“I love you so much Hailey.”
“I love you too GG!” she said, throwing her arms around her grandmother and planting a kiss on her cheek that lingered. Linda lit up just like she always did when her grandkids were there.
“Come on sweetie, let’s go get ready for the game. Say goodbye,” Greg said to his daughter.
“Do you want to come to the game GG?” Hailey said batting her eyelashes. “It’s the semi-fiiiinaaaals…” she continued. She was unusually intune and wiley for an seventy-year-old.
“Oh, sorry sweetheart, Grandma’s busy today, but maybe the next one,”
“Come on, Hailey,” Greg said.
“There’s only one more game, and only if we win this one, GG.”
“Well then you better win,” she said to her granddaughter with a broad smile, running her hands across Hailey’s head and behind her ear.
“Okay,” Hailey said, turning and walking towards the door. She stopped, and twisted her upper body back towards the living room without shifting her feet, holding onto the wall with one hand. “What are you busy with today?”
“Hailey!” her father said impatiently through his teeth before pulling her out the door with some insistence. They walked to the car and Hailey jumped in the front seat next to her father. It turned back to the familiar conversation. “You know your grandmother doesn’t go outside.”
“Not always, but sometimes.” Hailey was brimming with confidence, totally unwarranted by her grandmother’s past record. “I bet she’ll come to the finals.”
“Well, madam, you just focus on the softball, and we’ll see if there are any finals to come to for you,” Greg said tickling his daughter under her ribs.
Dad was wrong. Two hours later and the Scranton Storm were up 11-3 and the little girls on the other side didn’t seem up to a dramatic comeback. Hailey had three singles in the almost certain winning effort. Two of them were eight-year-olds kicking the ball around, but one of them she lined right over the shortstop’s head.
“Where’s your Mum?” Geoff asked. Geoff went to school with Greg and remembered being in their family home. “Doesn’t she just live down the street?”
“Yeah, she’s still there. She doesn’t come out much.”
“Oh yeah?” The follow up questions hung in the air for a few moments. “She doin’ okay?” Geoff asked.
“Yeah, she’s fine. She’s just allergic to the sun,” Greg said trying not to be snippy.
“Huh,” a huff came from the metal bench in front of them. “Is that a new allergy then?” Michelle was Hailey’s aunt from the other side of the family. “I don’t remember a sun allergy.”
“Well it is new, Michelle. And it’s getting worse. And it’s none of your business. You want to watch the kid, turn around and watch.” Greg said trying to hold his tongue from going any further. Michelle did in fact turn around, the look on her face trying to convey that she couldn’t understand why Greg would get worked up over such a thing, but he knew that she knew.
A swing and a miss, strike three. The Storm win. Here come the finals. After a round of freezies and orange slices, it was back to Grandma’s.
“Oh, how did you do honey?!” GG asked, ready to greet Hailey as soon as she came in. She was usually waiting at the door in fact; her favourite seat giving her a constant view of anyone approaching from any direction.
“We won GG! I was the star. Dad said I crushed it.”
“She did crush it,” Greg said.
“You know what that meeeaaaans GG, finals are next weekend.”
GG nodded vigorously, trying to confirm to Hailey and to herself that she would be there. “Wouldn’t miss it my love,” GG said.
“Okay, alright Mum, thanks. Hailey, go play downstairs please,” Greg said, annoyance becoming clear again in his tone. Hailey turned with a skip and went happily to meet the X-box waiting for her in the basement. “You don’t have to tell her stuff like that, Mum,” Greg said as soon as Hailey was out of earshot.
“What? Why not? I’m going to go.” His mum nestled back down into her spot – still not looking her son in the eye.
“Mum please, I’d love for you to come, but don’t tell her you’re going to go if you’re not going to.”
“You’re not. You never go. You never go anywhere. But that’s fine, I understand. We fed her the sun line, she…”
“Don’t say line. I am allergic to the sun.”
“Okay, you are. And I know you started getting your allergy at the same time that Dad died. I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I do wish she could see you more at her games or her birthday parties or anything else that’s not at your house, but I get it. What I need is for you not to lie to her and make me deal with the consequences all the way home.”
“I am going to come, and we’re going to pray for a cloudy day, and I’ll bring my umbrella.”
“Alright, I hope you do Mum. Just don’t tell her you will. Just show up and surprise her if you’re coming then.”
“What the hell is your problem,” a new voice rang out from the kitchen. George came stomping in, ready to stand up for his mother.
