Jimmy sat on the park bench. He looked left, then right. With a sigh, he whistled some of his favorite song, but it sounded funny to him. Bouncing the rubber ball against the sidewalk, he caught it each time as it rebounded. But this held his attention only briefly, and he again looked left, then right.
YesterdayM. Stanley Bubien
"They were here yesterday," he said in his most reassuring voice. He resumed bouncing the ball, recalling that, yesterday, it had been almost exactly like this. He sat in this same spot all right, but the ball---it had rolled up against his feet.
"Hey kid!" the boy had yelled. "Throw it! Over here!"
Jimmy picked it up and looked toward the voice. The boy was off in the distance, standing beside two golden retrievers and a tall man wearing a baseball cap. The man slapped the boy on the back---who immediately charged toward Jimmy at full-speed, the animals bouncing along at his heals.
Skidding to a stop, the boy panted, "Thanks for getting it," and held out his hand.
"Your welcome," Jimmy told him, handing the ball over.
Instantly, the boy spun and threw the ball in a high arc toward the man. The two dogs bounded after it with a sharp yelp.
"My name's Steve," the boy said.
"What're you doing here all alone?"
Jimmy held the edge of the bench and looked down. "I'm just---" One of the dogs' paws slapped onto the seat and dropped the ball next to Jimmy.
"Whoa!" the boy named Steve said, clapping his hands together. "He likes you!"
Mouth open and tongue lolling to the side, the dog panted in Jimmy's face. Jimmy reached out hesitantly and touched beautiful golden coat. It was so soft, he pulled his hand away. The dog remained still. Slowly, but more boldly than before, Jimmy put his fingers against the coat, and began stroking.
"C'mon." Steve interrupted impatiently, "throw him the ball."
"Okay," Jimmy replied, grabbing the soggy, tooth-pocked piece of rubber from the bench. He stood, bent his arm back, and flung it as far as he could. It landed a ways before the man. Jimmy whistled a few notes as the man chased after it, the dogs stumbling over each other trying to beat him to it. The man, however, made it there first.
"All right Dad!" Steve yelled as his father grabbed the ball, holding it high over his head while the golden retrievers jumped for it.
He came toward the boys, dogs in tow, and when he arrived, he asked, "Who's your new friend, Stephen?"
"This is Jimmy."
"Pleased to meet you, son," the man said, holding out his hand.
Jimmy looked at the man's open palm. He couldn't remember another adult ever offering a handshake before. With a shrug, Jimmy grasped the man's hand and shook with as much fervency and dignity as he could muster.
"I'm Mr. Lincoln."
"Like the President?" Jimmy asked in surprise.
"No, like Lincoln Logs."
"Awe, Dad!" Steve cried. "That's so lame."
Mr. Lincoln laughed and mussed his son's hair.
"By the way," he told Jimmy. "Nice throw. Your father teach you that?"
"Nah," Jimmy replied, "My dad doesn't have time for this stuff." He scraped bottom of his shoe against the cement. "He's always working, you know. Gotta pay the bills and all that."
Mr. Lincoln's lips puckered slightly, and he stood completely still for just a moment---almost like a tree. Jimmy thought maybe he'd said something wrong, but then the man rubbed his thumb along the rim of his baseball cap and said, "Well, you've got quite an arm. I bet you could throw a ball twice as far."
"Oh, come on," Jimmy replied, covering his eyes.
"I mean it." He glanced at his son. "Steve, run out there so we can toss you a couple."
"Okay!" Steve sped away, the dogs yelping enthusiastically about him.
"Now, son," Mr. Lincoln said, "try this." He cocked his arm all the way back and sprung it forward from the elbow. He repeated the movement in slow-motion so Jimmy could see better. "Just like that."
He placed the ball in Jimmy's hand. It felt awkward the few times he practiced without releasing the ball. Steve's father stood behind him, adjusting a shoulder here, a foot there, until finally saying, "Okay, son, give it a shot."
Jimmy did, throwing the ball clean over Steve's head.
"See!" Mr. Lincoln cried, messing Jimmy's hair as he had his own son's.
A huge grin broke out on Jimmy's face.
The rest of the afternoon, they tossed the ball back and forth, playing catch, alternating between keep-away and fetch with the dogs---they even played a round of three flies up.
Eventually, Steve's dad looked at his watch and announced, "Well guys, Stephen and I have to get going."
"Awe, Dad," Steve grumbled, but gave no other argument.
"It was nice meeting you, Jimmy," Mr. Lincoln said.
"Yes sir," Jimmy replied.
Mr. Lincoln remained, looking down at Jimmy while lifting the cap from his head and rubbing his hand through his hair. Suddenly, he grinned, wrenched the ball from the mouth of one of the dogs, and, after wiping it on his shirt, handed it to Jimmy. "Here, why don't you keep this. That way you can practice your throw."
Yesterday. That was yesterday, Jimmy sighed to himself, catching the ball off the last bounce. And today was almost over.
The sun faded below the highest trees, but a gust of wind drifted past, shaking the leaves and causing a ray of light to catch Jimmy in the face. He held up the ball, glanced toward the trees, and back at the ball again. He stood. Concentrating as hard as he could on his best form, he bent his arm back and threw the ball toward the trees. It sailed high and far, and, without thinking, Jimmy began whistling his favorite song as he watched it crash through the branches.
Jimmy took off, running after the ball at full-speed. The tune still on his lips, he glanced back at the bench and said, "Maybe tomorrow."
Copyright ©1997 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
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