The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 9


Want to talk about Marvelous Pedro Martinez? Darren Lewis? The surprising Sox bullpen? A nice surprise from the Red Sox, can you believe it? Give me a call, tell me what you think. Back after this.

A happy voice began singing a familiar jingle: Who do you call when your windshield's busted?

180054-GIANT, Trisha said, and then dialed away from 'EEI. Maybe she could find another game. Even the hated Yankees would do. But before she found any baseball, she was transfixed by the sound of her own name.

is fading for nine-year-old Patricia McFarland, miss-ing since Saturday morning.

The news announcer's voice was faint, wavery, sliced and diced by static. Trisha leaned forward, her fingers going to her ears and pressing the little black buds deeper in.

Connecticut law enforcement authorities, acting on a tip phoned in to state police in Maine, today arrested Fran-cis Raymond Mazzerole of Weymouth, Massachusetts, and questioned him for six hours in connection with the McFar-land girl's disappearance. Mazzerole, a construction worker currently employed on a Hartford bridge project, has twice been convicted of child molestation, and is being held pend-ing extradition to Maine on current charges of sexual assault and child molestation there. It now seems that he has no knowledge of Patricia McFarland's whereabouts, however.

A source close to the investigation says that Mazzerole claims to have been in Hartford over the past weekend, and that numerous witnesses corroborate...

The sound faded out. Trisha pushed the power button and pulled the earbuds out of her ears. Were they still look-ing for her? They probably were, but she had an idea that they'd spent most of today hanging around that guy Mazze-role instead.

What a bunch of El Dopos, she said disconsolately, and returned her Walkman to her pack. She lay back on the pine boughs, spread her poncho over her, then shuffled her shoulders and butt around until she was close to comfort-able.

A breeze puffed past, and she was glad she was in one of the hammocky dips between the rock outcrops. It was chilly tonight, and would probably be downright cold before the sun came up.

Overhead in the black were a zillion stars, just as forecast.

Exactly one zillion. They would pale a bit when the moon rose, but for now they were bright enough to paint her dirty cheeks with frost. As always, Trisha wondered if any of those brilliant specks were warming other live beings. Were there jungles out there populated by fabulous alien animals?

Pyramids? Kings and giants? Possibly even some version of baseball?

Who do you call when your windshield's busted? Trisha sang softly. 180054

She broke off, drawing swift breath in over her lower lip, as if hurt. White fire scratched the sky as one of the stars fell. The streak ran halfway across the black and then winked out. Not a star, of course, not a real star but a meteor.

There was another, and then another. Trisha sat up, the split rags of her poncho falling into her lap, her eyes wide.

Here was a fourth and fifth, these going in a different direc-tion.

Not just a meteor but a meteor shower.

As if something had only been waiting for her to under-stand this, the sky lit up in a silent storm of bright contrails.

Trisha stared, neck tilted, eyes wide, arms crossed over her breastless chest, hands clutching her shoulders with nervous nail-bitten fingers. She had never seen anything like it, never dreamed there could be anything like it.

Oh, Tom, she whispered in a trembling voice. Oh Tom, look at this. Do you see?

Most were momentary white flashes, thin and straight and gone so quickly that they would have seemed like hal-lucinations if there hadn't been so many of them. A few, howeverfive, perhaps eightlit up the sky like silent fireworks, brilliant stripes that seemed to burn orange at the edges. That orange might just have been eye-dazzle, but Trisha didn't think so.

At last the shower began to wane. Trisha lay back again and scooted the various sore parts of her body around some more until she was comfortable again... as comfortable as she was apt to get, anyway. As she did, she watched the ever more occasional flashes as bits of rock further off the path than she could ever get dropped into earth's well of gravity, first turning red as the atmosphere thickened and then burning to death in brief glares of light. Trisha was still watching when she fell asleep.

Her dreams were vivid but fragmentary: a kind of mental meteor shower. The only one she remembered with any clarity was the one she had been having just before she woke up in the middle of the night, coughing and cold, lying on her side with her knees drawn all the way up to her chin and shivering all over.

