For Just A Little While

BY

Jess Fulton

 

Prologue

 

The small truck sped down the country road at a high speed. Probably too fast, considering the brand-new driver’s license tucked neatly in the boy’s wallet just hours before. Tom Hawkins had his girl, Amy, sandwiched by his side. They were oblivious to the world outside the window of the blue ford truck. Their favorite song reverberated through the speakers. The song had a hard, fast beat, and Tom hypnotically pressed on the accelerator to keep pace with the drum solo. Stalking them from behind, a growing dust cloud followed in hot pursuit. In the rainy season, the dust was not so bad, and the neighbors didn’t mind when vehicles traveled at higher speeds. However, this was not the rainy season, and Tom was stirring up a cloud of dust that would take the neighbors all week to clean off the top shelves.

 

A ways down the dirt road at the base of a hill rested a yellow house surrounded on three sides by a porch that invited friends as well as strangers to sit for a spell and enjoy a glass of fresh lemonade. The porch swing swayed in the breeze next to the front door. Bordering theshaded yard was a white picket fence, keeping the boundary of the yard in check. But that didn’t stop baseballs and Frisbees from sailing right over the top. To the north of the house was a small apple orchard that capped a grassy hill. The blossoms had all dropped on the ground, giving the appearance of a recent hailstorm in June.

 

Danny, destined to be the next Great Bambino, was practicing his swing in the front yard. His physique was not unlike that of the Bambino. There was some baby fat around his middle, which would come off in time. Especially if he kept the active pace he had adopted. Inside was no place for Danny DeLane, who was now eight years old.

 

This spring, the Little League pitchers would be throwing live arm to the team. Until the season got into full swing, Danny used the tee to hone his batting skills. In his front yard, he balanced the ball on top of the black rubber post. His determined sky-blue eyes stared at the ball as if willing it to take flight, straight and true. Danny adjusted the seam just right. The fielder looked on with anticipation.

 

“Watch this, Mom. See how I point in the air? That shows the crowd which way I’m gonna hit the ball. The Bambino always did that.”

 

Danny’s mom raised her head and stepped out from the flowerbed along the side of the house to admire her son’s form. “That’s great, Son. You’re looking mighty professional. Does that also show Snuffy which way to run for the ball?”

 

Snuffy was the family companion. He was to any passer-by a dog, although he didn’t know it. He helped out with most of the household chores, just like the rest of the family did. In the garden, he dug holes; in the living room, he dusted the tables. In the kitchen, he washed dishes. However, his best attribute was his skill as an outfielder. No matter how far Danny smacked the ball, Snuffy would always find it and bring it back. Even if it took him half the night to find it, he never lost a ball. His fur was as soft as a lamb’s, the color of cinnamon, with blond tips. His ears were short and his nose looked like he had hit the fence a few too many times. Snuffy might have been considered a big dog had his legs been in proportion with the rest of his body. Nevertheless, his big heart made up for all his shortcomings.

 

“Get ready, Snuffers, cause this ones goin’ over the fence!” Danny declared.

 

Danny pivoted back as far as his arms would reach, knuckles white. His tongue protruded out of the corner of his mouth for counterbalance. A dark half-moon shadow from the bill of his hat cast over his angel-kissed cheeks. He bent his head forward to keep his eye on the ball. Snuffy stood, readying himself for the chase. Danny’s mom rose to her feet, removing her sunshade and brushing the moist earth from the knees of her jeans. She pulled off her soiled garden gloves, readying her hands to applaud Danny’s hit. Applause was obvious if she was to witness history in the making. She squinted in the direction of the make-believe crowd. Lines creased at the corners of her eyes, as they always did whenever she laughed or smiled.

 

The blue truck crested the hill just past the orchard. It accelerated on the way down the hill; Tom didn’t remove his foot from the gas pedal. When to stop accelerating would be a driving lesson he would learn some other day. Today was not that day. The song on the radio began to crescendo.

 

Danny connected with the ball. Up, up, and over the fence. Snuffy raced in the direction of the fence and cleared it from three feet back. Danny’s mother registered the eminent danger as soon as she saw the streak of dust from the truck in the corner of her eye.

 

Time stood still. Countless, random thoughts went through her mind. How much life could a split second hold? This one held the scent of just-mowed lawn, the sensation of a warm breeze as it kissed her cheeks. The birds chattered and scrambled in the trees, trying to convince some chickadee of their suitability. The second held the intense love this woman felt for her son. The memory of the pain of his birth, both physical and mental, as he entered this world too soon, the months of worry about whether he would live or die, and the relief when he became stronger every day. The only permanent mark he’d bear was the poor vision he would always have due to his oxygen levels getting too high. But thick glasses corrected that, and there was nothing more charming than a little boy in glasses. The second could even hold the determination that same little boy had to hit the ball—to hit it over the fence in high school and college, and eventually hit it over the fence in the majors. The second still had room to spare, so it held the devotion of a puppy rescued from the pound. Amid dozens of dogs jumping against the cages to get the attention of passersby, one puppy took center stage while curled up in the corner. When he spotted the visitors, he stretched, waddled over, plopped down against the gate, and extended a paw through the fence as if to say, “Pleased to meet you.” In addition, the moment still had room to hold the excitement of a boy on his first joyride, his girlfriend with her hand on his leg, squeezing it hard with excitement as if on the best rollercoaster ride ever, a cloud of dust trailing behind them.

 

Faith’s hands stopped short of clapping together and clapped over her mouth instead.“No!” she screamed.

 

In the Ford, Tom and Amy sang out in joy. Snuffy cried out in pain. The truck kept going, the two passengers still oblivious to the world outside the windows of the blue ford truck.

 

The cloud of dust took several minutes to clear. Danny screamed for his mother as they both raced to the road. Snuffy’s yelps sent out electric shocks that went through their hearts.

 

Snuffy tried to drag his uncooperative hindquarters out of harm’s way, but he could only move a few inches. He turned around and bit hard at the pain in his back legs. Tears streamed down Danny’s cheeks as he leaped over the gate. He fell to his knees at Snuffy’s side, burrowing his head in his dusty fur.

 

“Snuffy! No, no, no. You’ll be okay! Just hold still. Snuffy! No. Mom! Mom! Fix him, Mom! You have to fix him. He’ll be okay. Won’t he, Mom? He has to be okay.” Danny’s tears turned to brown streaks on his pudgy cheeks as the dust settled around him. His hair intertwined with the dog’s fur.

 

“Stay here with him, Danny. I’ll bring the car around.” Danny’s mother knelt by her son and Snuffy. She placed her hand on Danny’s shaking shoulder. The scene became blurry. Snuffy gazed into her eyes. With his tongue, he brushed a tear from her son’s cheek.

 

“Mom, there isn’t time. You have to fix him. Mom, please, fix him!” Danny grasped his mother’s arm, not letting her move, and hugged his friend with the other, once more assuring him it was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay, because his mother would fix it. She had to.

 

“I can’t, Danny,” she said, choking on her tears. Again, she tried to explain. “You have to understand; I can’t.”“Yes you can! You didn’t forget. You can’t forget!”

 

Staring back at the two sets of pleading eyes, she replied in a whisper, “No, I didn’t forget. I’ll never forget. We must never forget . . .”

 

 

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