Brewster by Mark Slouka

Book: Brewster by Mark Slouka Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mark Slouka
said, and it was one of the few times I heard him use my name: “Don’t worry about my dad.”
    I CAN HEAR IT NOW —I didn’t then. Or maybe I did and just didn’t say anything. Didn’t ask. I knew something was wrong long before that kid from the projects said what he did or Karen started asking, long before that January a year and a half later when we sat freezing in the middle of Bog Brook Reservoir in all that snow and he pulled up that perch and started to cry—but in my mind it’s like I didn’t know it until then. We borrowed the augur from Jimmy at the garage, carried it down the tracks, slipping around on the ties, then a quarter mile out into the middle of that huge, flat snowy field along with our poles and two folding chairs, dug the blade in and corkscrewed down through a foot of ice. It was one of the last things we did together, me working the augur, Ray on his knees in the snow, scooping out the slush with his hands, blowing on them, scooping some more. The sky that day was like an old gray blanket with the stuffing coming out in the west. The blade broke through into the water and I screwed it back up and Ray got out the last of the slush. It was beautiful, perfect, black as a bullet hole.
    And he pulled out a small yellow perch and unhooked it and slipped it back down the hole and began to cry, just sitting there on the chair with his face in his hands saying “Fuck, oh fuck,” his voice shaking like somebody looking at something he doesn’t really believe and knows he’ll never forget. And it was only then, I swear, that I felt it, that I saw the line that had looped around our legs, our arms, our throats, fed on our not-saying, our not-asking, stretching back through the seasons, the years, back to the time I first sensed it there in the cafeteria when he looked up at me and said, “Do me a favor, Jon.”
    That day I’d had no idea what I’d heard, or if I’d heard anything at all. Ray had come back from the shore. He’d had a thing with his old man. So what? I wasn’t really listening. It was early October. I was running cross-country that fall, not because I liked pounding up hills and over marshy golf courses for two and a half miles eating mud kicked up by the spikes of the runners in front of me but because I was good at it. In a three-team meet the week before, Brewster had pulled out an unexpected win mostly because of me.
    Cross-country meets were won on depth, something we didn’t have. Week after week it was the same thing. Kennedy would take first—nobody could touch him. McCann would come in somewhere in the top five. After that, except for a tight-skinned, nasty-looking farm kid named Brian Moore, who might sneak into the top ten, we had nobody. Which was where I came in. The week before, in twentieth place or so with a half-mile to go, I’d found myself, in a haze of pain, passing runners who seemed to be pushing through thicker air. I ran them down, one after the other, and was coming up on Moore’s skinny back when he crossed the line. We finished eighth and ninth. McCann came up and slapped my back as I staggered around, clutching my knees. “Banzai, Mosher,” Falvo yelled from the sidelines, doing his Japanese kamikaze. Kennedy was already in his sweats, talking to his dad, a friendly guy in a Teamster’s jacket who came to all our meets. “Way to go, Jon,” his dad called out.
    “Nice run,” Kennedy said.
    I repeated it to myself as I sorted boxes of men’s shoes in the storeroom, as I ate my liverwurst sandwich against the back wall in the sun, as I sat in biology learning about the double helix: Nice run. I’d fantasize about the races I’d run in the Armory that winter, how I’d come out of nowhere in the final lap, untouchable, how I’d put my hand out in front of my chest and part the tape the way I’d seen Kennedy do the season before—gently, like it didn’t matter. He’d notice the gesture, acknowledge it with a simple nod.
    No, Ray was a

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