SPRING TRAINING, 1976
The kid showed up for that year’s Little League team twice the size of the next biggest kid. I grabbed my son and wife and rushed across the parking lot to shake his father’s hand, talking fast about the upcoming season, about practices—all excuses-talk: I wanted to touch him, make sure he was real. The kid twitched his muscular titties—right left right left—stared down at them instead of looking at us or saying hi to my son, his teammate.
The doctors have this medicine, his father told me and my wife. Made Joselito grow like crazy! Look how strong he is, his mother said, stroking a just-twitched tit. He pushed her hand away then scratched his neck.
The kid had a beard now, at least the makings of one. He was as tall as me, taller than his own father. The sleeves of his t-shirt strained against his now-hairy biceps and the pants of the uniform ended above his ankles. He was twelve, a few months younger than our son.
Coño, I said. I whistled. What kind of medicine? I said. My wife and son looked up at me. I kept my hand on my son’s shoulder. He’d start growing any day now, I knew that, but he was more like his mother and starting to worry me. His voice was still high like a girl’s, not even cracking—just staying there, high. My wife pulled her lips into her mouth and I said, What? I can’t ask a simple question?
It’s a shot, Joselito said. His voice was not just deep. It rumbled. My son took a step back into me. The heel of his cleat dug into my toe. Christ, I said. I pushed him off me.
They put the shot in your ass, Joselito said.
His mother smacked his arm and his father said, Not in your ass, ass. En el musculo, chico.
The kid rubbed his arm. He twitched his titty every time his hand traveled up his bicep. The skin on the kid’s hands looked pulled too tight over his knuckles. The bones wanted to burst out.
I don’t like shots, my son said. He tilted his head up; the bill of his cap touched my chest. His face, upside down like that, with his chubby brown cheeks and his small mouth, looked like a perfect woman’s ass.
Other parents started wandering over to us, making little sounds of wonderment at Joselito’s new body. Mira eso, one father said to his son as he pulled his boy in front of him like a shield and then pushed in our direction. Another father stopped cold as he got out of his car, made the sign of the cross over his chest, and then dragged his tiny pink son out of the passenger seat and across the lot. The son squealed, Aye! and scrunched his eyes closed, following his father blind.
Que maravilloso. Tremendo hijo tienes. Cómo se llama el doctor? Through all of it, the kid kept his head down. Specs of white stuff flecked his dark hair. He rubbed his head back and forth with his big hand, his fingers reaching all the way to his ear, and the flakes went flying, landing like angels on his shoulders. His mother stood on her toes and smacked them off.
The growing throng of admirers closed in, pressing against Joselito the way his body pressed against his uniform.
Who do you think Gonzalez is gonna put to bat clean up now, huh? Joselito’s father said this to another father, the man who’d formerly had the biggest son on the team. That man’s son, having just learned he was now in second place after so many seasons as the strongest, just stood there, leaning forward a little, his mouth open, his baseball cap dangling from his fingers. He finally dropped it on the concrete. He reached out to touch Joselito’s chest.
Then my wife said something. It was terrible. It was like, Our son has been practicing with a boy on the Miami High team since the end of last season!
My son nodded very, very hard. He grinned like a baby who’d just shit himself. I put my head down and shoved my fingers in my eyes, rubbing them. I turned my body away from my son and said, Mari, please? She kept talking: It’s true! He’s better! You wait til he gets out there, starts taking swings.
My son’s screeching line drive of a voice suddenly burst from his mouth: His name is Ernesto, he helps me a lot, in fact he’s my best friend, we hang out every day, he’s in high school, he let me play with his bat, he let me try on his uniform, the little pants, the nice gloves, everything.
I put my hand on his neck to shut him up. I said, That’s enough. Joselito glared at him now, one corner of his mouth rising. Before he or his father could say anything, I said, This Ernesto—he’s after my daughter.
I said it to keep them from talking, to protect my kid. Besides, it was true, but it hadn’t occurred to me that my son hadn’t figured this out on his own already. Why would a high school boy good at baseball want to be friends with my son, when there are kids like Joselito around? Didn’t my son realize that when my daughter wasn’t home, Ernesto was gone within five minutes of figuring that out?
That’s not true, my son cried. That’s not true!
He covered his face with his hands, pushed his way out from the crowd surrounding Joselito. He threw his shoulders into people as he escaped, but people barely budged from the hits. My wife turned her face up to me and snorted through her nose. She stomped off after the boy. Joselito’s mother said, Pobrecito, and slipped off after them.
All this, no one really noticed. The other parents and the other sons kept poking Joselito, rubbing his shoulders and back, resting their palms on his titties between twitches. They were lost in their groping, their manhandling of the kid’s burly limbs. The pressed their hands to him as if tenderizing a steak, prepping him to be consumed. Joselito closed his eyes. I saw goose bumps rise on his arms as fingers traced the ripped lines of muscle. The men caressing him barely heard Joselito’s father whisper to me: Think about giving your boy a shot or two. Might keep him from turning into a you-know-what.
He clenched his fingers around his son’s neck. He winked at me. The kid’s shoulders rose, his eyelids fluttered, the tips of his teeth met his bottom lip as he whispered, Yes, Papi.
Jennine Capó Crucet is a Miami-born Cuban living in Los Angeles. Her debut story collection, How to Leave Hialeah, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the John Gardner Fiction Award, and was named a Best Book of the Year by both the Miami Herald and the Latinidad List. She's the recipient of the Winthrop Prize & Residency for Emerging Writers and scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Epoch, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, and other magazines. She lives online at www.jcapocrucet.com.