nowing the future never helped anyone. There’s that whole chain-reaction thing to contend with… putting a stop to one thing sets in motion a whole other series of events that sometimes add up and collectively shape an uglier state of affairs than if things had been left well enough alone. Mom always knew that I would break my arm in the backyard. She yelled at my dad that Little Kenny’s going to fall off that and break his arm so why are you still building it like that? She’d add sometimes that maybe Dad wanted me to break my arm, that he and his Sicilian mother were conspiring to toughen up the kid. I had no reason to doubt my mother. She always knew when the grapes were ready to harvest, whether the olives would make good oil this year or not, she knew that Dad would be angry every Thursday and that by Sunday everything would be all right again—even if there were only three days between then and the next Thursday. Mom had been struck by lightning when she was young. I had no reason to doubt my mother.
      Our house was on the side of a hill. The backyard extended maybe fifteen feet from the house before dropping away at a sharp angle. Most families in the area had just built fences and ignored the rest, but my dad was different. He built walkways and planted trees of all kinds all over the slope. When he ran out of room for trees he simply spliced one to another, resulting in an orange-avocado-cherry tree and an oak that gave Mom olives from the branches closest to the house. People would tell my dad that you couldn’t do with trees the things he was doing with our trees. He showed some and they told him that what they were seeing wasn’t what they were seeing. Dad would tell them they were stupid and yell at them to get the hell out of his yard. And Dad was right to do so. My dad could do anything with plants. There was a grapefruit tree down near the bottom hiding pomegranates near the top of its canopy. It guarded Dad’s grapevines, which were only grapevines. I told him that he should try to grow tomatoes on the vines and he told me to shut up and go practice my damned silly piano lessons.
      Dad wanted me to be creative, to be educated in the arts and such, but he also wanted me to be a man, and somehow the piano helped with the first and so he was happy, but it seemed to take away from the second and so Dad was left in a quandary, trying to say nothing about how girly I looked to him sitting on the bench and drilling arpeggios. If he said anything, he’d say it in Italian, and to his mother on the phone. They only spoke Italian when my dad was unable to hold back his fear that Mom was raising me to be gay. The piano lessons had been Mom’s idea, and Dad didn’t see anything wrong with it at first—then he met my piano teacher. Mom loved him, he was tall and slight and his posture was a source of endless comment amongst my mom and her friends, remembering fondly all the exercises and hours of posing and posturing… Dad thought it wrong that a man’s appearance should evoke such memories, and worse that such a man should be in such close contact with his only son, potentially the end of the Serrano line. My teacher was soon replaced by a lovely woman, and almost immediately again by a squat, matronly friend of my aunt. Dad thought at first that the crisis had been averted, but just as the seed of possibility had been planted in his head, so too he assumed it had been in mine. Mom wouldn’t stand for the cessation of the lessons that my dad nearly begged for, and so he became determined to make a man out of me some other way.
      None of this has to do with anything; I’m sure neither my mom nor my dad want me talking about them like this—I just mentioned it… I didn’t mean to…  All right, so anyway, Dad did really great things with our yard, and though my mom thought it was beautiful, she was also prescient and thus dreaded the day I walked in with my arm smashed all to bits from a fall down our pretty slope.

I played baseball with the kids from the neighborhood after school every day. I would imagine that the ball moved only in straight lines, and so a ball we threw wasn’t the same ball that we caught. The ball that went soaring up and up after I hit the pitch Danny was sure I would strike out on changed places somewhere out of sight with another ball from some other game and continued its trajectory until it slammed into a tree up on the hillside or was caught by some other boy in some other game. I learned later that the curvature of the earth made this impossible, so I decided that when I was old enough I would go out into space and collect all the balls orbiting the earth so we didn’t run out and kids could keep playing baseball. I spent summer nights gazing up into the sky, following the courses of the greatest hits ever, wondering if maybe one of them were mine. Dad said they were satellites, but Dad also worked in aeronautics, so I knew that he had to say that. It was ok. Dad could say whatever he wanted, after all, he could do anything with plants. As long as you’re an authority on something, you can say whatever you want about anything else.
      Thanksgiving rolled around and all of the neighborhood kids were forced for one day to stay inside with their families. Our relatives all lived very far away and so the turnout at our house was looking to be pretty sparse. A friend of my mom had relatives that all lived very far away as well, though nowhere near ours, so she came to our house for dinner. I wandered our halls, tossing my baseball, wishing that I could take it outside and exchange it… my dad got angry and told me to put it away because the guest was coming for dinner. She showed up really early. Dinner was hours away. I asked my dad why she was so early and he told me to be quiet. I don’t think he knew either.
