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

Baseball was familiar to her as a shadow play.  She knew there were long periods of apparently unproductive pitching and catching and then suddenly a single player might hit the ball and confront another single player of the array of players spread out on the field with an abruptly terrifying instant.  She thought this game gave a nervous edge to the otherwise tranquil and consoling line “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

She was glad that Charlie had a repetitively active part.  For a while she enjoyed watching him throw the baseball again and again, starting with a single elaborately slow step and then a quick whirl.  Her mind wandered.  The bakery had delivered the cake for Charlie and Tom, but had she put it in the refrigerator?  Ought she have done? She adjusted her eyeglasses and found herself admiring the catcher bravely crouched close behind the bat.  She remembered a poem by Marianne Moore that mentioned the attractive curve of a catcher’s haunches.  Indeed.  And somehow made more noticeable by the mask that covered his face, reminding her of a gladiator.

The batter swung and the catcher threw off his mask and ran directly towards her, his face tilted up.  When he was almost at arm’s length from her he reached up with both hands.  She heard a distinct thwock but she couldn’t see anything but Elsie’s white dress.  Then she saw Elsie and the catcher tipping sideways until they were on the ground at her feet.  The catcher raised his glove with the ball in it, apparently to show the umpire, although the gesture also elicited applause from the audience and cheers from his teammates.  The catcher got to his feet, asked Elsie if she was all right, then hauled her to her feet with one hand.  Elsie smiled at the boy.  Miss Perry was reminded of Elsie’s smile as a girl.  Never what anyone would call a sweet child, she would sometimes be surprised into a brief energetic smile.  A charming paradox—Elsie’s eyes would almost shut but her face opened.  As it did now.  How very nice, how very much like pleasure.

May didn’t see the ball but when the catcher got close to them the tilt of his body began to scare her.  He shuffled nearer and nearer then turned his back.  May felt the bench jounce as Elsie got up.  Elsie stood in front of Miss Perry with one hand in the air and the other on the catcher’s back.  As he caught the ball he began to fall.  May felt the bench move again as Elsie braced a foot on it and pushed against the boy.   Elsie and he sank sideways and then lay together on the ground.  For an instant May saw Elsie as shameless—clutching him, pressing her hips and breasts against him.  Then May was ashamed.

She saw Charlie standing just beyond Elsie and the catcher.  He closed his mouth and his face settled.  Elsie was on her feet, smoothing her dress.

The catcher jogged towards the umpire who was listening stolidly to the coach of the other team.  Charlie took a step closer to Elsie.  Elsie waved one hand and said, “Fine.  We’re all fine.”

Charlie said, “Ma, maybe you and Miss Perry ought to move back a couple of rows.”

May thought there was no end to Elsie Buttrick.

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