by Danny Goodman
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
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I TOOK A SIP of Delirium and told Josh he was a wuss. The cold of the bottle made my bottom lip numb. As the wind picked up, tossing all manner of garbage and particles into the air, the softball diamond became a swirl of infield dirt, a perfect aestival tornado. I was sweating, and I could smell myself something fierce, though Josh didn’t seem to notice. He went on about Maddie and how he’d lost her and what a fucking idiot he’d been: it was there, and then it was gone, he kept saying. He said it, over and over, like a fucking mantra, as if the words made the sentiment real. It’s all in your head, I told him. He shook me off and repeated the words. He was wrong about some things. I nodded and finished my beer.
“Thanks, douchebag,” Josh said. He grabbed the bottle and tossed it into a trash can. “Why do I even bother?”
“Because, rock star,” I said, slipping an American Spirit between my lips, “nobody else gives two shits.” I cracked a smile and slapped him on the back.
“You’re a real fuck, Ben,” Josh said. He picked up a Louisville Slugger that belonged to our teammate, Canadian Jay, whose wife had recently used it to bash in somebody’s windshield at the A&P, and smacked the aluminum against the bench. The vibrations settled at the tips of my fingers.
Josh walked towards home plate and shielded his eyes.
“Oh, come on,” I yelled, “you know you love me.”
I blew him a kiss, and he gave me the finger. Cigarette smoke filled my lungs and paralyzed everything. For a moment I was distracted from the repetition of the game by thoughts of a recurring dream I’d been having for weeks—one I couldn’t shake. I considered telling Josh, about the woman and her voice and how I woke up, each time, gasping for air. But he was in no state for such things, not right now.
The ping of softball against bat echoed through McCarren Park. I imagined, somewhere in Manhattan, Josh’s wife Maddie heard the sound and missed her husband. I hoped, anyway. She’d been staying at her sister’s in Locust Valley, but that situation proved worse than her own home. I got a call from her a few weeks back, asking if I knew of any places she could stay in the city; it was curious, her calling me. She had plenty of friends. She never asked about Josh, but I could tell she wanted to. When she wondered what I’d been up to, I simply said, “Work. And fucking. You know.” There was the faint sound of a laugh on her end. I wanted to comfort her, bridge whatever canyon had formed between her and Josh. It didn’t feel like my place, though. I promised to call my cousin, a night manager at the Chelsea Lodge, and arrange for an extended-stay room. Maddie thanked me. I thought she would hang up then, but she didn’t. Instead, there was silence, breathing, then, “Don’t tell him where I am, okay? Not yet.” The line went dead before I could respond.
Josh and Maddie gave me hope. This was nothing I could tell him, though, being as emotionally stunted as he was. Sure, they fought. Unendingly, it seemed. And they never said the things that people should say when what they say means something. But when they looked at one another—when I caught them in the kitchen cooking dinner and forgetting I was there—they were incredible. Josh would touch Maddie’s fingers, right at the tips, with his own. She would turn back to him and kiss the edge of his nose. There was more there than either would ever say aloud. This was nothing I could tell Josh.
Instead, we played softball. I listened until the ball settled into leather and the field cleared and all that was left was Josh, alone at home plate, and a swirl of burgundy earth mixed with scraps left by those who had just passed through. It was a hot Brooklyn summer. There seemed to be no end in sight.
CANADIAN JAY DEMANDED THAT we all go to a pub in Manhattan after the game. We usually obliged because nobody told a drunken story like Canadian Jay. He was a stout guy, typically unkempt, though he took particular care in washing his hands repeatedly after a game. He ran a greyhound adoption center in Queens, finding homes for retired and abused racers. It was one of the most prominent in the state; the man I saw playing softball seemed at odds with this vocation, and I had trouble, admittedly, picturing him performing such a philanthropic job. His wife, Elliot, was something of a legend. No member of the team had ever actually met Elliot, but from Canadian Jay’s description, she was certainly too hot for him, and a doctor. I took much of what he said with a grain of really finely processed salt. Josh thought he was full of shit.
“I can’t deal with people,” Josh said, “not right now.” He walked with a slight limp, which was fabricated and helped him feel more like a ballplayer.
“One drink,” I said. “That’s all.”
Josh tucked his glove under his arm and took off his hat. His hairline was receding a little, a fact he’d become sensitive about in recent months, especially since Maddie left. She had never mentioned noticing it, as far as I knew, which meant something very particular. Maddie was not a woman who minced words.
I patted Josh on the back, and he almost smiled.
about the author
DANNY GOODMAN is a writer and editor living in New York City. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in various places, including Paper Darts, Brevity, and FPQ. He edits the literary journal fwriction : review, blogs for the journal at fwriction, and runs social media for Stymie Magazine. Currently at work on his first novel (which follows the characters of Somehow There Was More Here), he is badly in need of a nap. Say hello to him here: http://dannygoodman.me
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