A Pitcher Like You
About the Writer
Cathy Ulrich's work has been published in a variety of journals, including Paper Darts, Fiction Southeast and Corvus Review. She lives in Montana, where she was born. Her humor writing can be found here.
There’s a girl on the softball team in love with her bat. You see them together, in the storage room. You hear her whispers, hear her sighs. She says you can’t tell anyone. Says she’ll break your fingers if you do.
And you’ll never be able to play again.
She whispers this into your ear, right up close, so it feels more like a declaration of love than a threat. Your pulse jumps at the feeling of her breath on your skin.
You’re the pitcher. You have the best arm. The other girls cheer for you when you throw the ball. The boys never do. The only boys that come to the softball games are the little brothers of your teammates, dragged there by doting parents. They don’t cheer. They play on their smartphones instead.
You’re on your way to a perfect no-hitter for the season. You’d be known as the best pitcher the school ever had.
I won’t tell, you say to the girl in love with her bat. Why would I tell?
I’m going to marry him someday, she says. Her bat is a boy. His name is Claude. You don’t know if your bat is a boy or a girl. The girl in love with her bat wrinkles her nose.
Yours? she says. It’s just a bat.
You don’t see the difference between the two of them, your bat and hers, and she sighs heavily.
If you can’t tell the difference, then I don’t know, says the girl in love with her bat. You think her name is Mindy, but everybody has been calling her Bat Girl. She is so gentle with it, so cautious. But she always hits home runs. She lays her bat neatly on the ground when she does, and tucks it back into her arms when she’s rounded the bases. She never puts it in the rack with everybody else’s. Her bat comes home with her. You’ve seen her, sneaking it a closed-mouth kiss in the window of the bus when she thought no one was looking.
The rest of the team think she’s just superstitious, but you know passion when you see it.
Passion, says the girl in love with her bat. That sounds right.
You went to prom with a hurdler from the track team. He bought you a corsage that had to be pinned to your dress, but you wanted a wrist one, like the other girls. When he kissed you on your doorstep, thrusting his body against yours, you could hear the crumpling of its petals.
The hurdler said: Wanna go to the movies sometime?
When you said no, he called you a bitch. He did it casually, like it didn’t mean anything to him, like you didn’t.
Whatever, he said, and left you standing on your doorstep in your sequin-covered dress.
The girl in love with her bat didn’t go to prom. She stayed home with her bat. Her parents let her keep it in her bed at night. Her mother caught them together, once. She just closed the door, says the girl in love with her bat, and walked away.
She says: Why didn’t you just walk away?
If she has to break your fingers, she won’t use Claude. She’ll use one of the other bats, the regular ones. She doesn’t want you touching Claude.
Not someone like you, she says.
She leaves with her bat. She holds it like she’s holding hands with a boy, like you’ve seen the hurdler and his new girlfriend doing. The new girlfriend is a freshman. She’s happy to be dating an upperclassman. She’s happy to be dating a hurdler.
He’s got such long legs, she says.
She doesn’t mind that you went to prom with him.
Just as friends, right? she said before softball practice.
Just as friends, you said.
The other girls on the team say you shouldn’t bother. Who cares what a stupid freshman thinks, but she’s cute and small and you like her. And you don’t want her knowing, either, how easy it was for him to call you bitch, how easy it is for any of them. You patted the freshman on top of her head and wished her good luck in the JV tournament.
I just wish we had a pitcher as good as you.
The girl in love with her bat is getting on the bus. She looks back at you once, pressing her bat into her chest. She calls out: Do you even know what it’s like to be in love?
You make a fist with your pitching hand, then slowly uncurl your fingers, one by one.
No, you say. How would I?