Now I’m trying to reel the reader in and score some sympathy for old Joe. Just think back on your life choices. Are there any that you would change if you could go back in time? Do you think that’s cheating fate? Do you believe in the butterfly effect which means that even small changes in the past can ripple and have large implications in the future?
Read on and enjoy Extra Innings – Part 6.
If you want to read the previous parts of this story, please click on these links:
Joe still remembered the code to open the overhead door for the garage. He walked in past his own car and into the house not quite sure what to do or say if he saw Beth.
He found her eating a salad at the kitchen counter. She was still in her work clothes, a dark suit and blouse, and was still wearing her store name tag.
“Hey. Your finally home from the game. I wasn’t sure if I was going to see you or not. I was just about to write a note.”
Joe was dumbfounded at the sight of his ex-wife. She looked as beautiful as he remembered, but there was something sad behind her eyes. Did I put that sadness there? He longed to hold her in his arms and tell her he was sorry and that he wanted a second chance to make things work.
All he came up with was, “note?”
“Yup. Before I head back to the store. I came home to grab something to eat that isn’t from food court and freshen up my makeup. We are starting inventory on Monday and I want to make sure that we sell as much inventory off as we can before then.”
Joe felt his heart sink.
“Do you have to? I thought maybe we could talk.”
“Talk? About what. We’ve talked before Joe. You aren’t going to change. I’m not going to change. Why bring it all up again. I don’t need this right now. I’ve got enough stress to deal with at work.”
Joe felt hopeless.
“Maybe after you get home?”
“Um…I’m not sure when I’ll be home. My staff has been working really hard and I thought I’d take them out for drinks after work. It might be late. Then I have to get up early in the morning and do it all over again.”
“Maybe I could join you for drinks?”
Beth laughed at this.
“You? The last time you joined us for drinks you sat there like a lump. I know you don’t have a lot in common with the people I work with, but you could at least make an effort.”
Joe remembered going out for drinks with the team from Beth’s store. It was a disaster. They talked about all of the store gossip and company politics. They talked about who had slept with who. When the District Manager’s name came up in the conversation, some of the younger girls had glanced at Beth and giggled making Joe wonder what was going on. He felt like he didn’t fit in.
“I could give it another try.”
“We’ll be talking about the store inventory and upcoming sales. You’d just be bored.”
Beth’s body language made it very clear that he wasn’t welcome or wanted.
“OK. I’ll wait up for you and maybe we can talk a bit when you get home.”
“Let’s save it for the morning. We don’t want to have this talk after one of my 16 hour days.”
“OK. The morning it is. I’ll make you breakfast.”
Beth smiled and shook her head.
“Sure, whatever. Remember I have to be at the mall by 8:30 so nothing fancy. Just coffee is fine.”
She gathered her stuff and moved to leave. Joe felt like he needed to say something.
She turned to look at him. “What.”
“I do love you.”
She gave him a puzzling look, shook her head, and walked out to the garage.
While his wife was gone, Joe wanted to use the opportunity to try to figure out exactly what was going on. Was he ten years in the past permanently? Could he turn things around with Beth or was it too late? Could he actually change the past to improve the future?
He grabbed a scratch pad and a pen from the utility drawer in the kitchen and went out to his favorite recliner which looked ten years newer in the family room of their former home. He sat down and began to make notes about what had happened and tried to recount the important events that had not happened yet. He spent an hour or so thinking through the possibilities. He was suddenly hungry and made his way back to the kitchen to make a sandwich. He tore off the pages of the scratch pad with his notes, folded them and put them in his shirt pocket so he could look at them while he ate. As he was doing this, the phone rang. Joe wasn’t sure whether he should answer it. On impulse, he picked up the receiver on the wall mounted phone.
“Joey. Hello. It’s your mother.”
Joe was stunned to hear the voice. He suddenly remembered that his parents were still alive in 2004. His dad would die from a stroke about a year and a half later and his mom would follow six months later from what many thought was a broken heart.
