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Hot Corner Heroes
by Ace Toscano

“Hurry up,” urged Margaret. “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

Gene Henley butted his way through the double glass doors, backside first, and followed Margaret’s flailing wet tracks down the long line of empty washers. The place seemed deserted.

“Hurry, dumb-dumb.”

“I’m coming,” he said, shuffling along at her heels. She forged ahead slowly in eight inch bursts. He took care not to nudge her. He watched her teeter dangerously to the left and heave her right leg forward. The floor shook. She teetered to the right.

“Hurry up!” She was rushing to Seventeen and Eighteen. Hurtling forward, she sent up another volley of cries, “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

“I’m coming,” he repeated.

Seventeen and Eighteen were Margaret’s machines. They sat directly across the aisle from two new driers, Margaret’s driers, and an arm’s length from a wide work table. She thought it all marvelously convenient. Set up there, she could wash, dry and fold with a minimum of toil. Yet, despite the convenience afforded by that cozy niche, Gene thought it hardly worth the price of being jerked from a good sleep and shoved unmercifully toward this sordid predawn rendezvous.

“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

A stale and acrid brew of lint and ammonia shot into his nostrils and sickened him. No, it surely wasn’t worth it, but knowing intimately the misery that would be his if Margaret, by chance, should be robbed of her precious machines, he kept in close step as though prodded by the same sense of urgency.

It was six A.M., Sunday morning.

“Look,” she wailed. Her high-pitched squeal wrung with disappointment. “We’re not first.”

Gene looked. A whirling rainbow of fabric tumbled and clicked, tumbled and clicked, in one of the driers. Thank God, he thought, it wasn’t one of hers.

Margaret stopped and quickly staked out her territory. She elbowed open the door of one drier and threw inside the big blue and orange box she had been cradling against her chest since leaving home. Then, she turned to Gene – he stood right behind her, stooped and waiting – and tore loose from beneath his chin her black patent leather purse. She put that in the other drier. As she struggled to unbutton her black woolen coat, she indicated a spot on the floor with an awkward point of her toe. Gene set down the two baskets.

“Not there, Stupid,” she snapped.

Gene cringed.

While she pinched and pulled at the green kerchief knot that dangled beneath her chin, she motioned again, almost losing her balance as she did – kick, step, kick – “One here and one here.”

Gene bowed before her and resolutely rearranged the baskets. His head hung low, a sullen grey bead. Without speaking, he rose, turned and receded back along the wet trail to a point a few steps shy of the double glass doors where the wall to his left opened full-width into a dark, corridor-like extension. He traced the right-angle, his preoccupied gaze cast downward, and moved slowly down a row of molded plastic seats. Safely out of view and earshot of his darling wife, he stopped four seats shy of the far wall, next to a small green table, and gratefully slid his bottom into a smoothly contoured, pink plastic form.

From a stack of magazines on the table, he pulled one that flopped open lazily to page three of an article entitled Yankee Misfits Won’t Play Ball In Japan. As he flattened the pages on his lap, his eye caught the splash of a once familiar name, Al Meoli. A warm smile leaked out onto his lips as he recalled the crazy antics of Meatball Al and plunged, headlong, into the article’s mainstream.

Al Meoli-san, ex-Tiger third-sacker, now playing for the Nagasaki Braves…

“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

Margaret arrived, purse in hand, and plopped her huffing, barreled carcass onto the seat beside him. Pearls of sweat glistened darkly on her brow.

“Well, they’re in,” she sighed. As she spoke, her eyes wobbled blindly in their sockets. She dropped her purse daintily onto her lap and sprung its brass-plated latch.

At the bottom of that stuffed and bulging purse, beneath the clutter of unpaid bills and used pink tissues, the red wallet, brown pill bottles, leaking complimentary pens, and lipstick, under crumpled wads of white and yellow paper scraps, in its squalid depths, there was a tiny photograph. It lay face down to an unkempt bed of fuzz, hair, and assorted crumbs that had gathered along the seam, and though it was often neglected it remained one of Margaret’s most cherished possessions, as highly prized, in fact, as her father’s gold bordered mass cards and paltry, five line obituary.

It pictured a young girl, pale and plump, not the least bit striking, tightly wrapped and bound in a white, satin and gauze party dress. Her head bore a silly profusion of blonde ringlets, curiously artificial and wig-like, and was tilted stupidly to the side in an attitude obviously intended to be cute. Her eyes, remote, wore an insipid glaze, her mouth, an absurdly idiotic simper. The photograph, itself, had been carefully clipped from a wider frame, betrayed here only by a narrow strip of grass visible between the girl’s bowed calves, and a hand, cut off at the wrist, set tentatively upon her shoulder, and gave the vague overall impression of a fat and piteous toy doll.

It was hardly the kind of plaything you would offer a child though. In fact if you spotted one of your own fondling it you probably would snatch it from their grasp without explaining your irrational fear that the inbred degeneracy it reflected might somehow rub off on them. Yet, for Margaret, the portrait oozed with ineffable charm and often at times like this she would draw it from her purse, dwell on it longingly, and surrender herself to the nostalgic currents it stirred within her.

