Ben’s remark that his late wife had a friend whose daughter had been in the same class as Juan Marichal’s at St. John’s Elementary started his six companions at coffee going. “That kick!”

“Leg straight up.”

“Great statue of it outside the ballpark.”

“Great pitcher.”

“Except…” said Pepe.

“Roseboro forgave him,” said Bob.

“Crown me with a bat,” said Gianni, “I’m not forgiving nothing.”

“He had his picture taken wearing Dodger blue with Roseboro when they made up,” Pepe said.

Danilo wagged the index finger of his good hand. “Dodger blue, now that is unforgivable.”

Ben reflected that Danilo had been born long after that ballgame and might be relieved that blue had reopened the conversation to him.

“In the end, Roseboro understood,” said Sean. “Marichal had to do it.”

Ben passed his hand straight back over his hair, which already lay straight back, and he glanced around at the others. None were looking at Sean except Tad, the Pole, whose blue eyes and thick pale brown mustache told Ben by their immobility that he may have understood little of the discussion. None of them said a word.

“Roseboro clipped his ear throwing back to Koufax,” said Sean. “Another inch, it could have been Marichal’s own skull. And Roseboro was bigger, and had boxed, and afterward said he’d been ready to annihilate Marichal.”

The others said nothing. Gianni sipped espresso. Other customers speaking to each other or to the café’s staff edged in the narrow room past the tables near the entrance where the seven of them sat weekday mornings.

After his retirement at a full thirty years and sixty-five, and after tending to Angela in her last months, Ben had joined their coffees more often than not. All had worked for the City. Some still dressed at times—as did Ben—in a hickory shirt, loose black cotton twill pants, and boots, to go right from coffee to work around the house. Pepe’s head under its still-thick thatch of tight salt-and-pepper waves had been adept at the trigonometry of a sheet metal worker, and Ben considered him smartest among them. Gianni, despite having the quick energy of a small bird, had made a long career at an ambling pace as a gardener. Ben surmised that Gianni’s maintenance of brown in the hair just now creeping rearward from his forehead might be demanding a gardener’s patience. Danilo, once a plumber, was less than half the age of most of them. Ben considered him handsome, even beautiful, except in the moments when pain thrust his light-olive features in grotesque directions. Ben knew few of the details of the accident that had sent Danilo to an early retirement and to them at the café: A trench limiting his paths of escape, a nylon choker failing, a pipe descending and severing three fingers none too cleanly and crushing a leg more chaotically still. They all gave Bob, the electrician, grief at every opportunity for the softest hands. In response, he curled long slender fingers into a fist that was no threat at all. They accused Tad, the ironworker, of entering the trade by so tough a road as rodbuster only because he hadn’t understood the translation. Ben was a cement mason. He had no family and had felt no need to seek out friends while his wife was alive. When she no longer was, he had walked the neighborhood with some aimlessness until he had found the collection of tradesmen at their regular coffee. Some years later, he was still not sure he would call them friends, but they seemed something he needed.

Sean was a carpenter and son of immigrants. In the St. Patrick’s Parade when he wasn’t marching with Local 22 he marched with Rebel Cork, but he spoke sometimes of family in the Six Counties, of fasts and deaths in prison, and of fatal knocks on the door in the night. Even though he knew Sean, too, had boxed, Ben did not see a hard man in his blue eyes with their laugh lines or in his broad, florid, spider-veined cheeks, but he believed that Sean knew hard men.

“What, run? What, take a beatdown? Marichal had to,” said Sean, “Or he was nothing.” Ben saw nods all around and a small shrug from Bob. “Yes,” said Tad, to Ben’s astonishment.

“That was when you pitched till your arm fell off,” said Gianni.

“Christ, remember Dravecky?” said Pepe.

Then they were off again, recounting games, remembering players, arguing, gleeful.

Ben said nothing. He found no more taste for coffee.

It was not that his chair had become uncomfortable, but somehow he couldn’t remain in it, and so when Pepe excused himself to go help his wife with groceries, Ben unkinked his compact wiry frame from it and said, “I’m moving on, too, caballeros.”


