the id is: 5515

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Rain Delay

By Tom Luckie

Body:

Ivy Wall stood in an abandoned office turned storage room in the basement of Sun City Stadium wearing a pelican suit. The pelican head sat on top of an upside down recycling bin on a gray desk without a chair, its yellow beak pressed against a tan filing cabinet plastered with magnetic schedules and baseball cards. Ivy removed one of his fluffy white wings with the other, reached inside the pelican head and turned off the fan.

He raised the volume on a mumbling clock radio blinking 1:33 in hopeless red light.

"...delay in the middle of the fourth inning, the Pelicans down 1-0 to the Horseshoe Crabs and the rain not letting up, we'll keep you posted, but for now back to National News."

Ivy lowered the volume with his free hand, opened a drawer of the filing cabinet, and removed a plastic bottle of gin and poured the remainder of it into the green Gatorade cup nestled in his wing. He only drank at work during extra innings or rain delays. Personal policy. But the last four games of the current home stand had featured one or the other, so he paced himself, diluting the gin with the proper amount of yellow Gatorade and crushed ice. The blood of lemons plucked from Christmas trees making him happier. And a better dancer. So the head inside the head could smile.

Though Ivy still loved being a mascot, this was his fourteenth season as the nameless pelican. He felt burnt out, the yellow-beaked black and white head smoldering shut. Years of his life welded inside. The voice in the head screaming for oxygen. Fluffy hands clutched around his throat to signal choking but nobody reading the sign. Flapping his wings but not flying anywhere.

The team itself was on life support. The Sun City Pelicans were in seventh place in the eight-team Red Valley League with 24 games remaining. 13 and games behind the first place Horseshoe Crabs of Pontoon Town, who were beating them 1-0 when the game was stopped.

Head Umpire Clark Zeeterman alerted both managers of the rain delay and the teams flocked to their respective clubhouses, though a few players from each team lingered around the dugouts. Usually these players would write messages on a baseball and roll it across the field behind home plate, from one dugout to the other, decoding the smeared blue ink. Instructions on what bar to meet at after the game. The cell phone number of their catcher's wife. Tell your sister to open up her stance and look into the camera more. But no such messages were rolled back and forth tonight. Instead, the players remaining in the dugouts just watched the rain like they had paid to see it, wondering what color slide the sky would click on next.

Having paid to see it, the 287 fans in attendance ascended to the higher sections of the lower seats, the top deck sheltering them from the rain, now falling steadily at the angle of a slightly parted curtain. John Applebury, who had paid one hundred dollars to propose to his girlfriend Terrie on the scoreboard just before "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the seventh-inning stretch, sat alone in a left field aisle seat, dry but sullen. His hands tucked into the side pockets of his black Pelicans wind breaker, currently breaking a 12 mile per hour wind. John squeezed the ring he'd bought for Terrie into the center of his right fist. He couldn't believe the odds, which were a seventy percent chance of proposal against a thirty percent chance of showers. Terrie had ventured to the concourse for hot chocolate and a soft pretzel to split while John sat in the blue plastic chair, pondering new proposal schemes, occasionally slipping the ring onto his pinky and rubbing the jagged diamond against the smooth inside ridge of his thumb. Three Saturdays later, Terrie would say "yes," sitting on the hood of John's car parked at a scenic overlook they had accidentally found lost on a road trip up the coast. Circling and backtracking to a new life. Officially. They would look into the ocean then into each other. Wishing baby whales would rise from the mouths of waves as they kissed, their jeans slowly sliding down the hood of his maroon car. But John didn't know the future beyond where the next raindrop might land. And ten out of the last eleven times, he hadn't even known that.

The other fans around John leafed through programs and yearbooks, some reading the local paper, The Sun Dial Times, sipping coffee or beer. Children dressed in Pelicans gear hopped over the backs of the blue and red chairs, climbing over the seats and arm rests, throwing french fries and parts of hot dog buns to seagulls and pigeons. A lone vendor marched up and down the concrete steps, yelling "Ice Cold Beer! Peanuts! Popcorn! Souvenir Ponchos!" No buyers in sections C or D signaled him over.

Back in the basement storage room, Ivy raised the pelican head over his skull and lowered it onto the padded white shoulders of his suit. He looked through the eyeholes hidden behind the beak, found his other glove and pulled it far up his forearm, fastening the Velcro under the overlapping layer of white fluff attached to the inner lining of his wing. Smoothing over the stomach feathers with the tips of his wings, Ivy slowly stepped forward, one fat orange foot after the other, shuffling along the slippery concrete floor of the half-lit hallway.

Ivy took the rattling freight elevator to the second floor and popped his beak into a slit in the cage door, walking it shut. He turned and waddled to the entrance of section F, the first base side of the stadium, and waved his wings, like preparing for a great migration. A little girl with a rubber pelican beak fastened to her face by an elastic band pointed and shouted, "Big birdie!" Ivy jumped and flapped his wings some more. He stepped down around the railing in the middle of the stairway. The girl pointed to her fake beak and smiled. Ivy pointed at his beak and started to dance. The little girl ran to him and hugged his kneecaps. He patted the top of her dirty blonde head with his wing like a proud father bird. The girl's grandparents snapped a quick picture and Ivy waddled down the steps.

