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THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON
This is for my son Owen, who ended up teaching me a lot more about the game of baseball than I ever taught him
THE WORLD had teeth and it could bite you with them any-time it wanted. Trisha McFarland discovered this when she was nine years old. At ten o'clock on a morning in early June she was sitting in the back seat of her mother's Dodge Caravan, wearing her blue Red Sox batting practice jersey (the one with 36 GORDON on the back) and playing with Mona, her doll. At ten thirty she was lost in the woods. By eleven she was trying not to be terrified, trying not to let herself think, This is serious, this is very serious. Trying not to think that sometimes when people got lost in the woods they got seriously hurt. Sometimes they died.
All because I needed to pee, she thought... except she hadn't needed to pee all that badly, and in any case she could have asked Mom and Pete to wait up the trail a minute while she went behind a tree. They were fighting again, gosh what a surprise that was, and that was why she had dropped behind a little bit, and without saying anything. That was why she had stepped off the trail and behind a high stand of bushes.
She needed a breather, simple as that. She was tired of listen-ing to them argue, tired of trying to sound bright and cheer-9. ful, close to screaming at her mother, Let him go, then! If he wants to go back to Malden and live with Dad so much, why don't you just let him? I'd drive him myself if I had a license, just to get some peace and quiet around here! And what then? What would her mother say then? What kind of look would come over her face? And Pete. He was older, almost fourteen, and not stupid, so why didn't he know better? Why couldn't he just give it a rest? Cut the crap was what she wanted to say to him (to both of them, really), just cut the crap.
The divorce had happened a year ago, and their mother had gotten custody. Pete had protested the move from sub-urban Boston to southern Maine bitterly and at length. Part of it really was wanting to be with Dad, and that was the lever he always used on Mom (he understood with some unerring instinct that it was the one he could plant the deepest and pull on the hardest), but Trisha knew it wasn't the only reason, or even the biggest one. The real reason Pete wanted out was that he hated Sanford Middle School.
In Malden he'd had it pretty well whipped. He'd run the computer club like it was his own private kingdom; he'd had friends—nerds, yeah, but they went around in a group and the bad kids didn't pick on them. At Sanford Middle there was no computer club and he'd only made a single friend, Eddie Rayburn. Then in January Eddie moved away, also the victim of a parental breakup. That made Pete a loner, any-one's game. Worse, a lot of kids laughed at him. He had picked up a nickname which he hated: Pete's CompuWorld.
On most of the weekends when she and Pete didn't go down to Malden to be with their father, their mother took them on outings. She was grimly dedicated to these, and although Trisha wished with all her heart that Mom would stop—it was on the outings that the worst fights hap-10 pened—she knew that wasn't going to happen. Quilla Andersen (she had taken back her maiden name and you could bet Pete hated that, too) had the courage of her con-victions.
Once, while staying at the Malden house with Dad, Trisha had heard their father talking to his own Dad on the phone. “If Quilla had been at Little Big Horn, the Indians would have lost,” he said, and although Trisha didn't like it when Dad said stuff like that about Mom—it seemed babyish as well as disloyal—she couldn't deny that there was a nugget of truth in that particular observation.
Over the last six months, as things grew steadily worse between Mom and Pete, she had taken them to the auto museum in Wiscasset, to the Shaker Village in Gray, to The New England Plant-A-Torium in North Wyndham, to Six-Gun City in Randolph, New Hampshire, on a canoe trip down the Saco River, and on a skiing trip to Sugarloaf (where Trisha had sprained her ankle, an injury over which her mother and father had later had a screaming fight; what fun divorce was, what really good fun).
Sometimes, if he really liked a place, Pete would give his mouth a rest. He had pronounced Six-Gun City “for babies,” but Mom had allowed him to spend most of the visit in the room where the electronic games were, and Pete had gone home not exactly happy but at least silent. On the other hand, if Pete didn't like one of the places their Mom picked (his least favorite by far had been the Plant-A-Torium; returning to Sanford that day he had been in an especially boogery frame of mind), he was generous in shar-ing his opinion. “Go along to get along” wasn't in his nature. Nor was it in their mother's, Trisha supposed. She herself thought it was an excellent philosophy, but of course everyone took one look at her and pronounced her her father's child. Sometimes that bothered her, but mostly she liked it.