In this dream she and Tom Gordon were in an old meadow which was now running to bushes and young trees, mostly birches. Tom was standing by a splintery post that came up to about the height of his hip. On top of it was an old ringbolt, rusty red. Tom was flicking this back and forth between his fingers. He was wearing his warmup jacket over his uniform. The gray road uniform. He would be in Oakland tonight. She had asked Tom about that pointin thing. She knew, of course, but asked anyway. Possibly because Walt from Framingham had wanted to know, and a cellular El Dopo like Walt wouldn't believe any little girl lost in the woods; Walt would want it straight from the closer's mouth.

I point because it's God's nature to come on in the bot-tom of the ninth, Tom said. He spun the ringbolt on top of the post back and forth between his fingers. Back and forth, back and forth. Who do you call when your ringbolt's busted? Dial 180054-RINGBOLT, of course. Especially when the bases are loaded and there's only one out. Some-thing in the woods chattered at that, perhaps in derision.

The chattering grew louder and louder until Trisha opened her eyes in the dark and realized it was the sound of her own teeth.

She got slowly to her feet, wincing as every part of her body protested. Her legs were the worst, closely followed by her back. A gust of wind struck hernot a puff this time but a gustand almost knocked her over. She wondered how much weight she had lost. A week of this and you'll be able to put a string around me and fly me like a kite, she thought. She started to laugh at that, and the laugh turned into another coughing fit. She stood with her hands planted on her legs just above her knees, her head down, coughing. The cough started deep in her chest and came out of her mouth in a series of harsh barks. Great. Just great. She put the inside of her wrist to her forehead and couldn't tell if she had a fever or not.

Walking slowly with her legs spread far aparther butt chafed less when she did thatTrisha went back to the pines and broke off more branches, this time meaning to pile them on top of her like blankets. She took one armload back to her bed, got a second, and stopped halfway between the trees and the needle-floored dip she'd chosen to sleep in.

Slowly, she turned in a complete circle under the blazing four o'clock stars.

Leave me alone, can't you? she cried, and that started her coughing again. When she got the cough under control, she said it again, but in a lower voice: Can't you quit it?

Can't you just cut me a break, let me be?

Nothing. No sound but the soughing of the wind through the pines... and then a grunt. Low and soft and not even remotely human. Trisha stood where she was with her arms around her fragrant, sappy load of branches. Her skin broke out in hard little bumps. Where had that grunt come from?

This side of the stream? The other side? From the stand of pines? She had a horrible idea, almost a certainty, that it was the pines. The thing which had been watching her was in the pines. As she harvested branches to cover herself with, its face had been perhaps less than three feet from her own; its claws, the ones which had torn into the trees and ripped both deer apart, had perhaps hovered within inches of her own hands as she bent the branches back and forth, first splin-tering them and then breaking them.

Trisha started coughing again, and that got her moving.

She dropped the branches in a helter-skelter pile and crawled among them without any attempt to create order out of their jumbled chaos. She winced and moaned a little when one of them poked the place on her hip where she had been stung, then lay still. She sensed it coming now, slipping out of the pines and finally coming for her. The tough tootsie's special thing, the wasp-priest's God of the Lost. You could call it whatever you wantedthe lord of dark places, the emperor of understairs, every kid's worst nightmare. Whatever it was, it had finished teasing her; it was all done playing games. It would simply tear away the branches beneath which she was cowering and eat her alive.

Coughing and shivering, all sense of reality and rational-ity gonetemporarily insane, in factTrisha put her arms over the back of her head and waited to be torn open by the thing's claws and stuffed into its fangy mouth. She fell asleep that way, and when she woke in the early light of Tuesday morning, both of her arms were asleep from the elbows down and at first she couldn't bend her neck at all; she had to walk with her head cocked slightly to one side.

I guess I won't have to ask either Gramma what it's like to be old, she thought as she squatted to pee. I guess that now I know.

As she walked back to the pile of branches where she had slept (like a chipmunk in a burrow, she thought wryly), she saw that one of the other needle-filled hammocksthe one nearest hers, in factlooked disturbed. The needles had been sprayed around and dug right down to the thin black earth in one place. So maybe she hadn't been insane in the dark of early morning, after all. Or not entirely insane. Because later on, after she'd gone back to sleep, something had come.

