But facts are facts. The days, in all likelihood, will only grow cloudier, and Santa Claus won't walk through her bedroom door and pull up the blinds. So she pops another one of the Great Classics--she's already got more than 100 recorded books under her belt--into her player and listens away the rest of the day, knowing that her mind is her treasure and that blind men like Ray Charles, the one she loves most, have seen something beyond and dragged the whole world there with them. Reminding herself of the dream she had years ago, before the eclipse even began, in which a little girl, one who looked like her but wasn't quite her, came up to her, touched her eyes and said, "I'm sorry ... but you have a path to take."
There's one place where she can see. One place where Rebecca knows every stairway and doorway so well, it's as if she weren't blind. Where she has freedom to wander, and family at every turn: Dad in the seats beyond third base kibitzing with fans, Mom in the office lending a hand, half brother Night Train on the ball field supervising between-innings mayhem, and dozens of employees doubling as her uncles and aunts.
When school's out and the RiverDogs are at home, she works a few games each week and then just roams the park during a few more. She mans the guest-services booth near the entrance. She sells programs. She keeps the little kids smiling while they wait in line for the jump castle. She escorts Charlie the RiverDog, who can barely see through his costume's headpiece--the blind leading the blind. She dresses up as characters on Geek Night and '80s Night. She does radio ads for the team and occasional player introductions on the P.A. mike. She plays Twister with eight-year-old fans but gives them fair warning: "I'm gonna beat your booty!" She's all empathy and charisma while handling callers on the office phone, until one fan too many on a rainy night demands to know when the downpour will stop and the ball game begin. "What am I?" she blurts. "A psychic or somethin'?"
She loves the smells. She loves being the last human being who still yells, "Charge!" when she hears the tape-recorded bugle. She loves the aura around the game she can barely see. "My real job," she confides, "is to keep everyone at the ballpark happy. To keep everyone alive. Especially when my dad's not here. He tells me I'm his secret eyes when he's gone. I let him know when something's not right."
Sometimes she sits alone in the stands when the ballpark's empty, tilts her head so the edges of her retinas, where not all the photoreceptor cells are dead, take in that beautiful sweep of fuzzy green. "I can feel it when I stare at a baseball field," she says. "I've got stuff to do, something big to help people, something that has to do with a baseball field. The world is stupid, so stupid--it fights and kills over land. I look at a baseball field, and I see this piece of land that's everybody's land. And every field I see has a piece of my family in it. I know this sounds corny, but I see my grandfather out there walking on the grass on his peg leg. I see this place where you can run and be a child somewhere besides your own home. And who made this place that way? My dad! I love him for that.
"I like to think about what I'll do if I run a team some day. I want to come up with crazy ideas, because ideas are great. If you can make 'em, wonderful. If you can't, I'm sorry for you. People are too serious. People need to loosen up. Like I've got this one idea where you put Slip 'n' Slides all along the sidelines of the field, and you soap 'em up and let kids slide and sit in the sun while the ball game's going on right beside them, and I know you'd probably have to put a net up to protect them, and I know the idea needs a little work, but...."
The closest she's come to that, her hands-down favorite ballpark moment each season, is Big Splash Day, when she puts on her bathing suit and climbs onto a platform over a water tank, baiting bystanders to ante up a buck to hurl three balls at the bull's-eye and dunk her.
Mike watches her from a distance. He's sure it could be like this at big league ballparks, no matter what the stuffed shirts say. No matter that he's taken two more cracks at it, with the Florida Marlins and the Detroit Tigers, neither job lasting long because divine lunacy can't last in a bureaucracy, because of the usual turf battles, and because he insisted on commuting from Charleston to be here for moments like this.
"Ahhh, you throw like a girl!" she taunts a fan. Mike grins. Swear to God, he's never seen her so alive.