“Don’t start George. I don’t have a problem,” Greg said
“Then don’t come here bringing trouble.”
“I’m not bringing trouble. I’m bringing my daughter to see her family because no one comes to see us.”
“Now come on boys,” their mother said, finally looking up and gesturing her hands up and down as if to soothe them through the power of suggestion.
“I don’t want to cause trouble, I haven’t said a mean word to anyone. I just don’t want my daughter being lied to and heartbroken. She loves coming to see you both here. There’s no issue with that. Only don’t lie to her and tell her it could be something else,” Greg said.
There was a pause. “I am coming,” their mother said.
“You know Mum can’t,” George said.
“I know she can’t. I didn’t say she should…”
“Don’t say ‘she’, I’m sitting right here,” their Mum said meekly.
“Sorry Mum, I know you usually can’t come – I don’t understand exactly why – but I do understand. We just play this game every week, and you haven’t come yet.”
“She can’t come because her whole world fell apart. Dad died, he died in the park. What don’t you understand?!” George bellowed.
“What am I supposed to understand George? What does Dad dying outside have to do with anything? Are the outdoors going to get her? Is Mother Nature going to open up the earth to swallow her? I don’t get it at all.” Greg turned to his mother and caught his breath after using it all hollering at his brother. “But I love you Mum. I love every minute you spend with Hailey.” Greg put his hand on his mother’s shoulder. Tears were streaming down her face and Greg avoided looking down for fear he would start crying himself. “You just do you best next week, okay? It starts at 3.”
Next Sunday came and Greg didn’t bring Hailey over before the game. The last thing he needed was Hailey prodding at GG and working her up into a state. Lunch at Harvey’s was the distraction. Hailey even had a vanilla shake, no matter how it would affect her gameday energy.
Five minutes to three and Mum still hadn’t showed up yet. No surprise. They introduced the teams: the Scranton Storm vs the Binghamton Badgers (even though both teams were from Scranton).
Hailey was batting sixth in the lineup of fourteen girls. She hit a blooper past the pitcher. The second basemen got there in time, but the throw was four feet wide on the throw to first. Hailey was counting that as a hit.
Five minutes later and Greg heard something over his shoulder. It sounded like a turkey vulture but he knew what it was before he turned his head. A thick white cotton sundress, a faded floral long sleeve, a wide brim straw hat, huge Jackie Onassis style sunglasses, and unbelievably, a white shawl draped over that – all of this covered Greg’s mother. She was walking down the sidewalk, wrapped tightly around George who held a large umbrella over their heads; more golf umbrella than parasol.
Greg turned and was proud of his mother. He was proud until he realized that he wasn’t the only one who had noticed. Now he was embarrassed.
“OOOOooooAAAaaah,” Greg’s mother shrieked as she inched closer to the park. She was looking at the sidewalk and trotting high with her legs in a panic, like she was trying to avoid a mouse or falling in a pit.
Greg decided it would only draw more attention to go over. He kept glancing over his left shoulder, pretending to watch the game. She finally came to rest as close to the field as possible without actually stepping on the grass. She had made it out of the house, and for that Greg was grateful, but her anxiety caged her just there on the sidewalk, not able to take one more step – not even to save her life.
The third inning was a big one for the girls so most of the prying eyes had returned to the field of play. They had scored five runs already and Hailey was back up at the plate. Two out, two on. Hailey bared down. She was apparently the only one who hadn’t noticed Grandma. It came straight and as fast as an eight-year-old could throw it. Hailey smacked it into right field. The rare hit that rolled all the way past the outfielders. Both runners came into score and Hailey found herself on second. Greg and the rest of the Storm fans were brimming.
“She crushed it!” came the resounding voice from behind them. They all turned to see the covered woman leaping and whistling while she pumped her hands above her head.
Hailey noticed too. She came running off second base straight towards her Grandmother. This was of course highly unacceptable for the Northern Pennsylvania girls under-nine championship game, but that didn’t matter to Hailey. The umpire watched in stunned silence as the girl left the field and then the park. She ran and jumped into her GG’s arms.
Geoff was now standing beside Greg and nudged him with his elbow. “Hey, is that your mom?” His face said ‘what’s wrong with her?’, but what came out again was “Is she doing okay?”
Greg took a long look at the two in their ecstatic embrace. “She’s fine. Mum’s just allergic to the sun.”