It’ll be a lose-lose situation if he asks her anyway. She certainly won’t give them back, and if she hasn’t taken them, she’ll be mad at him for making such an accusation. Steven thinks it’s best to look for them elsewhere and only resort to asking Sandy after exhausting all other possibilities.
He’s not sure exactly when he lost them. It must’ve been a gradual thing, like when something builds up and builds up and you aren’t sure what’s going on and then suddenly there’s this “aha” moment like suicidal people must feel.
Steven Storky wakes up one morning after having had that building up feeling (actually, his is more of a wearing away feeling) for weeks. Three minutes before his alarm rings at 5:03 he springs up in bed and shouts, “Aha!”
Sandy slaps him in the back and shushes him. She doesn’t like being disturbed, but Steven has to do it every morning at 5:03 anyway. “Just don’t wake up,” he tried to convince her once, but she wouldn’t have any of it. She seemed much more interested in waking up and criticizing him. Steven still doesn’t understand but accepts that this is the way things are. He apologizes and hurries out of bed, his work clothes neatly set out in the other room, his toothbrush and other toiletries tucked away in the cabinet beneath the sink in the guest bathroom.
When Steven takes a shower this morning, he feels down below to see if maybe those balls aren’t hiding up there somewhere. His fingers can’t find a trace. It’s like they’ve simply vanished.
At work this very same day one of his co-workers says Steven doesn’t seem to be all there. Steven pretends not to know what the guy is talking about. “Nope, I’m all here, every bit of me, right in this office, all here,” he insists way too much. The co-worker shrugs and says something else Steven can’t hear. Then Steven goes off to his cubicle to do some menial tasks his boss has requested via email. Although Steven isn’t keen on the work, he’s glad his boss has the courtesy to deliver the commands in a silent fashion. He would’ve hated having a boss who came into his cubicle and announced the tasks in front of all his co-workers. It would be embarrassing for them to hear the things he is forced to do at his age and experience level. Not that they respect him anyway, which is why he has to do the tasks to begin with.
Sitting at his desk in the cubicle pounding away at his keyboard on something trivial, it suddenly occurs to Steven that his boss might have his balls, or perhaps even one of the other employees in the office. He decides to look around for them, but the boss catches him off task and asks him what’s going on. Steven mumbles something about getting coffee or making copies and the boss tells him to get back to work. After the encounter he returns to his desk and stays in the cubicle the rest of the day, skipping lunch and holding his bladder for almost three hours before stopping in the john at exactly 5:07 on his way out of the building. Once his bladder is relieved he retrieves his lunch from the office lunch room and eats his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a granny smith apple on his walk down the five flights of stairs. He takes his final bite of apple, ripping the flesh all the way to the core so the seeds are visible, and pitches the leftovers in a garbage can in the parking lot. Then he strolls to his light blue sedan. The blue is so light that most people think the car is white or dirty or maybe even an odd shade of green. Actually, the blue is so light that most people don’t even notice the car at all.
On the drive home from work, Steven sees a Welsh Corgi walking with what appears to be a ball in its mouth. Steven thinks it’s one of his so he slams on his brakes and veers to the curb. As he gets out of the car a small boy with a red baseball cap takes the ball out of the dog’s mouth and walks away. “Hey, that’s my ball!” Steven shouts at the boy. The boy continues to walk away. The Corgi doesn’t seem to belong to the boy. Steven doesn’t bother to turn off the engine and starts chasing the boy on foot. “Give me my ball!” Steven yells. The boy runs faster, fast enough to make his red cap fall off. Steven runs past it and chases the boy for two and a half blocks before the boy cuts up a yard and starts knocking on a door. While the boy waits on the porch Steven slows to a walk and then stands still by a fire hydrant. The door opens and the boy goes inside. Steven contemplates marching to the door and demanding his ball. He walks halfway to the door but sees the curtains flicker in the window so he turns around and heads back to his car, picking up the red hat on the way and placing it upon his head.
A police officer is waiting by the idling car with a pad of tickets. She removes one and puts it underneath his wiper blade. He wants to argue but knows he was probably in the wrong even though it wasn’t his fault. He doesn’t know how to explain why he left the car there. The Corgi is gone. With a tip of his new tight red hat he apologizes to the officer and gets in the car, grabbing the ticket from the windshield before sitting.
Steven goes out of his way to drive by the house the kid entered. When he doesn’t see any activity, he turns his car around and drives by again. The house is still silent. He makes a mental note of the address and decides he will send them a letter. As he drives home he keeps his eye out for any sign of his other ball, but all he sees is a shirtless jogger with a very hairy chest and a man collecting cans in a shopping cart. In his mind he tells the jogger to put on a shirt and the can-man to find a real job. Out loud he mumbles the wrong words to a Rolling Stones song playing on the radio.
When he opens his garage door and pulls into the driveway something on the roof catches his eye. It’s definitely his other ball. He wonders how the two got so far apart. He leaves the car idling in the driveway and yanks the ladder out of the garage. Once it’s sturdily resting against the side of the house, he climbs the rungs without thinking about ladder safety. The car’s engine whirrs beneath him. Sandy comes out the front door and asks what the hell he’s doing just as he places his left foot on the roof.
“I saw something on the roof,” he calls down to her.
“Hurry the hell up,” she tells him. “Dinner’s almost ready, you’re wasting gas, and you look like a buffoon on the roof in your work clothes.”
Steven doesn’t dispute any of these facts. He looks down at his black wingtips, khaki slacks, blue shirt, and navy sport coat and knows he doesn’t belong on the roof. “I’ll only be a minute,” is all he says in reply.
