Akiva turned to wave at Tami, standing in the sunlit door surrounded by Mendy, Yossi, and her own enormous middle. This new baby promised to be a big one. "Have fun!" she called. He waved again and trotted down the drive toward the car.
The problem with living in Brooklyn, Akiva had often thought, was the lack of real parks. But there were, here and there, largish concrete playgrounds where you could put bat to ball without running the risk of sending it through someone's living-room window. He was headed for one of them right now. It was a perfect Sunday for a little exercise, and he'd persuaded his friend Yanky Frisch to join him in a friendly game. He deposited his equipment in the back seat and started the car.
Yanky was already there when Akiva arrived, idly tossing a softball into the air and catching it in one gloved hand. Akiva drew on his own mitt. "Throw 'er here!" he called-. The ball hurtled at him to meet its end in a satisfying smack of leather on leather. Throwing the ball back, Akiva raised the bat and gestured for his friend to pitch him one. The sun beat down on the young men's heads and caught the ball as it twisted and spun between them in the warm springtime air.
The office, and all the niggling questions that teased Akiva like sly mosquitoes in the night, receded now beneath the sun's glare and the spinning ball. His muscles sang with the relief of stretching. His feet rejoiced in their own speed and his hands in their agility. He thanked God for all of it, muscles and feet and hands - and for his wife, his Tami, who understood the need for this kind of exercise, that he might refresh himself for the coming week and its responsibilities. Though she had no real inkling of his distress, she instinctively recognized its symptoms. Her response was to send him out, as she had today, with her blessing.
He gave passing thought to his family and entertained a fleeting curiosity about the fast-approaching baby, his third child; then he set them aside without guilt. He'd be back before long, playing with his boys on the rug of their bedroom-cum-toy-paradise until the three of them were tired but happy shipwrecks marooned in a colorful sea. Afterwards, he would take them all out to dinner, where Tami would gorge to her heart's delight, make some rueful remark about Chinese food and heartburn, and reward him with a big smile. He held the spirits of his dependents in his hands and intended to hold them as high as humanly possible for as long as his arms were granted the strength to lift. But this hour was his alone.
He pounded a fist into a sun-warmed mitt. "C'mon, Yanky! Let me see you hit one!"
Perhaps half an hour had passed when Akiva became aware that they had an audience.
The tall, blonde youth approached first, dragging on a cigarette, with the other - plump, pasty-faced, dark-haired - lagging a few feet behind. They watched the play in silence for a few minutes. Then, in a gravelly voice that spoke of too much smoke for too many years, the blonde one called, "We wanna Play."
Akiva glanced at Yanky, then spread his hands and smiled to show that no offense was meant. "Sorry, we don't really want company." He tossed the ball to Yanky.
The dark-haired one, darting forward in an unexpected sprint, caught the ball midway in its flight.
"Hey, give that back here!" Yanky shouted. The intruder threw the ball at his blonde crony, who hefted it slowly and drawled, "Not bad - for a Jew-ball." The two began a raucous game of catch, hurtling ribald remarks to one another as they played to their audience. Then the blonde one spied the bat, lying on the ground. Seizing it, he pitched himself a ball and sent it whizzing to his friend.
Akiva, finally shaking off the paralysis of startled outrage, stalked up to the players. "My bat, if you please. And the ball."
The blonde squinted up. Akiva topped him by a few inches. "Oh, yeah?" he said softly. "Your bat? You wan' it?"
Akiva nodded. "Give it here."
"Sez me, that's who! Give it here."
"Oh-h-h-ka-a-y... Here!" He swung.
Akiva had just enough time to see a long black shape pass swiftly in front of the sun like a crow in flight, and to hear, faintly, Yanky's frightened yell, before the sky crashed in on his head.