She had just begun to rifle through the collected refuse with her thick, stubby pink fingers, when out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed Gene’s snickering profile. Abruptly, she snapped her purse shut.

“I said ‘they’re in,’” she repeated. “Oh, he never listens. Never. The bum. He is nothing but a bum, ya know. Pity me. You’d think that at least he might pay attention, wouldn’t you? Well, look at him, humph.”

Gene read on without stirring.

But Meoli’s most recent unsportsmanlike display – it centered around an incident since dubbed The Irreverent Moon – has brought to an end yet another chapter in this illustrious renegade’s stormy career.

And how does the forty-three year old veteran feel about being the first player, foreign or domestic, ever to be booted out of Japanese ball?

“It’s a goddamned honor,” he said recently. “Really. I’m very proud.”

Margaret’s whining oration finally broke through, disrupting Gene’s stream of thought. He realized now that someone was there with them. Keeping his head bent toward the magazine, he slid his gaze sideways, past the wide expanse of Margaret’s back, toward the four seats that plugged the narrow end wall of the waiting area. There, he could barely discern a sprawled out silhouette. He lifted his head and peered over Margaret’s hunched shoulder, past the brittle pink conch of her ear, through the errant strands of her matted lusterless hair, straight into the face of a young black man.

The youth seemed oversized, thought not threateningly so. He wore a navy blue jogging suit trimmed with thick red and white stripes that stretched the full length of his long beefy legs, and gold running shoes which, thrust out before him, he now began clicking together at the insteps as if to the relentless beating of the machinery in the other room. Spread open on his lap was a thick, black-covered book. His eyes met Gene’s, quickly grazed Margaret’s nagging, vile features, and then shot away.

“… a regular good-for-nothing bum,” she concluded.

There came no response.

Margaret rose and walked off, muttering to herself as she went, “Well, that’s a man for ya. Yeah, humph, that’s a man. Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

“Hmmm?” sounded Gene, pretending he hadn’t heard.

“Well, listen to that,” she clucked. “It talks. Never mind, now, Gene. Never mind.”

“Hmm?”

“I said ‘Never mind,’ Drip!” She pivoted with a menacing slowness. “Now, Read your book.”

“Magazine.” He shouldn’t have corrected her, he knew.

“That’s about all he’s good for anyway, ya know, reading books…”

“Magazine.” He did it again.

“He’s what you call a sports nut – a real sports nut, hee hee, if you know what I mean, hee hee. Doesn’t play any though, humph… right Gene? Couldn’t bring himself to do that. No, he just watches them on TV, listens on the radio, or reads about them… IN BOOKS.”

“Magazines.” OOPS!

She rolled her weight deliberately from one leg to the other and cocked her head. “What the hell are you mumbling about Gene? Why don’t you speak up so the man can hear you?”

“It’s a magazine, dear,” he said, “not a book. See?” He held it up in his two hands and shook it. A subscription form fluttered to the floor. “A mag-a-zine. Even a stupid good-for-nothing bum…”

“Oh! It’s a MAG-A-ZINE. A MAG-A-ZINE,” she squealed. She bubbled around the corner heading back toward her washers. “That’s rich – a MAG-A-ZINE!”

Gene whispered low, “That’s right, Your Royal Fatness, a mag-a-zine.” He had directed the remark toward the black man, hoping to evoke a laugh. He wouldn’t have minded a little conversation, but the young man ignored him, so he turned his attention back to the article.

The score had been deadlocked at two all in the home half of the ninth. With two men out, the winning run was parked at third and Meoli was due up. Meatball, completely baffled thus far, was wearing an 0 for 4 three-whiff collar. That’s when Braves manager, Kyoto Hosai, apparently reluctant to have the game hinge on Meoli’s patented all-or-nothing swipes, elected to send up a pinch-hitter…

When the groaning of the machinery dropped a halftone, the black man yawned and stretched and slapped shut his book. Drawing in his legs, he hoisted his ample, supple frame, and moved off toward the washers with choppy, bounding steps. His was the clumsy, butt jiggling gait of a third string center whose only shots at the hoop came at the tail end of hopeless routs. He stopped in the archway, jacked himself up onto his toes while he strained and squinted inquiringly toward the rear. Then, he chugged off in that direction.

Margaret, by then, was well into the first rinse. The easy, rolling, to and fro motion of the washers had drawn her into a dreamy semi consciousness. She lifted her head and saw the large youth floating buoyantly toward her. He moved like a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It would take many ropes and many men, she thought, to keep him on the ground. And what if they should suddenly let go? And what if…

* * *

“Shhh—,“ hissed the black man through clenched white teeth. His nostrils were ringed with red and flaring. The underside of his arched upper lip lay exposed, pink and dripping. He pushed Margaret’s soft, warm bulk to the wall and pinned her there, pressing a long silver blade into the flabby wrinkle that joined her throat and chin. She sucked in a yard of stale air.

“Shhh—,” he repeated.

He dropped his free hand, opened the front of his pants, and then, one at a time, seizing tightly her frail, spongy wrists, forced Margaret’s hands to his crotch.

“Play,” came the phlegm-cracked plea. “Play.”