His hesitation in listening to Sandy and bothering to reply proves rather costly. A large black bird lets out a brief “caw.” The ball, which is no more than seven feet away from his wingtip, is suddenly scooped up in the black bird’s beak. It’s a snug fit, but the bird manages, holding onto the sphere with ease as it flies into a nest in the neighbor’s elm tree. “Hey, that’s my ball!” Steven yells at the bird.
“What are you talking about?” Sandy calls from the ground below. Steven hadn’t known she was still there. He pretends he doesn’t hear her and comes down the ladder.
“Did you get the thing off the roof?” she asks when he’s on the ground.
“A bird took it,” he says sliding the ladder back into the garage.
“What was it?”
Steven wonders if she already knows what it is. He thinks she might’ve put it up there to begin with, but he’s not sure why she would do such a thing.
“It looked like a ball,” he says.
“What kind of ball?” she persists. He wonders why she cares so much.
“A round one,” he says in an attempt to be funny.
Sandy doesn’t laugh. “Where is it now?”
“A bird took it,” he tells her. He wonders if she will care that a bird has her husband’s ball, figuring she would probably want to keep it for herself.
“Must not’ve been a very big ball,” she mutters as she turns to go back inside.
Steven makes mocking gestures with his mouth while pulling the car into the garage. He tries to think of a way to get back at Sandy, but mostly he wants to get his balls back. Even just one would be nice.
After parking the car in the garage he goes over to his neighbor’s house and rings the doorbell.
The neighbor comes outside and politely asks what he wants. Steven is sure the neighbor is only pretending to be friendly.
“A bird in your tree has something of mine,” Steven tells him.
The neighbor stops pretending. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I climbed up your tree to get it out,” Steven says.
“What is it?” The neighbor puts his hand on the door.
“It’s a ball,” Steven says. He begins to think his neighbor is in on the whole thing. Sandy probably had this guy take the balls. Lord knows she doesn’t like to touch down there these days.
“What kind of ball?” the neighbor asks.
Steven looks around for a moment and then leans in. “It’s my ball,” he whispers to the neighbor.
“Well no shit,” the neighbor says.
Steven thinks his suspicions are confirmed.
“I want it back,” Steven says.
“Well, knock yourself out,” the neighbor says. “But if you damage my tree you’re paying for it.”
Just as the neighbor closes the door Steven sees the bird fly away. He thinks he sees the ball in its beak. He reaches out to ring the doorbell again to let the neighbor know he isn’t going to bother with the tree, but he decides against it. There’s a chance he’ll go up the tree later after the bird returns.
Steven goes inside his own house and smells dinner. Sandy has cooked a roast and is serving mashed potatoes and carrots with it. Steven says it smells good. He knows she’ll claim to have slaved over it if he doesn’t, but he knows it’s really just something she threw in the oven at four o’clock when she got home from work. The potatoes are just the instant kind, but he actually thinks they taste better than the real ones she mashes up on special occasions.
“Why did you go to the Perry’s” house?” Sandy asks.
Steven hesitates. He thinks it might be a trap, but he can’t think of a good lie so he just tells her that he wanted to ask about the ball.
“Why do you care so much about this stupid ball?” Sandy asks. The way she says it makes Steven think that maybe she didn’t put it up there and that maybe she doesn’t know exactly which ball he’s talking about.
“I just need it, that’s all,” Steven says.
“For what?” she asks.
Steven can’t think of anything he really needs it for, but he knows it would be nice to have. He shrugs and says, “Never mind, let’s just eat.” The couple sits in silence save for the occasional comment about their respective days.
After an evening of watching television on separate couch cushions, Sandy tells Steven it’s time for bed. Steven isn’t tired, so he tells her he is going to stay up for a bit.
“What for?” she asks.
Steven is getting tired of her questions.
“To get some stuff done,” he tells her.
“What stuff do you have to do?” She stares at him with her hands on her hips.
“Don’t worry about it,” he tells her. She continues to stare. He thinks about apologizing but decides just to go do some stuff on the computer. He doesn’t notice her facial expression. All he knows is she doesn’t ask him anything else.
Steven putzes around on the computer for awhile not really accomplishing much of anything but having a good time nonetheless. Before going to bed he takes a leak. Just for old time’s sake he feels around down there. His fingers detect a pea-sized development on each side. He wonders if they were there this morning and he just hadn’t noticed.
At 5:02 the next morning he springs out of bed, making plenty of noise in the process. Sandy swings at his back but misses. He doesn’t apologize for waking her. He goes into the bathroom and feels around again. Now he feels a couple marbles down there. It’s unmistakable that the lumps have gotten bigger. He smiles as he reaches into the cabinet beneath the guest sink for his deodorant. A mason jar behind the pipes catches his eye. He pulls it out and examines the contents. There are two balls floating around in a murky liquid. He feels down below again. The marbles are still there. He thinks about the Corgi and the boy with the red cap and the police officer and the bird and his neighbor. He wonders whose balls are in the jar. They don’t look familiar, not like the ones he saw yesterday.
He takes the lid off and smells the contents. His body recoils at the stench. These have been in the jar for more than a few days. He almost marches into the bedroom to demand whose balls are in the jar, but then he has second thoughts. Instead he opens the toilet lid and dumps everything, liquid, balls and all, into the bowl. He flushes, watching the toilet gurgle as it sucks down the balls. Just for good measure, he feels himself again. The marbles are still there. He sets down the mason jar proudly and pulls on his underwear all the while wondering when his balls will be back to full size. Then he hears his wife stirring in the other room. He pulls off his underwear and struts to the bedroom door, knowing just how he can get his balls back.