The Soccer Ball

by Fred SKOLNIK
 

Clarence saw the soccer ball in the middle of the lawn when he went out to take in the paper. It had yellow pentagons on it surrounded by black triangles, forming a pattern of pentagrams. He walked out to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street, expecting to see its owner, but no one was there, so he decided to leave the ball where it was and went back inside to read the paper and have breakfast. After breakfast he remembered the ball and looked out the window to see if it was still there. It was, and it was there the next day too, something of a mystery now. A week passed and then another and still no one came for the ball, not that he expected anyone to ring his doorbell to claim it, only that it would disappear from one moment to the next and then he would know that it had been found. He speculated now about how the ball had gotten there in the first place. Perhaps, he thought, it had been kicked from the parallel street and was somehow missed when the children playing there had come to look for it. Or perhaps it had rolled down many blocks and someone seeing it in the gutter had kicked it onto his lawn thinking it belonged there. He did not retrieve it. He had neither children nor wife, or nephews even. He had no need for it.

He got to looking for the ball each morning when he came out for the paper. Sometimes he would keep his eyes lowered until a certain moment and then raise them to surprise himself. Then he stopped raising his eyes and waited until he was back in the house and only then looked out the window to see if it was still sitting in the middle of the lawn. This was a kind of game at first, accompanied by a delicious sense of anticipation, and then the satisfaction of seeing it there. Of course he grew complacent after a while, expecting to find it on the lawn every morning, but at the same time he realized how disappointed he would be if one day it would vanish and therefore he was apprehensive too and stopped taking its presence for granted. One day, he thought with dread, it might be gone, and he knew it would leave an awful emptiness in him.

He began to check the lawn more frequently, looking out the window before breakfast and after breakfast, and then before lunch and before his afternoon nap and in the evening just before it got dark and before he went to sleep with the lawn lights turned on. These were the regular times, but he also checked the lawn at random moments, when the impulse seized him or his apprehension became so strong that he could not contain himself. Then he hurried to the window and felt his stomach tighten and breathed deeply and paused before looking out as though reciting a little prayer and when he saw that all was well he sometimes muttered, “Thank God.”

Clarence tried to go about his business, puttering around the house, preparing his meals, cleaning occasionally, but all the time thinking about whether the ball was still sitting on the lawn and unable to resist taking a peek from time to time. He made it a point to pass the window ten and then twenty and then fifty times a day and sometimes sat there for an hour or two staring at the ball and grew apprehensive again the moment he was away from it. The worst time was the morning, when he woke up and had his first look. He had to steel himself and could barely control his feelings when he opened the door to take in the paper. He read it sitting by the window, looking up from time to time, and then ate his breakfast there and went outside for a quick turn around the lawn, and then back to the window and the same with his lunch and supper. On some days he thought of nothing else, planning the moments he would go to the window, trying to prolong the intervals but to no avail. Sometimes too he doubted if he had perceived the ball correctly, wondering if it was really black and yellow or in the precise spot he imagined it would be. He understood that it had taken over his life but there was nothing he could do about it. It was the center of his world. It was like a sun but stronger in its pull and inside him too like a tumor.

Clarence sat at the window now without moving. It was best to sit there always, risking no more than a second or two to rest his eyes. As long as the ball was there everything would hold together.

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