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If i never get back, p.1
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       If I Never Get Back, p.1

           Darryl Brock
If I Never Get Back

  If I Never Get Back

  Other books by Darryl Brock

  Two in the Field

  Havana Heat

  If I Never Get Back

  A Novel

  Darryl Brock

  Frog Books

  Berkeley, California

  Electronic Edition: ISBN 978-1-58394-929-0

  Copyright © 1990, 2007 by Darryl Brock. All rights reserved. No portion of this book, except for brief review, may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without written permission of the publisher. For information contact Frog Books c/o North Atlantic Books.

  Published by Frog Books,an imprint of North Atlantic Books

  P.O. Box 12327 Berkeley, California 94712

  Cover photo © Bobo/Alamy

  Cover design by Gia Giasullu

  Printed in the United States of America

  If I Never Get Back is sponsored by the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a nonprofit educational corporation whose goals are to develop an educational and cross-cultural perspective linking various scientific, social, and artistic fields; to nurture a holistic view of arts, sciences, humanities, and healing; and to publish and distribute literature on the relationship of mind, body, and nature.

  North Atlantic Books’ publications are available through most bookstores. For further information, visit our website at or call 800-733-3000.

  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and Faber and Faber Limited: excerpts from “Little Gidding” and “Burnt Norton” in Four Quartets, copyright 1943 by T.S. Eliot, renewed 1971 by Esme Valerie Elliot. Rights outside the U.S. administered by Faber and Faber, London. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and Faber and Faber Limited.

  Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.: epigraph from The Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider. Copyright 1927,1940,1958,1959 by the Mark Twain Company. Copyright 1924,1945,1952 by Clara Clemens Samoussoud. Copyright © 1959 by Charles Neider. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Brock, Darryl.

  If I never get back: a novel / Darryl Brock,

  p. cm.

  ISBN-13: 978-1-58394-187-4 (pbk.)

  ISBN-10:1-58394-187-8 (pbk.)

  1. Cincinnati Reds (Baseball team)—Fiction. 2. Cincinnati (Ohio)—Fiction. 3. Baseball players—Fiction. 4. Baseball teams—Fiction.

  5. Baseball stories. I. Title. PS3552.R58I3 2007 813’.54-dc22 2006100436

  For Lura




  PART ONE: The Green Fields of the East

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  PART TWO: City on a River

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  PART THREE: The Pacific

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30



  In a sense this tale emerged from my historical rummagings as if it had always been waiting there. It pleases me that most of the characters were doing in 1869 what I have them doing, and that many events—even minor ones—occurred as I have shown them. Some, of course, did not.

  Information and inspiration came from a generous number of sources. In 1985, while traveling the country and retracing the Red Stockings’ tour routes, I was aided by reference librarians in dozens of cities. Special thanks to Thomas R. Heitz, librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame; to W. Lloyd Johnson, Executive Director of the Society for American Baseball Research, and to others of my SABR colleagues for their energy and expertise; to Dahlia Armon of the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California at Berkeley; to Elaine Gilleran of the Wells Fargo Bank History Department; to Bill Bloodgood of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival; to Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle; and to Karlyn Barker of the Washington Post.

  I am indebted to Jack Finney for blazing a literary trail; to Peter S. Beagle, the sagest of guides, for his counsel and steadfast friendship; to Gemma Whelan, my Irish connection; to Julie Fallowfield and James O’Shea Wade, my agent and editor, whose patience and craft shaped a dream into existence.

  Most of all I am indebted to my wife’s perceptions and loving enthusiasm; this work is dedicated to her.


  As a child I spent hours gazing at landscapes in the patchwork quilt my grandmother tucked around me. Farms and hamlets grew up in remnants of Grandma’s print dresses. Grandpa’s work shirts sprouted towns. Older, unfamiliar patches formed mysterious hinterlands. Over the years, imbuing each patch with mood and legend, I envisioned myself fording rivers in fabric hollows and scaling cloth peaks, traversing the ridged boundaries of thread to adventure with the imaginary folk of all my patchwork provinces.

  Once or twice I was able to stare downward with such mindless concentration that I felt myself actually sinking into the topography I had created: it broadened and opened beneath me as though I were descending slowly in a balloon. All around, hazily at first, bright forms—orange houses, lavender pastures, blue hills—materialized and quickened with life.

  Just as I began to drink in the sensations of this new world—the odors of grasses and blooms, the rustlings of birds, the shouts of children playing ball in the distance—I pulled myself back with a wrenching effort, and afterward lay trembling on my bed. What would happen, I wondered, if I ever went in all the way?


  The Green Fields of the East

  Nelly Kelly loved Base Ball games

  Knew the players, knew all their names,

  You could see her there every day,

  Shout “Hurray” when they’d play.

  Her boy friend by the name of joe

  Said to Coney Isle, dear, let’s go,

  Then Nelly started to fret and pout,

  And to him I heard her shout:

  Take me out to the Ball game,

  Take me out with the crowd.

  Buy me some peanuts and crack-er-jack,

  I don’t care if I never get back.

