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So what does Mike do as the world goes dark on his daughter? Buries himself in his new Off the Wall advertising campaign to pump everyone up about the Devil Rays, in his 16 hours a day of work and his dozen speeches a week--his overnight bag always packed and ready in his car so he can bolt justlikethat. He's lying in bed one Friday night, recuperating from himself, when Bec runs in wearing new battery-powered glasses that whir and telescope, like a zoom lens, to magnify objects. "Sharp!" he enthuses. "Space-age!" Then he pulls the sheet over his head against the wave of despair and remains in that bed, with his work notepad and phone, the whole weekend.
One evening a half year after the diagnosis, Mike comes home from work and tells Libby how frustrating his day has been, how all the petty politics and stuffed shirts are gumming up his Betty Crockery. Libby explodes. His day? What about her day, running from doctors to vision technologists to Braille tutors to teachers' conferences? What about the two crowns she's fractured, grinding them in her sleep from the tension of going to war alone? "Our lives are going to change!" she cries. "If you want to continue to be a man driven by your career, you can. But you're going to miss something. You can lose your second child the way you lost your first. There's this whole other world out there, and you're missing it."
Him ... blind? He cringes, staggers around for another week, delivers another Fun Is Good speech to another roomful of enthused local citizens and is trudging back to work afterward when a thought hisses in his head: You're a liar. This isn't fun. He quits the next day. Walks away after seven months from the thing he craved for 20 years. Now what?
He wants to change. He wants to turn and face this new shadow ... but how? He keeps finding himself in front of that painting of his father, above his sleeping girl. It's all there inside that man, the malady and the antidote, coiled one around the other, nearly impossible to disentangle. It's all still there, deep in Mike's memory....
The swimming pool. He must have seen that amputated stump before, he must have, but the first time it dawned on him, his first consciousness of it, was at a pool as his father stripped to his trunks. Mike's eyes filled--not quite with tears, his mother, Mary Frances, would recall, but with a luminousness--and in that same instant Bill grasped what was occurring and began to hop on his good leg, flapping the stump in a crazy dance and singing, "Daddy's little leg ... Daddy's little leg...." And what was rising up the little boy's throat came out as laughter instead of a sob, and ... that was it. From that day on Mike was proud to be the one to whom his father handed the wooden leg at the ocean's edge so the boy could run it back to their towels before they dived into the waves. Tickled when his dad gathered the gawking children around him, hammered a nail into the wooden leg and snorted, "Now go home and see if your fathers can do that!" Delighted when his dad carved out a hollow in the wooden leg and used it as his ashtray.
Yes, it occurs to Mike. That's it. The way to confront the thing he's been fleeing, Bec's loss, his loss. Dad's way. Hammer it with humor. He starts to sway and sing, to the tune of the 1962 hit Johnny Angel, "Ret-in-i-tis...." Rebecca takes the cue and sings, "pig-men-to-sa...." Back and forth they go until it's their song. He bangs his head into the front door, pretending he didn't see it; she mimics him and they collapse in a heap, laughing. "What's the matter with you, kid?" he yelps. "You blind?"
"Yeah," she croaks. "What do ya expect out of a blind kid?"
"Oh, I see.... So you're still blind."
They both play hooky: she from school, he from work. The Veecks hit the road for most of '99. "I want you to see all the things that are wonderful," Mike tells her, swallowing those three extra words: while you can. They go to Yosemite and the Badlands, to Bermuda and Ireland and Guadalajara and New England and New York City. They see snow in the Grand Canyon, ride horseback in Death Valley. They jump fences to bury their noses in rose fields, to pick cotton and almonds and pecans and pistachios, to harvest life and save scraps of it in her wooden memory box. He lowers the roof of their rented convertible, pulls Rebecca into his lap so she can grip the steering wheel and know what it feels like to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, big breakers crashing the cliffs on her left, sea breeze whipping through her hair and the oldies station cranked. "Car dance!" he bellows, jiggling the wheel left and right as she whoops.
He spoon-feeds her Grandpa's spirit, every story he can remember, as they roam. Did you know, Rebecca, that once when your grandfather owned the minor league Brewers, back in the '40s, they played at a ballpark in Columbus, Ohio, that was so dark they could barely see? And instead of getting mad he turned it into fun by having his players wear miner's lamps and his first- and third-base coaches hold up lanterns and his second baseman take light-meter readings? Not that Grandpa was averse to darkness, because another time, when his Brewers were losing a critical game, he had his electrician short out the stadium lights--zap!--sorry, game's canceled, a shame it'll have to be replayed.