Just inside the front door of his stuccoed house and a few steps from the sidewalk, Ben touched the middle and index fingers of his right hand to his lips, then to a spot worn through dark varnish to blond wood in the width of just those fingers on the bottom bar of the frame of Angela’s photo. From the hooks close by he traded his clean ballcap for his old soiled Department of Public Works cap and after a stop to relieve himself of the morning’s coffee went to the garden.

Some of the little bamboo tubes among the carrot sprouts held earwigs. With a length of bamboo stake he plunged the insects from the tubes into his bucket. His thumbnail toward their cerci to keep from being pinched himself, he pinched off their heads, then emptied them back into the garden for the birds to find. The rat traps among the pots of tomatoes were empty. Along the leaf stems of the Tuscan kale he found a few of the green caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies and pinched them in two. Yellowjackets gathered the halves and flew them away.

Ben stopped. He’d known of the fight as a boy. An adult with money for them, he’d been sometimes to Candlestick Park for games. Now he imagined:

Marichal wheeled right. He raised the bat over and behind his head, then swung it forward and down on Roseboro’s. The sound, though dull and not crisp like that of bat against ball, carried throughout Candlestick Park and over the noise of the crowd.

Ben’s attention skittered across the garden. Young nettles had encircled the rosettes of red leaf lettuce. Careful to touch them only with the still-tough pads of his cement mason’s fingers and not with the thinning skin of the back of his hands, he uprooted them and dropped them into his bucket.

He stopped. He imagined,

Roseboro bled, red into red clay. In seats behind the first base dugout, Sean rose to his feet and shouted obscenities. Beside him, Gianni, Bob, Pepe, and Tad applauded. Danilo hesitated, then joined their applause.

Ben had not worked in the same crew with any of them, but in his three decades at the City he had chatted with some by their trucks before they left the yard in the morning or when weather chased them into the shop. Then in near seven years of mornings with them at the café on Mission, the need to continue a conversation for two hours had revealed so much. Pepe’s wife had left him twice and gone back to family in Nicaragua, and he had spent thousands of dollars on trips to convince her to return north. Gianni had picked up the clap on a fishing vacation in Cabo but somehow kept this information from his much younger lover. Tad’s wife wore a ring that he knew a male admirer had given her; “It is beautiful,” he said and raised no objection. They knew Ben had not been to Mass in years, had in fact cursed out a priest after Angela’s passing, and had no thought of attending again.

How could he not have known this about them, that violence would seem to them a requirement?

He’d fought, sure, especially as a boy, but even as a young man. Then, after marrying, he’d skipped the bar and gone straight from work to Angela and the garden; but he’d heard. Alcohol caught a spark from something that had gone wrong on the job, or even from something about a girl or woman years ago, and then the bartender was pushing combatants out onto the sidewalk. Faces bloodied, ears bitten, sometimes knives out: It happened.

It happened, it happened; but who must you be to think it a requirement?


He was out the door the next morning and to the next block when he realized he did not want to see them just yet.

The morning after, he took his clean cap from the hook near the front door. He put it back.

The third morning, his spoon settling in the bowl flecked with bits of oatmeal it hadn’t reached, he concluded that the garden was his day’s destination.

Day after day, he did not decide that he would no longer see them, but his steps, when they left his front door, did not turn their way.


Late one morning several weeks later, the doorbell rang. He went from the kitchen, at the back of the second story, where he’d been toasting a sandwich in a pan, to the living room’s bay window. He expected no deliveries, and indeed saw no truck or van on the street below, nor anyone on the sidewalk outside the house’s recessed entry. He blamed the ring on a child’s prank. He returned to the stove and flipped the sandwich.

The doorbell rang again.

“Ben, you home?” It was Danilo’s voice, clear even the height and expanse of a story away.

Having never decided not to return among his six companions at coffee, having paid no heed to the duration of his absence, Ben had not foreseen that any of them would come looking for him. He wondered if Danilo had come on his own or if they had sent him. If they had, it would have been wise, or at least clever. If never to his face, all of them, himself included, had expressed affection for the younger man whom a hard turn of work had forced to share their retirement. Ben included, all of them had (if only in guarded ways, and again not in Danilo’s presence) expressed admiration for the young man’s beauty.

