A Game of Catch

english reading practice

Richard Wilbur

Monk and Glennie were playing catch on the side lawn of the firehouse when Scho caught sight of them. They were good at it, for seventh-graders, as anyone could see right away. Monk, wearing a catcher’s mitt, would lean easily sidewise and back, with one leg lifted and his throwing hand almost down to the grass, and then lob the white ball straight up into the sunlight. Glennie would shield his eyes with his left hand and, just as the ball fell past him, snag it with a little dart of his glove. Then he would burn the ball straight toward Monk, and it would spank into the round mitt and sit, like a still-life apple on a plate, until Monk flipped it over into his right hand and, with a negligent flick of his hanging arm, gave Glennie a fast grounder.

They were going on and on like that, in a kind of slow, mannered, luxurious dance in the sun, their faces perfectly blank and entranced, when Glennie noticed Scho dawdling along the other side of the street and called hello to him. Scho crossed over and stood at the front edge of the lawn, near an apple tree, watching.

“Got your glove?” asked Glennie after a time. Scho obviously hadn’t.

“You could give me some easy grounders,” said Scho.

“But don’t burn ’em.”

“All right,” Glennie said. He moved off a little, so the three of them formed a triangle, and they passed the ball around for about five minutes, Monk tossing easy grounders to Scho, Scho throwing to Glennie, and Glennie burning them in to Monk. After a while, Monk began to throw them back to Glennie once or twice before he let Scho have his grounder, and finally Monk gave Scho a fast, bumpy grounder that hopped over his shoulder and went in to the brake on the other side of the street.

“Not so hard,” called Scho as he ran across to get it.

“You should’ve had it,” Monk shouted.

It took Scho a little while to find the ball among the ferns and dead leaves, and when he saw it, he grabbed it up and threw it toward Glennie, It struck the trunk of the apple tree, bounced back at an angle, and rolled steadily and stupidly onto the cement apron in front of the firehouse, where one of the trucks was parked. Scho ran hard and stopped it just before it rolled under the truck, and this time he carried it back to his former position on the lawn and threw it carefully to Glennie. 

“I got an idea,” said Glennie. “Why don’t Monk and I catch for five minutes more, and then you can borrow one of our gloves?”

“That’s all right with me,” said Monk. He socked his fist into his mitt, and Glennie burned one in.

“All right,” Scho said, and went over and sat under the tree. There in the shade he watched them resume their skillful play. They threw lazily fast or lazily slow—high, low, or wide—and always handsomely, their expressions serene, changeless, and forgetful. When Monk missed a low backhand catch, he walked indolently after the ball and, hardly even looking, flung it sidearm for an imagi-nary put-out. After a good while of this, Scho said, “Isn’t it five minutes yet?”

“One minute to go,” said Monk, with a fraction of a grin.

Scho stood up and watched the ball slap back and forth for several minutes more, and then he turned and pulled himself up into the crotch of the tree.

“Where are you going?” Monk asked.

“Just up the tree,” Scho said.

“I guess he doesn’t want to catch,” said Monk.

Scho went up and up through the fat light-gray branches until they grew slender and bright and gave under him. He found a place where several supple branches were knit to make a dangerous chair, and sat there with his head coming out of the leaves into the sunlight. He could see the two other boys down below, the ball going back and forth between them as if they were bowling on the  grass, and Glennie’s crew-cut head looking like a sea urchin.

“I found a wonderful seat up here,” Scho said loudly. “If I don’t fall out.” Monk and Glennie didn’t look up or comment and so he began jouncing gently in his chair of branches and singing “Yo-ho, heave ho” in an exaggerated way.

“Do you know what, Monk?” he announced in a few moments. “I can make you two guys do anything I want. Catch that ball, Monk! Now you catch it, Glennie!”

“I was going to catch it anyway,” Monk suddenly said. “You’re not making anybody do anything when they’re already going to do it anyway.”

“I made you say what you just said,” Scho replied joyfully.

“No, you didn’t,” said Monk, still throwing and catching but now less serenely absorbed in the game.

“That’s what I wanted you to say,” Scho said.

The ball bounded off the rim of Monk’s mitt and plowed into a gladiolus bed beside the firehouse, and Monk ran to get it while Scho jounced in his treetop and sang, “I wanted you to miss that. Anything you do is what I wanted you to do.”

“Let’s quit for a minute,” Glennie suggested.

“We might as well, until the peanut gallery shuts up,” Monk said. 

They went over and sat crosslegged in the shade of the tree. Scho looked down between his legs and saw them on the dim, spotty ground, saying nothing to one another. Glennie soon began abstractedly spinning his glove be-tween his palms; Monk pulled his nose and stared out across the lawn.

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“I want you to mess around with your nose, Monk,” said Scho, giggling. Monk withdrew his hand from his face.

“Do that with your glove, Glennie,” Scho persisted. “Monk, I want you to pull up hunks of grass and chew on it.”

Glennie looked up and saw a self-delighted, intense face staring down at him through the leaves. “Stop being a dope and come down and we’ll catch for a few minutes,” he said.

Scho hesitated, and then said, in a tentatively mocking voice, “That’s what I wanted you to say.”

“All right, then, nuts to you,” said Glennie.

“Why don’t you keep quiet and stop bothering people?” Monk asked.

“I made you say that,” Scho replied, softly.

“Shut up,” Monk said.

“I made you say that, and I want you to be standing there looking sore. And I want you to climb up the tree. I’m making you do it!”

Monk was scrambling up through the branches, awk-ward in his haste, and getting snagged on twigs. His face was furious and foolish, and he kept telling Scho to shut

up, shut up, shut up, while the other’s exuberant and panicky voice poured down upon his head.

“Now you shut up or you’ll be sorry,” Monk said, breathing hard as he reached up and threatened to shake the cradle of slight branches in which Scho was sitting.

“I want—” Scho screamed as he fell. Two lower branches broke his rustling, crackling fall, but he landed on his back with a deep thud and lay still, with a strangled look on his face and his eyes clenched. Glennie knelt down and asked breathlessly, “Are you O.K., Scho? Are you O.K.?” while Monk swung down through the leaves crying that honestly he hadn’t even touched him, the crazy guy just let go. Scho doubled up and turned over on his right side, and now both the other boys knelt beside him, pawing at his shoulder and begging to know7 how he was.

Then Scho rolled away from them and sat partly up, still struggling to get his wind but forcing a species of smile into his face.

“I’m sorry, Scho,” Monk said. “I didn’t mean to make you fall.”

Scho’s voice came out weak and gravelly, in gasps. “I meant—you to do it. You—had to. You can’t do—anything—unless I want—you to.”

Glennie and Monk looked helplessly at him as he sat there, breathing a bit more easily and smiling fixedly, with tears in his eyes. Then they picked up their gloves and the ball, walked over to the street, and went slowly away down the sidewalk, Monk punching his fist into the 

mitt, Glennie juggling the ball between glove and hand.

From under the apple tree, Scho, still bent over a little for lack of breath, croaked after them in triumph and misery, “I want you to do whatever you’re going to do for the whole rest of your life!”

Interpretive Questions

1. Why does Scho pretend he controls Glennie and Monk?

2. Why does the author make Glennie and Monk so good at their game?

3. Why does Scho continue his game after Monk apologizes to him?

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