While keeping a steady pressure on the blade, the black man laid his drool moistened cheek on top of Margaret’s head and, with a circular motion, began to brush it against her reddish-brown tresses. She let out a soft whimper.

“Shhhhh,” he whispered, catching a strand of her hair in his lips, and then in his teeth. “Play.”

She cheated at first, touching only with the sharp edges of her nails, but, when she felt the blade point turn and probe the plush creases of her chin, she yielded to his coaxing and allowed her fingertips to melt into him. Gentle stroking and squeezing brought him soon to a resonant moan. He lifted his free hand and began pawing savagely at her plump breasts, kneading wildly the warm, rolling tissue, pinching and tugging her stout, leathery nipples.

“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh…”

* * *

Alone in that far dark corner, Gene squirmed rhythmically in his seat. His face was upturned and gleaming. He closed the magazine on both thumbs and without once disturbing the taut curve of his flashlight grin, joggled his wiry butt back till it refilled the smooth hollows of the chair. He parted the pages.

Meoli, undaunted, waved off the sub and assumed his stance at the plate. Hosai, incensed, then flew out of the dugout, calling time, and ordered Meoli off the field. When Meoli refused to budge, he repeated his command, this time with an emphatic gesture that ignited the crowd. Meoli promptly countered with some gestures of his own and thumbed his nose at the enraged skipper, uppercut an Italian salute to the lurking, would-be pinch-hitter, and waved his erect middle finger at the now hissing, whistling fans…

* * *

Fiery breath lapped at Margaret’s neck as the brutal, lustful assault on her magnificent breasts continued. Sensing her assailant’s peaking passion, she began woking him over earnestly with a vigorous churning action – pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling her tightly clenched fingers, hoping that once appeased, he would take his leave.

Abandoning her breasts, the black man snatched Margaret’s coat and flipped it to the floor where, spread open, it revealed a luxurious red satin lining. He slipped his forefingers beneath the straps of her loose fitting gown and tugged, gently coaxing her to raise her arms. When she had, he eased the gown up over her head and cast it aside with one smooth, flowing motion.

He curled his arms around her back, slid a hand up along her spine, and grabbed a fistful of her silky, auburn hair.

“Down,” he commanded, pulling her close and easing her down toward the floor and the fine satin. As they descended, he allowed the tip of his tongue to play in a creamy swirl beneath her ear. Margaret purred.

* * *

Gene rolled the magazine into a pipe and pounded it across his opened palm. His head was jerking spastically from side to side, his eyes teared with excitement, and the same wide wet grin greased his lips. Doubled over and gasping, conscious suddenly of the need to take a leak, he rolled onto his side and slid off the chair and onto the floor. When he had regained his composure, he climbed back into the seat and reopened the magazine.

Hosai, as well as the fans, was flabbergasted. He signaled frantically for his coaches to come out and assist him in removing the recalcitrant Meoli from the field. But, before his force could mount the first dugout step, Meoli-san had his pants down and was flagrantly shaking his white butt at Hosai’s astounded face…

* * *

The black man was done and out and across the highway by the time the swinging doors gasped shut. From their separate vantage points, Margaret and Gene watched him run into the mist, his laundry-stuffed pillowcase bobbing on his shoulder, his golden running shoes bouncing off the pavement like sparks. Margaret’s eyes remained fixed on the haze long after the last glint of gold had disappeared.

Seventeen and Eighteen popped – and then stopped. A thick silent ooze flooded the laundromat. Suspended in that quiet effusion, nothing moved or sounded until, finally, Margaret cracked a long flat burp.

Wit a dejected, half-hearted sign, she started loading the driers, her driers. Back and forth she swung, pirouetting with the grace of a circus bear. Her fat-laden arms, resistant to the last, yielded only with the utmost strain. Her movement was punctuated by desperate, pleading cries that at once soothed and propelled her.

Finally, both driers were loaded and running. Margaret forced herself back toward the waiting area. Her hands were clamped tightly around her purse. She rounded the corner and spotted Gene, still head-bent and beaming.

With his ankles bound by the tangle of his breeches, briefs, and jock, Meoli began hopping wildly across the field, stopping every few yards to bend over and flash an undulating moon at the crowd. Somewhere beyond second base, on the fringe of the outfield grass, Meatball made his heroic last stand. There, his frantic pursuers converged on his defiant, hunched-over form…

Margaret eyed Gene critically.

“You know, Gene,” she said, offhandedly, as she lumbered wearily toward him, “you’re a jerk. You’re a god damn jerk.”

His eyes snapped to her with alarming quickness. They seemed to her ablaze with murderous intentions. She gasped. “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.”

He glared at her for a long, hard moment and then softened. His gaze drooped to the floor.

“So I’ve been told, Margaret,” he said, nodding limply. “So I’ve been told.”

The End

 

Copyright © 1981- by Ace Toscano. All rights reserved.

(I recently came across this story which I wrote back in 1981 while living in Kalispell, Montana. Clipped to it was a rejection slip from the editors of swank magazine. Can't help thinking I was a little daft to imagine the story was worth publishing in the first place.)

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