      This friend of my mom, she was nice, and she even brought a little dog for me to play with. A Shih-tzu. Dad went outside to work on the system of ponds and streams he’d installed in the backyard. They had koi and goldfish, even some frogs. He muttered on his way out the back door something about shit… shit… shit, and then he laughed and closed the door behind him.
      It was a stupid looking dog. I sat there and we contemplated each other and I wondered if the dog was thinking that I was a stupid looking human. I figured a dog that looked that stupid wouldn’t think that and then I thought that maybe the dog was thinking the same thing. This went on for some minutes and then the dog opened its mouth and licked its eye. Licked its eye! I figured, stupid or not, anything that can lick its eye was all right by me. I couldn’t lick my eye, and it could lick both. Come on, I said to the little “Shih,” lick then both at the same time. It didn’t. Maybe you’re not so great after all, I thought. And then I noticed something that had fallen from its mouth. A little golf ball. This dog wasn’t stupid after all. It came prepared, came prepared with just the right thing. A baseball would have been better, of course, but the dog was really small. I was adaptable, I could play with a golf ball.
      Not only was it not stupid, but it was a great catcher. I’d bounce it or throw it or roll it and every time the little “Shih” would be right there, would catch it every single time, no matter how hard I threw the ball. Eventually, however, the dog became bored—not surprising, since it had no hands and could only play in one third of the game, couldn’t throw or hit—and stopped catching when I threw. I bounced the ball off its head a couple of times just to make sure that it didn’t want to play anymore and then went outside to play on the driveway.
      The shell of the ball made it bounce in a wonderful manner completely unlike a baseball. I slammed it down on the concrete and watched it rise higher and higher and then all of a sudden out of the sun would drop the ball. I imagined myself a famous left-fielder for the Cubs, catching fly ball after fly ball, the crowds roaring and screaming my name, Kenny! Kenny! It turned out to be my mom calling me, telling me to come in and wash up for dinner. But there was a game on, and no stopping it. My greatest enemy was at bat. He glared at me from the plate, I could feel him hating me all the way out in left field. He spit at me and then yelled something obscene that was muffled by the distance, but I knew what he was saying. I knew that he wasn’t going for a home run, not even a base hit. He was going for me. I was a better batter than he was and so he was going to take me out of the game.
      I was ready. Give me your best, I said, it won’t be good enough because I’m the famous left-fielder for the Cubs and no one beats the Cubs. I threw the ball at the wall and it came back hard and fast. I ran back to catch it, back… back… I’m the famous left-fielder for the Cubs and—I went off the edge.
      I wondered where I would go, who would be traded out for me as my linear trajectory took me far away, into space even. Was there another kid named Kenny who looked just like me and had just jumped in just the right way and would in a few minutes sit down for dinner with my parents and my mom’s friend? Would I really end up in space with all the baseballs? Would I need a suit? I thought I probably should have prepared for this in advance. I…
      I woke up confused and numb. I heard my mom yelling at my dad that I’d finally broken my arm, I heard the back door to the house slam open and footsteps on the path. I was lying next to one of the little ponds my dad had made. I was covered in blood. I tried my arms and they both worked. A noise from the pond caught my attention and I looked to see one of the koi—the one my dad named Palmerino—staring at me. Then I looked at the water, at my reflection and I stared at me too. My nose was gone. Well, not gone really, it was there in the pond and it took me a second to realize that I wasn’t staring at the reflection of the tip of my nose, but instead was staring at the actual tip of my nose, swimming with Palmerino and the smaller one my dad hadn’t bothered to name. I started screaming. I pulled my nose out of the pond and tried to stick it back on, but it wouldn’t hold. That was bad. That meant stitches.
      “Oh Kenny,” my mom was saying, “let me see your arm.” She was so convinced of her clairvoyance that she had to examine both my arms before she even looked at my face. Then Mom’s friend came up and then my dad and then everyone started screaming.

I got to stay out of school for three weeks. I looked like Rocky after Mr. T was through with him. I couldn’t sit so straight at the piano anymore. My dad would stand there listening as I practiced, sometimes making requests for pieces he particularly liked.
      “My little man,” he said.