deep green earth



Dandelions in the outfield

Joe Gray

Publication date: 14 December 2021

On a warm spring afternoon on a sloping driveway in suburban Delaware, a series of three closely spaced but markedly different noises set Paul Berardi's tympanic membranes vibrating. These were, in reverse order: Paul!, which was a venomous and unsympathetic exclamation from the sixteen-year-old's father; Thunk!, a response of metallic indifference from one of the two garage doors; and Fizz!, the evidence of air molecules being displaced in the immediate vicinity of one of the aforementioned eardrums.

Paul waited for the stitched orb that had so narrowly missed his head to roll down the upper part of the paved slope. After stooping lazily to glove it, he returned a hard softball-style delivery through the forty-five feet that separated his throwing hand and—at the bottom of the driveway—the man whom he despised most in the world.

The son glanced back at what had been the cause of his distraction: a pair of orange-and-black wings dancing across the lawn that abutted the driveway. This immaculately barren expanse of fescue and bluegrass—the pride of Paul's father—was off limits for games of catch. The foraging butterfly, who was free to land there, found nothing worth stopping for.

Not wanting to give any chance for the teaching of a lesson, Paul watched his father's next throw all the way into the heart of his supple leather glove. This receptacle had spilled no more than a couple of catches out of thousands during practice and high school games.

The son briefly studied the bright-white spheroid, the excuse for his father's trip out to the sports store earlier that afternoon. Thinking of the half-dozen still-adequate balls in the garage, and fingering the brand-new seam, Paul toyed with the idea of hurling at his father that barbed label of consumerist. His best friend Kevin, a person with whom Paul shared everything except one dreadful secret, had recently used this slur against his mother and been grounded for a week. Instead, the young ballplayer resumed the game of catch by sidearming the ball on a hard flat arc toward his adversary's forehead.



Three days later, on the diamond at his high school, Paul heard his name being exclaimed again, this time repeatedly and by a multitude of voices. Returning his attention to the game, he saw a two-out fly-ball drop a few yards in front of his station in centerfield. (Paul's focus had been snatched away by the feeding of a nearby bumblebee on one of the many yellow flower-heads that had sprouted, while the groundskeeper was off sick, from the normally pristine acreage.) The perfect fielding average for the season had gone. The run that would prove to be the winning one crossed the plate a few seconds later. And, other than the consolatory pat on the shoulder from his fellow outfielder Kevin, the greetings that Paul received in the dugout expressed only bitterness and dismay.

A month back, the committing of such a costly error would have haunted Paul for weeks. However, since a discovery he had made thirteen days earlier, in the parking lot of a supermarket in a neighboring town, most things that previously held significance had withered to triviality.



A year passed in Paul's life, and he found himself, on another warm spring afternoon, playing catch in the driveway once more. His passion for the game had returned, and he was exchanging purposeful throws with Kevin. Their team was making a run at the state title.

The land to the side of the hard slope remained off limits, but the reason had changed. For where before there had been turf, there was now a nascent wildflower meadow. The instigation of this thriving hub of life had been, for Paul's father, the price—and a high one—of his son's promise of secrecy.

Twelve months on from that discovery in the parking lot, the thing for which Paul most resented his father was the impossible situation that he had been put in. If he told Kevin, he would inflict on him the same anguish that he had himself suffered. Keeping quiet, on the other hand, felt like a major betrayal of trust. For the moment, knowing that the former option could not be undone, Paul had stuck with the latter. And, thus, the grotesque kiss that Paul had witnessed while staring into his parents' car remained a secret between the son, the father, and Kevin's mother.