, 4


The Subaudible. Do you remember when we lived on Fore Street?

Of course she remembered the house on Fore Street.

Three blocks from where they were, near the Lynn town line.

A bigger house than this, with a bigger back yard that Dad had always kept mown. Back when Sanford was just for grandparents and summer vacations and Pepsi Robichaud was just her summer friend and arm-farts were the funniest things in the universe... except, of course, for real farts. On Fore Street the kitchen didn't smell of stale beer the way this house's kitchen did. She nodded, remembering very well.

It had electric heat, that house. Do you remember how the baseboard units would hum, even when they weren't heating? Even in the summer?

Trisha had shaken her head. And her father had nodded his, as if that was what he expected.

That's because you got used to it, he said. But take my word, Trish, that sound was always there. Even in a house where there aren't baseboard heaters, there are noises. The fridge goes on and off. The pipes thunk. The floors creak.

The traffic goes by outside. We hear those things all the time, so most of the time we don't hear them at all. They become... And he gestured for her to finish, as he had done since she was very small, sitting on his lap and begin-ning to read. His old dear gesture.

Subaudible, she said, not because she completely understood what the word meant but because it was so clearly what he wanted from her.

Pree-cisely, he said, gesturing once more with his ice cream. A splatter of vanilla drops ran up one leg of his khaki pants, and she'd found herself wondering how many beers he'd had already that day. Pree-cisely, sugar, subaudible. I don't believe in any actual thinking God that marks the fall of every bird in Australia or every bug in India, a God that records all of our sins in a big golden book and judges us when we dieI don't want to believe in a God who would deliberately create bad people and then deliberately send them to roast in a hell He createdbut I believe there has to be something.

He had looked around the yard with its too-high, too-patchy grass, the little swing-'n-gym set he had set up for his son and daughter (Pete had outgrown it, and Trisha really had, too, although she still swung or would go down the slide a few times when she was here, just to please him), the two lawn-dwarves (one barely visible in an extravagant splurge of spring weeds), the fence at the very rear that needed painting.

In that moment he had looked old to her. A little confused.

A little frightened. (A little lost in the woods, she thought now, sitting on the fallen log with her pack between her sneakers.) Then he had nodded and looked back at her.

Yeah, something. Some kind of insensate force for the good. Insensate, do you know what that means?

She had nodded, not knowing exactly but not wanting him to stop and explain. She didn't want him to teach her, not today; today she only wanted to learn from him.

I think there's a force that keeps drunken teenagers most drunken teenagersfrom crashing their cars when they're coming home from the senior prom or their first big rock concert. That keeps most planes from crashing even when something goes wrong. Not all, just most. Hey, the fact that no one's used a nuclear weapon on actual living people since 1945 suggests there has to be something on our side. Sooner or later someone will, of course, but over half a century... that's a long time.

He had paused, looking out at the lawn-dwarves with their vacant, cheery faces.

There's something that keeps most of us from dying in our sleep. No perfect loving all-seeing God, I don't think the evidence supports that, but a force.

The Subaudible.

You got it.

She had gotten it but hadn't liked it. It was too much like getting a letter you thought would be interesting and important, only when you opened it it was addressed to Dear Occupant.

Do you believe in anything else, Dad?

Oh, the usual. Death and taxes and that you're the most beautiful girl in the world.

Da-ad. She'd laughed and wriggled as he hugged her and kissed the top of her head, liking his touch and his kiss but not the smell of beer on his breath.

He let her go and stood up. I also believe it's beer o'clock. You want some iced tea?

No, thanks, she said, and perhaps something prescient had been at work, because as he started away she said: Do you believe in anything else? Seriously.

His smile had faded into a look of seriousness. He stood there thinking (sitting on the log she remembered being flat-tered that he would think so hard on her behalf), his ice cream starting to drip over his hand now. Then he had looked up, smiling again. I believe that your heartthrob Tom Gordon can save forty games this year, he said. I believe that right now he's the best closer in the major leaguesthat if he stays healthy and the Sox hitting holds up, he could be pitching in the World Series come October. Is that enough for you?