It had been right next to her, perhaps squatting and watch-ing her sleep. Wondering if it should take her now and finally deciding not to, deciding to let her ripen for at least one more day. To let her sweeten like a checkerberry.

Trisha turned in a circle, feeling a dim sense of deja vu but not remembering she had turned exactly the same circle in almost exactly the same place only a few hours ago. She stopped when she came back to where she had started, coughing nervously into her hand. The cough made her chest hurt, a small dull pain that was very deep inside. She didn't exactly mindthe pain was warm, at least, and every other part of her felt cold this morning.

It's gone, Tom, she said. Whatever it is, it's gone again. For a little while, anyway.

Yes, Tom said, but it'll be back. And sooner or later you'll have to deal with it.

Let the evil of the day be sufficient thereof, Trisha said.

That one was her Gramma McFarland's. She didn't know exactly what it meant but thought she sort of knew, and it seemed to fit this occasion.

She sat on a rock beside her hammock and munched three big handfuls of berries and beechnuts, telling herself it was granola. The berries weren't as tasty this morninga little tough, in factand Trisha guessed they would be even less tasty come lunchtime. Still, she made herself eat all three handfuls, then went to the stream for a drink. She saw another of those little trout in it, and although the ones she'd seen so far weren't much bigger than smelts or large sardines, she suddenly decided to try and catch one. The stiffness had begun working out of her body a little, the day was warming as the sun rose, and she had begun to feel a lit-tle better. Hopeful, almost. Maybe lucky, too. Even the cough had eased.

Trisha went back to her tangled bed, extracted the remains of her poor old poncho, and spread it on one of the rock outcrops. She hunted for a stone with a sharp edge and found a good one near the place where the stream tumbled over the rounded lip of the bluff and into the valley below.

This slope was easily as steep as the one she'd gone sliding down on the day she had gotten lost (that day seemed at least five years ago to Trisha), but she thought it would be a much easier descent. There were lots of trees to hold onto.

Trisha took her improvised cutting tool back to her poncho (spread on the rock like that the poncho looked like a big blue paperdoll) and sawed the hood off below the shoulder-line.

She doubted very much if she could actually catch a fish in the hood, but it would be amusing to try and she didn't feel like trying the slope until she had limbered up a little more.

She sang softly under her breath as she worked, first the Boyz To Da Maxx song that had been in her head throughout, then the Hansons' MMMm-Bop, then a snatch of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Mostly, however, she sang the one that went Who do you call when your windshield's busted?

The chilly breeze of the night before had kept the worst of the bugs away, but as the day heated up the usual cloud of tiny airshow performers coalesced around Trisha's head. She barely noticed them, giving an occasional impatient wave only when they got too close to her eyes.

When she had finished cutting the hood off the poncho she held it upside down, dangling it and studying it with a critical, judicious eye. Interesting. Undoubtedly too stupid to work, but sort of interesting, just the same.

Who do you call, baby who do you call when the damn thing's busted, oh yeah, Trisha chanted in a singsongy whis-per, and walked over to the stream. She picked out two rocks protruding side by side from the water and planted her feet on them. She gazed down between her spread legs into the rushing current. The stream's pebble-packed bed was wavery but otherwise clear. No fish right now, but so what?

If you wanted to be a fishergirl, you had to be patient. Put your arms around me... cause I gotta munch on you,

Trisha sang, then laughed. Pretty goofy! Holding the hood upside down by the ragged shoulder-material, she bent and dropped her improvised snare into the stream.

The current pulled the hood back between her legs, but it stayed open, so that was all right. The problem was her positionback bent, butt in the air, head at the level of her waist. She wouldn't be able to hold this pose long, and if she tried to squat on the rocks, her sore, shaky legs would likely betray her and send her tumbling into the stream. A full-body dunk wouldn't help her cough.

When her temples started to thud, Trisha compromised by bending her knees and lifting her upper body a little. This shifted her eyeline upstream, and she saw three quicksilver flashesthey were fish, all right, there was no doubt coming toward her. If she'd had time to react, Trisha almost certainly would have jerked the hood and caught none of them. As it was, she had time for only a single thought (like underwater shooting stars) and then the silver glints were zipping between the rocks she was standing on and right beneath her. One of them missed the hood, but the other two swam right into it.

