The door to the café closed behind him and Hank walked through the rain over to meet Lissa at the Davis Street El station.
“Crummy weather. You still want to go?” Hank asked as he hugged her.
“It’s ok. I mean, what do you expect for April?" Lissa said. "Besides, it weeds out the wannabees from the real fans." She reached into her pocket and pulled out the tickets. “And anyways, there’s no way I’m giving up these box seats.”
They rode the Purple Line down to Wrigley barely talking. All Hank could think of was the big movie star who’d given Lissa the tickets. And all Lissa could think about was Hank. They were in two worlds, both silent. They changed at Howard Street, feeling the cold drizzling wind on the platform. Hank was tempted to make some witty remark about the occasional fat wet snow flake that fell on her Cubs cap, but saw that she looked as happy as he’d seen her in a long while and let it go at that.
When they left Addison to walk down Sheffield, the smell of the burgers grilling down at Murphy’s hit them. The smell of popcorn wafted in and out, but it was like the background sounds of the street drums and some guy noodling around on a clarinet. It was as though Muti was back and he was conducting the smells and sounds and sights, but urging the burger smells to ever louder crescendos so that by the time Hank led Lissa into Murphy’s at the corner of Sheffield and Waveland, it was all he could think of. The place was packed as fat as a Wisconsin brat with fans, big and broad-shouldered and loud and happy to be anywhere else but at work in some cubicle and even happier to be alive and at Wrigley and holding game day tickets.
Lissa found a couple of seats in the back next to some wide-eyed folks who’d driven since early and all the way from Iowa. She was talking with them when Hank approached with one of Murphy’s classic fat burgers—loaded with fresh onions, bright green piccalilli, two tomatoes and a thick layer of ketchup—and a big plastic mug of Old Style to share.
After he sat down, he unfolded the wrapper, cut the burger in half, and tapped Lissa on the shoulder. “I thought we’d do the old ‘split lunch,' like we used to, you know?”
Lissa smiled and pointed to the slightly larger half burger near her, “Here, you take that half.”
They ate in the jostling din of men’s and women’s shouted voices and bellowing laughter and the welcome warmth from the grills and the smell of fat on the grill that made you think cows, stockyards, and proud to live anywhere near this great city on the lake. Everything around them seemed to be moving. And somewhere in the middle of all that, Hank looked across the corner of the little round picnic table at Lissa, stopped eating, and said, “You look different.”
“Good different?” she asked.
“Different. No, really. Good different.” And then he added, “I’m serious. There’s something different about you.” He shook his head. “Can’t put my finger on it.”
Hank loved walking through the turnstile like he was part of an invading army and then, like he was in one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s quirky homes, walking almost single file up the stairs and Pop! There was the ball field, bright and gleaming and perfect: the green grass, the white lines, the smoothed dirt of the baselines, the ball players in clean uniforms warming up or talking, taking some swings, fielding ground balls, scratching their own balls, signing little kids’ score cards, flamingo pink cotton candy, hot dogs flying through the air, and green bills handed down the line, politely, to the waiting hot dog man, who then walked up the aisle another step and banged the lid to his insulated box, “Hey, hot dogs here. Get yer hot dogs here.”
Everything was 0:0 perfect. The Star Mangled Banner was a wow. Robert Redford’s first pitch was perfect, then things see-sawed—the weather, the score, and Hank’s nagging thought that something big was about to change and he just couldn’t figure it out.
Ron Santo’s son got an ovation from the crowd after he sang, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame," during the seventh inning stretch. Then he shouted into the microphone like every other singer before him, “Let’s get some runs!!” The fans, who’d heard it all and already had some reason to think, well, maybe next year, cheered anyway, even if only to keep warm.
That was when Lissa tapped Hank on the shoulder and pointed to the scoreboard announcement scrolling across the screen: “H-A-N-K…17 DAYS…H-A-N-K…17 DAYS…H-A-N-K…17 DAYS…” over and over and over.
“You do that, Lissa? Some kind of April Fool’s joke?” Hank snapped. “Because if you did, it’s not funny!”
“Why would you think I’d do something like that?” she huffed.
Episode 26 will appear Monday.