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The Photographer’s blue vest supposedly meant something about him being part of some international organization and not a fighter in the Revolution. My parents assured me the Revolution was far out West and wouldn’t reach Baltimore, but I should still politely ignore the Photographer because he probably worked for Affies.
       Me and my friends did ignore him, playing baseball in the street like always, until a picture of my best friend Scott showed up in The Workers’ Sentinel, a newspaper from a whole other country that we had to steal from the kiosk on Conway Street because no one’s parents subscribed to it. That, and newspapers cost more than ten dollars. The picture showed Scott’s bat blurred into a brown wedge. The ball streaked white from the bat to the edge of the frame. Dust puffed up under Scott’s rotating heels. I stood out of focus in the background, unrecognizable to anyone who didn’t know I played first base.
       For me and my friends on Hanover Street, the photo made Scott famous. They elected him team captain more often, and he always picked me first. If someone argued a call, Scott decided. The boys asked Scott to break ties when those happened. Captain got first pick of position, and Scott always picked pitcher. Pitching meant he got into every single play and had control over the street. All the other boys wanted to pitch too, so they argued a lot late in the games about relievers. I wasn’t a good pitcher. Too many of my throws hit the pavement and bounced away from the catcher or soared high over the batter’s head, and the catcher had to chase it down the street and that delayed the game and annoyed everybody. I loved first base. I was the only lefty on either team. And all the best first basemen were left-handed anyways.
       All of us knew we probably wouldn’t be in the papers like Scott, but that didn’t make us hope any less. We woke early enough and searched the dumpster for yesterday’s Worker, and every day we scanned our parents’ newspapers. Through the national news and war updates. Through sports scores from the teams still able to play. Through profiles on local businessmen, kiosk owners, and café waitresses. An Affluent leaves his fortune to go fight out West. The Orioles lose to the Blue Jays 6-1. Jeff’s neighbor’s face smiles next to her opinion blurb. Tommy’s uncle mentioned in the MP report. But nothing about us fifth graders on Hanover Street and our summer of baseball. Still, whenever the Photographer came around, I played my best. I made sure to stretch farther to catch throws to first base. I perfected my batting stance. I wanted to look good if ever the Photographer took my picture.
      Sometimes we ignored our parents’ warning and crowded around the Photographer, jumping and cheering the way we sometimes did behind the sportscasters at Camden Yards. Other times the Photographer took pictures before we even saw him. Shots of us playing baseball, or shoving all our hands into a small bag of potato chips, or reading tattered comic books on our front stoops. The Photographer appeared some days and disappeared other days, and when he put the camera to his eye I could hear the click-click-click.
       At my family’s deli one time, my dad told me about how people used to say cheese before pictures. “It used to be everyone had cameras,” Dad said. “And so a friend would say, ‘Say cheese’ and everyone leant together and smiled and said cheese.”
      “How come cheese?” I asked.
      “Saying cheese, your mouth goes like this.” My dad tilted his head back, arched his lips and stuck out his teeth. I laughed so hard. I had never seen my dad’s face look so ridiculous. “Looks like you’re smiling and shows people you’re happy,” Dad said. 
      “If I say cheese, you think the Photographer’ll take my picture?” I asked.
      Dad stopped cranking the meat grinder. “Probably not,” he said. He repositioned the meat on the hopper. “He likely doesn’t know English. And he likely doesn’t know the custom.”
      When I saw the Photographer walking down the street, one camera slung over his shoulder like a rifle, the other held in his hands, I left the manhole-cover second base and asked him if he spoke English.
      “A little,” the Photographer said. His accent sounded silly, like he couldn’t pronounce his vowels the right way. “A lee-tall.”
      “Cheese,” I said, stringing out my E’s like dad had. I threw my teeth out and lifted my chin. The Photographer snapped three rapid click-click-clicks.
      The next day, I burst into the deli to show my parents the picture. I didn’t tell them that I stole the paper from the Conway Street kiosk.
      Mom looked at the picture and kept on kneading her bread. “Why’re you smiling like that?” she asked.
       Dad looked over her shoulder. “He’s not smiling.” He pointed with his tongs. “He’s saying cheese.”
       “And who taught you to say cheese?” Mom playfully pinched dad’s cheeks with floured hands.
       “What does that say?” I pointed to the caption.
       “Don’t know all of it,” Dad said. “You can likely guess that word,” he said, pointing to the word rivoluzione. “This word means boy. And this one means play. And this one means peace or something like that. So likely something about how Baltimore is good because it’s still safe for children to play.”