Trisha didn't care where they went on Saturdays, and would have been perfectly happy with a steady diet of amusement parks and mini-golf courses just because they minimized the increasingly horrible arguments. But Mom wanted the trips to be instructive, too—hence the Plant-A-Torium and Shaker Village. On top of his other problems, Pete resented having education rammed down his throat on Saturdays, when he would rather have been up in his room, playing Sanitarium or Riven on his Mac. Once or twice he had shared his opinion (“This sucks!” pretty well summed it up) so generously that Mom had sent him back to the car and told him to sit there and “compose himself “ until she and Trisha came back.
Trisha wanted to tell Mom she was wrong to treat him like he was a kindergartener who needed a time-out—that someday they'd come back to the van and find it empty, Pete having decided to hitchhike back to Massachusetts—but of course she said nothing. The Saturday outings themselves were wrong, but Mom would never accept that. By the end of some of them Quilla Andersen looked at least five years older than when they had set out, with deep lines grooved down the sides of her mouth and one hand constantly rub-bing her temple, as if she had a headache... but she would still never stop. Trisha knew it. Maybe if her mother had been at Little Big Horn the Indians still would have won, but the body-count would have been considerably higher.
This week's outing was to an unincorporated township in the western part of the state. The Appalachian Trail wound through the area on its way to New Hampshire. Sit-ting at the kitchen table the night before, Mom had shown them photos from a brochure. Most of the pictures showed happy hikers either striding along a forest trail or standing at scenic lookouts, shading their eyes and peering across great wooded valleys at the time-eroded but still formidable peaks of the central White Mountains.
Pete sat at the table, looking cataclysmically bored, refus-ing to give the brochure more than a glance. For her part, Mom had refused to notice his ostentatious lack of interest.
Trisha, as was increasingly her habit, became brightly enthu-siastic.
These days she often sounded to herself like a con-testant on a TV game show, all but peeing in her pants at the thought of winning a set of waterless cookware. And how did she feel to herself these days? Like glue holding together two pieces of something that was broken. Weak glue.
Quilla had closed the brochure and turned it over. On the back was a map. She tapped a snaky blue line. “This is Route 68,” she said. “We'll park the car here, in this parking lot.”
She tapped a little blue square. Now she traced one finger along a snaky red line. “This is the Appalachian Trail between Route 68 and Route 302 in North Conway, New Hampshire. It's only six miles, and rated Moderate. Well...
this one little section in the middle is marked Moderate-to-Difficult, but not to the point where we'd need climbing gear or anything.”
She tapped another blue square. Pete was leaning his head on one hand, looking the other way. The heel of his palm had pulled the left side of his mouth up into a sneer. He had started getting pimples this year and a fresh crop gleamed on his forehead. Trisha loved him, but sometimes— last night at the kitchen table, as Mom explained their route, for example—she hated him, too. She wanted to tell him to stop being a chicken, because that was what it came down to when you cut to the chase, as their Dad said. Pete wanted to run back to Malden with his little teenage tail between his legs because he was a chicken. He didn't care about Mom, didn't care about Trisha, didn't even care if being with Dad would be good for him in the long run. What Pete cared about was not having anyone to eat lunch with on the gym bleachers. What Pete cared about was that when he walked into homeroom after the first bell someone always yelled, “Hey CompuWorld! Howya doon, homo-boy?”
“This is the parking lot where we come out,” Mom had said, either not noticing that Pete wasn't looking at the map or pretending not to. “A van shows up there around three.
It'll take us back around to our car. Two hours later we're home again, and I'll haul you guys to a movie if we're not too tired. How does that sound?”
Pete had said nothing last night, but he'd had plenty to say this morning, starting with the ride up from Sanford.
He didn't want to do this, it was ultimately stupid, plus he'd heard it was going to rain later on, why did they have to spend a whole Saturday walking in the woods during the worst time of the year for bugs, what if Trisha got poison ivy (as if he cared), and on and on and on. Yatata-yatata-yatata.