He continued his rounds around the stadium, hugging more children, posing for a few photos with people treating the rain delay like happy hour, feeling limber enough to call him over. The bird head always smiling. Never blinking. A perfect picture.

When he finally reached Section N, the last section in right field, Ivy looked across to the Pelicans' Nest just beyond the left field fence. The nest was a small, fenced-in area that housed seven American White Pelicans. It contained a feeding trough, patch of marsh like grass, and a small pond brimming with pelican shit. Ivy had grown attached to the pelicans, starting when he began tossing them small fish from a bucket half an hour before every game, delighting the incoming crowd as they marched from the parking lot to the main gate. He had his own names for all the birds which he kept private, fearing ridicule.

Ivy stared at the birds then up into the sky. He held his winged hands out in meditative stance, like he could feel the raindrops through his costume, like he could feel anything through it.

Ivy waddled up the stairs of Section N. The real pelicans paced around their left field home, shadowing him. Two Pelicans pitchers in black jackets played catch in the home bullpen, the blue tarp covering the infield collecting bigger pools of water.

On the concourse, Ivy stopped at a concession stand and signaled for a drink. An older man handed him a plastic bottle of light beer.

"I love the way you shake that wing," he joked.

"Why thank you, sweetheart," Ivy muttered from the back of the beak, zipping the bottle into a hidden pouch on the stomach of his suit before ducking into a stairway leading to the basement.

In the storage room, Ivy set the recycling bin on the floor and perched himself on the desk. Sweat dripped from the neck of the pelican head as he placed it on top of a wastebasket. Ivy wiped a wing across his forehead, pushing up his wet black hair. He removed the winged glove of the wiping hand, fished the light beer from his pouch and twisted it open, tossing the bottle cap off the beak and into the wastebasket. Sipping the cold beer with his pelican feet dangling off the desk, he turned up the pitiful radio.

"...suspended in the middle of the fourth inning, we'll pick up the action with the Pelicans coming to bat tomorrow at noon to finish this one off before the regularly scheduled game at three o'clock. And remember when it's time to gas up your-"

Ivy flicked the radio off.

Reaching behind himself, he unzipped the top half of the pelican suit and peeled it off. Even the still basement air felt cool against his bare arms and sweat soaked Property of Sun City Pelicans t-shirt. Ivy stepped out of his pelican legs and feet, revealing black shorts and sneakers. He stuffed the bird's body into a green nylon laundry bag and pulled the string tight. Taking an aerosol can from the desk drawer, he flipped the head upside down and blasted away. The spray seeped out of the beak and fake eyeballs. It smelled like robot farts. Ivy buried his mouth into his upper arm and coughed into his armpit.

It was Ivy's duty to secure the pelicans after every game. An intern was responsible for their well being on off days and road trips. Some zoology student who actually seemed to care. But all game day concerns relating to the pelicans were Ivy's responsibility. The rain delay had lasted an hour and a half, and the stadium had been steadily emptying since the rain began at the top of the third inning.

Ivy walked down the lifeless hallway dragging the body of the pelican suit in the laundry bag behind him, the head clamped between his left hip and arm. He threw the bag into a wheeled hamper in the laundry room and placed the head on a shelf between two high powered fans.

Continuing down the hallway, Ivy stopped and unlocked a heavy door, reached in and picked up a white bucket with a steel handle. Ten small red fish were swimming in two gallons of water in the bucket. Ivy carried the bucket first in his right hand and then in his left until a door straight ahead marked the end of the hallway. He walked through the door and punched in a code from the outside, activating the alarm system. The rain now the last dying drips of a faucet.

Ivy turned and walked toward the pelicans, the bucket resting against his leg with each slow step. He fed each pelican a fish, carefully timing his release so no fish would be snatched. The pelicans flapped their wings like windy flags and squawked as Ivy set the bucket down outside of the fence and locked it from the inside.

Ivy's co-workers walked to their cars and the stadium bike rack. Ron Monrack, the team public relations manager, spotted Ivy and motioned him to the side of the fence.

"Time to feed your young, huh buddy?" he said.

"Yes Sir, priority number one for Papa Pelican here...always," Ivy replied.

"Good job tonight, back here tomorrow morning at ten-thirty then?" asked Ron.

"You know it. Night Boss." said Ivy.

Ron waved to both Ivy and the pelicans and walked to his station wagon plastered with bumper stickers, a plastic pelican head jammed over the hood ornament. He honked the horn three times before driving away. One of the pelicans squawked back twice, saying goodbye.

Ivy stood with his fingers resting on links of the fence, the last cars in the parking lot lighting up and leaving. He paced in circles, avoiding little piles of pelican shit, the birds naturally countering each of his steps. Studying the birds as he waited, Ivy noticed how cliquey they really were. They were split into two units of three and four. The unit of four controlling access to the small dugout they were provided for shelter. It even had its own little orange water cooler like the real ones across the field. Though he'd never seen them fighting, this division bothered Ivy. He thought if they were stuck together like this they should at least be friends. Now convinced he was making the right move, Ivy unlocked the door, stepped outside and swung it shut.

