Wind teased the street in spurts, expending little energy advancing the white ball along a meandering course toward nowhere. Over the course of eighteen hours, the gentle huffing moved the benign plaything from an idle street to this busy thoroughfare, on an uncertain journey.
Sparse detritus provided occasional obstacles along the unswept roadside astride the bicycle lane, holding up forward movement until a traffic-generated cyclone shooed the spheroid around into another clear pathway, recaptured and moved onward by the prevailing northwest breeze.
Three bicycle-riding children whisked by; the bestirred air of their wake moved the unnoticed slotted toy just past a threatening sewer drain. A Labrador stopped and sniffed the curious remnant, like the rubbery chase toys in its play basket yet harder. Its sensitive nose captured the essence of those in last contact, but an impatient tug of a leash broke the intrigue and redirected sensory monitoring to the way forward. Another happened along an hour later, a German Shepard that test-pecked the ball forward with its nimble snout. Sparked to frivolity by the erratic movement characteristic of the toy, the spry yearling pounced with a playful jump and clenched the find with gentleness belying formidable teeth. She carried it forward some distance before a hand pried the ball from reluctant jaws and tossed it aside, onto the narrow strip of grass separating sidewalk from curbing.
Alone again and in the wind shadow of a two story building, the ball lay orphaned six blocks and a corner from its five year home.
It understood not its circumstance, no more than any other engaged there at last use.
Eighteen hours earlier, ten children teamed five to a side in a pick-up whiffleball game played on a little travelled street. Holly Johnson, twelve years old and an athletic dynamo of burgeoning repute, stood over the sewer system cover serving as a rounded brown home plate, two of her teammates behind her waiting their turn at bat, two others on base, hopeful of a quick return home. The ten agreed at start to a nine-inning game; the batting team still banked two outs in the ninth but trailed by two runs.
Junior high bound Holly hated to lose. With some focus, she worked through her batting stance, from bat position to angle of her feet, preparing.
The sewer cover aligned with an alleyway, the terminus for a tributary drainage spur running two hundred and fifty feet along the back walls of decaying brick buildings. A black BMW 325 interrupted the gamesplayers, turned into the alley, and moved on a slow crawl past the overflowing garbage of multiple apartments and retail shops, stopping midway down the narrow passageway. Three men clambered out, two to vehicle front, one to the rear, squatting low for cover behind the fancy sheet metal. A man emerged from the nearest building right, spotted the Beamer, and scrambled back behind the door.
The hollow plastic bat whirled away from Holly’s shoulder, following an inclined plane, a coordinated path chosen by eyes and implemented by wrists. Her sweet swing placed bat on ball equator to equator, and generating a healthy pop. Holly sent the skeletal orb soaring, and five defenders watched it sail overhead, awed.
In the skanky artificial canyon 30 metres left, the retreating building occupant swung the door closed just as the malignant cousins of firecrackers echoed as if a rousing encore, to no avail. The intended, missed.
The five fielders forewent chase and accepted the reality of no use, a feeling redirected seconds later as their attention turned to the lifeless whifflestar, face down on the sewer home plate, the plastic wand that produced her clutch hit feet away, half on the grimy granite curbing. The unintended, struck.
The ball rolled to a stop not far from a busy road artery, but with life lost, this key symbol of childhood glory went unclaimed and ever discarded by those who stopped play, through the hurried arrival of an ambulance and several cruisers, through their unhurried departures.
A fire truck emptied its high-pressure bladder on the red blot with the finger like runs to nowhere, washing away preciousness as if some mundane spillage of a tool of decorativeness.
The firefighters repacked their truck and drove off. On the sidewalk, two women walked away, the last to leave, their destination a place of morbid identification. One wrapped an arm around the other and held tight, the comforted lost in a nether realm of infinite pain, the comforter of no ability to assist an escape.
And the ball, instrument of happiness and of fleeting childhood glory, began its roll toward an indeterminate future, whether the happiness of other children, or one of the overburdened repositories of excessive refuse.