He even had the gall to say he should be home studying for his final exams. Pete had never studied on Saturday in his life, as far as Trisha knew. At first Mom didn't respond, but finally he began getting under her skin. Given enough time, he always did. By the time they got to the little dirt parking area on Route 68, her knuckles were white on the steering wheel and she was speaking in clipped tones which Trisha recognized all too well. Mom was leaving Condition Yellow behind and going to Condition Red. It was looking like a very long six-mile walk through the western Maine woods, all in all.
At first Trisha had tried to divert them, exclaiming over barns and grazing horses and picturesque graveyards in her best oh-wow-it's-waterless-cookware voice, but they ignored her and after awhile she had simply sat in the back seat with Mona on her lap (her Dad liked to call Mona Moanie Balogna) and her knapsack beside her, listening to them argue and wondering if she herself might cry, or actually go crazy. Could your family fighting all the time drive you crazy? Maybe when her mother started rubbing her temples with the tips of her fingers, it wasn't because she had a headache but because she was trying to keep her brains from undergoing spontaneous combustion or explosive decompression, or something.
To escape them, Trisha opened the door to her favorite fantasy. She took off her Red Sox cap and looked at the sig-nature written across the brim in broad black felt-tip strokes; this helped get her in the mood. It was Tom Gor-don's signature. Pete liked Mo Vaughn, and their Mom was partial to Nomar Garciaparra, but Tom Gordon was Trisha's and her Dad's favorite Red Sox player. Tom Gordon was the Red Sox closer; he came on in the eighth or ninth inning when the game was close but the Sox were still on top. Her Dad admired Gordon because he never seemed to lose his nerve—”Flash has got icewater in his veins,” Larry McFar-land liked to say—and Trisha always said the same thing, sometimes adding that she liked Gordon because he had the guts to throw a curve on three-and-oh (this was something her father had read to her in a Boston Globe column). Only to Moanie Balogna and (once) to her girlfriend, Pepsi Robichaud, had she said more. She told Pepsi she thought Tom Gordon was “pretty good-looking.” To Mona she threw caution entirely to the winds, saying that Number 36 was the handsomest man alive, and if he ever touched her hand she'd faint. If he ever kissed her, even on the cheek, she thought she'd probably die.
Now, as her mother and her brother fought in the front seat—about the outing, about Sanford Middle School, about their dislocated life—Trisha looked at the signed cap her Dad had somehow gotten her in March, just before the season started, and thought this: I'm in Sanford Park, just walking across the playground to Pepsi's house on an ordinary day. And there's this guy standing at the hotdog wagon. He's wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt and he's got a gold chain around his neck—he's got his back to me but I can see the chain winking in the sun. Then he turns around and I see... oh I can't believe it but it's true, it's really him, it's To m Gordon, why he's in Sanford is a mystery but it's him, all right, and oh God his eyes, just like when he's looking in for the sign with men on base, those eyes, and he smiles and says he's a little lost, he wonders if I know a town called North Berwick, how to get there, and oh God, oh my God I'm shaking, I won't be able to say a word, I'll open my mouth and nothing will come out but a little dry squeak, what Dad calls a mousefart, only when I try I can speak, I sound almost normal, and I say...
I say, he says, then I say and then he says: thinking about how they might talk while the fighting in the front seat of the Caravan drew steadily farther away. (Sometimes, Trisha had decided, silence was life's greatest blessing.) She was still looking fixedly at the signature on the visor of her base-ball cap when Mom turned into the parking area, still far away (Trish is off in her own world was how her father put it), unaware that there were teeth hidden in the ordinary tex-ture of things and she would soon know it. She was in San-ford, not in TR-90. She was in the town park, not at an entry-point to the Appalachian Trail. She was with Tom Gordon, Number 36, and he was offering to buy her a hot-dog in exhange for directions to North Berwick.
MOM AND PETE gave it a rest as they got their packs and Quilla's wicker plant-collection basket out of the van's back end; Pete even helped Trisha get her pack settled evenly on her back, tightening one of the straps, and she had a moment's foolish hope that now things were going to be all right.
“Kids got your ponchos?” Mom asked, looking up at the sky. There was still blue up there, but the clouds were thick-ening in the west. It very likely would rain, but probably not soon enough for Pete to have a satisfying whine about being soaked.
