Copyright© 2015 by Bill Offutt
"He's coming home!" somebody on the bench yelled as Bud flipped off his mask and straddled the plate. The throw from the outfielder skipped toward him on the dirt infield, and he tried to ignore the oncoming runner as he grabbed the ball with his bare hand and big glove and anticipated the collision.
He woke up in Suburban Hospital.
When he returned to school on Monday with thirteen stitches in his eyebrow and a piece of adhesive tape over his swollen nose, Bud attracted a lot of attention in the cafeteria and some solicitude from his teachers and one or two girls. Many of his classmates admired his black eye and tried to describe its mottled color in flamboyant terms, mostly scatological.
The coach made him sit on the bench for a week and miss a game against one of the private school teams until he could see clearly out of his right eye and had taken the bandage off his nose, which now seemed to work only on one side most days.
"Well tell me what happened," Jeanne demanded when he went to pick her up that Saturday. "On the phone you just said you got hurt."
"I thought you were coming down to the game since it was your school."
"I couldn't, Bud, I told you. We didn't finish until eight o'clock."
"Oh yeah," he said, "Spring musical. I forgot. Rehearsal, right?"
The girl blinked and licked her lips, wondering how it felt to have such an ugly wound and swollen eye. "What happened? You still haven't told me."
"Well," he said, as she got into his mother's Dodge, "there was this big Mack truck coming down the line from third, and I forgot to duck."
Jeanne laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. Bud put the car in gear, and they looked at each other briefly.
"So anyhow, the thing is, I dropped the ball and he was safe, and we lost the game."
"Is your nose broken?" Jeanne asked.
"Yeah, probably," he said. "But it doesn't hurt much unless I sneeze. How's the show coming?'
"Pretty good I think. Betsy and me, we're going to do 'The Woodpecker Song' wearing these bright pinafores and blonde wigs with long pigtails."
"Oh boy, I can't wait to hear that," Bud said, putting his right arm about her shoulders and pulling her closer. "Rat-a-ta-tat-tat."
"Oh, and you'll like this, you know that new blonde I told you about, the one that thinks she looks like Betty Grable?"
"Well she's going to prance out there in a white bathing suit while Billy McPherson sings 'You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.' Won't that be something?"
"Mrs. Maxwell approved that?" said Bud, turning into the entrance of the Rockville Drive-In Theater.
"Uh huh," the girl said, smiling. "Then these guys dressed like sailors are going to chase her off the stage."
"Too bad they can't sing Bell Bottom Trousers," Bud said.
Jeanne punched him and giggled while Bud whistled the tune. "They're going to sing 'Paper Doll' like the Mills Brothers record only the boy that does the tenor part keeps having his voice break."
They pulled into a slot near the back, and Bud hooked the speaker on the car door. "You want some popcorn?" he asked.
"Bud," Miss Mills said from the front of the classroom, her gradebook open in her hands, "I want you to read the part of the apothecary in Act Five. It's not very long but it's very important to the plot."
Bud nodded and wrote it down in his assignment notebook, not sure he had spelled the word right nor if he knew what an apothecary was.
"Chuck," said Miss Mills, checking off his name, "you get the role of Peter; he's a servant."
"All right now," the teacher said, "we'll start tomorrow, and I hope we'll finish by Friday. The rest of us will read where it says chorus or citizens or something like that. Understand?"