Picking up the bucket, he held it at an angle that allowed the pelicans to see the fish nervously flopping in the shallow water. The birds squeaked high pitched noises, jumping and running, bumping each other in excitement. Ivy walked back and forth in a straight line, the door of the fence in the middle of his path, until all seven pelicans had gathered behind the door like people outside a posh club. He continued to tease them with the fish, occasionally holding one in the air and wafting it. The smell of the salty treat invading the air around the door.

Ivy reached up and unlocked the gate. The biggest pelican, a male he called Waffle, the leader of the powerful, four-pelican clique, was the first one out. Ivy tossed a fish into his open mouth. Waffle swallowed it down in one gulp while the other pelicans jealously squawked. The three other pelicans of Waffle's clique waddled out. Ivy tossed a fish underhand onto the ground. Their four beaks huddled around it, pecking and stabbing. Ivy couldn't see what happened but it didn't matter, they were out of the cage, now vacuuming the pavement for fish scraps.

There was one fish left to lure three pelicans from the cage. While the quartet of original pelicans finished their snack, Ivy scooped the last fish out of the bucket and walked to the door. He stopped a few feet from the door and softly placed the fish on the slick pavement. It flopped from side to side like an ambitious pancake, its eyes expanding. The three pelicans still inside the cage waddled through the door in single file toward the fish. Ivy swung the door shut behind them and locked it. The trio attacked the fish, the middle sized one swallowing most of it in a single gulp. Sensing the excitement of the smaller group, the foursome flew at them at low altitude. Their wings flapping fast in intimidation. The trio scattered away, staying close together for safety.

Ivy smiled as the last rain drop of the evening landed on the bridge of his nose, beading down to the edge of the skin covered cliff and landing on the tongue of his right sneaker. But setting them free was the easy part. He also had to get away with it. First though, he truly had to set them free.

Backing up about fifty feet, Ivy sprinted straight into the flock of pelicans. They scattered when he bolted through, but slowly regrouped near the door of the cage. Ivy was bewildered. How could they do this to him? He was risking his job and his reputation, the possibility of moving up to the big leagues, and potential legal action for their freedom, and all they wanted was to return to captivity. He gathered speed and ran through again, trying to urge them in the direction of the wind, yelling, "You're free, go back to the wild!"

He screamed and roared, did his best big angry bird routine, but the pelicans only scattered, prancing around the same parts of the parking lot. Squawking at each other and sucking the condiments from food wrappers like lower level birds. Infuriated, Ivy fetched two broomsticks from the shed behind the Pelican Nest and tried sweeping them away. They moved further back, but did not flee to freedom.

Ivy decided to give it some time. He got into his white minivan and drove to The Partly Cloudy, his favorite diner. He ate a turkey sandwich and drank a cup of black coffee, read the headlines of The Sun Dial Times and drove back to the stadium parking lot. The pelicans were still there. Gathered around the cage door. One was standing with its beak shoved through a link of the fence. Happy to be partially inside.

From the back hatch of his minivan, Ivy pulled out his old t-shirt gun. Ron had recommended he take it home to get some more target practice. Ivy had been written up for nearly shooting a baby out of a lady's hand. Nobody would have known, but video ended up on the local news and eventually the internet. So he practiced in his backyard three to four times a week and kept the gun in the van as a backup.

Ivy kneeled down behind the minivan and aimed the gun a little above Waffle, which was where he wanted to aim. He pulled the thick plastic trigger. The tightly balled up t-shirt struck Waffle in the head, snapping his neck and killing him instantly.

"Damnit!" Ivy yelled, clutching the gun tight to his chest.

He had not meant to shoot Waffle. Just wanted to send one over his head to scare them away. To freedom. A warning shot. Send a message.

Ivy walked over and looked at the pool of blood. It slowly expanded under the body of the dead pelican. He had to cover this up. The other pelicans now squawked and flapped psychotically. The fluttering of wings heated the blood inside Ivy's ears. He unlocked the door of the cage and held it open. The six remaining pelicans, shocked and now operating as one unit to mourn the death of their own, walked back into the cage.

Ivy just shook his head and noticed it was raining again. Each drop colder than the last, stabbing into his slick black hair, his wet t-shirt gaining weight.

He picked up Waffle by the feet and tossed him into the center of the cage. The six other pelicans huddled around the body like pall bearers.

Ivy slammed the cage door shut and locked it. The cold metal clicking like death in his hands. Management would probably think the other pelicans killed Waffle. At least he was off the hook. Tomorrow morning he would put on his pelican suit again. The suit would be fresh and clean after the cleaning ladies did whatever the hell they did to it. A member of the grounds crew would collect the corpse of Waffle from the Pelicans' Nest. Tomorrow, Ivy would feed fish to six pelicans before the game and nobody would notice Waffle was gone.

Thomas Luckie III lives in Buffalo, New York. This is his first published story.

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