“I've got mine, Mom!” Trisha chirruped in her oh-boy-waterlesscookware voice.
Pete grunted something that might have been yes.
Affirmative from Trisha; another low grunt from Pete.
“Good, because I'm not sharing mine.” She locked the Caravan, then led them across the dirt lot toward a sign marked TRAIL WEST, with an arrow beneath. There were maybe a dozen other cars in the lot, all but theirs with out-ofstate plates.
19. "Bug-spray?” Mom asked as they stepped onto the path leading to the trail. “Trish?”
“Got it!” she chirruped, not entirely positive she did but not wanting to stop with her back turned so that Mom could have a rummage. That would get Pete going again for sure. If they kept walking, though, he might see something which would interest him, or at least distract him. A raccoon.
Maybe a deer. A dinosaur would be good. Trisha giggled.
“What's funny?” Mom asked.
“Just me thinks,” Trisha replied, and Quilla frowned— “me thinks” was a Larry McFarland-ism. Well let her frown, Trisha thought. Let her frown all she wants. I'm with her, and I don't complain about it like old grouchy there, but he's still my Dad and I still love him.
Trisha touched the brim of her signed cap, as if to prove it.
“Okay, kids, let's go,” Quilla said. “And keep your eyes open.”
“I hate this,” Pete almost groaned—it was the first clearly articulated thing he'd said since they got out of the van, and Trisha thought: Please God, send something. A deer or a dinosaur or a UFO. Because if You don't, they're going right back at it.
God sent nothing but a few mosquito scouts that would no doubt soon be reporting back to the main army that fresh meat was on the move, and by the time they passed a sign reading NO. CONWAY STATION 5. 5 MI., the two of them were at it full-bore again, ignoring the woods, ignoring her, ignoring everything but each other. Yatata-yatata-yatata. It was, Trisha thought, like some sick kind of making out.
It was a shame, too, because they were missing stuff that was actually pretty neat. The sweet, resiny smell of the pines, for instance, and the way the clouds seemed so close—less like clouds than like draggles of whitish-gray smoke. She guessed you'd have to be an adult to call some-thing as boring as walking one of your hobbies, but this really wasn't bad. She didn't know if the entire Appalachian Trail was as well-maintained as this—probably not—but if it was, she guessed she could understand why people with nothing better to do decided to walk all umpty-thousand miles of it. Trisha thought it was like walking on a broad, winding avenue through the woods. It wasn't paved, of course, and it ran steadily uphill, but it was easy enough walking. There was even a little hut with a pump inside it and a sign which read: WATER TESTS OK FOR DRINKING.
PLEASE FILL PRIMER JUG FOR NEXT PERSON.
She had a bottle of water in her pack—a big one with a squeeze-top—but suddenly all Trisha wanted in the world was to prime the pump in the little hut and get a drink, cold and fresh, from its rusty lip. She would drink and pretend she was Bilbo Baggins, on his way to the Misty Mountains.
“Mom?” she asked from behind them. “Could we stop long enough to—”
“Making friends is a job, Peter,” her mother was saying.
She didn't look back at Trisha. “You can't just stand around and wait for kids to come to you.”
“Mom? Pete? Could we please stop for just a—”
“You don't understand,” he said heatedly. “You don't have a clue. I don't know how things were when you were in junior high, but they're a lot different now.”
“Pete? Mom? Mommy? There's a pump—” Actually there was a pump; that was now the grammatically correct way to put it, because the pump was behind them, and get-ting farther behind all the time.
“I don't accept that,” Mom said briskly, all business, and Trisha thought: No wonder she drives him crazy. Then, resent-fully: They don't even know I'm here. The Invisible Girl, that's me. I might as well have stayed home. A mosquito whined in her ear and she slapped at it irritably.
They came to a fork in the trail. The main branch—not quite as wide as an avenue now, but still not bad—went off to the left, marked by a sign reading NO. CONWAY 5. 2. The other branch, smaller and mostly overgrown, read KEZAR NOTCH 10.
