For all her fatigue and depression, Lori couldn’t get back to sleep the day that followed Henry’s installation of the Astroturf carpet in the basement. After Henry and Danny said goodbye that morning she sat awake in bed and for more than an hour considered the great waste of an off day she could not sleep through. Why did Henry have to wake her up before taking Danny to school? Tomorrow she would ask him to not kiss her goodbye on Fridays when she wasn’t working. She tried to will herself back to sleep. She tried reading in bed. She took a warm bath. And finally, after a cup of decaffeinated tea she gave into the day, and just before ten o’clock hauled Danny’s hamper of tiny clothes into the basement to launder its contents.

She’d expected cold hard cement at the bottom of the stairs leading to the basement. When she felt with the slippered toes of her right foot the warm give of the turf carpet she shrieked. Her left foot was already moving toward purchase, so when she pulled back her right foot she stumbled onto the wicker hamper that fell from her arms. She stood and flipped the light switch.

Against the gray and lifeless memory of the floor, the carpet was a deep and tender and living green, so green it seemed as though Henry had laid sod across the unforgiving floor.

She uprighted the hamper and sat on its lid, rubbing at the wicker abrasion on her chin. The basement appeared enormous, emptied as it was, of all but the sink and washer and dryer. It had become a long, deep yard. It had become the backyard of a house where children dwelt, a field of summer grass, a children’s park inside of a house, a valley in the country.

Henry had somehow made summer of a basement, and Lori sat upon her wicker box seat in the new stadium, looking at the expanse of the field. It did not strike Lori as odd that she would weep in such a place. She felt as though it were possible–if she did not take care, that she might fall asleep and stay there through Danny’s boyhood. She was afraid that if she were careless, while her husband and son lived, really lived—playing and building and making and living—she just might sleep away a life. And she cried at that possibility. On her wicker seat she wept and promised she would not sleep away her life.

Lori rose from the hamper and walked along the basement floor to see the rest of what Henry had done. Four crude bases made of cardboard were placed in the shape of a diamond on the infield. Foul lines made of strips of athletic tape undulated across the floor without regard for perspective. The on-deck circles were misshapen cutouts of white poster board, and the baselines and dugouts seemed they were scrawled in chalk by the hand of a child. She laughed at Henry’s stick figure sketches of baseball fans on the walls.

As Lori moved from crying to laughing the tears flowed, and even through the tumbling emotions she wondered at the overlap of tears. It was as though there had been some miscommunication with the tear ducts, as though they had not been told their reason for being had become another thing—that their services were no longer necessary. And it was laughter that broke through. She was laughing.

And still the tears came as she laughed at Henry’s foul pole past third base. He’d tacked a long strip of cardboard from ceiling to floor, and with a sharpie marker had written foul pole up and down the length of it. Across the room he’d tacked another just like it for the right field line.

And even as she put her finger on the laughter, the tears came. And Lori felt that she had been given the gift of vision, the pure vision of what was possible, and she held it for comparison against the vision of what she knew she would become if she gave in to the sadness, what she would become if she’d kept sleeping.

The joy that finally broke through was about the dugouts and the stick figure fans, the cardboard foul poles that needed words to be real, the scotch-taped silliness of the unfinished wonderland, but mostly the joy was that it was not too late. She could do this.

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BILLY LOMBARDO is the author of three books of fiction, (The Man with Two Arms, How to Hold a Woman, and The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories) and a book of poetry/prose, (Meanwhile, Roxy Mourns). He is the co-founder and artistic director of Polyphony H.S., a nonprofit, national student-run literary magazine for high school writers and editors. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. He teaches English literature and creative writing at the Latin School of Chicago and teaches fiction for UCLA’s Extension program. He lives in Forest Park, Illinois, thirteen miles from 35th and Shields, where the White Sox play ball.

4 responses to “The Man with Two Arms: An Excerpt”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    “Tomorrow she would ask him to not kiss her goodbye on Fridays when she wasn’t working.”

    Man. This just landed for me. Nice to have you with us, Billy – welcome aboard!

    (PS – your code is showing a little at the base of the piece)

  2. M.J. Fievre says:

    I want to know more about Lori, now! Thanks for sharing.

  3. admin says:

    This is great, Billy. Feels like a good book to read as spring turns to summer.

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