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by Tammy Lynne Stoner
Every Saturday night, Marion’s hands smell like the hydrogen peroxide she uses to remove the bloodstains from her grandfather’s baseball shirt. Hydrogen peroxide has a peculiar odor to it – like apple cider vinegar and wood. Marion wasn’t sure if it smelled like wood because it did, or because the woody smell of her grandfather’s old cabinet had leaked into it.
She rolled the bottle in her hands – the dark brown bottle with the white lid – and looked at her grandfather Toppy standing out their in the outfield, looking oddly like the bottle – his arms baked brown, his white baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes. Marion wondered how he knew when the ball was coming, with that hat pulled down so low.
Toppy knew by the particular crack of wood against the ball when one as going to fly his way. When Toppy hears that particular crack, he lightly knocks the beak of his hat with his glove and readies himself, blue eyes squinting while his square brown body rocks back and forth on his seventy-year-old legs. Legs that looked especially skinny in his baseball uniform, but much better than they’d looked in that paper hospital gown last year.
Since the heart attack, Toppy stopped eating french fries and milk and gravy and beef and garlic and all beans except lima beans. That’s fine by me, he’d said, because the only bean I like is my lima bean – right, little Lima Bean? he asked his great grandson Samuel, cooing in his car seat on the hospital bed.
Once when Toppy held Samuel, his nose dripped blood onto the baby, and for a split second Toppy’d thought something was wrong with the baby. Why is he bleeding from his eye? Is he crying blood?
Oh, Toppy’d chuckled, the blood is coming from me. He suddenly felt tired – tired from blood loss, tired from blood thinning, tired from blood dreams.
In Toppy dreams, he’s sloshing knee-deep in rivers of blood, trying to catch his great grandson Samuel who’s floating on his back downstream. He wakes up just as Samuel is whisked away on a current, knowing this innocent boy was lost because of his great grandfather’s sins – the countless affairs Toppy had had during his fifty-year marriage to Marion’s grandmother, a beautiful, quiet woman who was good in the garden.
The heart is the seat of anger, Toppy knew. All those women he made love to. He felt incapable of stopping himself. Why?
* * *
Two years ago, Marion stopped by Bob’s Big Boy outside town on her way back from her ultrasound for an order of ribs and cornbread. As she waited, Marion saw her grandfather along the back wall lean over and kiss the cheeks of his lunch companion, a middle-aged military widow named Claudy who she’d met once at a Christmas party her grandparents had hosted.
Marion, face red, stomped over to their table and announced that she had just had an ultrasound and was going to have a boy. Then she turned on her worn heels and left, forgetting all about her ribs and cornbread.
The heart is the seat of anger, Toppy thought as he stared down at the patchy grass of the outfield, remembering the hatred in Marion’s eyes that day. If you’re pregnant and you get angry, he told himself for what must be the thousandth time, some of that hatred transfers into the baby since he shares the mother’s blood, sloshing with hormones.
The taste of iron down the back of his throat interrupted his thoughts.
Toppy continued staring at the grass, now dotted with red, knowing that a child born with hatred in his blood will cause pain to others. Will be powerless to control himself. Will hate himself but be incapable of changing his ways. Will ask himself why.
* * *
From her car, Marion watched her grandfather in the outfield pull out a hankie and hold his nose against the blood, grateful she’d remembered to pick up another bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Behind her, tucked loosely in his car seat, little Samuel relieved the pain in his gums by chewing on his fingers.