A Summer Night in the Park
I spent many summer evenings down at the city park. One night turned out very different. A work of fiction.
In the summer of 1970 I lost the index finder of my left hand. My friend Eddie and I were down at the city park, which was where everyone went in my small town. The park’s main feature was a creek that ran through it, where the city had fashioned a couple swimming holes with diving boards, lifeguard stands and all. Stretching out alongside the creek were baseball fields, tennis courts, a covered pavilion for dances and outdoor movies, picnic tables, and lots of open space. Like I say, in the summertime everyone went there, and the park stayed open until 9:30 p.m.
In those days, my favorite thing was flirting with the pretty girls who hung out at one of the pools. The days would be warm and sunny, even on toward sunset, and the girls would be lying on blankets, drying off from swimming and smoking cigarettes. There were the older girls, 19 or 20, who were home from college for the summer. We mostly just stared at them, although Eddie would say hello to a few who knew his older brother. Then there were the girls a couple grades ahead of us in high school. I was shy to talk to them, too, but Eddie said we might have a shot with some of them. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what having a shot meant exactly, but I liked walking around in the evenings with Eddie, saying hi to girls and sneaking side glances at their new and magical curves.
Eddie and I also played on one of the summer league baseball teams. The league was set up by age brackets, and we were in the 14–15-year-old group. Neither of us were stars, but I liked being on the team and I liked wearing my ¾ sleeve baseball shirt that said Pirates when we talked to the girls, especially if we’d won a game that day.
Mr. Morales, who ran an auto parts store, was our coach. He also coached a team in the 12-13 age bracket. That night, we went to say hello as he was finishing up a practice for that team. He was hitting fly balls to the outfielders. I picked up a ball to offer it to him. I figured he’d take it and throw it in the air to hit it – I mean, who doesn’t do that when they’re hitting fungoes? – but Mr. Morales must’ve thought I was going to lob it to him, because he took a big swing at the ball in my hand.
There was an explosion, and the force of the contact spun me around. I remember seeing the outfielders flinch and duck. I looked at my hand, and it looked like it was blackened and covered in soot. It looked like I imagined Kevin Carnahan’s hand looked like. Kevin was a year older than me in grade school and was a big bully. He was always in trouble with the teachers, and during recess would pick on the smaller kids. Everyone hated him. One day Kevin stopped coming to school. The story was that he’d been fooling around with an M-80 firecracker in his backyard, and it blew his hand off. Good riddance.
Anyway, my left hand looked sooty and all, and my index finger was gone. Clean gone. There wasn’t much blood, almost like it had been chopped clean off and cauterized. It was numb, like when your foot falls asleep, and I did not feel much pain yet. Still, I knew I had to find a doctor to tell me what to do. Since Eddie and I did not have cars, we started walking around the park, stopping at picnic tables to ask if anyone there was a doctor. My hand still didn’t hurt, but I was getting panicky that I needed to find out what to do. I guess I was in shock.
Finally, we found a doctor playing tennis at one of the tennis courts. He looked at my hand, which still wasn’t bleeding much. He asked where the finger was and told me he’d read about surgeries to reattach limbs that had been torn off. I told him I had no idea. Eddie went back to ask Mr. Morales if he knew where my finger was. Meanwhile, the doc said, I should pack my hand in ice and then go to the emergency room.
We never found my finger. Mr. Morales – he thought it was like an explosion, too – said it had broken his fungo bat and scared the hell out of him. He never even thought to look for the finger, because I’d run off before showing him my hand. Besides, the kids he was coaching were all shook up.
I got my hand wrapped in ice and went home. I did not go to the emergency room until the next morning, since I didn’t really think there was anything they could do. By the next morning, though, it was hurting pretty bad, so I was glad they gave me some medicine for that. They also sewed up the hole where my finger had been. I never lost much blood, which I thought was weird.
Eventually, the finger – or rather, the place where it had been – healed up. I never played baseball again. I could not use a glove or hold a bat properly without that index finger. I did graduate high school, though. I had to register for the draft when I turned 18. They called me in, took one look at my hand, and said go home, son, we got no use for you. The war was winding down by then, anyway.
Mr. Morales gave me a job in his auto parts store because he felt bad about what had happened. I never took advantage of that, though, and worked hard, eventually becoming an assistant manager, then general manager. I also started dating his daughter, who was a few years younger and grew into a real beauty. We’re still married, and our kids are all grown up and got kids of their own.
Mr. Morales retired in 1994 and I took over the business. If you ever need auto parts or repairs, be sure and check out Morales & Son Auto Parts just north of downtown. Ask for Lefty.