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Authors: Mark Harris

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BOOK: The Southpaw
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“Touching is not seeing,” she said. “Where is your car?” I pointed to it and she took my arm and we went across and got in and hardly went more then a block or 2 when she said, “This is Mort Finnegan’s car.”

“Jesus,” I said. “They turn them off the line about 1,000,000 a week. 2 cars of the same make and model are naturally bound to look alike.”

“You are a liar,” she said. “But drive on. I hate and detest Mort Finnegan. I never met such a dirty mind as his.”

We drove out past Patriots Park, which is where I played my first professional ball and got the first money I ever got for doing the 1 single thing I would rather do then anything else in this world. I told her how it all come to pass, how Pop telephoned Jack Hand 1 morning and said “Jack, this rascal of a boy of mine is a comer,” and Jack said “Leave me see him throw a few,” and Jack called Tom Swallow and told us to all be at the park at 11.

Me and Pop drove down, and Pop kept chattering in my ear, discussing everything under the sun and building me up in my mind, knowing I was nervous. “Tom Swallow was at the park when we got there,” I said. He was dressed in his Texaco overalls, for Tom runs the Texaco station on the square. “What have you got?” he said. “You name it and I will throw it,” said I, and he dusted off the plate with his handkerchief and took the sponge out of his mitt and stuck it in his pocket. Pop and Jack Hand was standing behind me, and Pop said, “Tom will put that sponge back in,” and Jack said, “Seeing is believing for doing is proving.” I throwed about 6 warm-up pitches down the line, and Jack said I had a nice motion. I throwed slow and easy, and I felt in my mind like the sight of Pop out there on that same pitching hill.

Pretty soon I was loose, and I give Tom the sign that I was ready.

“What was your signs?” she said.

“Not really signs,” I said. “In a regular game it is usually the catcher that gives the signs. I just signaled to Tom that I was ready to go. He crouched in the business position and I took the full wind-up and reared and let fly, and it cut the corner and whammed in his mitt. It was as fast a pitch as I had ever throwed up to that time, and Tom held up his hand and took the sponge out of his pocket and put it in his mitt. A catcher will use a sponge in his mitt to save his hand.”

“I know,” she said. Thedabara knowed a good deal about baseball and followed it close. We was soon some 10 miles out of Perkinsville, and I stopped under a grove of trees by the side of the road and flicked on the radio and turned it low.

“Well,” I said, “Pop said to Jack I told you so, and Tom crouched down again and held his mitt up for a target, and I burned it through again. I throwed about 8 fast ones and then about 5 curves, and Jack said that was enough. He said he would sign me on as batting practice pitcher and fire this other kid and maybe later I would work in in relief and maybe after that as a starter.”

“Leave him throw the screw,” said Pop.

“Just what is a screw?” she said, and I explained to her that what it is is a curve in reverse that me and Pop worked on out of the chapter in Sam Yale’s book called “Enemy Poison—the Screwball” plus what knowledge Pop had of it. It is the pitch that made Mathewson an immortal back in the olden time, although it was called a fadeaway then, and it is the pitch that made Hubbell an immortal, and Sad Sam Yale, and it is the pitch that almost never fails me and will make me an immortal. I throwed 2, and Jack Hand whistled between his teeth and we called it a day.

We was both interested mainly in baseball and automobiles, and we talked about that. Her favorite big-time ballplayers was Sad Sam Yale and Swanee Wilks, and she had wrote them letters and sent them her picture and got 1 back from Swanee, signed, and her favorite car was Moors. You don’t meet somebody like that every day in the week that has got so much the same slant on life as you, and I pulled her over to me and kissed her, and she pulled away, and I went after her and crowded her in the corner and her head bumped the light switch and the light went on, and I turned it off, and I held her in my arms and kissed her 8 or 10 times, the sweat running down me and down her as well. I could feel where she was wet all up and down her legs and nothing between her and her dress to sop it up, which come as a surprise to me and got me in the worst dither ever.

But as to fornication she would have none of it. She said that nice girls never fornicated until after they was married, which was a blow to me, for the book said nothing of the sort. The book said it was a natural thing, like eating or sleeping.

So we took off about 10 more miles down the road to a place called Washington Irving Inn. It was now 9 at least, and I had not ate since supper and not much then, and I had steak and fried potatoes and 2 glasses of milk, and she had beer, about 3 glasses, and the music played, and we danced real close and my mind begun to shift back on fornication. We got out of there soon after. It cost me 4 dollars.