Yessss! she had cried, laughing, her own seriousness bro-ken .. . because Tom Gordon really was her heartthrob, and she loved her father for knowing it and for being sweet about it instead of mean. She had run to him and hugged him hard, getting ice cream on her shirt and not caring.

What was a little Sunny Treat between friends?

And now, sitting here in the growing grayness, listening to the drip of water all around her in the woods, watching the trees blur into shapes which would soon become threat-ening, listening for amplified shouts (COME TO THE SOUND OF MY VOICE!) or the distant barking of dogs, she thought: I can't pray to the Subaudible. I just can't. She couldn't pray to Tom Gordon, eitherthat would be ludi-crous but perhaps she could listen to him pitch... and against the Yankees, at that. WCAS had their Sox on; she could put hers on, too. She had to conserve her batteries, she knew that, but she could listen for awhile, couldn't she?

And who could tell? She might hear those amplified voices and barking dogs before the game was over.

Trisha opened her pack, reverently removed her Walk-man from its inner pocket, and settled the earbuds into place. She hesitated a moment, suddenly sure the radio would no longer work, that some vital wire had been jog-gled loose in her tumble down the slope and this time there would be only silence when she pushed the power button. It was a stupid idea, maybe, but on a day when so many things had gone wrong, it seemed like a horribly plausible idea, too.

Go on, go on, don't be a chickenguts!

She pushed the button and like a miracle her head filled with the sound of Jerry Trupiano's voice... and more importantly, with the sounds of Fenway Park. She was sitting out here in the darkening, drippy woods, lost and alone, but she could hear thirty thousand people. It was a miracle.

comes to the belt, Troop was saying. He winds. He fires. And... strike three called, Martinez caught him look-ing!

Oh, that was the slider and it was a beaut! That caught the inside corner and Bernie Williams was just frozen! Oh my! And at the end of two and a half innings, it's still the Yankees two, the Boston Red Sox nothing.

A singing voice instructed Trisha to call 180054GIANT for some sort of auto repair, but she didn't hear it.

Two and a half innings already played, which meant it had to be eight o'clock. At first that seemed amazing, and yet, given the faded quality of the light, not so hard to believe, either. She'd been on her own for ten hours. It seemed like forever; it also seemed like no time at all.

Trisha waved at the bugs (this gesture was now so auto-matic she didn't even realize she was doing it) and then delved into her lunchbag. The tuna sandwich wasn't as bad as she had feared, flattened and torn into hunks but still rec-ognizably a sandwich. The Baggie had sort of kept it together.

The remaining Twinkie, however, had turned into what Pepsi Robichaud would likely have called total sploosh.

Trisha sat listening to the game and slowly ate half of her tuna sandwich. It awoke her appetite and she easily could have gobbled the rest, but she put it back in the bag and ate the splooshed Twinkie instead, scooping up the moist cake and the nasty-tasty white creme filling (that stuff was always creme and never cream, Trisha mused) with one fin-ger.

When she had gotten all she could with her finger, she turned the paper inside out and licked it clean. Just call me Mrs. Sprat, she thought, and put the Twinkie wrapper back into her lunchbag. She allowed herself three more big swal-lows of Surge, then went prospecting for more potato chip crumbs with the tip of one grimy finger as the Red Sox and Yankees played through the rest of the third and the fourth.

By the middle of the fifth it was four to one Yankees, with Martinez gone in favor of Jim Corsi. Larry McFarland regarded Corsi with deep mistrust. Once, while talking baseball with Trisha over the telephone, he had said: You mark my words, sugarJim Corsi is no friend of the Red Sox. Trisha got giggling, she couldn't help it. He just sounded so solemn. And after awhile Dad had gotten gig-gling, too. It had become a catch-phrase between them, something that was just theirs, like a password: Mark my words, Jim Corsi is no friend of the Red Sox.