  Let me root, root, root for the home team,.

  If they don’t win it’s a shame,

  For it’s one, two, three strikes,

  You re out at the old Ball game.


  . . . step to the bat, it’s your innings.

  MARK TWAIN, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  Chapter 1

  The Amtrak crawled out of Cleveland. I sat sweating in my new dark suit, staring out at the blackened brick walls from which milky light was beginning to ooze. Maybe I could hold it off. What had I been thinking about? The TV. Concentrate.

  She opens her mouth wide: NNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOH! But I have no intention of hitting her. I shoulder past to the console squatting near the vaulted window of her hog-rich parents’ Burlingame home. On-screen is Anchorman, her lover, smarmy voice and trademark eyebrows embellishing the tripe he intones from the TelePrompTer.

bsp; I get my back into it, thrust upward with my legs, muscles knotting . . . no workouts for too long . . . a frenzied snatch-and-lift . . . I stagger sideways and heave . . . picture window explodes . . . shards, of glass cascading . . . TV in flight. . . cabinet folds inward as it crashes on the flagstone . . . muted cracklings precede one large red spark . . . the long rumble down the hill, pieces flying . . . Stephanie screaming . . . for an instant . . . one pure rushing instant . . . I was King Fucking Kong. . . .

  Milkiness encroaching. I reached for the pint of Scotch in my coat. Almost empty. The pale light was seeping in through my ears.

  Rock bottom. If not here, couldn’t be far off. What I didn’t know was whether to feel scared or relieved.

  The TV . . .

  Maybe she picked him on purpose, knowing how I detested the breed: electronic jackals in symbiosis with their brain-dead viewers. Mincing on the scene, crews running interference. Checking makeup. Asking their two stupid questions. Broadcasting the shoddy results hours before our stories hit the streets.

  It was when she told me she was moving in with him that I assaulted the tube.

  It proved costly. With the divorce came a custody judgment barring drunken violent me from seeing our daughters more than once a week.

  Booze gradually came to fill a lot of empty places. I was a wretched part-time father. I alienated my friends. Jeopardized my job. Screwed up everything.

  Strangely, my father’s death had seemed to offer a certain opportunity, a rite of passage to manhood.

  “I can’t imagine how they tracked you down” Stephanie’s cool measured words—her telephone voice—sounding in my brain. “They called here for you. I told them our situation. If you need to miss a visit, I’ll think of something to tell the girls.”

  By burying him I would ascend some pinnacle of maturity. There, viewing my thirty-two years with new wisdom, I would find significance and a tenable position.

  “Take a month if you need, Sam.” City Editor Joe Salvio giving me a fishy smile, significant look. “Pull yourself together . . . skimpy interviews . . . facts not checked . . . get back to your old form!”

  Or your ass is dead.

  So this morning I had picked up the suit I’d ordered, flown to Cleveland, and cabbed to the Cuyahoga County Morgue. Without ceremony they slid the cold-storage drawer out and raised the sheet. Shivering in the refrigerated chill, I peered into the sallow face for the first time, seeking traces of myself. There was no cosmetic work: skin sagged from his neck, hair sprouted from his nostrils, snowy stubble matted his jowls and collapsed cheeks.

  Did you fill your days? Did you love anyone?

  I stared at the swollen nose. It was bulbous—like mine before college boxing flattened it—and purplish, crosshatched with tiny broken vessels.

  Did you ever think about me?

  “. . . like a chunk of pumice. . . .” The voice of the man from the coroner’s office buzzed. “. . . enlarged twice normal and severely cirrhotic . . . yellow and fibrous as dry sponge . . . sure as putting a gun to his head, just slower. . . .”

  I had a fleeting urge to reach down and lift one of the wrinkled lids. What color were his eyes? Shouldn’t a son know?

  Burial was expensive. I opted for cremation, my hand shaking as I signed as “nearest surviving relative.” I asked where he’d been living. The answer was vague; no address. I went back in for a final look. Beneath the odor of preservatives I imagined his stench rising about me. I turned away and heard the drawer slide in.

  So long, Pop.

  Outside, the afternoon heat hung like a force field. I stood uncertainly, swallowing hard, then headed for a liquor store.

  Lately the milky light came often. Enveloped in it, confused by it, I seemed to experience multiple dimensions. Without disappearing, things around me receded into the pale haze as distant images and voices swirled to the foreground. Most of them I recognized as my own memories. But not all. The experience was unnerving, sometimes almost terrifying. Drug overload. Or maybe I was going crazy.

  The idea of taking Amtrak back had been to give myself time to savor the experience, see the country. But what was to savor? A long look at a corpse? I tilted the pint up. They say drinking runs in families.

  The woman across the aisle was staring at me. I leered and winked. She pursed her mouth and looked away. Hell with her. The last of the whiskey slid down. My stomach churned. My vision blurred. I pressed my hands to my eyes. The milkiness was close.

  The delay—something about a tie-up outside Toledo—was announced not long after we’d cleared the last dismal suburb and were barreling across open country. I’d been watching the fields rush by ablaze with wildflowers, their beauty a mockery.

