At its beginning, every life goes through a phase in which a mild two-person illusion defines the world.
You don’t see watermelons with seeds so much anymore. But of course, once upon a time, we thought that was how watermelons were reproduced. We even thought, the more seeds the sweeter the juice. My sister and I, we’d sit on the back steps spitting seeds and telling wild stories. We’d drip juice all over our shirts, running around barefoot on hot August nights, pretty much like this one. Sweet indeed.
‘I think I’m having what’s called a Proustian experience,’ I said to my kids, Chalmers and Searle. ‘Sitting here. We’d have story telling contests.’ The look they gave me suggested the empty sky. ‘After the French author, Marcel Proust. He wrote a very long book called The Search for Lost Time, I haven’t read the whole thing, six thousand pages, but it’s about stories and finding the truth in memories. Maybe I’ll read some to you.’
Two looks, four worried eyes. ‘Softball tonight, Pop,’ Chalmers and Searle said. ‘Last game of the season‘.
‘Only if you lose,’ I said.
‘We will.’ They were both of the same opinion. The game was against the Russian all-stars. The best players in the whole country. Russia is a big place. Eleven time zones.
‘Have faith,’ I said. ‘The Russians can hit, but they can’t play defense. Get past that star pitcher and you’ll be okay. She’s supposed to be a wizard.’
‘She?’ Chalmers and Searle looked genuinely surprised. ‘There’s a girl on the team?’
‘Of course. Got something against girls? Wait till you see her pitch.’
I gave Chalmers and Searle the book, the first volume of Proust, Swan’s Way. Marcel Proust wrote in French (but of course you know that). I have a translation by Lydia Davis, who writes very short short stories. To be fair, Chalmers and Searle were still recovering from my reading Walden to them. Every word of Walden. Page by page. It took us a whole year. Chalmers and Searle are 13 and 14. They really can’t be expected to get into Thoreau. That day, all they could get into was their uniforms. They wanted to be carrying their cleats, not Proust. ‘Beware all enterprises that require a new set of clothes,’ I said for perhaps the um-teenth time. Big game tonight.
‘Whoa…’ I tried to slam on the brakes. We rode past what seemed to be a body too fast to stop. Was that a dead girl back there tossed in the meridian? Chalmers and Searle had a good view, sitting in the back. It was a girl, all right. It was a woman. We had to turn around.
But the game, the Russians…
No, we had to go back. ‘I’ll tell you later about Kitty Genovese,’ I said. I pulled out on the access road and turned around. The cars were whizzing by. No one was going to stop. I eased the car up on the grass. It was a girl, and she was not dead, thank God, only dazed. She had fallen out of the bus, she said. She spoke English well, but with a Russian accent.
Turns out, she was the pitcher for the Russian softball team that I was taking Chalmers and Searle to play against. She said she was fourteen—but, well, how to put this?—she was a very mature fourteen. Remember that tennis player, Anna Kournikova, I think her name was. That’s what she looked like. Blond and athletic. A goddess in a baseball uniform. Chalmers and Searle stood gaping. If she was fourteen I was Mahatma Gandhi. How do you fall out of a bus going seventy miles an hour?
You do it by drinking vodka out of a bottle in a paper bag and then try to climb out the bus window. There was a traffic jam, she told us. ‘I take my chances,’ she said. ‘I want asylum. I’m the best softball pitcher in all Russia. I want to get rich in America.’
‘Don’t we all,’ I said under my breath. I had to make a decision. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I grant you asylum. You can stay with us. This is Chalmers and Searle. They are your new brothers.’