lancy keeps scurrying through my head like a mischievous kitten, nipping my
nose, my ears as he scampers about. He didn't live long enough to
lose that red hair blowing all over his head like wildfire. Okay, the
hair had thinned out, but its remains still flamed. Clancy and I are
strumming our guitars with a few other friends and drinking beer. He
suggests we play "Ripple," a Grateful Dead opus. I don't care for that
song. I can't find any meaning in its words. He laughs at me.
"The words don't make any difference. Listen to the music. C'mon,
let's dance," he says. His dancing is too gymnastic for me. Even
thinking about it almost brings on an asthma attack. Lola says she
danced her last dance with him at their wedding, but their teen-aged
daughters have a blast with him on a dance floor.
They are still are in shock from his death more than three years ago.
They keep shaking their heads and saying, "It's impossible."
Clancy and I used to walk dogs together, and I'm thinking of him when
Bertie and I wander past the university athletic fields.
There he is. Clancy, his unmistakable red hair flying, is in a pickup
softball game with some young guys who have the look of lab assistants
or junior faculty. When no official team claims these fields for
practice, pickup games often erupt on a fine day like this, and Bertie
and I stop to watch. Bertie works himself up over softball, or almost
any game, particularly Ultimate Frisbee. I'm sure, in his Labrador
mind, he expects the Frisbee to come to him, as it does when I throw it.
I watch Clancy playing softball with those guys, and it seems natural
enough. He gets along with everybody, yet joins no teams. He has
season tickets to both football and hockey, but the sports he loves best
are skiing, diving, running, biking--things he does alone. He runs every afternoon, and one day three years ago, he lay down in a
field, maybe to look at the sky, and died.
I wonder about the other guys playing softball with him. Dead or alive?
They look solid enough. Almost too solid. Young non-athletes always
seem a little vague when they play, but these don't. Clancy used to
help the youngsters in his department turn their vagueness into mental
muscle that would last a lifetime. Everyone he had ever touched, of
whatever religious persuasion, turned out for his funeral. I've never
seen Holy Mother of Consolation so packed except at Christmas or Easter.
Clancy is pitching when Bertie and I stroll up and stand some yards
behind home plate. He does not see us until the other team strikes out,
and then comes running to us with a big smile. "Glad you came by. This
game is getting hot," he says.
"Where did you find these youngsters?" I ask him, as if looking at a
real team playing a real game.
"Here and there. Lab assistants, some of them. Not your kind of Lab,"
he says, ruffling Bertie's ears. Clancy's sweating a lot the way he
always does when he exercises. His blood pressure medicine does it.
"You sure look hot. That's not good for you, is it?" I say, as I might
have done three years ago.
"Don't tell Lola," he says, pulling off his tee shirt.
No one ever called Clancy a handsome man, but as he stands there in
nothing but an old pair of running shorts, his body looks beautiful, his
muscles developed and firm, his eyes clear behind his contacts. The
perfection of himself.
"That must be how you look when you're dead," I think to myself, but I
say nothing about that. It seems…well, rude, to comment on how much
better he looks than last I saw him--wearing all that makeup in his
"Wait out this last inning, and we can go down to The Terrace for a
"Can you drink beer?"
He laughs. "You know I can."
"Dead people can't. And you are dead. I know that much."
"Where did you get that idea?"
"For one thing, I went to your funeral. I even read a poem as part of it
all. I was so choked up, I could hardly see the words."
"That doesn't mean I'm dead."
"Usually it does."
"I'm next at bat. We'll talk about it over a beer. How's Lola, do you
"If you're not dead, I'd think you'd be the one who knows."
"I've been keeping away from her. She takes everything so seriously."
"I'm not sure you take things seriously enough."
"Maybe not, maybe not." He laughs again, his face brimming with the
open charm it has when he laughs.
The man at bat hits a double, and Clancy runs up to take his turn, still laughing.
Sydney Harth, in spite of her name, is a woman with an academic
background---Ph.D., University of Chicago, medieval, 1960. Now retired
from both teaching and the Middle Ages, she spends her time writing
stories about unreliable people on an unreliable computer. A dog, in
many of her recent stories, plays a significant role. She has published
more than three dozen of these stories, eight or nine with a dog for a
leading character, and hopes to collect a group of dog stories into a
book called The Dog People.
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story copyright by author 2001 all rights reserved