Chavez, the outfielder, wouldn't get the chance to repeat his heroics. In the sixth he had scaled the fence and snowconed one. This time the ball, crushed, wouldn't be hanging around the neighborhood. The stadium, also crushed, silently asphyxiated. With an instinctive grace and fluidity not often mustered since he blew out his knee in college, Jim leaped to his feet and punched the wall directly behind him.

It wasn't the first time. The wall and his right fist were in fact old acquaintances. Considering the decrepitude of the drywall, there were surprisingly few dents and scuff marks. It looked mostly like someone who'd been living there awhile occasionally fell into the depressed couch too heavily, bonking the back of his head. That happened too. Jim frequently fell heavily into his couch, and not always under the soberest of circumstances. Just a few weeks before, the new guy at Andy's had sent him home in the middle of a Monday night Giants game. “What the hell?” he had said. “All of a sudden I can't sit here and watch Manning blow another one for us?”

”Not tonight,” the new guy had said. “Now calm down and get the fuck outta here.”

”Asshole.” Jim stumblingly obliged. That night it was his forehead hitting the hardwood floor. Variation on a theme. His headache the next morning had a novel ring to it.

Tonight was one of those nights. Lord knows the Mets had been losing meaningless games for years. This time it was a big one. One punch wasn't enough. His flat eyes now glinting, his right arm had already shot out again before fully reloading. Contact. Same spot. Not as hard as he wanted; but the parched wall, besieged, began to crack. On the third swing his fist came in wide and was met by a stud, knuckles crumbling rather than conquering. Another old acquaintance. He sank to his knees. Air rushed out of his lungs, most of it forming a few coarse words. Gasping, he pulled himself back up to the yellowed couch by his right hand and lay a cold can against his left. Goddamn Cardinals dancing around like idiots. They think they're so great? He heaved his left leg in the direction of the screen, vaguely hoping his shoe would fly off and impale it, like in cartoons. Instead, like a pesky sidekick, the shoe patiently stayed attached. He reached for the laces. The can smacked the ground and commenced whining. He briefly grasped the aglets, howled in pain, and recoiled, striking the back of his head against the wall. Fuck that hurts, thought Jim. The can stopped whining and exploded, cascading beer thinly over the floor. Goddammit, thought Jim. Then he thought of his wall, and of the so-called slugger Beltran, and started to laugh. “At least I didn't strike out looking.” To his hot ears his words sounded like shouting. Again laughter, sharp, pointed, wound strangely tight, as light before an afternoon storm. A sob forced its way through, and the laughter cracked, giving way.


Mrs. Dombrowski was thinking about whether to call the police. Months earlier, sitting at her dining room table with the coupons, she was reaching at her neck for her glasses when she heard, emanating from a point not ten feet in front of her, a focused, thunderous thud. Her hand flew to her chest, breaking the leg of the glasses. Perhaps, if she had been wearing them, she'd have been able to discern a momentary vibration in the living room wall. But she saw nothing. She'd held her glasses up with one hand, dialed 911 with the other. The police brusquely thanked her for the report and said they were very busy. She'd called her son in Chicago. “Can you imagine? Do you think there's a problem with the building? I've been having trouble with the kitchen sink…” He asked, rhetorically, what she wanted him to do. “Nothing, nothing.”

She'd taken a few minutes to herself on the sofa, her heart still beating double polka time. Left a note for the landlord, taking the far stairs rather than risk walking past the neighbor for the elevator. After some tea, she had wound some tape, some perfectly good tape, around the break in the left leg of the frame. Later, in the bathroom mirror, she'd spotted a small cut in her chest.

After a few more thuds, the police made it clear to Mrs. Dombrowski that she mustn't call anymore. Didn't the police care? If they didn't, who would? The landlord said it was probably nothing to worry about. Probably! She was convinced either a pipe was about to burst or her neighbor was crazy. Which possibility frightened her less, she couldn't say. Maybe it was both! Already she hadn't been sleeping well. Now there weren't enough kindly gentleman television newscasters in the whole world to settle her down. Even if Mr. Allen from across the way came over and helped her tape the ones she couldn't watch until later. She could take or leave Piotr Jennings, but whatever happened to that nice Dan Rather? He had a twinkle in his eye, and so genuine. You could just tell by looking at him he wasn't in it for the fame, he liked people and he had ideals. Oooo, was he cute.

A few weeks ago the cut had finally (mostly) healed. And now, not one thud, not two, not three. Four.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Can't bother Mr. Allen, she thought, I need those tapes he makes for me. Late, mustn't bother the landlord. Can't call the police, they said not to call. “But four times, that's different,” Mrs. Dombrowski said, and craned her neck to hear her own wise words wafting back to her. Emboldened by her good judgment, she stared at the wall, planning what she would tell them to keep them from hanging up right away. This time, she would keep them on the line. She enunciated the words once, twice, thrice. They rang true. She slid her glasses back atop the bridge of her nose, took a deep breath, and picked up the phone.