Craig Sager felt out of sorts, the frequencies just weren’t the same lately. He was sitting at a small desk in a small studio apartment. He opened a drawer and organized a box of paperclips and a complimentary pad of Radisson Hotel notepaper, acquired during the western conference playoffs. That was when a player who shall remain nameless compared him to a popsicle with teeth. The player with the stupid plastic frames. No, the other player with the stupid plastic frames. No, the other one. Craig had died just a little bit more inside. He shut the drawer, stood and opened the blinds a crack with his index finger. It was raining outside. Wet streets, yellow swipes of light.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Only the sound of intermittent rain drops. It sounded as if they were landing inside somewhere but he couldn’t find them. He entered the kitchenette and took a half a ham and cheese on pumpernickel from the refrigerator. It was wrapped in a paper towel. He sat and picked at it. Tawny Kitaen was no longer in his life. Recently, somebody had questioned his status as a native of Rosthern, Saskatchewan. A woman had called, and claimed to be his wife. She said the children missed him, she asked where the love had gone.
Craig knew a few things. That he had rented this apartment recently. That there were no more games for him to report on this season. He walked over to his bed and laid on top of the covers. He pulled a blue velvet shrug from under the pillow, and placed it carefully under his head. He turned on the TV. The American Airlines Arena sounded like Dresden when the bombs were falling. The faces in the stands were twisted and yelling. Craig imagined himself standing on the sidelines, wearing a frozen grin. His head was pounding. He fell asleep.
“Knights in white satin, never reaching the end... “ The music burbled and the image rippled slightly around the edges. Like the peaceful babbling brook. The boy sat on a rock, watching patiently. He had a nice thick head of hair, and some books with him. And a canteen and a paper sack lunch. Chip the beaver was adding twigs to his creation, working carefully, yet quickly – the rain was coming. Mrs. Sleek watched him work. The kits swam nearby, gamboling in the stream. The boy whispered, “”Hey Chip! Hey, you’re doing a good job!” Chip kept working, The boy tried making a couple chirping noises. “Hey Mrs. Sleek! Chip is sure doing a good job!” Mrs. Sleek tilted her head and looked at him. The scene burned to white.
Sager had traveled to Austin, and was sitting outside a burrito place. The creator sat across from him. He was tall and thin and listened patiently. “You’re gonna be okay. Your wife’s name is... Anne. You have two children. It’s okay to visit them. No, Tawny doesn’t love you anymore. You have to get past that now. You have a good job. You love blended synthetics. You’re from Saskatchewan if I say you’re from Saskatchewan."
The flights were all jacked up. Overhead monitors scrolled and sputtered with symbols that made no sense. It smelled like every other shitty airport terminal he had ever been in. He stopped at a newspaper and t-shirt store. A song filtered through tinny overhead speakers. “Knights in White Satin...” He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to make the music stop. Why wouldn’t the music stop? The thin man had smiled patiently at his questions. “You have to trust me, Craig."
Craig was sitting at a table in a library. It was an old library, with high ceilings and many old books. The library was near the small apartment he had rented. He never went to libraries but had decided to come to this one. He sat at the table with his hands folded in front of him. A woman approached him and smiled pleasantly. She had a name badge that read: “Betty, library assistant”. Craig couldn’t really tell how old she was. She may have been 30, or she may have been 40. She wore glasses and had her hair in a loose bun.
“You’re not reading anything.” Her voice was soft and gentle.
Craig looked at the empty table in front of him. “No, I guess not.”
Betty thought for a moment. “Would you like to read something?”
Craig pondered. “Do you have any of the Big Red books? I used to like those.”
Betty pursed her lips for a moment as she thought. “Jim Kjelgaard? Boys and their dogs?”
Craig nodded. “Yes. Big Red was an Irish Setter. A really good one.”
Betty nodded as well. “Yes, those are very old books. We don't get a lot of requests for them anymore. Would you care to follow me?”
Craig got up from his chair. He followed and could not help but notice her hourglass figure, under a modest navy colored dress with an appealing floral pattern.
Craig picked out three books by Kjelgaard, each old and worn - Big Red, Son of Big Red, and Chip the Dam Builder. The latter had been a particular favorite of his. Betty led him back to a nice leather couch in the periodicals reading room. Craig sat and held his books in his lap. He was feeling a little bit sleepy.
“You can put your head here if you want.” Betty indicated her bosom area. Craig nestled against her and drifted off. An older gentleman looked up from his newspaper, and then went back to his article. Betty smiled sweetly at him.
He woke up, it was four in the morning, his head was pounding, he was not in his own bed. The woman from the library was facing away from him, sleeping. Light filtered through the blinds. He looked around the room. They had been at some out of the way dive bar. He was sure that he had talked a lot. His mouth tasted like metal. He didn’t want to be here.
Betty stirred, took hold of his hand and fell back asleep. Craig pulled his hand away, got out of bed quietly. He nearly blacked out from the rush of pain to his head. He walked quietly to the closet. His clothes were hanging neatly. He couldn’t help but notice a yellow cashmere sweater, just sitting there on a shelf. He touched it, so soft and so nice. He looked over at Betty, sleeping quietly.
Craig pulled into the driveway of an upscale stucco monstrosity in Scottsdale, Arizona, adjacent a golf course. Two blond-headed children came running and threw themselves against him, making children noises. Chipper asked if he’d brought back any autographed jerseys or game balls this time. Craig smiled, and said no.
Craig’s daughter spied the yellow cashmere sweater in a bag. “I want that.”
Craig considered the situation for a moment. “Yes, that’s for you, bunny bear.”
His daughter held it up in front of her. It looked like a sweater dress. Craig’s wife approached and appraised the scene. “I’ll take you to Dress Barn later.”
Bunny bear frowned. “I want this one.”
Sager’s wife shrugged and walked away. She had an ex-dancer’s walk.
The sun was starting to sink, casting golden fingers over the perfect golf greens. Craig and Anne were sitting on the patio at a wrought iron table. The Broil Master was nearby, a selection of mixed grill meats sizzling nicely. Craig looked out over the 14th hole, golfers in brightly colored polos. The children were playing inside, their voices rising and falling in some cadence. It may have been the beginnings of a quarrel.
Anne sipped her iced tea and looked at him. “Kenny called earlier. They’re having a barbecue on Saturday.”
Craig nodded, his eyes still on the golfers.
“Kenny said to tell you, that if you wanted to talk about anything, it would be a good time.”
Craig nodded again. “I’ve been thinking about visiting Walter and Delores in Saskatchewan this summer.”
Annie’s mouth set. “Batavia. Illinois.”
Craig turned and looked at her. “Saskatchewan”.
Inside, the sudden rending of cashmere, and an anguished wail. “My sweater!”
Anne swirled her ice cubes and looked out over the perfect golf greens. Her garden of wildflowers was coming in nicely. “The children don’t do well when you’re away for such long periods.”
The small pieces of mixed grill were beginning to smoke. Craig closed his eyes. Let them burn.