“Guys, I have to pee,” said The Invisible Girl, and of course neither of them took any notice; they just headed up the branch which led to North Conway, walking side by side like lovers and looking into each other's faces like lovers and arguing like the bitterest enemies. We should have stayed home, Trisha thought. They could have done this at home, and I could have read a book. The Hobbit again, maybe—a story about guys who like to walk in the woods.
“Who cares, I'm peeing,” she said sulkily, and walked a little way down the path marked KEZAR NOTCH. Here the pines which had stayed modestly back from the main trail crowded in, reaching with their blueblack branches, and there was underbrush, as well—clogs and clogs of it. She looked for the shiny leaves that meant poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, and didn't see any... thank God for small favors. Her mother had shown her pictures of those and taught her to identify them two years ago, when life had been happier and simpler. In those days Trisha had gone tramping in the woods with her mother quite a bit.
(Pete's bitterest complaint about the trip to Plant-A-Torium was that their mother had wanted to go there. The obvious truth of this seemed to blind him to how selfish he had sounded, harping on it all day long.) On one of their walks, Mom had also taught her how girls peed in the woods. She began by saying, “The most important thing—maybe the only important thing—is not to do it in a patch of poison ivy. Now look. Watch me and do it just the way I do it.”
Trisha now looked both ways, saw no one, and decided she'd get off the trail anyway. The way to Kezar Notch looked hardly used—little more than an alley compared to the broad thoroughfare of the main trail—but she still didn't want to squat right in the middle of it. It seemed indecorous.
She stepped off the path in the direction of the North Conway fork, and she could still hear them arguing. Later on, after she was good and lost and trying not to believe she might die in the woods, Trisha would remember the last phrase she got in the clear; her brother's hurt, indignant voice: —don't know why we have to pay for what you guys did wrong!
She walked half a dozen steps toward the sound of his voice, stepping carefully around a clump of brambles even though she was wearing jeans instead of shorts. She paused, looked back, and realized she could still see the Kezar Notch path... which meant that anyone coming along it would be able to see her, squatting and peeing with a half-loaded knapsack on her back and a Red Sox cap on her head.
Em-bare-ASS-ing, as Pepsi might say (Quilla Andersen had once remarked that Penelope Robichaud's picture should be next to the word vulgar in the dictionary).
Trisha went down a mild slope, her sneakers slipping a little in a carpet of last year's dead leaves, and when she got to the bottom she couldn't see the Kezar Notch path any-more.
Good. From the other direction, straight ahead through the woods, she heard a man's voice and a girl's answering laughter—hikers on the main trail, and not far away, by the sound. As Trisha unsnapped her jeans it occurred to her that if her mother and brother paused in their oh-so-interesting argument, looking behind them to see how sis was doing, and saw a strange man and woman instead, they might be worried about her.
Good! Give them something else to think about for a few min-utes.
Something besides themselves.
The trick, her mother had told her on that better day in the woods two years ago, wasn't going outdoors—girls could do that every bit as well as boys—but to do it without soaking your clothes.
Trisha held onto the conveniently jutting branch of a nearby pine, bent her knees, then reached between her legs with her free hand, yanking her pants and her underwear forward and out of the firing line. For a moment nothing happened—wasn't that just typical—and Trish sighed. A mosquito whined bloodthirstily around her left ear, and she had no hand free with which to slap at it.
“Oh waterless cookware!” she said angrily, but it was funny, really quite deliciously stupid and funny, and she began to laugh. As soon as she started laughing she started peeing. When she was done she looked around dubiously for something to blot with and decided—once more it was her father's phrase—not to push her luck. She gave her tail a little shake (as if that would really do any good) and then yanked up her pants. When the mosquito buzzed the side of her face again, she slapped it briskly and looked with satis-faction at the small bloody smear in the cup of her palm.
“Thought I was unloaded, partner, didn't you?” she said.
Trisha turned back toward the slope, and then turned around again as the worst idea of her life came to her. This idea was to go forward instead of backtracking to the Kezar Notch trail. The paths had forked in a Y; she would simply walk across the gap and rejoin the main trail. Piece of cake.
There was no chance of getting lost, because she could hear the voices of the other hikers so clearly. There was really no chance of getting lost at all.