“Mom? Hey Mom. How are you doing?”
His parents had moved to Florida two years earlier.
“I’m the same as I was when you talked to me this morning. The same aches and pains.”
“Right. I was just…worried that you called back on the same day.”
“I just called to remind you that your Aunt Mary’s birthday is coming up and you need to go visit her. Buy her some chocolates or something from us and bring them to her.”
Joe then remembered that his mom’s sister was still in town in a nursing home in 2004.
“OK Mom. I will.”
“Good. Call us after you see her. Poor thing is going to waste away in that place. Please, don’t ever let Mikey put us in a place like that. I would rather have a bullet in my brain than go to one of those places.”
As it turned out, his parents didn’t live long enough to be put in a nursing home.
“I…We won’t Mom.”
“OK Joey, I gotta go. We’ve got bingo tonight.”
Suddenly Joe felt some urgency.
“Wait Mom. Is Dad there.”
“Yes. Why? What is it?”
“Can you put him on?”
He then heard his mother yell away from the phone.
“Robert! Pick up the phone in the bedroom. Joey wants to talk to you.”
Joe heard the sound of a phone receiver being picked up and fumbled.
“Joe? What is it? I’m in the middle of shaving. We’ve got the bingo and your mother makes me shave.”
“I don’t want you looking like a homeless person, Robert.”
“OK. OK. If you don’t stop losing at bingo, we will be homeless people.”
“Oh stop Robert. Remember Joey wants to talk to us.”
“OK Joe, what is it? Are you sick? Did you lose your job?”
“Is Beth pregnant?” his mom asked hopefully.
“No. No. None of those things. I just wanted to tell the both of you that I love you and I miss you very much.”
Joe could feel his eyes welling up.
“We just saw you at Christmas,” his dad answered.
“Are you sure you’re not sick?” his mother asked.
“No. Everything is…fine. I just wanted to tell you both how I feel.”
“I love you too and so does your father. Tell him Robert.”
“Yeah. Yeah. What your mother said.”
Joe and Mike’s father was never comfortable with displaying any affection toward his sons. It’s not that he didn’t love them. He put his wife and children before himself on many occasions. It was just that he saw displaying affection as a sign of being unmanly.
When his parents hung up. Joe felt conflicting emotions. He was given a chance to speak to his parents again. He wasn’t sure that he had convinced them how he felt.
He went back to the recliner. It was now about 8:30 PM and he thought he would watch some 2004 television and wait for his wife to return.
As he sat in the chair and went through what had happened today, he began to drift off and then, finally, his head went back and he fell asleep. His sleep did not last long, however. He heard music playing that began to bring him back to consciousness. It was familiar music. Timeless music. Then his mind began to recognize the tune. It was ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’. He came to another realization. It was his cell phone alarm that he was hearing. This jarred him awake and he found himself sitting in the wooden seat from Maxwell Stadium in his apartment. It was 2013. His clothes smelled like the smoke coming from the grills at the stadium.
Joe was motionless in the stadium seat in his apartment for a couple of minutes. Am I crazy? Was it real or a dream? These seemed like key questions. Then his analytical mind took over. He looked at his cell phone. His alarm went off at 6AM. Mike had left his apartment about three hours ago. His time in the past (dream/reality) had been about three hours from the end of the game to when he sat in the recliner and dozed off. If it was a dream, the time that elapsed in the dream was the same as the time that he was asleep. If it wasn’t a dream, he had not slept very long at all. He definitely felt like he had barely slept.
He wasn’t sure what to do. Could he just go on with his day and act like this didn’t happen? Was the time period he returned to important? He got up from the stadium seat and the forgotten program book fell out of his lap onto the floor. He glanced at it and then was struck by the date. June 16, 2004. It was the same date as the program book in his dream/trip. Was it a coincidence? A trick by Joe’s subconscious mind?