We drove back towards Perkinsville and come to Patriots Park again, and we got out and went in the park by the player gate and sat in the stands and looked down on the field. The stands are cement with wooden benches fastened in. It is a pretty good semipro park, although nothing like Moors Stadium of course where the seats are of rainproof plastic with backs to them and a place to rest your arms, and the moon shone down on the field. It was quiet and peaceful there, and we did not talk much for we had just about talked ourselves out over cars and baseball.

We held each other close. She shivered a little. Then there was a certain amount of struggling, and the next thing she was laying on the cold bench with her dress climbed way up on her and crying and breathing heavy and strangling me and saying 1 minute “Hank! Hank! Yes!” and the next minute “No! No!” and I said “For the love of Pete which is it, yes or no?” and then her mother and baby come loose from around her throat and dropped to the cement, and it made a loud noise because the park was so quiet, and she stuck her arm out, trying to get it, and we rolled off the bench and down in a heap. She laid there and cried and I did not know what to do, and after awhile she come to a bit and said she was freezing cold. “No wonder,” said I, “for you are sitting with your bare ass on the cold cement,” and she slapped my face and said she never met such a dirty mind as mine.

We was both about played out by now, and I was real ashamed of what I done, and I said I did not deserve her, and I would take her home. She said I better. She said I was a no good character. But she said she would need about 2 more beers to get over the strain of what I had put her through, and we went to a little place just off the square, and she had 3 or 4 beers and never said a word the whole time except now and then she laid me out, telling me what a rotten egg I was. My 5 dollars run out, and I took her home, and she asked me when she would see me again. I said I guessed I did not deserve to ever see her again. But I asked her if I could give her 1 final kiss, just a friendly kiss between old friends, and she slid over under the wheel and for a minute I thought the whole wrestling match was about to begin over again, and when she got out she said she would see me at the ball game Wednesday night. That was the first year of night ball in Perkinsville. It meant a good deal in a cash way to Pop.

I swung around and rolled back through town. I had the most unusual pains in and around my groin, and I was so weak I could hardly drive. I parked the car on the square and stretched out my legs a little. It felt much better that way. I was about to back out and take off when I seen Holly Webster coming up the sidewalk. I waited until she was smack in front of the car, and then I honked at her. She jumped about a mile, and I laughed, and she shook her fist at me and come over towards the car. I remember that she had her arms full of phonograph records. Sunday nights she goes down to these people name of Pecunio’s house and listens to records. That is my idea of nothing to do. “Are you going back?” she said.

“First I have got to take this car to its proper owner,” I said. “Then I am going home if I do not die. I am either going to die or not, and the next few minutes will tell.”

She climbed in. “I will sit here. If you die I will take the bus,” she said.

“Why do you look so beat up?”

“From rolling on and off the cement grandstand,” I said.

“What was the purpose of that?” she said.

“I was with a girl,” I said.

She laughed.

“It ain’t no laughing matter,” I said.

“No,” said she, “it is not,” and she stopped laughing.

“You would not laugh if it was you,” I said.

“I am not laughing,” she said. “I understand it perfectly.”

“How could you understand it?” I said.

“I have did the same thing,” said she.

“In Patriots Park?” I said.

“No, not in that particular park,” and she laughed again.

She kept up a running stream of comment, calling me by the name she tagged me with, which is Henry the Navigator, which is what she calls me to this day. “You are Henry the Navigator,” she said. “The world is a big sea,” and I snapped back, telling her to talk sense or not a-tall.

After a bit I started the motor and glided out of the square towards Mort’s, and I took him his key and me and Holly drove on home in the 32. And she kept right on chattering, and I said whether she knowed it or not I was dying of a ruptured groin. She said that millions of people died of the same thing every year. She said a chicken sandwich and hot chocolate with marshmallow was good for a ruptured groin in case I was interested and wished to drop by home with her. I said I might think about it.

We went past the Observatory. Aaron’s office was all lit up, and I honked like mad. He hates it when people honk. I don’t know why in hell I would do it, but I done it a lot. That’s exactly the kind of a rattleheaded kid I was, and then I parked in the drive in front of the house, off to 1 side so as Pop could get the bus out the first thing in the morning, and then I said I would take her up on that chicken and chocolate for I had not ate since the steak and potatoes at the Washington Irving Inn.

