Switch Hitter by Suzanne Nielson

Rita Sajevic lost her mind on home plate at 5:15 pm, two days after dual interviews at competing churches. She’d work the night shift cleaning 11 blocks from home. All this was in shorthand on her palm faded by cherry red ink. On her other palm was a tattoo of a fetus whose life ended tragically. After Rita relived the event, outside of confession mind you, I swore to several saints never to retell that story to anyone.

Rita’s my secret soulmate who lives across the hall; we go back two decades of not being able to live together. Outside her door there’s a relic chalkboard, permanently attached, with a stick of chalk tied to yarn dangling on the right with a hand-written daily meditation that bordered on pagan. Too in-your-face positive, also why Rita and I don’t live in sin. Rita’s right handed, but I swear she’s ambidextrous, being a switch hitter and all.

And that’s when it happened. Up to bat Rita was focused, that look in her eye determined to hit a 92 MPH pitch when the ball went inside her neck and she was down. “Walk,” the pitcher yelled blowing a kiss to the heavens.

Down like that fetus I’ll never talk about. Finally a reason for priestly presence to enter the playing field I squish my way into the tragedy. Rita lay there uttering growls, hair at attention on the back of her neck. She was a sight to see, no question, but today’s message read, “Nurture the beating heart” so I adheared to her pagan meditation and lay my head next to her chest. I must; she was my neighbor and, like I mentioned, my soulmate.

“Rita,” I say, looking at the whites of her eyes, “Rita, it’s bad, but your pulse is strong, look at me; get up and take a base.” Rita lay there, eyes rolled back in her head lost in revere. A pupil was coming around in a meandering way, then she muffled something consonant heavy. I couldn’t make it out, so I did what I normally do when I don’t understand a question posed. I told her the time.

In the distance I hear the ambulance’s wail. My pulse vibrates in falsetto rhythms. I want to do something, say something that might bring Rita back to here and now but she’s relentlessly reciting words, bleeding into one another like a steady stream of confessions. She’s wound up, still ready to aim that ball out of the park. What to do with the inked information? How she had to help that fetus cross over like I am left to help her cross over. Her pupils once again focused until she leaves, just like that, the sirens screeming, battering my beating eardrums in unison to my heart. The time is 5:15 p.m. The dirt is about to be turned. I whisper in Rita’s ear that her confessions are expired until silence floats down like a worn blanket.

Suzanne Nielsen writes and teaches creative writing in the twin cities of Minnesota.  Her work has appeared in several literary journals throughout the US and beyond.

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