Joe came to a decision. He needed to shake the cobwebs off, jump in the shower, drink a lot of coffee, and get to work. This was not rational. Maybe he was losing it. Noting like a big dose of routine accounting to chase away the crazy.
Joe went to the kitchen and started the coffee brewing. With the first part of his plan complete, he turned the shower to the verge of scalding, stripped off his ballpark scented clothes, and stepped in.
The shower can be a great thinking place. As Joe washed off the memory of his adventure and the resulting lack of sleep, he began to think about the possibilities. Was I really back in 2004? Was it the program book that determined the date? Can I go back again and change things or am I just an observer to the inevitable destiny of my life? Is the coffee ready yet?
With this last thought, Joe snapped back to reality. He finished rinsing off. Stepped out of the shower and dried off with a towel. He completely forgot to shave in his haste to get to the caffeine infused coffee and in his jumble of conflicting thoughts. Joe threw on some clothes for work, poured the remaining coffee into a travel mug, and was out the door.
Joe made it to the office. He had to fight the urge to nod off at the red lights that impeded his progress. The bright sunlight only made him groggier as he meandered to his cubicle. On her way back from the break room, carrying her kitty cat mug, Carmela, the receptionist, stopped by his cubicle.
“Joey, you’re back. You sounded awful yesterday when you called in. Are you feeling better?”
Joe looked up at her with bloodshot eyes and a day’s worth of beard stubble.
“I’m better, thanks.”
“You look horrible. You shouldn’t have come in. You’re just going to spread your germs. I can’t afford to get sick. Why don’t you go home?”
“I’ve got too much to do,” Joe lied.
“Well, don’t get the rest of us sick. I better go get the Lysol and spray the shared surfaces.”
Joe marveled at Carmella’s compassion for his well-being. She was worried about him spreading a dreaded disease to the office. At least his illness gave her something to do. Her nail filing and Sodoku games would have to take the back seat to spraying Lysol everywhere.
With his completion of the Healthway numbers, he didn’t have much to do. The fall was a slow time of year leading up to the frenzy of tax season that was two to three months away.
He sat in his cubicle with his elbows on the countertop and his head resting in his hands. He must have dozed, because he was startled awake by the voice of Johnny Provenza.
“Wake up Joe. This ain’t Motel 6.”
“Sorry Johnny. I was just… I’m still not feeling all that well.”
“Yeah. Carm told me that you are carrying typhoid or malaria. Why don’t you finish up and go home.”
“I’m fine, really. Were the Healthway numbers OK?”
“The what? Oh yeah, those. I gave them to Dad yesterday morning. They must be fine. He hasn’t said anything.”
So you didn’t look them over, you idiot. It’s a good thing I don’t want to get you in trouble with Daddy.
“Well that’s good. Let me know if either of you have questions on it.”
“I will. What else have you got going on?”
“Just some quarterly tax filings and other administrative stuff.”
“Nothing that can’t wait? You should get out of here. Go to the doctor and get some antibiotics or something.”
Joe thought that his need for sleep was beginning to outweigh his need to be in the office.
“You’re probably right Johnny. I’ll see if I can get an appointment and get medicated and rest.”
“Today’s Thursday. Why don’t you stay home tomorrow and knock this out of your system? You never call in sick, so you’ve got the time coming.”
Joe’s mind began to think through having three and a half days off. Maybe he could put this whole thing to rest.
“OK. That’s probably a good idea. I can catch up next week.”
“We’ll only call you if there’s an emergency. Go get some rest,” Johnny said just a bit too loud so that other heads pivoted to watch him be a boss.
An emergency like your father asking you a question you can’t answer about the work I did for you.
“OK. Thanks John.”
Joe grabbed his keys and headed for the door. As he passed Carmela, she covered her nose and sprayed some Lysol as she looked his way.
“You’re welcome. Just get better.”