Booya! Trisha screamed.

With that cryit was as much dismay and shock as joyTrisha bent forward again and grasped the lower edge of the hood. In doing so she almost overbalanced and went into the stream anyway, but she managed to stay up. She lifted the hood, full of water and slopping over the sides, in both hands. It shifted out of shape as she stepped back to the bank and more water slopped out, soaking the left leg of her jeans from hip to knee. One of the little trout went with it, twisting and flipping its tail in the air, then hitting the water and swimming away.

SUGARTIT! Trisha screamed, but now she was also laughing. As she worked her way up the bank, still holding the hood in front of her, she began coughing, as well.

When she reached a level place, she looked into the hood, sure she would see nothingshe had lost the other fish, as well, must have, girls didn't catch trout, even baby ones, in the hoods of their ponchos, she just hadn't seen its getaway.

But the trout was still there, swimming around like a mollie in a goldfish bowl.

God, what do I do now? Trisha asked. This was a gen-uine prayer, both agonized and bemused.

It was her body that answered, not her spirit. She had seen plenty of cartoons where Wile E. Coyote looked at Roadrunner and saw him turn into Thanksgiving dinner.

She had laughed, Pete laughed, even Mom laughed if she was watching. Trisha did not laugh now. Berries and beech-nuts the size of sunflower seeds were all very well, but they weren't enough. Even when you ate them together and told yourself they were granola, they weren't enough. Her body's reaction to the four-inch trout swimming in the blue hood was radically different, not hunger exactly but a kind of clench, a cramp that centered in her belly but actually came from everywhere, an inarticulate cry (GIMME THAT) which had little to do with her brain. It was a trout, just a little one far below the legal limit, but whatever her eyes saw, her body saw dinner. Real dinner.

Trisha had only one clear thought as she took the hood over to the remains of the poncho, which was still spread on the outcrop (a paperdoll without a head now): I'll do it but I'll never ever talk about it. If they find me rescue me I'll tell them everything except how I fell into my own shit... and this.

She acted with no planning or consideration; her body brushed her mind aside and simply took over. Trisha spilled the contents of the hood onto the needle-covered ground and watched the little fishie flop about, strangling in the air.

When it was still she picked it up, put it on the poncho, and slit it up the belly with the stone she'd used to cut off the poncho's hood. A thimbleful of watery, mucusy fluid ran out, more like thin snot than blood. Inside the fish she could see tiny red guts. These Trisha levered out with a grimy thumbnail. Beyond them was a bone. She tried to pull it free and got about half of it. During all this her mind tried to take over only once. You can't eat the head, it told her, its reasonable tone not really masking the horror and disgust beneath. I mean... the eyes, Trisha. The eyes! Then her body brushed it away again, and more roughly this time. When I want your opinion I'll rattle the bars in your cage, Pepsi some-times said.

Trisha picked up the small flayed fish by the tail, carried it back to the stream, and dipped it to get rid of the pine-needles and grime. Then she cocked her head back, opened her mouth, and bit off the trout's top half. Small bones crunched under her teeth; her mind tried to show her the trout's eyes popping out of its head and onto her tongue in little dark dabs of jelly. She got one blurry look at this and then her body banished her mind yet again, this time slap-ping instead of merely pushing. Mind could come back when mind was needed; imagination could come back when imagination was needed. Right now body was in charge, and body said dinner, it's dinner, it may be morning but dinner is served and this morning we got fresh fish.

The trout's top half went down her throat like a big swal-low of oil with lumps in it. The taste was horrible and also wonderful. It tasted like life. Trisha dangled the trout's dripping lower half in front of her upturned face, pausing only long enough to pull another piece of bone out of it, whispering: Dial 180054-FRESH-FISH.

She ate the rest of the trout, tail and all.