       “Anyone ask you questions about this?” Mom asked.
       “No. I just said cheese to the Photographer.”
       “Well, you look handsome,” Mom said, “but anyone comes around asking questions or writing articles or other people start taking more pictures, you don’t say anything, okay? You just tell them come talk to me.”
       I said I would, though I didn’t think Mom wanted to be in the newspapers.
       I showed the picture to my friends on Hanover Street and they elected me team captain. The next time the Photographer came around, I ran to him, said, “Cheese!” and the Photographer snapped another photo. But that photo never appeared in any paper.
       I saw The Photographer frequently when I ran errands for Mom. In the market. Outside a movie theater. Another time at the post office. I even saw him sitting outside a café, sipping coffee without his blue vest on. Every time, I ran up to him, said “Cheese!” and darted away. Every time, the Photographer laughed.
       The Photographer tapped me on the shoulder one day when I watched my team bat from the sidewalk-dugout. He asked, “Why do you always tell me cheese?”
       “Because,” I said, “when I say cheese, my mouth goes like this.” I mimicked Dad’s caricature smile, eyebrows up and nostrils flared.
       “Why do you want your face that way?” the Photographer asked.
       “Shows I’m happy. My dad said that’s how people used to do it.”
       “Where is your dad from?” the Photographer asked.
       “We’re on the corner at Montgomery Street.” I pointed to the window above the deli three blocks away. “He says all his friends used to do it when he was my age. That they would all look at the camera and say it.”
       “Do your friends say cheese?”
       “No,” I said. “But if you ask them they might.”
       The Photographer gathered me and my friends and I explained about saying cheese. They all said my face looked idiotic, but they all did it anyway. They wanted their picture in the newspaper too. The picture of us Hanover Street boys appeared in The Workers’ Sentinel and we all carried a copy folded in our back pockets.

I passed the bank exactly when the bomb detonated. I didn’t hear the explosion, but felt a pop in my ears and like a forced shove to the ground. I looked at my skinned palms, wondering when that happened and why I felt off balance. There was silence for a while, and then muffled sounds like hearing my neighbors argue through the walls, and then my ears rang, and then I thought I was dead and floating in a grey heaven until I saw others running towards me and others running away. Some had dust and dirt on their clothes and faces, others were clean, and some people were bleeding and others weren’t.
       In the settling dust, I tried to tell myself to wake up, that I was dreaming, but I couldn’t stop seeing the world blurry. There had been times when I knew I was dreaming and said to myself, “This is all a dream. Wake up,” but other times my waking up jolted me away from a dream I liked more than reality, and I couldn’t tell which one this grey and silent world was. I couldn’t remember where I was or how I got there, if yesterday’s memories were real memories or memories of dreams. I felt a trickle down my cheek and when I touched it, I felt liquid, blood, and I never bled in my dreams before.
       I struggled to stand up. The building had crumbled, cement and marble with metallic wires sticking out like pleading arms, chairs and tables and wood and plaster and bits of carpet scattered and splintered. People dug through the rubble, pulling others out, and people on the street dragged others from pools of blood, and uniformed men and women ran into and out of what was left of the bank.
       The Photographer crouched on one knee like Kyle did when he played catcher. The Photographer’s forefinger moved up and down and up and down, and I watched him loop one camera around his shoulder and swing another camera off his back in the same motion. The Photographer panned across the scene and stopped on me, took a couple of pictures before he even recognized me. He pulled the camera away from his face, looking me in the eyes, I stared back, and the Photographer brought the camera up to his eye again. In the humming, I still heard the click-click-click.
       I took a step toward the Photographer. The world spun. The ground hit my face. I crawled forward. My front door wobbled. Everywhere Mom touched burned. Ashy suds and pink water swirled down the drain. Mom wrapped my forearms and chest. Red polka dots expanded. I lay down. I drank cold water.

Mom made me stay in bed for a week. When Scott came to visit, he looked anxious, almost like he thought his visit might hurt me, like he shouldn’t be here at all.
      “Mark’s uncle died,” Scott said. Scott meant in the bombing, but said it like skipping that detail meant it never happened.
      “Oh,” I said. “Mark okay?”
      “Yeah,” Scott said. “He said he expected someone he knew to die in all this.”
      “Anybody else we know?”