Danilo’s arrival at his door made him realize that he did in fact miss them. Bob’s dry wit. Gianni’s middle finger to age. Pepe’s intelligence, his jocular sagacity. Tad’s often odd and (Ben guessed) Eastern European takes, and the quirks of his speech, which rolled like an aftertaste of

herb and pepper in Ben’s mouth. Even Sean, despite the scent of whiskey and threat that always arrived with him, let pass his lips at moments something that Ben thought must be truth, or at least poetry.

Ben saw neither poetry nor truth in what Sean had spouted at their last meeting. At the same time, Ben found no words to express exactly why what Sean had said was intolerable. He understood now, just now, that in looking into the eyes of the six, he would always see behind them this conviction that violence was a requirement, maybe even as had been the baptisms and First Communions of their children. He could never argue it away.

If Danilo had come on his own, this made the matter harder….

But Danilo, too, had nodded.

Recalling this, Ben knew that he would never see them again, any of them, if he could avoid it.

Summoning all the voice he could with the younger man’s broken beauty caught in his throat, Ben called, “Go away!”

The bell did not ring again.


Eating his sandwich, Ben thought of how to escape them.

Groceries were easy. He would shop when they were at coffee. If he were first in line at the bank or post office he could dodge them there. They’d be done with coffee by the time the library opened; he’d stay away. He considered visiting senior centers, but this seemed too obvious a place for them to search for him.

He decided he no longer needed his evening walk through their neighborhood. It would be enough to sit in his unlit second-story living room and watch and listen as the City grew

darker and quieter. In the twilight he felt already at moments that Angela sat in her armchair just past an arm’s length away, the fabric of her dress blending into that of the chair, her hair gray as the light, her breath quieter than the wind in the Chinese elms along the street.

Sandwich done, he went to the garden.

The traps having been out for some weeks now, fewer earwigs tumbled from the bamboo tubes into the bucket. Ben took off their heads.

He checked the rat traps below the tomato plants; the rats had again stayed out of them. He ran thumb and forefinger up the tubular leaves of the chives to strip away and crush the black aphids. Their hemolymph stained the fingertips purple.

And suddenly, a certain violence made sense to him, one not required but…elemental, as of himself against the creatures that would ravage his garden, even – this coming to him, he felt something like the cold Pacific surf wash through – of his wife’s own cells against her.

His needs were few. He would not often have to pass through his front door. Through dawn, pale yellow sometimes, more often gray with fog, the towhees and juncos would pipe here and there in the garden. All day the ravens and house finches would converse across the rooftops, the black phoebe would launch itself again and again from the fences after insects. At dusk gulls would cross overhead between ocean and bay and the big Caspian terns would croak far above, often out of sight. His days would be full enough. Then by day or by dark something would come for him and he would not pinch back, nor try to evade, nor—as he had heard Angela do, right up until voice failed her—would he pray. He would be a stain on its fingertips. He wanted nothing different now; he required nothing more.

Unfolding a knife from his pocket, he stooped and severed at the root a head of lettuce for his dinner.

A Stain

Michael Thériault

In my San Francisco boyhood, I heard of Giants pitcher Juan Marichal's application of a bat to the skull of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, and this act of violence settled into the streambed of my consciousness, where it became preserved as though minerally. Again and again over many years violence afflicting the world or my acquaintances has brought it to the surface of my thinking. I’m saddened to find it so often in my thoughts now.”

Michael Thériault has been an Ironworker, union organizer, and union representative. He published fiction in his twenties, half a dozen stories in literary magazines, but abandoned it for decades to support first a family, then a movement. In his very recent return to it he has been published in Pacifica Literary Review, Overheard, Erato Magazine, Livina Press, Remington Review and Sky Island Journal and accepted by Iconoclast, Currant Jam, and Door Is A Jar. has published his brief memoir of Ironworker organizing. He is a graduate of St. John’s College, Santa Fe and San Francisco native and resident.

Why is this your Trace Fossil?