An Accidental Century
All night he’s fought the urge to call her, to hear her voice, to go to her, to lose himself in her arms. Now, out in the middle, on the bleached grass under the heatwave sun, he struggles to know where the ball is, where in its curve it is as it hurtles towards him, and flails at the unseen, and connects, time and again, drenched in sweat, the salt stinging his already aching eyes. He doesn’t understand why he’s still standing here, how he can’t have been out yet. The sweat runs down his back, past the waistband of his trousers, and down his legs. He throws his bat at yet another invisible opponent, hears the clean sound of the bat hitting the ball, senses it race out to the edge of the field and onto the tarmac, hears the dull sound of it hitting the metal of unwisely parked cars. His batting partner leans on his bat, tells him to calm down. He’s trying to get out now. Too tired, the wood in his hand so heavy. All he wants to do is sleep next to her and forget about everything else, to lie in the shade and look up into the blue sky and be happy. Another swish connects and sends the ball up into the air, too far and too high for anyone to reach. He gives up trying to make sense of what’s happening. Another pause. He’s shocked to see she’s here, clenches his teeth, wipes his face. He misses the next ball and it hits him on his arm. He doesn’t feel anything, doesn’t rub it, stands stock still as the red mist descends. The next ball flies from his bat into the next field, lost amidst the golden corn. Stuff you all. He sees only her, on a white chair by the plain brick building they keep the equipment in. They’re all screaming now, clapping and hollering. His batting partner tells him it’s his century, but he can’t believe he’s been out here long enough. He waves his bat at her, his only focus. The other team stare at him, the bedraggled man who doesn’t understand what he’s doing. He shrugs. And now he plays almost with his eyes closed, and still he keeps hitting the ball, again and again, without trying. And then it’s over, and the sun is still high in the sky. He walks off, holding his bat high, a smile broadening across his face, passes from sunshine into shade, the heat in him exploding out, his eyes fixed only on her eyes, losing himself in the universes behind her pupils, walks until he collapses into the chair next to her. Her hand is cool on his thigh. ‘One-off fluke,’ he says. ‘It won’t happen again.’ He gets up, his legs now shaking, reluctant to leave her touch behind. ‘A good point to retire, don’t you think?’
This was my entry for the WISDEN writing competition 2019. I didn’t win, so it didn’t get printed in the 2020 WISDEN, but at least I got my name into it on page 62. An immortality of a kind. It’s actually an edited passage from an as yet unpublished novel, THIRTY DAYS IN SUMMER, which I finished in July 2019.