Keeper of the curve

His mind raced. It raced as fast as the high performance engine that purred beneath the expensive sports car. The lightning, darting out of the purple black sky stuck its long, jagged fingers into the ground and just as swiftly withdrew them back into the angry sky. Music blaring, engine humming, and tires singing on the wet asphalt seemed to temper the raging storm inside the car.

“Three deals done, one in the bag”, he was thinking. “Always knew I’d hit it big but man this is too easy”. His smirky smile betrayed his devious thoughts. His thought process purred like the smooth hum of the engine. “Wonder what the poor people are doing tonight?”

He should have known. His get rich scheme had made plenty of poor people poorer and even some rich people poor. “Part of the game, some gotta win, some gotta lose”.

When the right front tire caught the washed out shoulder the red sports car jerked to right itself. Sliding and hopelessly gripping at the slick road, it dug into the muddy bank and rested like a tired bull at a rodeo. Instead of the torrent that had prevailed, the rain now came down in soft, tiny drops as if to settle into an all-night drizzle.

Just beyond the curve a hundred yards ahead, a naked light bulb swung in the gentle night wind that had settled in after the storm. Eerie shadows danced, halfway crossing the highway, then back again, directed by the light. A lonesome figure, a silhouette formed by the light, could be seen sitting in front of the dilapidated filling station.

As he neared the station, the figure never moved – just sitting there in the pouring rain. Closer, he could make out the sounds on a radio. Sounded like a ball game. Yes, it was a ball game, but a strange one indeed.

“Ball four. Musial walked to load the bases” the old Philco blared. “Coming to bat for the injured Babe, Willie Sinclair. Strike one. The bat never left Willie’s shoulder. Strike two. The Babe yells encouragement from the dugout and the fans are quiet. Strike three. Sinclair never moved the bat. The Babe shakes his head, the crowd boos, and the stands empty”. The announcer continues to berate Willie. “A chance of a lifetime and Willie lets us all down”.

Crazy he thought, as he rolled his flat tire into the station. This is 1991 and that was a 1927 Yankee game they were broadcasting. “And I never heard of any Willie Sinclair on that team, for sure”.

“Hey, ol’ man, can you fix a tire”?

“Ain’t ol’ man, son. Name’s Willie Sinclair”. The slender black man stood up. His physique immediately let one know his was the body of an athlete. The young man turned ghost white. He felt weak. “What is this, what is going on? Are you a ghost or something? Get away from me”! Fear swept over him. “Please don’t hurt me”, he begged, as Willie came face to face with him.

“Look back”, Willie pointed to the wrecked sports car down the road. “See that body sprawled in the highway? That is you, my boy, so drop that make-believe tire you are rolling and let’s get down to business. My time is just about up and it’s been a long time”.

“Sit, let ol’ Willie explain”.

“There was this ball player, Willie Sinclair. ‘Bout the best ’round south Georgia. He could hit a chinaberry shot out of a sling shot with a broom handle. Eye like a hawk and run like a rabbit. Course now, I’m talkin’ ’bout a time when ain’t no black kid from South Georgia gonna play no big league ball. No sir. Best Willie could hope for was to make it to the Negro league back them days. But that ain’t what ol’ Willie did. Nope, ol’ Sinclair here took to drinking, fighting, and resentin’. Just plain hating everybody and every situation. Well, to make a long story short, one night there’s three of us coming round the same curve there in an old “T” model truck. Drunker than three coots. I remember tumbling down the highway. Next thing I knew I’m standing right about where you are right now. And there’s this fella telling me to look back down the road ’bout like I just told you. Then he kinda just faded away but not until he doled out my penance for the next sixty years. He set this same old Philco radio up here in the window, and me, Willie Sinclair, has been tuned into the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, “Willie chokes” situation all those years. Over and over – a very humbling experience. Now my time’s up. If I’m lucky they tell me I’m gonna get a tryout in center on the big team. You know.” He pointed up.

“Oh yes, by the way. Another duty. You are the “keeper of the curve”. You sure ‘nuf gonna meet some interesting folks while you are changing tires for the next hundred years. You knowthe kind of job poor folks do”.