Corsi was a friend of the Red Sox in the top of the sixth, though, getting the Yankees one-two-three. Trisha knew she should turn off the radio and conserve the batteries, Tom Gordon wasn't going to pitch in a game where the Red Sox were three runs behind, but she couldn't bear the thought of disconnecting Fenway Park. She listened to the seashell-murmur of the voices even more eagerly than to the play-byplay guys, Jerry Trupiano and Joe Castiglione. Those people were there, actually there, eating hotdogs and drink-ing beer and lining up to buy souvenirs and sof-serve ice cream and chowder from the Legal Seafood stand; they were watching as Darren LewisDeeLu, the announcers some-times called himstepped into the batter's box, the bright banks of lights casting his shadow behind him as daytime gave up overhead. She could not bear to exchange those thirty thousand murmuring voices for the low hum of mos-quitoes (thicker than ever as dusk advanced), the drip of rainwater from the leaves, the rusty rick-rick of the crick-ets .. . and what other sounds there might be.

It was the other sounds she was most afraid of.

Other sounds in the dark.

DeeLu singled to right, and one out later Mo Vaughn got hold of a slider that did not slide. Back back WAYYY BACK! Troop chanted. That's in the Red Sox pen! Some-one I think it might have been Rich Garcescaught it on the fly. Home run, Mo Vaughn! That's his twelfth of the year and the Yankee lead is cut to one.

Sitting on her tree-trunk, Trisha laughed and clapped her hands and then resettled her signed Tom Gordon hat more firmly on her head. It was full dark now.

In the bottom of the eighth, Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run shot into the screen on top of the Green Monster.

The Red Sox took a five-to-four lead and Tom Gordon came on to pitch the top of the ninth.

Trisha slid off the fallen tree to the ground. The bark scraped against the wasp-stings on her hip, but she hardly noticed. Mosquitoes settled with immediate hungry intent on her bare back where her shirt and the tatters of the blue poncho had rucked up, but she didn't feel them. She gazed at the last held glimmerglow in the brookfading tar-nished quicksilverand sat on the damp ground with her fingers pressed to the sides of her mouth. Suddenly it seemed very important that Tom Gordon should preserve the one-run lead, that he should secure this victory against the mighty Yankees, who had lost a pair to Anaheim at the start of the season and had hardly lost since.

Come on, Tom, she whispered. In a Castle View hotel room her mother was in an agony of terror; her father was on a Delta flight from Boston to Portland to join Quilla and his son; at the Castle County state police barracks, which had been designated Rally Point Patricia, search-parties very much like the ones the lost girl had imagined were coming back in after their first fruitless sallies; outside the barracks, newsvans from three TV stations in Portland and two in Portsmouth were parked; three dozen experienced woods-men (and some were accompanied by dogs) remained in the forests of Motton and the three unincorporated townships which stretched off toward New Hampshire's chimney: TR-90, TR-100, and TR-110. The consensus among those remaining in the woods was that Patricia McFarland must still be in Motton or TR-90. She was a little girl, after all, and likely hadn't wandered far from where she had last been seen. These experienced guides, game wardens, and Forest Service men would have been stunned to know that Trisha had gotten almost nine miles west of the area the searchers considered their highest priority.

Come on, Tom, she whispered. Come on, Tom, one two three, now. You know how it goes.

But not tonight. Gordon opened the top of the ninth by walking the handsome yet evil Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter, and Trisha remembered something her father had once told her: when a team gets a lead-off walk, their chances of scoring rise by seventy percent.

If we win, if Tom gets the save, I'll be saved. This thought came to her suddenlyit was like a firework bursting in her head.

It was stupid, of course, as dopey as her father knocking on wood before a three-and-two pitch (which he did every time), but as the dark drew deeper and the brook gave up its final silver tarnish, it also seemed irrefutable, as obvious as two-and-two-makes-four: if Tom Gordon got the save, she would get the save.

Paul O'Neill popped up. One out. Bernie Williams came up. Always a dangerous hitter, Joe Castiglione remarked, and Williams immediately ripped a single to center, sending Jeter to third.

