Going, Going, Gone
Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
Your shoulder’s open,” Grandpa Joe says for the 47,718th time of my twelve-year-long life. “Check yourself.”
I sigh deeply into my glove so my grandfather won’t hear me. It’s annoying listening to those exact words every single time I practice with him. It’s even more annoying knowing that he’s usually right. Well, to be honest, more like always right.
Grandpa Joe lobs the ball back to me. I carefully move my fingers around the seams to
get the right grip. I try to stop thinking about how annoyed I feel, and set my mind on my balance instead.
“Check your feet, kiddo,” Grandpa reminds me, pointing down at my sneakers.
Oh yeah, my feet. I set them into the position Grandpa taught me when I was barely big enough to hold a ball in my hand. I bend my knees so I’m loose, then I take a deep breath. Eyes focused on my target, I pull back into my balance point, hold my shoulder in line with my eyes, shift to power position, and throw the ball as hard as I can. It hits Grandpa’s glove dead in the center with a loud thwack!
“There you go!” Grandpa cheers. “Who’s on your side, Matt?”
“You are, Grandpa,” I reply for the 47,718th time. “Always.”
I hear the familiar sound of rugged tires crunching the gravel in our driveway. Have I mentioned that it’s only 7:30 a.m.? And that I’ve been throwing a baseball for thirty minutes already? And that I still have a full day of school—and a play-off game—ahead of me? Welcome to
the world of Matt Vezza. It’s an exhausting place!
My best friend, Luis Ramirez, is sitting on his dirt bike, waiting for me to grab my stuff so we can ride to school together. He looks at me, grins, and shakes his head.
“Okay, I know you’re a pretty good pitcher, but are you ever going to learn how to throw a baseball like your grandpa, dude?” Luis chuckles as he tips his bucket hat at my grandfather. “Morning, Grandpa Joe.”
“Morning, Luis,” Grandpa Joe replies.
Grandpa Joe tosses the ball to Luis. I put my head down and pretend to stare at the ground, because I know what’s sure to come next when Luis tosses the ball back. Shoulder open, grip totally wrong, the ball flies wildly up over Grandpa Joe’s head. He reaches up and grabs it like the pro ballplayer that he almost was, but I can see the pain flash through his face when he reaches down and rubs his ankle.
“Are you okay, Grandpa?” I say, trying to sound nonchalant, but concerned. I know Grandpa Joe’s pain has been getting worse and worse, even though he’s been trying to hide it.
“Okay? I’ve got more energy than you two combined!” Grandpa Joe says proudly. “And if you ever want to learn to throw a baseball, I’ll be here waiting, Luis.”
“Thanks, Grandpa Joe, but you know baseball’s not my thing,” Luis says with a laugh. He twirls his bucket hat on his finger for a moment and then tosses it in the air. It lands perfectly on his head. Even I have to admit, it’s pretty impressive.
I give Grandpa a quick pat good-bye on the back, then hop on my bike. I know he loves me, but Grandpa isn’t exactly the hugging type. He’s old school in every way. I just wish I got a chance to see him when he was young.
“Grandpa Joe is mad cool,” Luis yells to me. “But baseball? Dude, it is sooooo boring.”
“It’s only boring if you don’t understand the game,” I say, sounding like a Grandpa Joe clone. Sometimes I can’t help myself. It’s scary.
We ride up Park Street, make a left on Pine, and then hit Washington Avenue. Sands Middle School is standing proudly in the distance, eagerly awaiting our arrival.
“Hey, Matt, are you ready for . . . ,” Luis calls as we race toward the bike rack. Then he makes a cone with his hands and shouts through it, “TRRRREEEEMMMMT TIME?”
Luis is referring to Ms. Tremt, our school librarian. It’s Wednesday, so we have library first period.
