Longball: Chapter 1: Anaconda
By Stirling Edgewood
The anaconda, when gorged, is a languid knot of sinewy contentment. He lies wrapped in twisted ropes of casual digestion, with his methodical gizzard deconstructing a preposterously large mass of animal flesh as he slumbers. He lolls placidly, perhaps on a thick limb of a mossy tree, or a comfortably warm stone. He heeds not the avian cacophony of jackdaws, macaws, or cockatoos, even as they perch and preen on his extremities, littering his skin with feathers, fruit, and guano. The furtive scramblings of beetles, purposeful trudgings of ants, and glistening oozings of slugs go unnoticed, so at ease is he. Even the sultry slitherings of a female snake, drawn by the attractive wealth of his black bulk, elicit barely a budge, as she winds her way between his curves and coils to extract his valuable seed. As the seasons pass, rain beads gently on his skin, dust cakes in his crevasses, and his once-sleek sheen dims into dusky spots and wrinkles. Yet all the while, his belly gradually empties and his slack frame swells menacingly with vigorous new mass. When the moss and the mud have rendered him nearly indistinguishable from the slowly decaying matter in which he lies, and passing eyes mistake him for a rotting log or some ancient, crumbling rock, at last he expels the few bits indigestible detritus from a meal so distant as to be forgotten. He splits his skin, and emerges with robust eagerness for the ravenous hunt.
Anthony Condoletti piloted his Cadillac down Broad Street through the gray slush of a Philadelphia January. Its formerly lustrous blue shine had grown dull with time, and was now mottled with patches of white salt. The wheel-wells were hung with potato-shaped stalactites of ice and road grime. As he pulled to the curb, he adjusted the rear-view mirror until he could see his own dark brown eyes, smooth, swarthy skin, and slick black hair. He opened his lips and peered at his teeth, shining at attention in rigid white lines, then picked imagined plaque from between their spotless ranks. The diamonds in the gold band on his ring finger winked a fusillade of reflected gleams back at him. He tugged the cuffs of his Krass Borthers suit into their proper station, glaring with annoyance at a button on the left cuff dangling at an improperly loose angle. On the seat beside him was an opened pack of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets. Only one small bite was missing from the pair, the rest of the sugary temptation scorned and ignored.
The atonal voice of Merril Reese, a man apparently born without a nasal cavity, chanted out the play-by-play, “The Eagles are lined up with Montgomery as the single set-back, Smith and Carmichael split out wide to the right. Jaworski takes the snap and gives to the runningback, and he is met at the line by a wall of defenders, bringing up fourth down.”
“I can’t understand it,” interjected the gravelly baritone of Jim Barniak, the color commentator. “You’ve got to pick up the first down this late in the game when you’re down by four. The Eagles can’t afford to give the ball back now,” he whined with indignation. “When you have a deep strike talent like Carmichael, you need to send him deep, put some air under the pigskin, a longball, and put some points on the board.”
“It’s not quite time yet,” Anthony’s smooth baritone advised the radio sagaciously. “You have to soften them up with the run, lure the safety down into the box first, then you can strike. You have to roast the turkey nice and slow before you can eat. You have to hide in the grass, and wait patiently for your prey to step too close.”
Anthony glanced out the window at the lazily falling snow. He pulled a pair of galoshes out of his glove box, and pulled them in squeaky protest over his brilliantly shined wingtips and up to his lean ankles. “I’m going to need new leather soon,” he told himself, noting the once-crisp corners of his shoes had eroded to a beveled roundness. He looked in his burgundy calfskin wallet, and counted only a few lonely bills. He clicked off the car, pocketed his keys, and stepped out into the damp world. As he passed the front of the car and turned from the street toward the sidewalk, his foot came down into a pothole, disguised by the filth floating on the surface of its water-filled depths. His extremity descended into the murky hole up to his shin, overtopping his rubbers, and his shoe let out an ominous burp of gas as the cold sloshed into it. He groaned with disgust, pulled up his soggy foot, and shook it violently in an instinctive attempt to fling off the uncomfortable wetness. However, the galoshes’ impervious waterproofing only served to imprison the offending moisture, while the shaking distributed it down to his toes. His foot now numb from the cold, he limped clumsily to the curb.
Directly in front of him stood the Girard Trust Building, its tall marble columns draped with a canvas banner bearing the trademark large ruddy G in austere sans-serif. He trudged up to the great oak door between the proud Corinthian columns and pulled it open, revealing a small antechamber of polished marble. Set into one wall was a contraption consisting of a key pad with buttons, a luminous green screen with crudely pixilated words pleading “Please insert your card”, and a plastic frame above it with the name “George” in red. Anaconda stepped up to the machine and stuck in his plastic identity card. After punching a few buttons, the display protested “Insufficient funds. Transaction cancelled.” A staccato screeching issued from a narrow horizontal slot, and spooled out a slip of white paper with faint violet ink. Anthony pulled the paper out of the slot and read “Account Balance: $250”.
“Hey, you stupid gizmo, I only wanted 20 bucks. This says I got two-fifty!” He lifted his right hand to his left ear, and was about to deliver a backhand rebuke to the insouciant George machine, when he noticed, just to the left of the $250, barely legible, a very small dash.
“I think that means minus,” came a cackling voice in his ear. Looking over his shoulder was a large woman the size of a linebacker, with dark greasy skin dotted with purplish acne. Her nostrils were like twin reflections of the market street tunnel, and out of them flowed a humid stench like a south Jersey landfill. “You busted honey, busted and then some!” she cheered.
Anthony wrinkled his face in disgust, threw down the offending receipt, and stomped back out into the cold. He turned toward 6th street, trudging along while intermittently wagging his wet foot a few times in a vain attempt to shake off the damp chill. Across the street, a dozen televisions in the window of Crazy Eddie’s Electronics flashed the telecast from Veteran’s Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys were on offense, methodically working the running game and eroding the last minutes of hope left in the Eagles playoff run. Anthony trudged past the Robin’s jewelry store to the Lin’s dry cleaners two doors down from the bank, and stepped inside.