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The summer boy, p.1
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       The Summer Boy, p.1

           Bernard Fancher
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The Summer Boy

  The Summer Boy


  Bernard Fancher

  Copyright 2011 Bernard Fancher

  All Rights Reserved


  The story that follows is fiction. Except where clearly historical, the people, places, and events portrayed are works of the imagination.


  The Summer Boy

  When it finally came after threatening all day, the rain fell in sheets that moved across the windshield like a fast moving stream. At one point, unable to see, he slowed almost to a stop at the side of the road, but then as suddenly as it started the downpour ended. So he lowered the window and drove with his arm resting once more on the sill of the car door, feeling the cool night air pushing back the cuff of his pin-striped long sleeve shirt.

  In the cool sprinkling wake of the storm he felt content and relaxed, anticipating with growing eagerness the dwindling distance before him, remembering Whitey said there was no chance of his getting called up so he might just as well head on home. “Hell, son,” he’d drawled through a mouthful of wet tobacco, giving him a heavy pat on the shoulder. “Baseball just ain’t all that important. Go see your father.”

  So he packed up, said goodbye to the other players and coaches on the Avalanche, most of whom he suspected now he would never hear word of again, and headed up through Indian Creek Gap into the still imposing hills of Pennsylvania. The first night he stayed overnight with friends in Pittsburgh before trekking again north on a route he’d never traveled before, making the trip feel like an adventure. Going up into southwestern New York his voyage became a back road tour through small busted boom towns that hadn’t changed much in decades. In one place he drove uphill past a riveted black tank connected by a gangly network of pipes and gauges to a pair of small jack pumps cranking slowly but incessantly away in adjacent front yards hardly large enough to hold them. Gradually the foot hills smoothed out into softly rolling farmland where he stopped for the night at a place called the Colonial Inn near the gorge of Letchworth State Park which he briefly explored the next day before continuing north yet again, connecting with Route 20 and then turning eastward.

  Getting past the first glut of towns he relaxed into the rhythm of the open country as the car rode the landscape lazily up and down on the old cement two-lane. The air rushed past the open window and the tires continually clicked tic-tic bridging the gaps in the road. At dusk the patchwork of fields stitched with hedgerows deepened in color before turning into zones of chalky blue and gray. Somewhere in the stretch between the Cape Cod Inn and the roadside museums the world darkened until it became too hard to see and finally he turned on the headlights. At one point he slowed to read the white-painted lamp-illumined hand-lettered sign tacked on a tar paper shack. Stop and see, the scrawl of words beckoned: Dinosaur eggs, Flying saucer parts, pre-Historic Indian bones.

  After negotiating a further stretch of dark country, he passed through a brightly lit college town crowded with students returning to school. A wide grass meridian, verdant and still-growing green under old-fashioned gaslights, divided the cobblestone road. When later he passed the sign pointing to Cooperstown, it gave him a twinge. Someday he would go, he promised himself and, as if to keep company with faith, he tuned in the last two innings of a Yankees home stand with the Red Sox before switching off the crackling post-game broadcast to roll down the window and again enjoy the rush of outside air at his side. Even as plump raindrops began to splatter his windshield he left the window open, raising it reluctantly only to retract it again immediately in the storm’s wake to feel the cool sprinkling air buffeting his cuff and bare forearm.

  Now the road north steamed beneath the headlights, illuming a path through a lush growth of small trees and bushes lining both sides. Eventually he turned one last time east, crossing a stream, before heading northward again. By the time he reached the outskirts of Dudley he was ready to stop. And he needed gas anyway. He pulled into the Quick-Fill and stood for a moment in the artificial light holding the palm of one hand to his lower back before lifting the nozzle away from the pump with the other. He let his back go to turn the selector to regular grade and raise the safety switch, after which the pump clicked to life and the gas flowed, cooling the handle.

  As he held the grip trigger he looked around, noting the empty lot across the road where the Mobil garage had stood before burning. He remembered the red winged horse set in the front gable and reproduced on the white globes atop the gas pumps. Not so long ago he had hung out there with his friends on weekends—washing and polishing cars, changing oil or the occasional tire. But except for the missing garage and the new Quick-Fill everything else in Dudley seemed the same. Adopting a philosophical attitude, he supposed change was either good or bad, depending on how you defined progress.

  He went inside and was a little surprised to find Alison Ray’s little sister behind the counter. He knew her by sight even if he wasn’t quite sure of her name.

  “Hello there, stranger,” she said, as he walked by on his way to the cooler. He picked out a bottle of ginseng tea and returned, the whole time trying to remember her first name. When she took his credit card he glanced at the plastic tag pinned above her left breast and instantly remembered as soon as he read it: Alicia.

  “We thought you’d hit the big time and none of us around here would ever see you again.” She was smiling at him, being playful, so he caught her jest and threw it right back.

  “Well, if that ever happens, Alicia, I’ll be expecting a big parade in my honor.”

  “Oh sure,” she snorted, swiping his card. “Like that’ll happen.”

  “You never know,” he said, feeling chastened and a little defensive. Feigning surprise, she pulled back and looked at him, the bridge of her brow slightly furrowed.

  “Hell, Kyle. That’s not what I meant.” The furrow smoothed and she smiled broadly, handing his card back. “I just meant it wouldn’t be like you to expect any such thing.” Her brown eyes looked at him intensely as if she were trying to figure him out. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she continued. “It isn’t any a secret, really, except you don’t seem to know. People around here would give you a parade tomorrow if they thought you’d stand still for it.”

  He felt his ears warming and feared he might blush. “Well,” he said, glancing down, suddenly awkward and self-aware. “That’s nice to hear.”

  He fumbled the card returning it to his wallet and was half out the door before, turning her voice up a level, she innocuously added, “You should call my sister sometime.”

  Continuing out under the artificial light, surrounded by night, he felt again alone, more so now than before. It wasn’t a bad feeling, not entirely. And sometimes it proved to be of use, as when he stood on the mound in front of thousands of people; then the aloneness instilled in him a sense of serenity and composure, allowing him to function. Then, as now, he felt himself being watched. But it didn’t matter. As long as he stayed apart, encircled by light, he also felt safely buffered. He got in the car and took a long slow drink of iced tea, feeling it penetrating so coldly into the roof of his mouth it hurt the top of his head. Glancing towards the store, he saw Alicia in profile, leaning back against the counter and talking on the phone, not watching him now after all. He decided quite suddenly he liked her. He took another long slow drink, emptying the bottle before starting the engine and pulling away.

  As soon as he crossed the tracks the town fell away, replaced again by dark open country. A mile out of town the road diverged. Going right led to the river; going left the road climbed gradually higher, leading towards the turn that would take him the last little part of the way home. He listened to the car’s engine rev slightly as the transmission shifted down making the
ascent. As the car climbed in this new gear it gained momentum until it shifted back again somewhere up the road. Leveling off, the road continued veering left until he turned off, making a right onto a rounding strip of undivided macadam. Less than a mile later he turned one last time onto the maple-lined drive leading up to the farm house. As he expected at this hour the place was entirely dark, except for a single electric candle lighting the center pane of each window. Barring extraordinary circumstances, his mother would have been to bed no later than ten o’clock. He turned off the driveway onto the lawn at the end of the trees, killing the lights and the engine. In the sudden quiet he sat still soaking up the calm pleasant sensation of having arrived.

  The outdoor dog came and stood silently waiting. Kyle heard the shaggy shepherd-Lab mix panting before he saw its dark form approaching on the grass. He reached down, touching the groove at the top of its head. “Baron,” he whispered, “how are you?”

  For the first time that year he heard crickets in the field beyond the yard.
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