille for Beginners”. Sarina had learned very quickly after his death, so she could read Mr. Ogely’s prized books. “Companions,” she mouthed after the men who spoke barely any English lowered his casket into his grave. “Goodbye,” she said as she took a Kleenex out of her pocket and wiped her eyes. Even now was too sad of a time to sing, so she thought long and hard about the meaning of the song- friendship.
The next few weeks were clouded with sadness, clinging to her like the reek of cigarettes in the city (for she had only been to the city twice, regretting each city-slush covered step and the snobby rich men and ladies in the horse and buggies), how you feel the grime and dirt in the taxis and the slush on the side if the streets, not getting the fact that her only friend was gone. The sadness slowly faded away, but it was the slightest bit noticeable. It still hung in the air like a smoke that wouldn’t go away. Every night she prayed for Al and visited his grave daily, it was barely visible under all of the flowers. “Tea?” she could hear him ask as she remembered that close memory. “Yes!” she would exclaim out loud, then burst into tears on the spot.
Not too long after Al’s death, Sarina wrote a letter to him:
I miss you. How’s heaven? Can you see me? I still remember the day this great friendship began. I was a young girl just retrieving my friend’s baseball. You invited me into your house and you made me a cup of Chai tea. You told me about your books and medals. I keep the one you gave me in my safe. No person I’ve ever met (which is a lot for your information) would ever amount to what you meant to me. Even though you couldn’t see me, you judged me by my character. Munchkin misses you. He is very old. I know no one lives forever, but if I could choose one person to live forever, it would be you. Wouldn’t that be fun? You could pursue your love of reading without aging—maybe. You are a true hero and just because we met by accident, you inspired me to be who I am today. To everybody I meet, I talk about you and I. It was a complete surprise when I saw my old friends and told them about us. They still have their doubts no matter how much I convince them that you aren’t mean. But I know you are good and I’ll be here. So, if you ever get a chance to peek through a cloud, give a wave. I’ll look for you, missing you every second.
Accidental Baseball Girl
Sarina smiled to herself as she folded up the letter and put it in her safe right next to the medal. She felt the sheet of misery being lifted and laughed out loud. “Yeah, I miss you too,” she laughed as she looked out the cracked window. And there was Albert Ogely in heaven, smiling and waving at her.
She smiled and waved back.