An Excerpt from Compass Rose: "Baseball Game in South County"

Read an excerpt from John Casey's new book, Compass Rose, out this month in bookstores and online.

John Casey

May sat on the first row of the bleachers watching the boys warm up.  Tom was the second-string catcher, might get in if their team got ahead by a lot.  He was good behind the plate—all that practice catching for Charlie in the backyard—but he couldn’t hit as well as the first-string catcher.  At least Charlie and Tom got to play on a team this year.  Before Dick got his boat built he’d kept them busy during the summer doing chores.  No games.  And while Eddie Wormsley was fixing the house, they’d helped with that.  Now there was some pleasure in their lives.  Dick still expected them to work at something that brought in some money, but since he was at sea more than half the time, Charlie set his own schedule.  He used the work skiff the same way Dick used to—had his tongs, pots, hand lines.  Tom at 14 was an off-the-books boy at the boatyard, but they didn’t keep him half so busy as Dick used to.  No question about it, the boys were better off.  If you just counted material things so was she.  She took some comfort from the boys.

Across the bright green grass she saw Miss Perry walking with her cane.  The woman beside her was holding a parasol over Miss Perry’s head.  May didn’t recognize Elsie Buttrick at first because she was wearing a white dress and looked a little plump.  May’s memory of Elsie was in her tailored green uniform or in a swimsuit.

Miss Perry and Elsie moved very slowly.  Part of May’s mind was piecing together how and why they were here.  A more powerful feeling rose through her, making her back and arms rigid.  The feeling was nonsense but so strong that she couldn’t stop it—she felt that she was the one who’d done something wrong.  And everyone was about to see it.

Miss Perry stopped to switch her cane to her other side.  Elsie switched the parasol from one hand to the other and moved around Miss Perry.  Elsie saw May and opened her free hand—perhaps to show she couldn’t help being there.  Then she looked down.  May was released from her upside-down feeling.  She looked to see if Charlie or Tom had noticed Miss Perry.  No.  She was alone for more of Miss Perry’s and Elsie’s slow progress.  She herself was throwing off thoughts faster than she could gather them back in.  She was trying to gather them so that she would leave no part of herself outside her.  But there was another: a white dress.  Had that woman worn that white dress when she was with Dick?  Or was it to pretend she was Miss Perry’s nurse?

May’s thoughts were like a dog’s bristling and barking at something coming towards the front yard where it was chained up short.

She’d caught a glimpse of Elsie Buttrick one summer at a clam bake on Sawtooth Island, the local gentry walking around in next to nothing while Dick and the boys were fixing the clam bake.  May didn’t stay.  Something she hadn’t remembered till now: Dick had said afterward he thought Charlie had a crush on Elsie Buttrick.  That was an idea that was so barbed and tangled that she pulled it inside her and covered it.  And sat still.

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