Three-Pitch Gypsies

Every Friday I play softball in Toronto. It is three-pitch, so it means nothing. Anyone with even rudimentary familiarity with a bat can hit, as long as the ball is in the right place.

But even so it is a small glory to hit an opposite-field home run while teammates are on base. To want badly to come to the plate, to dance to the ball, to field, to run.

Last night the team we played against wore tight jeans, ironic ties, cute dresses. They had music playing on a boom-box and drank and smoked on the field, in the cage. When I spoke to them they were light, polite, disarming. One, as thin as a sparrow, had his back foot on the edge of the bag I was fielding, straining to keep it on. The ball came, he was safe.

Because of how light he was and the visible strain, I said “I could have breathed and blown you off the base.”

His head tilted like a puppy’s and he told me that it was possible I could have done that because I am so big.

I meant to make conversation, not to intimidate.

Is it possible I meant to intimidate?

I smiled and kind of shook my head, and shrugged, as I retreated back to my position.

What I should have said: “That’s just a combination of genetics and emotional eating.”

Their first hit to the outfield, the third or fourth inning, was hit hard but right to the fielder, who caught it.

From their bleacher there were cheers, not for the catch.

I want to congratulate them at every turn, their slightest victory, but I refrain because I don’t want to be weird.

We beat them badly.

Our team scatters after the game. They are all still there, with their music, their tall-boys of Carling.

A couple dances by the picnic table, to the music.

The Crow Enemy

At the age of eight he’d taken a hammer to a nest of crows.

When he came back with their blood on his clothes, his mother consoled him, saying that he didn’t know any better, that it was, perhaps, an accident, that he had learned something about life and death.

It didn’t take long for the news of the massacre to spread to the population of crows in his school playground. He had to sit out at recess, behind the glass windows, because whenever he went out the crows harassed him. School officials thought that there was a potential he could endanger the other kids. Older students who recognized him in the halls whispered and called him “The Crow Enemy”.

At home he cried and hugged his mother, and she explained that it wasn’t his fault, that he had made a mistake, that the crows didn’t hate him, they just thought he was a threat to their nests, and he wasn’t anymore, was he?

This continued for a long time.

Eventually his family moved to another town.

As their old house receded in the car window, the boy looked anxiously around him, hoping not to see any crows. He kept imagining that they’d swoop down by the windows, peck at the glass, the doorhandles. That they wouldn’t let him leave. At the town limits, he got so overwhelmed that he hid his face and went to sleep.

He remembered taking the hammer to the bodies of the little peeping crows. How their squat flesh surrendered to the head. He’d planned to only do one, but their shrill cries unsettled him, and in a flurry he killed them all. He had beaten off the mother too, but other crows had raised the alarm and chased him back to the house.

He wasn’t bothered in the new town. In time he forgot his caution and his fear. It was only at night, when his mother tucked him in, that he was reminded of how they had moved to save him from the crows.


It rained heavily that night. A window was open and an irregular burst of heavy droplets falling on the awning woke her with a start, like someone was tapping on the window.

She turned out the light and waited in the darkness, half-turned to the window, watching for movement. She thought she could distinguish the tapping from the rain, and that the tapping had stopped when she’d turned off the light. Moving as slowly as possible, she slid out of her bed and crawled to the foot of the window. A rumble of thunder frightened her, and made her think that someone was sliding her patio furniture. She waited, shivering in the cold, until she had convinced herself that what she’d heard had actually just been thunder.

Finally, she lifted herself up to the window, but the only thing she could make out in the darkness and the rain was her own reflection.