FATA MORGANA

By John Thomas Tuft

Ricky pounded his new Wilson baseball glove against his thigh, waiting for the next pitch, both hopeful and a bit apprehensive that the ball might come his way. The scent of the oil he rubbed religiously into its leather, the smell of fresh mown grass heated by the sun, and the exquisite odor of hot dogs wafting on the summer breeze made it damn near a perfect setting. In the distance, the cries and songs of the birds that inhabit the shores of Lake Erie added to the texture of a perfect day. All was well, everything in its place, the only thing that mattered being the game in front of him. Bottom of the ninth, his team ahead by one run, there were two outs, but the bases were loaded. And it was the championship game. The highlight of his career. Ricky squinted his eyes against the bright sunlight, peering intently in from right field, every nerve attuned to the moment. Being the hero of the game would be a nice bonus when it came to getting Cathy Parker to notice him, he fantasized, because let’s face it, that’s where 13 year olds excel.

At first he paid no attention to the shrill squawking coming from the tree line behind him. “Ball one!” came the call from the umpire. Ricky stole a quick glance behind him. “Stee-rriike!” The noise intensified. Ricky backed up a couple steps. “Ball two!” There was an insistent fluttering of wings and a terrified peeping sound. “Stee-riiikkee two!” The woods went silent. Ricky turned around. A mother bird cocked her head at him from a low branch. He took a step toward the trees. “Ball three!” He spotted a baby bird on the ground, wings all aflutter. He took two quick steps, scooped the baby up in his glove and placed it on the limb, beside the momma. Crack! He spun around. His teammates shouted and pointed in his direction. The ball arced toward his position. He made a desperate dash to his right and lunged. The ball bounced off his glove….and you know the rest.

A forlorn Ricky trudged alone along the shore of the great lake. He slumped down on a giant rock and threw his glove at the waves. “What do you see out there?” asked a voice behind him. “Nothin’,” he grunted. He heard a soft chuckle. “You ain’t even seein’, boy!” He looked over his shoulder. There stood a woman with dark skin and proud, challenging eyes, wearing a long, flowing dress covered in geometric designs of purple and chartreuse. He stared back out to sea. “An ore freighter.” She came to his side, nodding.  “Watch now, child.” As he did, the ship levitated into the sky. It sailed on, above the water, 26,000 tons navigating the firmament with ease. Ricky rubbed his eyes hard and looked again. The ship sailed between clouds and water. “Your brain’s atellin’ ya it’s for real.” She chuckled again. “But your heart says, no, cain’t be true.”

She sat down on the rock. “I’m Esther,” she said, with a smile. He gingerly took a seat. “It’s not magic, I’m no wizard. It’s called fata morgana.” They sat in silence as the hot afternoon sun warmed the surface of the water and the ship settled back down. “What would you rather do?” Esther asked him. “Invent money? Or invent the wheel?” Ricky, being of good people, born and raised in North Springfield Township, west of Erie, PA, shrugged. “I’ll tell you a secret, Child. To invent money everybody, and I mean everybody has to believe in it.” Esther fixed those powerful eyes on him. “Or else, it don’t mean anything. Not the paper it’s printed on, or the computer screen insisting you’re rich!”

She reached over and mussed his hair, which Ricky, being 13, hated. Esther laughed. “But the wheel, only YOU gotta believe in that. A body can’t even get the biggest rocket ship onto a launching pad without a wheel. Might cost billions and billions, but only your wheel gets it where it needs to be.” She sighed. “But mind you, nobody knows who in the world invented the wheel.” Ricky blinked very slowly as he put his hair back in place just right.

Esther stood up and dusted off the dress with the shapes in purple and chartreuse. Looked out over the vast sea, now ablaze with the golden light of the setting sun. Ricky stayed seated as she started to walk away, leaving him to ponder these things or wallow in his misery. She stopped and turned around. “Child, it wasn’t about the game, or winning the championship, or impressing Cathy Parker.” That got Ricky’s attention. “No, it wasn’t even about the bird. The baby or the momma.”

Ricky stood up, wondering how she knew. Esther laughed as she turned back to her journey. “It’s about your heart, child. Win or lose. Storms or calms. Peace or war.” The waves and wind almost carried away her last words. “It’s about your heart. Always is.”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.