Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Baseball Widow

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It's a beautiful spring day in New York, which means it's almost time for baseball season. (Go Yankees!) Today's story, coincidentally, is about baseball. OK, so it's about baseball in the same way Friday Night Lights is about football, but I needed a transition. 

Today's excerpt from a novel, The Baseball Widow, is about a Japanese high school baseball coach torn between his obligations to his team and his exceptionally needy family. The novel is also about his American wife who believes their bullied children would be better off in another country. The author, Suzanne Kamata, is an American expatriate living in Japan. She's edited three anthologies including Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs (Beacon Press, May 2008) and Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2009), and has published a short story collection, The Beautiful One Has Come (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing) and a novel, Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008). Enjoy!

The Baseball Widow
By Suzanne Kamata 

On her mother-in-law’s birthday, Christine baked a cake. She’d started this tradition when she’d married Hideki. Before then, his mother had never celebrated her birthday. Cakes and candles and wrapped presents were a Western custom, sometimes adopted for small children, but adults usually let the day pass by with little or no fanfare.

Christine liked to tell her twins that in America, people had birthday parties their whole lives. She’d been born on the same day as her great-grandfather, and they’d celebrated together until he died at the age of ninety-two. Birthday parties were one American custom that they embraced whole-heartedly.

This year, she’d made a Lady Baltimore cake from scratch, following the recipe in her tattered cookbook. Christine sent her mother-in-law off to play with the children while she put the last touches on her masterpiece. She hoped Hideki’s mother, accustomed to airy cakes covered with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, with maybe a sprig of fresh parsley for color, would appreciate the butter cream rosettes. All afternoon she’d practiced squeezing homemade frosting from a tube.

And hopefully, her mother-in-law would appreciate the children’s hand-crafted gifts. She’d taken Emma shopping for beads – sparkly rhinestones, painted ceramic cylinders, round and octoganal beads – which she’d strung onto a silken cord all by herself.

Emma liked pretty things, and she liked stringing beads. Most little girls did. Once, in class, Naka-sensei had marveled at Emma’s concentration as she threaded wooden beads onto a string. When confronted with flashcards or worksheets, she had a tendency to squirm - and what four-year-old wouldn’t, Christine wondered. It was ridiculous to expect her to sit there and study at her age, and yet, Naka-sensei had told Christine more than once that if she didn’t force her daughter ( her four-year-old!) to study, she could forget about college.

That day in class, when Emma had strung nearly a meter of beads, her teacher had remarked, “She’s good at this, isn’t she? Maybe she can do this kind of work when she grows up.”

Christine thought of the parking lot attendant at the YMCA where she used to swim. She could tell by his gait and his speech that he had cerebral palsy like Emma. He had gone to the same high school as Hideki, who’d told her that he’d had a hard time. And yet he had obviously learned quite a bit. He always directed her into the parking space in perfect English. What a waste, she thought, whenever she met him. He was obviously capable of so much more. And she would be damned if Emma did nothing but string beads when she was twenty-one.

Christine squeezed one last rosette, then loosely covered the cake with plastic wrap before sticking it back in the refrigerator.

Hideki breezed in with a platter of sushi from the Atom Boy restaurant down the road. Christine made it a policy of never attempting Japanese cuisine for her mother-in-law. And yet, for her birthday, she wanted to serve something that the woman would definitely like. She laid out plates for the sushi and little saucers for the soy sauce, ladled miso soup into lacquer bowls, and called everyone to the table.

Koji dashed out of the playroom and scrambled into his seat. Behind him, Hideki’s mother held Emma up by her armpits and tried to make her walk.

“Honey, why don’t you give your mother a hand,” Christine shouted. The woman had osteoporosis. She’d been warned by her doctor not to exert herself. If she injured her back, Christine would have two disabled people to take care of. That was the last thing she needed.

Emma could get to the table just fine on her hands and knees. She was agile and fast – and Christine kept the floor polished with Murphy’s Oil Soap. But her mother-in-law hated to see her crawling around like an animal. She’d said as much, numerous times.

They’d barely begun to eat when the woman turned to her son and said, “I’ve learned of a masseuse in Ishii. He’s helped people like Emma. I heard he helped a boy to walk.”

Christine snorted. “What’s his name? Jesus?” She’d been driving Emma to hospitals and various therapies and deaf school for years now. She was the one who coaxed Emma into leg braces every morning, who fitted the hearing aids into her ears, who drilled Emma in fingerspelling, who’d taught the little girl how to tie a bow.

“Christine!” Hideki scolded. “Where is this masseuse, Okaasan? Did you get his card?”

At that moment, she was fed up with both of them. Instead of trying to help Emma with what she had, those two were always looking for the magic bullet, the easy, instant solution, so they wouldn’t have to be bothered to learn sign language or figure out how to get Emma up the stairs when she got too big to carry.

Sure, she’d read up on the miracles at Lourdes and special therapies in Hungary, but she wasn’t holding her breath.

“Emma-chan, you want to walk, don’t you?” Hideki’s mother said in a baby voice.

Christine sighed. She’d told her mother-in-law over and over that she needed to attract Emma’s attention before speaking to her. Either the woman was ignoring her advice, or she was in deep denial. Probably the former. Oh, well. Christine had to stop directing communication. If the rest of the family wanted to converse with Emma, they’d have to find a way on their own.

3 comments:

  1. I love the Japenese in this. I love the Japanese culture so much! I've tried twice now to go overseas and teach -- once for China, once for Japan, but it's not in my stars!

    This was lovely.

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  2. This is wonderful. Definitely, makes me want to buy the book. Is this autobiographical or a novel?

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  3. It's nice to read books set in Asia, this time in Japan. The Japanese movies "Always - Sunset on Third Street" are wonderful. Besy wishes to Suzanne with her novel.

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