The Batting Cages

    I had just turned fifteen, had no money, and since I didn’t want to get stuck driving the rusty hatchback rotting on the side of my parent’s house, I got a job working at the local batting cages. Most of the time, I just chain smoked behind a tattered net, watching the softball girls in their tight spandex shorts. The college guys that worked inside the shop were amazed by how much I smoked for fifteen and my habit earned me the nickname “Smokey.”

    I pressed a cigarette to my lips and listened to the tick-tick-tick of the metal pitching arms as they winded up and catapulted balls at two boys in the batters boxes. They had been batting for about an hour, and balls started to block the tunnel in front of the machines. Since they were the only people out there, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of turning everything off, so I threw my cig on the ground and went out to talk to them. “Hey guys, you see those balls clogged out there?” I pointed over to the cluster. “I’m going to kick that jam loose so the machines don’t start throwing blanks. Do me a favor, don’t put a token in the box while I’m out there, O.K,” I started to open the gate.

    “Hey, I only have a few tokens left, can’t I just use them before you go do all that crap?” The chubby freckled one said and spit sunflower seeds at my shoes.

    “Look, it’s seriously only going to take like 30 seconds, and I’ll give you both an extra token for waiting,” I handed them both a bronze coin. The freckle-face nudged his friend with his pudgy elbow and winked.

    I opened the gate and walked towards the jam, and started to push the balls down the tunnel with my shoe. It was almost clear when I heard that familiar “tick-tick-tick.” The last thing I saw was a pitching hand projecting a yellow comet at point blank range straight into my face.

    I awoke to a Thuwmp—Thumwp–Thwump– then the voice of Jason, a guy who worked inside the pro shop yell, “Hey Smokey, don’t stand up, the ball’s are still pitching over your head.” I opened my eyes to a burgundy pool around my face. I brought my shaking hand up and touched my nose – it was completely numb. I was sure that rubber comet had turned my nose into a crater.

    When the “Thumping”
stopped, Jason ran out, wrapped his arm around me and helped me up. Everything was cloudy and glazed. My shirt was drenched in blood, and appeared I had either been stabbed or worked in a slaughter house.

    “What the hell happened man?” Jason said, struggling to keep me from falling over.

    “Oh, oh God, is my nose still there?” I poked around at my face to see if anything was missing.

    “Um, Yea, it’s there…It’s just, a little different, that’s all.”

    As soon as we hobbled out the gate, the boy’s mother grasped my shoulder. “Oh my Lord, are you O.K? My son didn’t realize you were out there and he accidentally put a token in the machine. He’s so sorry.”

     Her words sizzled in my mind as I tried to recall what had happened. I closed my eyes and the face of that fat freckled monster flashed on the inside of my eyelids like a matadors red cape.

    “Jus-Just get away from me lady,” her eyes bulged as I slapped her hand and my blood smeared across her knuckles.

    “Smokey, hey, take it easy. She said the boy didn’t know.” Jason patted my back and smiled. This just further angered me. Here was a guy who sat all day in the safety and comfort of the air conditioned pro-shop, and whose nose was still convex, telling me “to take it easy.”

    I wriggled his arm off, and as I stumbled away, I noticed the tubby Ginger and his friend peeking out from behind a tree. I began cursing and swinging my bloody hands in the air like a belligerent bum. They let out a pair of squeals and bolted into the parking-lot.

    I swung open the bathroom door and studied my face in the mirror. “Well, that’s good,” I skied my finger down my snout, and launched it off the tip that now bent slightly upwards. “My nose looks like a fucking ski jump.” I washed the blood off my face and walked out to my locker. I had begun changing my shirt when my supervisor Monty slithered in.

    “So, you had a little run in with a baseball out in the cages earlier, huh” he smiled and ran his palm across his slicked black hair.

    “Yea, some kid put a token in the machine when I went out to kick the balls down.”

    “Hmm, you think that might be the reason we told you to turn the machines off before walking out there?” He crossed his olive arms and tapped his polished shoe on the floor. “Anyways, you’re the only one working the cages today, so after you mop up that puddle of blood you left out there, you should probably go see a doctor about that nose.”

    My jaw almost dropped off its hinges, “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “That was pretty careless of me to let my broken nostrils leak all over your cement. Next time, I’ll make sure to drag my unconscious body out to the gravel before I start bleeding.”

    “Hey, don’t be a smart ass,” he handed me a mop and bucket. “Come on, it’ll take you two seconds. We can’t open the cages til’ it’s clean.” He gave me a playful nudge, started to walk away, then stopped, “Oh, and swing by my office before you leave, I have some insurance paperwork for ya’ to fill out.” He shaped his hand into pistol, fired it at me with a crooked-smile and went back in the shop.

    After I finished mopping up my blood puddle, I went to the hospital and got a series of X-Rays. The doctor informed me my nose was fractured and needed reconstructive surgery.

    I awoke from the surgery with two tampons shoved up my nose, a string dangled out each nostril. “These pads will hold your septum in place and reform your collapsed bridge. Once the swelling goes down your nose will be back to normal.” My mom handed me a small mirror. Dear God, what have they done? The nose that once looked like it’d been chiseled by the hands of Michelangelo himself had been re-sculpted into a beaten and bruised eggplant.

    Days later, after having the tampons removed, I got a call from Monty informing me that the insurance company insisted he fire me for not wearing a catcher’s mask in the cages. “Um, O.K…So, was I supposed to bring this mask from home, because, not only was I never told to wear one, I’ve never even seen a catcher’s mask there?”

    “Well, if you read your handbook, you’d know the mask is kept on the top shelf in the tool shed, and you were to wear it any time upon entering the cages—And, judging by your little incident, you can understand why we made that rule.” I threw my phone against the wall, it shattered to pieces.

     A few months later, my nose did not go back to normal, and the insurance company said they’d give me eighty-five hundred dollars for plastic surgery, or, I could pocket the cash.

    When I told my mom, she grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and said “You are going to get the surgery, right? I mean, you really don’t want to go the rest of your life with your nose like that do you?”

    My dad shook his head, “Shit, you’d be stupid not to keep that money. That broken nose gives you character. Plus, you’ll look like a boxer and no one will fuck with ya’.”

     I went to the bathroom and gave my nose a fresh look. I ran a finger over it and threw a left jab at my reflection, admiring my new found Jake La Motta image. “Well, it’s definitely not eighty five hundred dollars bad,” I jumped back bobbing and weaving under imaginary punches. “You know what, I think I like this nose,” I threw a right hook at my mirrored opponent. “I’ll have money for a car now, and shit, I’d rather have this busted nose than get caught driving around in that broken old hatchback any day.”

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