When it was down she stood looking across the stream, wiping her mouth and wondering if she was going to puke it all back up again. She had eaten a raw fish, and although the taste of it was still coating her throat, she could hardly believe it. Her stomach gave a funny little lurch and Trisha thought, This is it. Then she burped and her stomach settled again. She took her hand away from her mouth and saw a few fish-scales gleaming on the palm. She wiped them on her jeans with a grimace, then walked back to where her pack lay. She stuffed the remains of her poncho and the severed hood (which had turned out to work pretty well, at least on fish that were young and stupid) into it on top of her food supply, then reshouldered the pack. She felt strong, ashamed of herself, proud of herself, feverish, and a little nutzoid.

I won't talk about it, that's all. I don't have to talk about it and I won't. Even if I get out of here.

And I deserve to get out, Trisha said softly. Anyone who can eat a raw fish deserves to get out.

The Japanese do it all the time, said the tough tootsie as Trisha set out once more along the side of the stream.

So I'll tell them, Trisha said. If I ever get over there for a visit I'll tell them.

For once the tough tootsie seemed to have no comeback.

Trisha was delighted.

She made her way carefully down the slope and into the valley, where her stream bowled along through a forest of mixed firs and deciduous trees. These were thickly packed, but there was less underbrush and fewer bramble-patches, and for most of the morning Trisha got along well. There was no sense of being watched, and eating the fish had revi-talized her strength. She pretended that Tom Gordon was walking with her, and they had a long and interesting con-versation, mostly about Trisha. Tom wanted to know all about her, it seemedher favorite classes at school, why she thought Mr. Hall was mean for giving homework on Fri-days, all the ways Debra Gilhooly had of being such a bitch, how she and Pepsi had planned to go trick-or-treating as Spice Girls last Halloween and Mom had said Pepsi's Mom could do whatever she wanted, but no nine-year-old girl of hers was going out trick-or-treating in a short skirt, high heels, and a cammi top. Tom sympathized completely with Trisha's utter embarrassment.

She was telling him about how she and Pete were plan-ning to get their Dad a custom-made jigsaw puzzle for his birthday from this company in Vermont that made them (or if that was too expensive, they would settle for a Weed Whacker), when she stopped suddenly. Stopped moving.

Stopped talking.

She studied the stream for almost a full minute, the cor-ners of her mouth drooping, one hand waving automati-cally at the cloud of bugs around her head. The underbrush was creeping back in among the trees now; the trees them-selves were stuntier, the light brighter. Crickets hummed and sang.

No, Trisha said. No, huh-uh. No way. Not again.

The stream's new quietness was what had first distracted her from her fascinating conversation with Tom Gordon (pretend people were such good listeners). The stream no longer babbled and brawled. That was because the speed of its current had slowed. Its bed was weedier than it had been above the valley's floor. It was beginning to spread out.

If it goes into another swamp, I'll kill myself, Tom.

An hour later Trisha pushed her way wearily through a snarl of mixed poplars and birches, raised the heel of her hand to her forehead to crush a particularly troublesome mosquito, and then just left it there, hand to brow, the image of every human in history who is exhausted and doesn't know what to do or where to turn.

At some point the stream had spilled over its low banks and drowned a large area of open land, creating a shallow marsh of reeds and cattails. Between the vegetation, the sun glittered on standing water in hot pricks of light. Crickets hummed; frogs croaked; overhead, two hawks cruised on stiff wings; somewhere a crow was laughing. The marsh didn't look nasty, like the bog of hummocks and drowned deadwood she'd waded through, but it stretched for at least a mile (and probably two) before coming to a low, pine-cov-ered ridge.

And the stream, of course, was gone.

Trisha sat down on the ground, started to say something to Tom Gordon, and realized how stupid it was to be pre-tending when it was clearand growing clearer with every passing hourthat she was going to die. It didn't matter how much walking she did or how many fish she managed to catch and choke down. She began to cry. She put her face in her hands, sobbing harder and harder.

I want my mother! she yelled at the indifferent day. The hawks were gone, but over by that wooded ridge the crow was still laughing. I want my mother, I want my brother, I want my dolly, I want to go home! The frogs only croaked, reminding her of some story Dad had read her when she was littlea car stuck in the mud and all the frogs croaking To o deep, too deep. How that had frightened her.

She cried harder still, and at some point her tearsall these tears, all these goshdamn tearsmade her angry. She looked up, bugs spinning all around her, the hateful tears still spilling down her mucky face.

