The Beach Ball Slayer
Fiction. Written mostly on the train. Jeez I miss the Summer of Cricket.
Your plastic chair is twisted. Warped. The sun has beamed down thick, bright, softening rays on it and you all day, loosening the chair’s actual molecules, melting its plastic resolve, making the weathered white legs coil and yield beneath your weight. You sink. You are almost grabbed by the chair, clutched, pulled sharply down, ass-first, into the perfect grass.
This is just one of the directions you’re being pulled.
There’s a wooden ker-thwump behind you. Leather slaps into willow for what you guess might be the five-hundredth ball of the day, eighty-something overs spread thinly across seven-and-a-half sweltering hours of Test Match Cricket.
Company Policy tells you to spectate the spectators, and so you glare at bay seven, with your eager Eagle Eyes, as they make their own fun with a contraband beachball. They love the thing. But of course they do. They’re simple. Savages. They keep it alive with hearty thwacks and cheer it and jeer it, and they spill beer and spittle when they stand and scream things at the pitch like, ‘Now that’s a shot! You see that Pujara? That’s how you hit a fuckin’ ball!’
Beach balls are sacred on a day like this. Holy, even. This sad sack of expired air is a transcendent, colourful vessel for divine redemption. They all want to touch it and be saved.
The seats in bay seven are cheap because they’re shit. Punters get a low, side-on angle, which makes the 140 kmph ball totally imperceptible to the human eye. It’s strictly mid-strength beers on tap, at wartime prices. And the sun. Fuck. Good God. These heathens in your charge have festered and burnt beneath it for the entire day’s play, and you’ve burnt right there with them.
Take a breath. Shake your head to get your wits back. Blink a couple times and try to see as much as possible. There are colourful sombreros, hawaiian shirts, hats made of real watermelons, fancy dress, Richie Benaud wigs, oily red Ned Kelly helmets courtesy of KFC, Australian kits of different vintages, zinc on lips and noses. Anyone without sunglasses is squinting and everything in bay seven shines golden, radiates wavy lines, glitters. Metal railings glitter. Faces thick with sunscreen glitter. Plastic cup snakes stack higher and higher and catch and refract the light and glitter worst of all. And when you look away from one thing it doesn’t leave—faces and colours linger, stick themselves on your mind’s eye, get buried by more and more layers until they all mash into one. The glittering fusion of bay seven pulls you forward, sucks your mind out of your eyes.
Behind you is a crack. A Shot. A resonant, crisp strike of the ball. That one sounded sweet. It’s primal human instinct to want to turn around and look, but Company Policy is very clear: you must spectate the spectators. This feels like being twisted in both directions at the same time so that you stay completely still but it hurts. And your chair still pulls you down and your eyes still pull you forward.
Some of bay seven stand and cheer ironically.
Animals. Heathens. Degenerates.
You’d think they’d give you running spikes and kevlar and maybe a gun. They don’t. Company Policy prescribes heavy black boots. Black pants. Long sleeved red shirt beneath a lime-green fluro vest that says ‘SECURITY’. Broad brim hat and a chair to sit in.
And, well, there’s not much to do but sit there. And Think. Of all the directions in which you’re pulled, inward is hardest to resist. There’s a sweetness to sinking into yourself. Inside time is different. Thoughts have the space to really be and live and die when they’re ready. You wonder about things. About your role here. About how you fight for peace. And about how it’s, like, your calling, your special gift. And are there maybe better places for you to be sitting, or yet nobler things for you to defend? Like Parliament House? Or the tennis?
The heathens gasp, pulling you back up to the surface. You watch as the wind gently carries their beach ball up, and up, and over your head, onto the SCG proper. Bay seven smells blood. Your blood.
‘Fetch, fatty!’ one of them yells.
‘Come on mate, don’t be a dog mate, oi just give it back to us mate, just for the kids mate for the kids, we won’t tell anyone,’ says another.
You stand, with difficulty, with your weight, and wait for a break of play as per Company Policy. You cross the boundary rope. Then it starts. The yelling. The catcalls. The heckles. Your awkward, ugly, heavy jog is a disgrace, that’s what they’re all saying. It desecrates this hallowed turf. The Don’s turf.
You puncture the ball with a pen knife, as per. Part of the ritual. The Policy. The dance. Bay seven boos, little kids and all. That’s part of it too. The sound pulls you outwards from the ears.
You sit and Think. It’s late and you’re hot and now a little out of breath and you wonder why they booed you, why they always boo you. The contraband beach ball died like some kind martyr, a Holy Son. And so then what are you? The bad guy? Judas? But that’s not it. Not at all. You’re the gatekeeper, right? You’re Saint Peter, Bouncer of the Pearly Gates, aren’t you? You thought you were the last line of defence between anarchy and the cricket.
This last session of play has been a drag, long like the shadows that stretch across the ground and shade everywhere but bay seven. You sink further into the chair. And also you’re still being pulled forward and backward and twisted both ways—it’s like you’re being drawn. Soon after you’ll be quartered. The hum of the crowd starts to scream at you in wobbling waves, sucking oxygen out of the air, layering itself into the kaleidoscoping colours and faces that melt in and out of each other.
You look at bay seven.
Bay seven looks back.
Every single face stares right at you and the hum pounds on your throbbing brain, a thousand dirty faces collapsed into one that glares with glittering eyes.
You know then that you’re not the gatekeeper. You’re the gate.
You are The Beach Ball Slayer.
Then crack. A world-splitting crack, the crunch of it seems to snap reality back like a rubber band. Noise returns. Colours stop being screamingly bright and you can go back to just sitting and thinking.
You breathe deeply. Shake your head. Try to see as much as possible. Bay seven is divided cleanly into stacked rows of separate sweaty, burning faces. They’re all watching the game. Maybe they always were.
There are two overs left in the day’s play. It feels like everything is dwindling, including the penetrative powers of your eager Eagle Eyes, and so you see but do not immediately register the shirtless man running towards you down the concrete steps. He reaches the fence and removes his shorts. Danger. And the rest. Real danger. He hops up and over, his bare feet touching down on the soft green turf. He runs past you onto the field of play.
Company Policy is very clear that it’s your job to chase this man, to be pulled towards him, to tackle him to the ground.
And as you rise quickly from the warped plastic chair, with difficulty, with your weight, your mind is pulled right out of your head, and the world becomes tingly and bright and unreal, and now scores and scores of beach balls, hundreds of them, glittering divine in the still-burning light, striped bright white and gold and holy orange, are rained down onto the hallowed turf. And bay seven boos. Little kids and all.
Thanks for reading. If you liked this story, it only takes a second to hit the heart icon at the top of the email. If you’ve never seen live cricket and don’t understand what the fuss about beach balls is, here’s a somewhat instructional video. I hope you have a nice day.