  The train’s rhythm flattened as we slowed. We curved onto a siding and glided to a halt beside a weather-beaten loading dock rising like a low island from a sea of weeds and nettles. Waves of heat radiated from the wooden platform though dusk was settling. Insects swarmed in spirals. The compartment’s doors opened with a hiss. A steward announced that we would be held up awhile; we could stretch our legs. I looked around. Nobody seemed eager to leave the air-conditioning. I stood unsteadily. Had to go outside. Had to do something.

  My shoes clumped on the long platform. I retreated inside the sounds, tried to focus on the grain of the boards. Sweat filled my armpits. I felt a chill in the thick, heavy heat.

  At the far end of the dock a small wooden ticket office stood darkly limned against a glowing backdrop of greenery. Drawing closer, I saw a rusted weather vane tilting from the peak of the roof. Strips of sun-bleached yellow paint curled from the wall boards; cobwebs sagged like nets from the eaves. Somebody had scrawled SUCKO on a square of plywood covering the single window.

  “Daddy?” A child’s voice; my daughters’ faces.

  I walked on, faster.

  The rear of the depot looked out on a meadow green from spring rains and bordered by a row of tall sycamores. Near the edge of the platform wild clover exploded in bursts of pinks and whites. From their midst a cacophony of buzzings and dronings suggested that life was indeed very pleasant. If you were a bug.

  A wave of dizziness passed over me. I shut my eyes for a moment, a mistake.

  “Won’t you live with us anymore?” Hope asks, her voice quavering. “Mommy says you won’t.” I look down at her helplessly. “Daddy?” she urges. Behind her, Susy stares with huge round eyes. “Don’t go, Daddy!” she cries suddenly, and rushes to me. I press her in my arms, feel her small shoulders trembling. I struggle to find words that will tell her I don’t want to go—never wanted to go.

  My eyes burned. For a long moment I didn’t know where I was. Shapes moved in a pattern before me. I blinked. Circling in the middle distance, blackbirds played tag in the slanting light, their scarlet wing patches flashing like epaulets as they wheeled and darted over the field.

  . . . light glowing on the sallow face . . .


  I must have said it out loud. The sound reverberated in the evening stillness. My head pulsated. I pressed my hands to my temples and leaned against the depot wall.

  “Why do you have to go, Daddy?”

  Did he think about me?

  “Are you coming home, Daddy?”

  I reached into the pocket where the bottle had been. My fingers closed around my watch. I pulled it out and pressed the hidden latch that opened the silveroid case, eyes fixed on it, trying to drive the milkiness back.

  Years after losing Grandpa’s railroad watch I’d found this one in an antique store. The name P. S. Bartlett inscribed on the works identified it as a model first made in 1857, and its serial number dated it in late ’60 or early ’61. The seventy-five-dollar price was steep, considering it lacked the key for winding and setting. I paid a locksmith fifty dollars to make a replacement; it came out too modern-looking but did the job. With brass polish I buffed the case to a high sheen and took pleasure that the watch kept perfect time.

  But now the hands sai
d six-thirty. Hadn’t it been nearly eight before I got off the train? I saw the secondhand not moving in its tiny inset. Funny, I’d wound it that morning. Pulling the key from its hole on the top—where stems were fixed in later models—I fitted it over the winding knob.

  At the edge of my vision was a fluttering. Two redwing blackbirds landed on the dock a few yards away. Their wings beat the air, one squawked while touching down, and their feet scratched nervously on the platform.

  They were real, not my imagination.

  When their wing markings began to vanish, I shook my head to clear my vision, although every detail was registering: the yellow borders of the patches slowly disappeared, then the red centers, leaving both birds completely black.

  I stared at them.

  Then, soundlessly, still hopping about on the platform, the birds themselves began to grow hazy. They didn’t fade, exactly, or dissolve, but seemed to fill and overflow with pale light until the spaces containing them held only the light and nothing more.

  The milkiness climbed around me.

  Another bird materialized and flew very near my face, a dark fluttering form flashing before me, wings thrashing. It shot past. Then, for a distinct instant, emerging from the white light, I saw a human figure. It was draped in a uniform coat—military, or some kind of conductor’s, long and faded, with parallel rows of brass buttons—and one arm was stretched toward me. I thought it was moving, as if in flight, but I couldn’t tell whether approaching or receding. In the background, on a hill across a stream or narrow river, a group of people stood in hazy tableau, looking at me.

  The world tilted. The sycamores grew smaller. Beyond them the dusk light bronzed and the sky shrank to a narrow band. I clutched at the depot wall but couldn’t hang on. The platform rose abruptly and crashed against my face. Blackness engulfed me.

  The next thing I knew, pain was pulsing behind my eyes and I couldn’t see. I tried to climb to my feet, reaching one knee and falling back again, nauseated. A loud, insistent hissing probed the air somewhere inside or outside my brain. Groping on the platform, my hand encountered the watch and returned it to its pocket.

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