Taken away

There’s a brutal chill in the air tonight. The wind surges and falls back, and surges again, like waves. It scythes through you like it has blades in it. I walked Rigby in the dusk, my coat buttoned up, the collar stiff and upright, my hands deep in my pockets.

I walked up the road and through the park, the usual route. In the park a man trailed a fluffy white dog off its leash. High school students in shorts did laps post school. Rigby pulled at the leash, wanting to get at the little dog first, then to join the jogging kids. We turned down an adjoining street.

A couple of teenage boys went one on one basketball in hand, loudly exclaiming, their bodies colliding and ricocheting with laughter. One wore shorts, freezing I was sure.

The tang of woodsmoke lingered in the air, spicy, warming, burning in home fireplaces before spewing into the leaden sky. Dogs barked, Rigby straining to scamper to them as I held him back. I listened in on a book I’ve just started, Underworld by Don de Lillo. It’s a great book I read 15 years ago. I remembered it and the opening scene, a great set-piece around the World Series of 1951, the then (Brooklyn) Dodgers versus the then (New York) Giants. There’s Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason and J. Edgar Hoover there, and broadcasters and players as the game goes down to the bottom of the 9th in the deciding game, and the young kid wagging school to be there. This will be a seminal moment in his life, and as the book goes on these moments, the home run basebull he clutches to himself, will be recurring motifs.

I walk coccooned from the world wrapped tight in my coat, listening to my book, though feeling it still, the cold, the barking dogs, the woodsmoke in my nostrils, even Rigby glancing back at me with his liquid brown eyes. The words come into my ears crisp like a personal story-teller, the moment building with each fiootstep on the pavement, the crescendo approaching in a game that has become famous since. As I listen to it unfold, anticipating the next moments, I feel as If I know it all. There’s a familiarity to it that comes from years of following sport. I’ve witnessed the drama and heartbreak, felt it myself, been caught up in the colour and movement and incidental distractions and the utter immediacy of it, here, right now, happening live, being invented before my eyes before it becomes history. That’s what I’m listening to, the recreation of history as if it is real and now. Though I know it I feel myself caught up in it as it pipes into my ear now, as I walk these cold streets, years away and a hemisphere, not to mention a culture. I know it because there is universality in it. It resonates because it is a part of common feeling, no matter where you’re from and what language you speak. The shot that stopped the world is akin to Warnie’s ball of the century, or the comeback in the 1972 grand final, and so on. It’s a common language that connects us one to another, and through the years.

I know the result. I’ve read this book. Still, I feel that thrill. The anticipation first, the wonder – which way will it turn? Then the disbelief becoming belief as the bat connects with the ball, a high, in-dipping pitch the batter should have left, but instead swings at, and connects, connects so well that the baseball flies, unexpectedly, into the stands for a home run, just in time, the runners clinching a famous victory. It’s like listening to an old radio broadcast, as if I could be there.

Books are great like that, the good books anyhow.


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