      “No. I think Mr. Anderson’s neighbor or someone like that. He mentioned it the other day in class.”
      “You okay? Your family?”
      “We’re fine. But—” Scott reached into his back pocket and unfolded a newspaper cutout. He looked at it a moment, hesitated to show it to me. “They put this in the newspapers,” Scott said.
       I saw my own dust-covered face and bleeding ear. I noticed it right away: I was saying cheese. My lips curled in that unmistakable smile, my face idiotic on purpose. Cement soot in my hair and my eyebrows. My teeth looked yellower against the grey. I looked like Dad, almost handsome if I ignored the context.
      “It looks like you’re saying cheese here,” Scott said. 
      “I am,” I said. “But I don’t remember saying cheese.”
      “Then maybe you’re not saying it,” Scott said with a little too much hope.
      “That’s my face when I say cheese. Was there a caption or an article? Anyone know how to translate it?”
      “It’s not from Workers.”
      “Where’s it from?”
      “I got this one from The Sun. It’s in others. Everyone’s seen it.”
      “I’m famous?” I sat straighter in his bed.
      “Not in a good way.”   
       “It’s bad?”
      “The Affies make it look like we’re all stupid. Says you’re happy to see the bombing. All the articles say about how the Rebs only blow themselves up and that that’s what the Rebs’ll do if they’re ever allowed a say in all the money stuff.”
      “Is that true?”
      “I don’t know. But that doesn’t change how this looks to people around here. Everyone is saying it makes all of Baltimore look bad. The bank is bad enough, but then we look like idiots because it looks like we like it.”
      “That’s not fair,” I said.
      “I know,” Scott said. “But the Affies said that’s that, so we can’t say it’s something else.”
       When my chest and arms scabbed over, Mom finally let me out of the house. The Hanover boys never elected me captain and picked me last every time. Well, every time Scott wasn’t captain. Last picked meant playing right field, a stoop where no balls ever went.
       When Mom let me run errands again, the cashiers didn’t smile at me and call me Dear. I saw a girl I didn’t even know point at me and whisper to her mom. Friends stopped knocking on my door, and once I heard the Hanover boys playing out on the street. No one had invited me to play and they were in the middle of a game. Scott later said that it was his job to get me, and he hadn’t been there that day, so the boys must have just forgotten.
       Scott still picked me fourth or fifth. I felt proud that Scott defended me like that. But I knew it wouldn’t last long. In elementary, all the kids started picking on my friend Patrick. I tried to stick up for Patrick, tried to keep playing with him and inviting him places. But Patrick kept on leaving after someone said something mean, and I stuck around and they made fun of me instead. My friends kept insulting me too until I started insulting Patrick with them. That stopped it, but I still felt bad. Scott might be able to defend me some, but eventually he’d stop too.
      I couldn’t lose Scott, couldn’t lose first base, couldn’t lose Hanover Street.
      I sat on the right field stoop waiting for an unlikely pop-up to pass the fire hydrant first base when three shiny black town cars drove through our game. They parked in front of my house. The Mayor stepped from the middle car. He buttoned his jacket as he stood, looked up and down the row houses and grimaced, said something to a balding man in a yellow tie and knocked on my front door. All Hanover Street looked from the cars to me and back again. It felt like a long time before I left the right field stoop and walked home.
      A security guard stepped in front of me. “You’ll have to wait, young man,” he said, tall and broad and scary with his dark glasses. His voice was calm but firm like Dad’s during the deli’s lunch rush.
      “That’s my house,” I said.
      The security guard told me to wait, he spoke to someone in the first car, and then came back to me and said, “Follow me.” The guard led me into my own house. Mom nervously set out teacups and Dad sat at the kitchen table across from the Mayor. A security guard and the balding man stood behind them.
      “Dexter,” the Mayor said, “Just the man I’m looking for.”
      I looked to Dad. Dad tapped the chair next to him.
       “I was just telling your parents,” the Mayor said too happily, “that you’re an important person around here now.” The Mayor waited for some response, perhaps he expected me to smile or laugh or show astonishment. I just nodded. If this is how it felt to be important, I wanted to be as unimportant as possible. The Mayor said, “You probably know by now that photographer Giuseppe Ricci won the Morreti-Larrent Award.”
      I looked to Dad. “It’s like the Pulitzer,” Dad said.