Why did you say that, Joe? Trisha moaned. Oh cripes, why did you have to say that?

Runners on first and third, only one out. The Fenway crowd cheering, hoping. Trisha could imagine them leaning forward in their seats.

Come on, Tom, come on, Tom, she whispered. The cloud of minges and noseeums were still all around her, but she no longer noticed. A feeling of despair touched her heart, cool and strongit was like that hateful voice she had discovered in the middle of her head. The Yankees were too good. A base hit would tie it, a long ball would put it out of reach, and the awful, awful Tino Martinez was up, with the most dangerous hitter of all right behind him; the Straw Man would now be down on one knee in the on-deck circle, swinging a bat and watching.

Gordon worked the count on Martinez to two and two, then threw his curveball. Struck him out! Joe Castiglione shouted. It was as if he couldn't believe it. Aw, man, that was a beauty! Martinez must have missed it by a foot!

Tw o feet, Troop added helpfully.

So it all comes to this, Joe said, and behind his voice Trisha could hear the volume of the other voices, the fan voices, begin to rise. The rhythmic clapping started. The Fenway Faithful were getting to their feet like a church con-gregation about to sing a hymn. Two on, two out, Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead, Tom Gordon on the mound, and

Don't you say it, Trisha whispered, her hands still press-ing against the sides of her mouth, don't you dare say it!

But he did. And the always dangerous Darryl Straw-berry coming to the plate.

That was it; game over; great Satan Joe Castiglione had opened his mouth and jinxed it. Why couldn't he just have given Strawberry's name? Why did he have to start in with that always dangerous horsepucky when any fool knew that only made them dangerous?

All right, everybody, fasten your seatbelts, Joe said.

Strawberry cocks the bat. Jeter's dancing around third, try-ing to draw a throw or at least some attention from Gordon.

He gets neither. Gordon looks in. Veritek flashes the sign. To the set. Gordon throws... Strawberry swings and misses, strike one. Strawberry shakes his head as if he's disgusted...

Shouldn't be disgusted, that was a pretty good pitch,

Troop remarked, and Trisha, sitting in the dark bugblown armpit of nowhere, thought, Shut up, Troop, just shut up for a minute.

Straw steps out... taps his cleats... now he's back in.

Gordon with the look to Williams on first... to the set...

he pitches. Outside and low.

Trisha moaned. The tips of her fingers were now so deeply pressed into her cheeks that her lips were pulled up in a strange distraught smile. Her heart was hammering in her chest.

Here we go again, Joe said. Gordon's ready. He fires, Strawberry swings, and it's a long high drive to right field, if it stays fair it's gone, but it's drifting... it's drifting...


Trisha waited, breath caught.

Foul, Joe said at last, and she began to breathe again.

But that was toooo close. Strawberry just missed a three-run homer. It went on the wrong side of the Pesky Pole by no more than six or eight feet.

I'd say four feet, Troop added helpfully.

I'd say you've got stinky feet, Trisha whispered. Come on, Tom, come on, please. But he wouldn't; she knew that now for sure. Just this close and no closer.

Still, she could see him. Not all tall and ginky-looking like Randy Johnson, not all short and tubby-looking like Rich Garces. Medium height, trim... and handsome. Very handsome, especially with his cap on, shading his eyes...

except her father said almost all ballplayers were handsome.

It comes with the genes, he told her, then added: Of course a lot of them have nothing upstairs, so it all balances out. But Tom Gordon's looks weren't the thing. It was the stillness before he pitched which had first caught her eye and her admiration. He didn't stalk around the mound like some of them did, or bend to fiddle with his shoes, or pick up the rosin bag and then toss it back down in a little flump of white dust. No, Number 36 simply waited for the batter to finish all of his fiddle-de-diddling. He was so still in his bright white uniform as he waited for the batter to be ready.

And then, of course, there was the thing he did whenever he succeeded in getting the save. That thing as he left the mound. She loved that.

