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.

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  • John Casey (right) and brother-in-law Benjamin Warnke on the banks of the river.

    John Casey

    Photographer Ben Hoffman

    Click to Enlarge

Miss Perry and Elsie arrived.  May got up, shook hands with Miss Perry, nodded towards Elsie.  Miss Perry said, “I told Charlie that I doubted that I would be able to go fishing this year, but that I hoped he and Tom would come for lunch.  He then very nicely asked me to the baseball game.”  May concentrated on the slow rise and fall of Miss Perry’s voice.  Miss Perry’s eyes widened as if with surprise behind her eyeglasses.  She said, “And here I am.”  Miss Perry put both hands on the crook of her cane and added, “I’m afraid I dragooned Elsie into driving me.”  She put the tip of her cane behind the bench and began to sit down.  Elsie got behind her, turned her and lowered her by her elbows.

May felt calmed by Miss Perry’s stately sentences and by the way her presence lessened the Buttrick girl, maybe even contained her.  Then May blamed herself for not thinking of Miss Perry’s effort in coming out to the game, for not being concerned about how Miss Perry had aged in the last year.  May said, “The boys’ll be glad you’re here.  Charlie’s going to pitch.  We might get to see Tom a little later.  Baseball’s the first thing they’ve done on their own, if you see what I mean.”

Miss Perry turned to her.  “I do indeed.  Dick is admirably industrious, but I imagine he may have been demanding in his single-mindedness.  Now that he’s achieved his own boat however, one might hope that he will become a bit more like Captain Teixeira.  Perhaps not immediately of course.”  Miss Perry gave a little cough, perhaps a laugh.

Elsie looked straight ahead during Miss Perry’s speech.

Miss Perry said, “I don’t intend that remark as a criticism of Dick but simply as a looking forward to spring after a hard winter.”

The game began.  May hadn’t seen a ball game for years—the last one probably a Red Sox game on someone’s TV.  She was surprised by a terrible tenderness for these teen-agers assuming the gestures of grown men: the batter knocking the bat against his spikes and then tapping it on home plate.  The infielders crouching, pounding their fists in their mitts.

And Charlie on the mound staring intently at the catcher, shaking off a sign with a single shake of his head—the most grown-up gesture she’d ever seen him make.

And the chatter.  Their voices had all changed but were still not men’s voices.  Still thin and sometimes sweet tenors even though they were trying to be menacing or scornful.  “No hitter no hitter, easy out easy out.”  “Whaddya say whaddya say Charlie boy, right by him, right down the old alley.”

High-school boys on a Saturday morning yearning to be men.  In their green hearts wanting to be like Dick—strong, secretive, hard.  She’d seen moving pictures of a crew at sea sorting fish dumped on the deck out of the cod end, using their gloved hands or gaffs to throw the good fish into the hold, using their boots to kick the trash fish off the stern.

These boys, the green field, the summer clouds in the blue sky poured into her eyes too brightly.

She tried to think of something sensible to say to Miss Perry.  Miss Perry was staring intently at Charlie on the pitcher’s mound, and May felt a little better.

***
Miss Perry had felt Elsie’s restlessness as they drove to the ball field—at first Miss Perry thought it was Elsie’s thinking about other things she ought to be doing.  Miss Perry had a regular driver on weekdays and hadn’t asked a favor of Elsie for months, and Elsie had seemed pleasantly agreeable when Miss Perry asked in a general way if Elsie could spare a few hours of her Saturday morning.  But as they walked towards the seats Miss Perry felt Elsie’s nerves harden quite suddenly.  And then May seemed withdrawn too, and Miss Perry wondered, could Elsie in the course of her duties as warden have caught Dick when he was up to something with that friend of his, Mr. Wormsley?  Or could May resent the way Elsie’s brother-in-law had taken over Sawtooth Point and was making into an offensively private domain what had once been perfectly nice fields belonging to Dick’s great-uncle Arthur?  Which would have been Dick’s had Arthur Pierce not had a run of bad luck….  But surely May would know—Dick certainly did—that of all that family, Elsie was the one who’d come to care whole-heartedly for the place and the people.

Perhaps this not knowing was simply another effect of age.  Miss Perry had once known everything—almost everything—that went on in South County.  Of course she used to see Captain Teixeira more frequently when Everett Hazard was still alive.  Among the three of them they could register incidents from Wickford to Westerly.  Now there were a great many details that escaped her.  It wasn’t just that Everett Hazard was dead; her own attention floated outward—she could think of no other way of putting it—floated outward beyond the things she once knew.  It was not an altogether unpleasant sensation.  She found herself staring at things, simultaneously puzzled by how particular a leaf was and how unbordered and vague she herself was becoming.  On a good day, that is.  She had felt that today was to be a good day.  She had been very pleased by Charlie’s telephone call.  He was shy at first, but soon warmed.  And, most pleasant of all, he seemed sure of her affection for him.  That was the point of arranging to be here.  She had breakfasted well and cleaned her eyeglasses and there Charlie was in the middle of the baseball field looking quite splendid.

 
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