       “Anyway,” the Mayor said before I could ask what a Pulitzer was, “that picture is becoming quite an influential nuisance and Ricci’s becoming quite the spokesperson on the other side of the pond. It’s making Baltimore look bad. Despite the incident last month, I can assure you Baltimore is not part of this stupid rebellion and we never will be. His picture makes it look like Baltimore – you and me specifically – are part of that.”
      “And what if he is part of that?” Mom asked as she poured hot water from the kettle.
      The Mayor laughed. “He’s just a child,” he said. Mom pulled up on the teakettle, leaving the Mayor’s cup half empty.
      “We’re not involved at all,” Dad said, “neither side, one way or the other.”
      “An understandable position given the times. But,” the Mayor rubbed his chin. “You see, Dexter’s in this whether we like it or not. I’m with you, I’m on your side. But we can’t just sit idly by while the world thinks something that just isn’t true. We need to show them that they have it all wrong. That Baltimore is not part of this rebellion.”
      “Who’s them?” Dad asked.
      Before the Mayor could answer Dad, Mom asked, “What is it you want?”
      “I’m here to ask you if you’d like,” the Mayor turned to me, “if you’d like to come with me to an Orioles game, be my guest,” the Mayor looked back at my parents, “and be a VIP and throw out the first pitch.”
      I looked to Dad again. I wanted him to see that I was pleading for him to let me.
      “Why?” Mom asked, taking a seat next to Dad.
      “Dexter’s a special boy.” The Mayor stopped speaking for a moment to give me a smile. It looked fake. “Showing the world that he’s true to Baltimore. That he’s true to his community. That we all want none of this rebellion business, and we like life just how it is. It’ll help bring people back around.”
      “And of course,” Mom said, “you’ll be standing right next to him the entire time.”
      I thought the words should have sounded like an order, bossing the Mayor to watch out for her kid. But her tone was mean. There was something else she was saying that I didn’t understand.
      “Of course,” the Mayor said.
      “I don’t think that’s for us,” Dad said.
      “We haven’t even asked Dexter yet.” The Mayor shifted in his seat and rested his elbows on his knees to be eye-level with me. “What do you want to do? Do you want to come to an Orioles game with me and throw out the first pitch? You and me and your parents and maybe your best bud? We’ll all stand on the field while you’re up on the mound. You’ll be on TV. We’ll watch the game from the first row. Maybe we’ll get a baseball and the players can all sign it? I heard you were quite the pitcher.” The Mayor grabbed my right shoulder and shook it playfully.
      Pitching. He said pitching and grabbed my right arm. That lie showed me the truth. I still dreamed of standing on Hanover Street as my friends begged me to take them too. They’d offer toys and favors and promises of always being captain, always batting first, always playing first base. But it still seemed wrong somehow. Something about my parents’ faces.
       “No, thank you, sir,” I said, almost under my breath, my head bowed.
      “Dexter, look at me,” the Mayor said. I lifted my chin. “You can do this if you want, it’s okay.”
       I shook my head.
       “Are you sure?” he asked.
       I nodded.
      “Dexter,” Dad said. “I don’t want you to do this. But you’re old enough now to make this decision on your own. Do you understand what this is really all about?”
      I understood. It was a dream come true and the best way to get my friends back, the best way to be captain again, the best way to play first base. But I knew Mom and Dad didn’t understand that, or had forgotten because they were old. But they didn’t like the offer and I couldn’t risk losing my parents, too.  “No.” I shook my head. “No thank you, I mean.”
       “Alright then.” The Mayor reached into his jacket pocket. “This is my business card. It has my direct number. If you change your mind, you give me a call.”
       I stood with my parents on our stoop as the three black town cars drove off. The neighborhood’s eyes watched the cars disappear around the corner then snapped back to us. I just followed my parents inside.

Scott picked me first. I thought that meant my punishment to right field was over and that my friends had forgiven me. Scott only wanted to know what happened with the Mayor. I told him.
      “We could have gone with you! That was stupid,” Scott said. “You could have hit him up for more. Could have gotten all of us tickets and season tickets and money. I bet you could have gotten all of us to go and gotten money and new stuff. Stupid, Dexter. Real stupid.”
      “Real stupid,” the team echoed.
      “It’s only because of that picture,” I said. “The bad one.” That comment stopped everyone. It was the first time anyone said anything about it since its printing. For a moment, I felt like everyone understood. “It’s not my fault he took the picture.”
      “It’s not our fault you got that idiotic smile when people died. We didn’t put that sick shit in your head,” Scott said. “But we have to miss out because you don’t want someone to take your picture again.”
