The Head

By Will Wright

 

Momma told us right from the beginning that it was gonna be an easy birth. I guess she’d know, seeing as how there were already six of us, and she’d had problems with some. I’d come out backwards, and Jenny had to be cut out. But with little Eddie, she just smiled and said, “It’s gonna be special.”

 

 

And she was right. Momma never got any bigger than a grapefruit, and when she went into labor, she didn’t even call the midwife. “Just get me a clean towel,” she said, lying down on her bed and spreading her legs.

 

We all huddled around expectantly, Poppa included, who held Momma’s hand and smiled at her. She gave a little grunt, squeezed his hand and, squoosh, out come this little thing looked like, well, a grapefruit. Only it wasn’t really a fruit. As far as we could tell, it was a head, with a patch of black hair, eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Jenny scooped it up in the towel and handed it to Momma, who looked it over like she was inspecting a melon.

 

“It’s a boy,” she said, beaming at Poppa. I wasn’t quite sure how she knew, except she pointed at a little dangly thing at the back of its skull, just hidden by the hairline. “And quite a handsome one at that!” she added, ruffling the newborn’s hair.

 

We lived in a little farm town in the hills of Vermont, so it was okay that Eddie was a little different because no one saw it that way. He wasn’t the only misfit around and ended up being just one of the gang. He matured quickly, even growing some little flippers below each ear so he could propel himself along at a pretty good clip.

 

He was a rough and tumble little guy and, needless to say, was always pretty dirty. He didn’t have to wear any clothes. Couldn’t really, nothing to hang onto. And his bottom, which by now had developed into kind of a banana curve from ear to ear, was always coated with a slick layer of dirt, especially during mud season. Momma would snatch him up as soon as he’d roll through the door at sundown and scrub his underside till it was raw. He used to bitch and moan at this, but Momma didn’t pay him any mind, saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

 

He did have a little fanny slit located where you might think, and she always made sure to clean that real good. He didn’t leave much of a business, but he also couldn’t clean himself. I think this was the only thing that embarrassed him when we played outside, especially if there were any girls around, which there usually were, somehow attracted to this little fella with the tiny penis always wagging at the back of his head. That, and without hands he couldn’t feed himself, neither. The girls were always trying to give him little treats and, unfortunately, he started getting plump. Some of the mean boys in town called him Fat Head Ed, and then he would get real pissed. He’d build up a good head of steam, doin’ the Thunder Roll, as he called it, and fling himself at some bully’s legs like a bowling ball going after some pins. Knocked down a few in his time on this earth, which wasn’t that long.

 

Eddie’s only fault was that he was mostly too nice. Maybe it come from being just a head and not having a lot of cards to play, but he’d go out of his way to please just about anyone he could. And he loved to hang out in the schoolyard after the final bell and join in any of the pickup games going on. He really loved sports. I guess it was one area where he felt he could stand out, make a contribution to the community. We were a poor little village and mostly hard pressed to afford any decent athletic gear. Eddie figured he could fill a void in this area. I used to try to protect him by protesting if, say, he’d volunteer his services to act as the ball in a soccer game. But I wasn’t always there.

 

One day he come home with a big bruise on his side, just under an ear, and Momma cried when he babbled on about “how it was okay, that he didn’t mind being kicked around, treated like a normal kid.”

 

And football wasn’t too bad, long as he survived the punts. He was actually pretty aerodynamic, and made a good spiral when passed. And if he was fumbled, he could scoot back to a teammate, usually in time for his team to retain possession. But baseball was another matter.

 

It was in the spring of Eddie’s ninth year. He’d managed to survive all sorts of mishaps and serious physical injury along the way, and had won the admiration of most of the kids in town. And I had managed to keep him away from baseball, knowing his love for the game and that his one great desire in life was to become a baseball. I knew, even with my limited knowledge, that he could never survive being struck repeatedly with a bat. But one day we were out wanting to play, except we couldn’t find a ball, and Eddie said he’d be the ball. Even though I wanted to play real bad, I knew this wasn’t a good idea and said to everyone, “Let’s go home.”

 

All the guys, and some big girls, began to mumble, saying that life sucked if you couldn’t even play ball on a nice spring day, when Eddie came up with an idea.

 

“I’ll put on the catcher’s mask,” he said (we had fashioned one out of some heavy-duty chicken wire). “I won’t get hurt, least not enough to do much damage.”

 

Everyone thought that was a good idea, and, after thinking it over, I even had to agree. He had survived a lot of abuse over the years, what with being kicked and tossed and dropped and so on.

 

Then he added, “As a matter of fact, don’t think anyone can hit me.”

 

That brought about a series of catcalls, hoots, hollers, and a bunch of “Gonna smack you good, Eddie,” so I guess I finally gave in and yelled, “Play ball!”

 

As the game progressed, everything was going smoothly. Eddie, not really wanting to get hit with a baseball bat going a hundred miles an hour, deftly manipulated his flippers on his way in from the pitcher’s mound to change direction — just before each batter swung and missed. He added new meaning to the “sinker” – called it his “stinker.” And his curve ball was a thing of beauty.

 

Both sides had a no-hitter going into the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Sun was going down, visibility getting bad, and guess who come to bat? Me. Everyone was calling for a hit, a homer, to end the game. Even the other team. But, heck, I couldn’t wallop my own flesh and blood. Eddie came in on the first pitch and I watched him fly by into the catcher’s mitt.

 

“Strike one!” shouted the umpire.

 

“C’mon, brother, hit me!” Eddie cried as the catcher tossed him back to the pitcher. “I’m comin’ right down the middle!”

 

The next pitch come in and Eddie didn’t alter his flight pattern one bit.

 

“Strike two!” shouted the ump.

 

“Last chance!” Eddie yelled on his way back to the mound.

 

All the kids chanted, “We wanna hit! We wanna a hit!”

 

“It won’t hurt but a little,” Eddie called in from the pitcher’s mound. “Do it!”

 

The pitcher wound up and tossed Eddie, nice and easy. He floated toward me, waist high—the perfect pitch. I swung, and thwack, made the most solid contact I’d ever made on a ball, or a head for that matter. Eddie took off at the crack of the bat. The catcher’s mask split in two and fell away from him like parts of the space shuttle (I seen it on TV).

 

Everyone turned and watched as he sailed toward left field. Jumping up and down, they yelled, ‘Go, Eddie! Go, Eddie!”

 

I could have sworn I saw his little flippers flappin’ in the breeze, helping to propel himself along like a free little bird. He sailed over the fence, hit the ground, and rolled onto the street. A logging truck slammed on its breaks, but too late.

 

We ran out to the street, many of us hopping the fence, just in time to see the logger standing over Eddie and shaking his head. We formed a circle around Eddie, who looked like a bloody pancake, and a bunch of us wept. We knew he wasn’t coming back.

 

The tarmac was wicked hot from the day’s sun and Eddie shriveled like an egg frying in a skillet without any lard. After about a half hour of weeping and carrying on, the kids headed off. I peeled Eddie off the hot tar and carried him home.

 

Momma was philosophical about the whole thing, saying Eddie had lived a full life for his young age. She cleaned him up and Poppa put a couple coats of shellac on him and we been using him as a hot plate ever since.       

 

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Will Wright, writer and musician, lives in Vermont with his beautiful wife and has five children. His work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette. “The Head” will also be featured in the winter issue of The Rose & Thorn. He is currently seeking representation for his collection of short stories.

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Published on April 5, 2009 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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