Published and available at www.amazon.com/storyfront, under the title A Good While Before. This is an excerpt. —
A good while before, I’d had to take work south of 128, and I’d taken it for nothing to start. I hated that, and had no idea except holding on until I got paid. But it turned out I was first in with a startup that actually started. There were two smart kids, and there was me the out-of-work adult to scrounge and deliver and fix the roof. And when the company sold, I still hated it, and I got enough to pay off the end of my last marriage and buy a house on one of the spur roads between Franklin and the old Dexter mills.
Along there it was still truck farm country, and the house was a raised-ranch with an unfinished L, up a bit like Jean’s and with supposedly a glimpse of the river if the river flooded in the spring. It was not a fancy place to live even with the glimpse, which was fine, and it was cheap for Massachusetts which meant I had enough left over I didn’t have to work.
I’d quit drinking, but I went to the Last Bastien to watch games alone with other people, men mostly, in the dark and in the smell of beer. It was early spring, and the Sox were on in a pre-season game. The Bruins had already fallen off the cliff, but it was a baseball crowd. Jean and them were a baseball crowd; one of the women knew more than God about laying down a bunt. They were writers in real life, and I didn’t know writers. If I was going to listen to anybody break glass with her voice, I would have rather she were on her way out to key a boyfriend’s Firebird. But somebody had sold something, and they’d all come to do a Saturday afternoon at the Bastien. So, great. The rest of them were earnest and hearty, and looking at this guy in his wheelchair with his trim little beard, to see if a laugh was what was happening.
If I had been drinking, I wouldn’t have cared, or else I would have called the girl on the bunt thing and gotten it over with. “Get your bat out,” she shouted. “If you’re going to bunt, square around and get it out.” She gave her Joe Torre of advice at some poor bastard who was on his way lower than Pawtucket next week and never coming back, but maybe we could find him for the girl to instruct on bunting technique. It got under my skin, and wouldn’t you know, all the Bastiens are first name with the guy in the chair. Everybody’s pal. Jean, pronounced with the Zs and Hs like a Canuck.
But I wasn’t drinking, so I didn’t say anything with the bunt, and it festered until the same kid could not turn a double play. He got spiked big time, laid out. At which, whatever her name, she starts in again, Elizabeth-Joe Torre instructing the length of Route 4220 how to pivot. And I get up like I’m going to the latrine, and as I pass the table, I look down at the jefe in his designer wheelchair, and I say, “That what happen to you pal? Couldn’t turn the double play and got stepped on?” Which I would never have said if I was drinking. And from closer up I can see that parts of legs may even be missing. The earnest hearties begin to think about action, and great; bring that on. I said, “I’ll bet you always squared around, though. Got your bat out. Huh, Buddy?”