I want my MOTHER! I want my BROTHER! I want to get out of here, DO YOU HEAR ME? She kicked her legs up and down, kicked them so hard that one of her sneakers flew off. She knew she was doing a full-fledged tantrum now, the first one since she'd been five or six, and didn't care. She threw herself onto her back, pounded her fists, then opened them so she could tear handfuls of grass out of the ground and throw them into the air. I WANT TO GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! Why don't you find me, you stupid puppy-shit assholes? Why don't you find me? I... WANT... TO GO... HOME!

She lay looking up at the sky, panting. Her stomach hurt and her throat was sore from screaming, but she felt a little better, as if she had gotten rid of something dangerous. She put an arm over her face and dozed off, still sniffling.

When she woke up, the sun was over the ridge on the far side of the marsh. It was afternoon again. Tell me, Johnny, what do we have for our contestants? Well, Bob, we have another afternoon. It's not much of a prize, but I guess it's the best a bunch of puppy-shit assholes like us can do.

Trisha's head swam when she sat up; a squadron of large black moths unfolded their wings and went flying lazily across her field of vision. For a moment she was sure she was going to faint. The feeling passed, but her throat was still sore when she swallowed, and her head felt hot. Shouldn't have slept in the sun, she told herself, except sleeping in the sun wasn't the reason she felt this way. The reason was that she was getting sick.

Trisha put on the sneaker she had kicked off doing her stupid tantrum, then ate a handful of berries and drank some stream-water from her bottle. She spied a cluster of fiddleheads growing at the edge of the marsh and ate them, too. They were fading and a lot tougher than they were tasty, but she forced them down. With high tea over, she stood up and looked across the marsh again, this time shad-ing her eyes from the sun. After a moment she shook her head slowly and wearilythe gesture of a woman instead of a child, and an old woman, at that. She could see the ridge clearly and she was sure it was dry over there, but she couldn't face slogging through another quagmire with her Reeboks tied around her neck. Not even if this one was shal-lower than the other one and not as nasty underfoot; not for all the late spring fiddleheads in the world. Why should she, with no stream to follow? She was as apt to find helpor another streamin another, easier, direction.

So thinking, Trisha turned fully north, walking along the east side of the marsh that sprawled across most of the val-ley's floor. She had done a great many things right since becoming lostmore than she ever would have guessed but this was a bad decision, the worst she'd made since leav-ing the path in the first place. Had she crossed the marsh and climbed the ridge, she would have found herself look-ing down at Devlin Pond, on the outskirts of Green Mount, New Hampshire. Devlin was small, but there were cottages on its south end and a camp-road leading out to New Hampshire Route 52.

On a Saturday or Sunday, Trisha would almost certainly have heard the burr of powerboats on the pond as week-enders towed kids on water-skis; after the Fourth of July there would have been powerboats out there on any day of the week, sometimes so many that they had to weave to avoid each other. But this was midweek in early June, there was no one out on Devlin but a couple of fishermen with lit-tle twenty-horse putt-putts, and Trisha consequently heard nothing but the birds and the frogs and the bugs. Instead of finding the pond, she turned toward the Canadian border and began walking deeper into the woods. Some four hun-dred miles ahead was Montreal.

Between it and her, not much.



Seventh Inning Stretch


THE YEAR before the separation and divorce, the McFar-lands had gone to Florida for a week, during Pete and Trisha's February school vacation. It had been a bad holiday, with the children too often glumly shelling together on the beach while their parents fought in the little beach house they had rented (he drank too much, she spent too much, you promised me you'd, why don't you ever, yatata-yatata-yatata, dahdah-dahdah-dahdah). When they flew back, Trisha somehow got the window seat instead of her brother.

The plane had descended toward Logan Airport through layers of overcast, lumbering as carefully as an overweight old lady walking down a sidewalk where there are patches of ice. Trisha had watched, fascinated, with her forehead pressed to the window. They would be in a perfect world of white... there would be a flash of the ground or the slate-gray water of Boston Harbor below them... more white... then another flash of the ground or the water.

: 2015-09-15; : 11;

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