Part two of a continuing series.
Craig Bartholomew Sager had been despondent lately. The game didn’t seem the same, he felt mired in some odd auto-control. America’s sideline reporter was as apt to be sucking down a cup of watery beer in a concourse hallway, as getting actual face time on camera. The crushed velvet lapels and synthetic blends were getting a little threadbare, and players tempered their usual barbs with awkward pauses. He sighed and popped a couple pastel butter mints into his chalky mouth. He had a pocketful of them, sans wrappers.
Ernie Johnson looked up from his carefully organized notes. Sager had wandered into the room. The pregame production meetings were open to anyone marginally involved with the broadcast, but still. Charles and Kenny were busy debating some arcanum. Shaquille was being fitted for a voluminous samurai gown for a halftime skit. Craig might have felt some sartorial kinship. “Hey, nice tent, Shaq.” The behemoth smiled patronizingly and whispered in the ear of a makeup girl attending him. She giggled, looked over at Craig and wrinkled her cute little nose, as if finding his odor objectionable. Sager’s shoulders slumped as he exited the room.
The road ahead was dark and icy. Sager had left it all behind. His chartreuse suit was now living in a dumpster by an outlet mall. He was nearly unrecognizable in flannel and work boots. The cab of a newly purchased 2003 Toyota RAV4 smelled of toxic air freshener and sunflower seeds. He had taped a polaroid of Tawny Kitaen to the dashboard. Dust in the Wind warbled from the speakers. Eyes burning, driving north, well past the Canadian border now, shuttered factories and crumbling barns. The man in pink was going home.
Walter and Doris looked at him with blinking eyes. “We’ve been storing peat moss in your room. There’s not really any place to lay down.” Craig stared back, It had been a long drive. “Thanks mom, thanks dad. You still getting my checks okay?” Doris sighed, made a half move to hug her son. Craig shouldered past, stalked down the hallway with its warped wood paneling. The stench of the peat moss inside his room was overpowering, 40 lb bags stacked everywhere. He shifted a few off his bed and curled up in a fetal ball in the available resting place.
Whoever said you can’t go home again was damned fucking right. Craig had looked up a few old friends in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. The bonhomie seemed false, he soon tired of answering questions about the halftime crew. He spent afternoons drinking White Russians at Bumpy’s Bar. He noticed an old girlfriend, carrying a bag of consignment goods into Pogo’s Bargain Center. He followed her to a park, watched her sit. It became a routine until she put a halt to it. “You need to stop following me. I never really liked you anyway.”
The Spring thaw had arrived, but still grimy patches of ice and snow. Craig had moved some of the bags of peat moss to the shed. His mother grew weary of his appetite for oatmeal crisp cereal. She said no, he could not have a pet. Sager found himself lingering outside Pogo’s and finally entered. There were no customers, only a pale girl behind the counter. He browsed through the secondhand racks, kept returning to a blue velvet shrug that was only slightly stained. The girl behind the counter put it in a bag for him. She didn’t judge.
Craig was lying on his bed, his cheek resting on the shrug. His mother would not stop vacuuming outside his door. He had recently located his old cassette recorder. He walked into the woods behind the house. Sat on a large rock that once listened patiently to his childhood troubles. He pressed play. Suzanne takes you down, to her place by the river. His cell phone vibrated to life. There was a text from Kenny “The Jet” Smith. Hey Sparky, where you been? A hot salty tear made its solitary way down a deep fissure. It had been a strange year.
Highway 11 headed south, only one lane in each direction at times, the occasional logging truck approaching and thundering past. Craig Bartholomew Sager found himself smiling. A distant siren mingled with the song coming through his dashboard. Warm light sifted through the windows, softer than satin. It was hard to keep his eyes open. Just a perfect day, problems all left alone.