“What the good Jesus!” Pete Tura yelled and disappeared, and as he said it again, his voice muffled, his mouth most likely closed by horse manure, a whole nine yards of it, the bottom of the collection box hanging from the second floor of the Hood’s Milk Company horse barn in West Lynn let go, taking my pal with it. I last saw one arm, not waving goodbye, probably trying to keep the pitchfork from doing him damage. Possibly he had tried to throw it behind him. That innocent weapon of deadly tines was not in sight as I peered down into the mixture of black clutter and hay still settling down with a metronomic slowness you could count.
His name was Amos Clark, 75 years old if a day, and on one of those days at the little decrepit house where the dowser used to live, this kind-looking man with a beard came carrying all he owned on an A-frame on his back. He set his A-frame on the ground and looked at the small house needing much work on the outside and quickly imagined what the inside of the house looked like. Old muscles, in a twist of memory, began to move under his shirt.
We were all friends once. The three of us. Till she caught the two of us together. And when I mean to say together, I mean together not just in the biblical sense, which was true enough, but together as in in love. That was our big secret of course, and when Rose found out, understandably she wasn’t having any of it. I suspect she’d always known Tommy and I were jerking around together behind her back, which I don’t think she minded as Tom says she never was one for sex too much anyway and she probably figured us doing what we did took some of the pressure off her. Maybe. But the look she got when I finally had it out with her that day over at the park, on that little wooden bridge that crossed the little creek that more than half the year was dry, and I told her outright, and she pushed me off that bridge and said she’d see about that. That day, the creek wasn’t dry.
I can whip Tommy Bryce’s ass, no problem. Everyone knows it, including Tommy. You can tell looking at him with those spaghetti arms sticking out from the sleeves of his chocolate ice-cream stained t-shirt. And that blonde crewcut. What’s he think? He’s in the Marines?
So I’m walking home from baseball practice, punching in my Rawlings glove when out of nowhere Tommy rushes past me, grabs the glove, and keeps running. He has a five-foot lead on me minimum when I start after him. But I’m faster, any day.
It all began perhaps eight or nine years earlier, in a peaceful sleep, when a thin, shoelace-like string of pressure went around his chest for the third time in a week. Sixty-two year old Max Cargo paid attention to that string. It was three o’clock in the morning and his wife Pamela stirred casually at his touch. In less than an hour they were in the Emergency Room of the local hospital.
The benches in the New York City Clerk’s office were hard and uncomfortable. The wood was worn and shiny from nervous and impatient squirmings. The room was dim and shabby, wearied from processions of the city poor, eager to pay the few dollars for the privilege of marriage, or not eager, but complying with demanding families, resenting the notices of do’s and dont’s, murmuring to the indifferent walls. And behind barred windows, clerks in funereal voices, never calling names fast enough to spare the nervous couples the glances of others. The eyes that have seen it all before; waiting, birth, death, the history of in-betweens, waiting.
Squirrel was a little under average tall and railly. Mostly crooked teeth. Reddish hair, oily. Everbody started calling him Squirrel back in high school. He didn’t mind so much. Better’n Twerp from earlier on. One night Squirrel goes to the Tap Bar, and Big Ed’s wife, Ellie Lynn, is there without Big Ed. Ellie Lynn looks like she’s had a few so Squirrel goes an sits by her. Ellie Lynn seems real happy for Squirrel to buy her a few, and he has a few himself. Well, to cut to it, Squirrel and Ellie Lynn end up closin the place and goin to his truck to get at it. After finishin, Squirrel says to Ellie Lynn “Let’s do this again sometime, wanna?” Ellie Lynn don’t say nothin. She just gets outta Squirrel’s truck and walks off laughin and pullin up her pants.