      “Hey shut up,” I said.
      “You shut up,” Scott yelled back.
      “I had a concussion. I don’t even remember doing it,” I said. In my head that was a good reason, but it only made the ballplayers laugh more. Only Scott didn’t laugh. “That picture won an award,” I said. “It’s the same thing as the Pulitzer.” By the puzzled look on all their faces, I saw they didn’t know what the Pulitzer was either. The way Dad said it, it seemed important, and so I mimicked the tone. I realized then the Hanover boys didn’t know any more about anything than I did, and they were only mimicking the tones of their Dads.
      An Affluent, no older than twenty-five, came up to me on my right field stoop. He wore pressed brown pants with un-frayed cuffs and all the buttons on his shirt. He even walked like an Affie. Shoes that snapped when they hit the ground. He held out a glossy full-sized photograph of me and a new felt-tip marker. “Hey, sign this,” he said. I looked at my younger self smiling cheese, my grey dust face and the trickle of blood coming from my ear mixing to black.
       I shook my head.
       “What if I give you fifty dollars?” the guy said. I never had money of my own. Fifty dollars could buy a new white baseball. Still, I said no. “Make it five hundred,” the guy said. He reached into his pocket and showed me a folded wad of bills. It was the most money I had ever seen at once. I still said No. What good was new stuff if my friends wouldn’t play with me? I would have signed it if that guy could have promised me first base again. “What if,” the guy said, “You sign it now and I give you five hundred bucks and then come back later and give you another five hundred?”
       “Hey, Affie,” Scott shouted. “Stop bugging my players.”
       The Affluent made the same lip gesture Mom did when she grew tired of arguing. “Your loss, kid,” the guy said. He flashed the money one more time and kept that look on his face. He walked backwards a few paces, waiting for me to call out at the last second. I never did, and the guy stuffed the money back into his pocket.

The stadium felt bigger and the field felt smaller. Me and the Mayor left all my friends in the dugout and I jumped over the freshly chalked first base line. Bad luck to step on it. A big group of photographers called my name and when I looked their flashes made me blink. They stood along the baseline and behind home plate, the click-click-clicks so numerous they sounded like crickets. I didn’t mind the photographers now. I had new clothes, a haircut, new shoes and even a new glove. Even Scott didn’t have a glove this nice. Still stiff and unbroken. 
       “And now,” the loudspeaker said, “to throw out tonight’s first pitch, Dexter Devereux.” Only a small clatter of applause. I realized then people didn’t know my name, only my face. “And here to support Dexter, your Mayor of the City of Baltimore, Brandon Coleman.” The stadium erupted into boos and hisses and cheers and hoots.
       Most fans hadn’t arrived yet and more people were still going to their seats. The pitchers threw in the bullpen. The Oriole Bird threw T-shirts to the center field bleachers. The all-girls choir director positioned her singers by the on-deck circle. The Mayor made a big show of pulling the new Rawlings out from his pocket, holding it high in the air for all to see, and handing it to me. I pulled on the ball, but the Mayor didn’t let go.
       “For the papers,” the Mayor whispered and jerked his head towards the photographers. He held onto his half of the ball, put his arm around me and faced the cameras. I stood for a moment with my hand on the baseball and without smiling. I blinked in all the flashes. “Okay, go get ’em, sport.” The Mayor let go of the ball and walked behind the mound.
       I waved to Mom and Dad sitting above the first base dugout – our new season ticket spot. Several photographers spun to shoot pictures of them too. They waved back, but for some reason didn’t share my excitement.
       I kicked at the dirt by the rubber and planted my foot. The catcher squatted down without a mask or shin guards. I bent forward, and rested the ball on my back like all the best pitchers do. I looked for the sign. The catcher played along, offering me the fastball. I nodded, slammed the ball in my glove. I checked the empty first base and pitched from the stretch. I threw a really great strike.
       The catcher caught the ball and ran up to the mound to shake the Mayor’s hand and then mine. I looked back to the dugout. None of my friends even saw. They were too busy getting autographs.

© 2015 Christopher Cervelloni

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Author Bio
Christopher CervelloniChristopher Cervelloni is the editor of Modern Typewriter and a founder of Blue Square Writers’ Studio. He earned his MFA from Rutgers and his work has been published in Foliate Oak, Sixfold and The MacGuffin, among others. He lives and works in Denver, Colorado.