“I am just about dead,” I said. “My mind is beginning to go blank, and all the memories of my life are jamming up in my head,” which was what they done in the books of Homer B. Lester when Sid Yule was in a fix. I begun to thrash around in circles, saying I was Henry the Navigator, saying “Here we are in Portugal,” which is where he operated out of, putting on this idiotic act. Don’t ask me why. But I remember it, and I am ashamed of it. The thing of it is I was just so nervous I probably
half out of my mind. This was all building up a long time over the months between me and Holly.

I laid on her bed till the pain simmered down a bit. She said she would phone for the doctor. I said no. She said if I was about to die I ought to have a physician to help, and I said I was too far gone and what I needed was a priest to give me the last rights like in the movies. “In that case,” said she, “there ain’t even no use trying chicken and chocolate,” and I said we might at least try it as a last desperate chance.

Then she brung it, and I wolfed it down, and she sat there and watched me, and I give her back the plates and cup and told her she had give me the exact thing I needed, and I said, “You are pretty,” and she said if she was it was none of her doing, but she seemed pleased all the same, and she said if I was noticing things of that sort I must be past the crisis and about ready to go home, and I fell back on the bed and begun to groan again, saying a new crisis set in, and she laughed and sat down beside me and stroked my head, and every time she touched my head the rupture acted up again in my groin, and I reached for her and grabbed her wrist, and she pulled away, and I said it was a sorry note when someone rushed off from a man about to die in my condition, and she said she was not leaving me to die but was merely turning out the lights, which was what she done.

The rupture was spreading throughout my body. I was pumping all over, in my groin and in my stomach and in my head, and it was like I had a dozen hearts and each was beating all at once in a dozen different locations, and I bust into a sweat and my throat was dry as dust and my hands like ice.

After a long time she come back through the dark and sat beside me, and I held her hand in mine and drawed her closer, a little at a time, expecting any minute she would yank loose and draw off. Yet she never did. “You will get a baby,” I said.

“No I will not,” she said, and I took her at her word.

Then all the beating stopped, and the various hearts in their various places all drifted back to the 1 single slot where they belonged, and the cold got warm and the shivering stopped and my sweating body dried, and I was peaceful. I begun to hear the sounds of the night, crickets chirping and traffic on the highway far in the distance, and I seen stars in the window.

I slept, and when I woke it was beginning to get light, and Holly was asleep. I took her in my arms and woke her, and she did not seem to mind, for she smiled and I give her 1 back, and she laid with her hair spread out on the pillow like a crown behind her head, all golden and brown in the dawn. I said, “I am Henry the Navigator,” and she launched into a speech herself, saying she was queen of the ship and mistress of the sea and lover to Henry, meaning me.  

Chapter 5

Chapter 4 shoots out a little bit ahead of things, however. I should of told you first about April 13, 1948, when me and Pop went to the Opener at Moors Stadium, that being the first time I ever seen a big-league ball game and the
time I ever paid my way in. Pop hired his regular sub to drive the bus, a wimpy fellow name of Mr. Hilbert from East Perkinsville that ain’t happy unless he is holding down 5 or 6 jobs at once. Myself, I never worked a day in my life except 2 months in the winter following graduation pumping gas at Tom Swallow’s Texaco station and never hope to.

We got up that morning when it was still dark out, and cool, and we rustled up a quick breakfast and grabbed a couple oranges for my pocket. It did not seem possible that on this very day I would see Sam Yale in action. Nothing seemed real or true. It was like a dream, and when we left the house there was a mist hanging down, making things more like a dream then ever, and the road was bare of traffic and Pop lost no time in getting down to Perkinsville. We swooped in the depot and piled out and went inside and bought our tickets and a Perkinsville “Clarion” and a New York “News,” both filled with a lot of dope concerning the openers. Brooklyn and Washington opened the day before down in Washington, and there was a picture of the President throwing out the first ball. There was a big picture of Sad Sam on the front of the “News,” and over it it said READY TO HURL. It was the eleventh straight time Sam Yale hurled the opener for New York. He was posing with a ball in his hand and that mighty left arm stretched out before him. Pop said he looked old. He was then just turned 30.

BOOK: The Southpaw
13.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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