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

The people in the row behind them made room.  May and Elsie stood Miss Perry up, turned her around and guided her up to the next level.

When Dick got home Charlie would tell him about the ballgame, would tell him Elsie Buttrick had saved Miss Perry from being landed on by the catcher.  May didn’t want to be there to see Dick’s careful face.

May was pleased when Miss Perry said, “Really, Elsie.  All this fuss?”

Miss Perry thought the game had gone on quite long enough.  She thought Charlie himself looked as if pitching were becoming tiresome.  He took several deep breaths and threw the ball.  There was a sound as sharp as when the catcher caught the ball in front of her, but more resonant.  “Blow, bugle, blow—set the echoes ringing.”  Tennyson?  She looked up and saw the ball suspended against the blue sky.  She said, “Ah!” as it began to move.  She was surprised that she could see it so clearly, that she felt so light and connected to that single speck, as though she herself were flying.

She was startled to find that she was standing, Elsie’s arm around her waist.  She lost sight of the ball against a cloud, then saw it fall out of the cloud.  A far-away player leaned against a fence and watched the ball land.  Two little boys beyond the fence began to run towards it.  The first time it landed it skipped quite high as though it might fly again.  Then it bounced gently.  Miss Perry was glad to see this—one of the boys caught it and the two of them ran off with it.

She sat down again with Elsie’s help.  It had been as thrilling as when she’d surprised a stag in her garden and he’d bolted with a snort that froze her in place.  Then he leapt over the high stone wall, as if lifted by a wave.  How much invisible energy there was in this world—how amazing to feel it press through her still.

She applauded.  Elsie touched her arm and asked her if she would like a glass of lemonade.  She said, “Not now, Elsie.”

May said, “Poor Charlie” and Miss Perry knew—had only temporarily not known—that this splendid moment was unfortunate for Charlie.  In fact, after he watched two of the opposing players trot around the bases, there was a gathering around him and a new pitcher replaced him.  There was a smattering of applause as he left the field.

May was upset for Charlie, but pleased to see he shyly tipped his hat to the bleachers of Matunuck fans who cheered him.  It was a compensation, May thought—Dick had left a wake of wariness and bad feelings, but now that Charlie got out and around, people warmed to him.  Of course people were nice to her, but that was because she paid her bills now.  They were a respectable family.  Here she was with Miss Perry, her two sons on the ball team, all in the extra time and space that came of rising just one step in the world.

The mid-day breeze came up, swirling the dust on the base paths, cooling their necks and cheeks.  On the other side of Miss Perry, Elsie Buttrick sat up and fanned her knees with the hem of her white dress.  May couldn’t think where to put her.  Miss Perry loved her, she loved Miss Perry.  She’d been a little heroine.  May had managed to put her in a corner of her mind, almost had her sealed up as Dick’s last bad craziness.  Let her tend to her baby in her house next to Miss Perry’s, let her go to the store for food in her Volvo station wagon.  Let her know how small she should keep herself, not fanning her knees at Charlie’s ball game.

May wondered if she herself could become bigger.  What if her mind could hold a larger map so that she saw all the houses and boats and people at a distance?  Then she could see Elsie Buttrick’s little apologetic wave, her shielding Miss Perry with her body as acts not poisoned by what she’d done with Dick.  There would be a space that was far from the center of May’s mind in which Elsie could raise her daughter—May would see the daughter and think of enough different things in the clutter of those lives, different things that would cover the old nakedness.

How did someone get a bigger mind?  That sort of a bigger mind?  Right now May’s narrow comfort was that Elsie had grown fat.

The game was over.  May went to find Charlie and Tom.  She saw another mother hug her son and she was encouraged to put her hand on Charlie’s shoulder.  She did the same for Tom who needed some sympathy because he hadn’t played.

Tom said, “You know, it wasn’t that bad of a pitch.  The guy got lucky.”

Charlie said, “No.  He had it timed.  He really clocked it.  I’ve never seen such a long ball.  I mean not in person.”

Miss Perry arrived.  She said, “I’m glad to hear you say that, Charlie.  I confess I was thrilled.  I’m afraid I applauded for the wrong team.”

“That’s okay,” Charlie said, “I mean you don’t see that every day.”

“Well it was all perfectly splendid,” Miss Perry said.  “And you’re all coming for lunch, are you not?  And your birthday cake.”

Tom said, “We’d better clean up some.”

Miss Perry blinked behind her thick glasses.  “It’s a shame your father’s at sea, but we’ll be a jolly little party.  Elsie dear, you’ll stay won’t you?”

Elsie said, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry—I’ve got to meet my sister.”

“I thought she went sailing with Jack.  Never mind, it’s kind of you to drive me.  Now don’t dilly-dally, boys.”

May watched them make their way towards Elsie’s car, Miss Perry on Elsie’s arm.

“Miss Perry’s getting old,” Tom said.  “And Elsie’s kind of plumped up.”

May said, “You boys shouldn’t say things about—“

Charlie said, “You shouldn’t say ‘you boys’ when it’s just Tom.  I was going to say Elsie looked pretty good getting up for that foul ball—taking a fall like she did.”

“Well I guess someone’s stuck on Elsie,” Tom said.  “Bet you wish it was you got tangled up with her.”

May didn’t hear what Charlie said back.  She felt another rasp across the same place—no end to Elsie Buttrick.  But whether because she’d had an hour or two to grow numb or whether she was grateful for Elsie’s lie about having to meet her sister or whether Tom’s taunt set her to thinking how relentlessly stupid men were going to be about Elsie Buttrick, May found herself sharing some small part of her distress with Elsie Buttrick.  There wasn’t anyone May could tell this to.



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