Ms. Tremt seems all right to me, but she’s always been the subject of cafeteria gossip. It might be the furry, incredibly colorful scarves she likes to wear, even when it’s eighty degrees outside. Or the boxes and boxes of library books that never seem to disappear, no matter how much unpacking we do for her. But most likely, it’s the way she sits silently and stares at one student for nearly the entire period while we’re reading. Which could seem totally creepy, except that after she stares at you for a while, Ms. Tremt always comes over and hands you a book that you fall in love with from the first paragraph, or the perfect book to help with your science report. It’s like she’s psychic or something.
“I’m actually looking forward to library today,” I tell Luis.
“Oh no!” Luis gasps. “It’s finally happened. My best friend has been invaded by AN ALIEN BODY SNATCHER!”
Luis grabs his throat and pretends like he’s gasping for air. Then he tumbles to the floor.
“Always a comedian.” I laugh. “I’m serious, though. Ms. Tremt said she was going to order me a book about New York baseball in 1951. I want to see if it came in yet. I never mentioned anything to her about 1951. Or New York. I just told her I’d like to read any books she had about baseball history and she chose that specific year and place. Weird.”
“You and baseball.” Luis sighs. “So much love. I just don’t get it. And who cares about games played sixty years ago?”
I wait a second. Then I can practically see the lightbulb go off over Luis’s head.
“Ohhhh . . . 1951 . . . New York baseball,” he says. “Wasn’t Grandpa Joe supposed to play for the Giants that year? Now I get it.”
“Yup. 1951 . . . It was a great time to be a baseball fan in New York,” I say. “You had three home teams to choose from—the New York
Yankees, the New York Giants, or the Brooklyn Dodgers. And if you think the rivalry between the New York Mets and New York Yankees is fierce today, you should read about the rivalries back then! If you lived in Brooklyn, there was no way you could be a Yankees or Giants fan. You were a Dodgers fan all the way.”
“And I’m guessing you want to learn more about what baseball was like in the time when Grandpa Joe almost made the major leagues?” Luis says.
“It takes you a while, but you’re not nearly as clueless as you look,” I say with a chuckle.
“Hey, leave the jokes to the professional,” a voice says from behind me.
I turn around and see Grace Scott standing there, balancing a huge wobbly pile of books in her hands.
“I believe by professional, you are referring to me? Funny friend, at your service,” Luis teases. “Just a little light reading, huh, Gracie?”
“A little,” Grace replies. “I wanted to get Ms. Tremt’s opinion on some of my favorite books. She always has great suggestions about
what type of books I should be reading.”
“Ms. Tremt wants our minds . . . and our sooouls,” Luis says, doing the dramatic thing with his hand and voice again. “That’s why she stares so deeply at us.”
Luis is interrupted by the sound of the first bell. Sands Middle School is open for business. I grab a stack of Grace’s books and hand them to Luis, then take a stack myself. We all know the pile will be scattered across the hallowed halls of our school if we leave them in Grace’s hands. She’s . . . um . . . how shall I put this? Working on improving her balancing skills at the moment. Actually, more like for the past twelve years.
(Don’t ever tell Grace I told you this, but in second grade, a couple of mean kids started calling her “Grace-less” behind her back. Luis and I put a stop to that—real fast. We may seem like an odd bunch of bananas, as my grandpa would say, but a friend is a friend. And nobody messes with one of our friends.)
After a quick homeroom check-in, we race down the hall and stagger into the library twelve seconds before the first-period bell rings.
Ms. Tremt’s scarf is particularly furry today and a shade of green that I have never seen before in my life. It looks almost like a caterpillar . . . a vibrating, furry caterpillar . . . a vibrating, furry, hungry caterpillar, just like the one in my favorite book when I was a little . . . Wait, what? Is Ms. Tremt’s scarf hypnotizing me or something? That’s so weird.
“Matthew,” Ms. Tremt says, smiling as she hands me a book. “I believe you were waiting for this?”
“Huh?” I say, still wondering where the whole caterpillar trail of thought came from.