THE WEST SIDE of the ravine in which Trisha had taken her rest-stop was considerably steeper than the side she had come down. She climbed it with the aid of several trees, got to the top, and headed over more even ground in the direc-tion the voices had come from. There was a lot of under-brush, though, and she swerved around several thorny, close-packed patches of it. At each swerve she kept her eyes pointed in the direction of the main trail. She walked in this fashion for ten minutes or so, then stopped. In that tender place between her chest and her stomach, the place where all the body's wires seemed to come together in a clump, she felt the first minnowy flutter of disquiet. Shouldn't she have come to the North Conway branch of the Appalachian Trail by now? It certainly seemed so; she hadn't gone far down the Kezar Notch branch, probably not more than fifty paces (surely no more than sixty, seventy at the very most), and so the gap between the two diverging arms of the Y couldn't be very big, could it?
She listened for voices on the main trail, but now the woods were silent. Well, that wasn't true. She could hear 27. the sough of the wind through the big old west-country pines, she could hear the squawk of a jay and the far-off hammering of a woodpecker digging his midmorning snack out of a hollow tree, she could hear a couple of freshly arrived mosquitoes (they were buzzing around both ears now), but no human voices. It was as if she were the only person in all these big woods, and although that was ridicu-lous, the minnow fluttered in that hollow place once more.
A little more strongly this time.
Trisha started walking forward again, faster now, wanting to get to the trail, wanting the relief of the trail. She came to a great fallen tree, too high to climb over, and decided to wriggle under it instead. She knew the smart thing would be to go around, but what if she lost her bearings?
You've already lost them, a voice in her head whispered—a terrible cold voice.
“Shut up, I have not, you shut up,” she whispered back, and dropped to her knees. There was a hollow running beneath one section of the moss-caked old trunk, and Trisha squirmed into it. The leaves lining it were wet, but by the time she realized this the front of her shirt was already soaked through and she decided it didn't matter. She wrig-gled further and her pack hit the trunk of the tree—thump.
“Damn and blast!” she whispered (damn and blast was her and Pepsi's current favorite swear—it sounded so English country-house, somehow) and backed up. She got to her knees, brushed clinging damp leaves from her shirt, and noticed as she did that her fingers were trembling.
“I'm not scared,” she said, speaking out loud on purpose because the sound of her voice whispering was freaking her out a little. “Not scared a bit. The trail's right there. I'll be on it in five minutes, and running to catch up.” She took off her pack and, pushing it ahead of her, began to crawl under the tree again.
Halfway out, something moved under her. She looked down and saw a fat black snake slithering through the leaves. For a moment every thought in her mind disap-peared into a silent white explosion of revulsion and horror.
Her skin turned to ice and her throat closed. She could not even think the single word snake but only feel it, coldly puls-ing under her warm hand. Trisha shrieked and tried to bolt to her feet, forgetting that she wasn't yet in the clear. A stump of branch thick as an amputated forearm poked ago-nizingly into the small of her back. She went flat on her stomach again and wriggled out from under the tree as fast as she could, probably looking a bit like a snake herself.
The nasty thing was gone, but her terror lingered. It had been right under her hand, hidden in the dead leaves and right under her hand. Evidently not a biter, thank God. But what if there were more? What if they were poisonous?
What if the woods were full of them? And of course they were, the woods were full of everything you didn't like, everything you were afraid of and instinctively loathed, everything that tried to overwhelm you with nasty, no-brain panic. Why had she ever agreed to come? Not only agreed but agreed cheerfully?
She snagged the strap of her pack in one hand and hur-ried on with it banging against her leg, casting mistrustful looks back at the fallen tree and the leafy spaces between the standing ones, afraid of seeing the snake, even more afraid that she might see a whole battalion of them, like snakes in a horror movie, Invasion of the Killer Snakes, star-ring Patricia McFarland, the riveting tale of a little girl lost in the woods and— “I am not l—” Trisha began, and then, because she was looking back over her shoulder, she tripped on a rock stick-ing out of the mulchy earth, staggered, waved the arm not holding her pack in a doomed effort to keep her balance, and then fell heavily on her side. This sent up a flare of pain from her lower back, where the stump of branch had jabbed her.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 10; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