Then I take a look at the book. It Was the Shot Heard ’Round the World: The Amazing Story of the 1951 Giants-Dodgers Pennant Race. Perfect!
“Thanks, Ms. Tremt!” I say. “I was waiting for this. I was really looking forward to library today.”
“Just in the nick of time,” Ms. Tremt chirps. “I’ve been meaning to brush up on my baseball trivia. I can’t wait to hear what happens when you turn back the hands of the clock and dig into this one.”
I take the book over to a table where Luis and Grace are already sitting. We open our books and start to read. Luis is intently turning the pages of his book about the pioneers of skateboarding culture. When he’s not hanging out with me and Grace, Luis is skateboarding every chance he gets. Ms. Tremt really does have a knack for putting the right books into our hands.
We’re deep into our reading when a loud thud startles us. I must be daydreaming, because I look up and for a moment I can swear I see star Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson in his 1951 Dodgers uniform smiling at me and tossing a baseball in the corner of the library. I must be overtired, though. It’s only Ms. Tremt dropping a box of books—another box of books!—onto our table. But this box isn’t like the other boxes in the room. Those boxes are just ordinary cardboard ones. This box is as interesting as one of Ms. Tremt’s scarves, but a whole lot heavier. It’s golden, maybe brass? Definitely not cardboard. And there are strange things carved all over it—not exactly pictures, more like writing (if the letters of the alphabet
looked like scribbles, that is). Also the latch of the box is held closed by a set of gears that will turn when you crank a tiny handle.
“Luis. Grace. Matthew.” Ms. Tremt says, looking each one of us in the eyes. “I need some assistance after school today. Can you spare some time for me?”
“Sorry, Ms. Tremt, I have a big play-off game later,” I apologize. “I can come tomorrow.”
“Oh, Matthew, I know all about your game,” Ms. Tremt says. “You’ll still be able to make it. It’s one little box to unpack. How long could it take?”
“We’ll be here,” Grace replies for the three of us with a smile.
I can feel Luis kicking the both of us under the table. Grace kicks back even harder, and gives Luis the Look.
“Okay. We’ll be here, Ms. Tremt,” Luis says obediently. “You can count on us.”
“I knew you’d make time for me.” Ms. Tremt smiles. “Thank you.”
“Oh, and please,” Ms. Tremt adds, “try not to peek in the box before then.”
Oh no! Ms. Tremt is obviously not aware of what she has just done to Luis “Curiosity-may-kill-cats-but-it-will-never-get-me” Ramirez. I look over and see Ms. Tremt’s eyes set on Luis the way I set my eyes on a catcher’s mitt. Hmmm. Maybe Ms. Tremt is aware of what Luis will surely do next.
Just then we hear an ear-piercing scream coming from the back of the library. Two Vikings—yes, you heard me right, Vikings, in full Viking gear, helmets with horns and shields and swords—suddenly charge through the library screaming and yelling and throwing books at each other.
“Aaaargh! You stole my furs and tusks!” one bellows.
“Aaaargh, you stole my seal fat!” the second screams back. “For that you must die!” All the kids in the library gasp and start yelling too. I look at Ms. Tremt, who’s suddenly a bit pale. She says, “Nothing to be afraid of, children—it’s just part of a play I’m directing after school.” She walks over to the two men, looks them straight in the eyes, and says calmly, “Gentlemen! This
way, please,” and amazingly, they both clam up and quietly follow her out of the library. Before she leaves, she turns to the three of us again, and says, “Remember, try not to peek in that box.”
I look at Luis and Grace. Grace seems to take the Viking actors in stride, but Luis thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s seen in quite a while.
“Yaaah! Give me your seal fat, Matt!” he yells. “And if you don’t have any, then hand over that chicken parm sandwich your mom made you for lunch!” He laughs at his own joke, then turns his attention back to the box Ms. Tremt left with us.
I see the sparkle in Luis’s eyes and know that box is going to be open in five seconds flat.