Gordon winds and fires... and it's in the dirt! Veritek blocked it with his body and that saved a run. The tying run.

Stone the crows! Troop said.

Joe didn't even try to dignify that one. Gordon takes a deep breath out on the mound. Strawberry stands in. Gor-don wheels... deals... high.

A storm of booing rose in Trisha's ears like an ill wind.

Thirty thousand or so umps in the stands didn't agree with that one, Joe, Troop remarked.

True, but Larry Barnett behind the plate's got the final say and Barnett said it was high. The count runs full to Dar-ryl Strawberry. Three and two.

In the background the rhythmic clapping of the fans swelled. Their voices filled the air, filled her head. She knocked on the wood of the tree-trunk without realizing she was doing it.

The crowd's on its feet, Joe Castiglione said, all thirty thousand of them, because no one has left the joint tonight.

Maybe one or two, Troop said. Trisha took no notice.

Neither did Joe.

Gordon to the belt.

Yes, she could see him at the belt, hands together now, no longer facing home plate directly but looking in over his left shoulder.

Gordon into the motion.

She could see this, too: the left foot coming back toward the planting right foot as the handsone wearing the glove, one holding the ballrose to the sternum; she could even see Bernie Williams, off with the pitch, streaking for second, but Tom Gordon took no notice and even in motion his essential stillness remained, his eyes on Jason Veritek's mitt, hung behind the plate low and toward the outside corner.

Gordon delivers the three... two... pitch... AND

The crowd told her, the sudden joyous thunder of the crowd.

Strike three called! Joe was nearly screaming. Oh my goodness, he threw the curve on three and two and froze Strawberry!

The Red Sox win five to four over the Yankees and Tom Gordon gets his eighteenth save! His voice dropped into a more normal register. Gordon's teammates head for the mound with Mo Vaughn pumping his fist in the air and leading the charge, but before Vaughn gets there, it's Gordon with the quick gesture, the one the fans have gotten to know very well in just the short time he's been the Sox closer.

Trisha burst into tears. She pushed the power button on the Walkman and then just sat there on the damp ground with her back against the tree-trunk and her legs spread and the blue poncho hanging between them in its hula-skirt tatters. She cried harder than she had since first realizing for sure that she was lost, but this time she cried in relief. She was lost but would be found. She was sure of it. Tom Gor-don had gotten the save and so would she.

Still crying, she took off the poncho, spread it on the ground as far under the fallen tree as she thought she could wriggle, and then eased to her left until she was on the plas-tic.

She did this with very little awareness. Most of her was still at Fenway Park, seeing the umpire ringing Strawberry up, seeing Mo Vaughn starting for the mound to congratu-late Tom Gordon; she could see Nomar Garciaparra trot-ting in from short, John Valentin from third, and Mark Lemke from second to do the same. But before they got to him, Gordon did what he always did when he secured the save: pointed at the sky. Just one quick point of the finger.

Trisha tucked her Walkman back into her pack, but before she put her head down on her outstretched arm she pointed briefly up, the way Gordon did. And why not?

Something had brought her through the day, after all, horri-ble as it had been. And when you pointed, the something felt like God. You couldn't point to dumb luck or the Sub-audible, after all.

Doing this made her feel better and worsebetter because it felt more like praying than actual words would have done, worse because it made her feel really lonely for the first time that day; pointing like Tom Gordon made her feel lost in some heretofore unsuspected fashion. The voices which had poured out of the Walkman's earbuds and filled her head seemed dreamlike now, the voices of ghosts. She shivered at that, not wanting to think about ghosts out here, not in the woods, not cowering under a fallen tree in the dark. She missed her mother. Even more, she wanted her father. Her father would be able to get her out of here, would take her by the hand and lead her out of here. And if she got tired of walking he would carry her. He had big muscles. When she and Pete stayed weekends with him, he would still pick her up at the end of Saturday night and carry her to her little bedroom in his arms. He did that even though she was nine (and big for her age). It was her favorite part of their weekends in Malden.

Trisha discovered, with a miserable species of wonder, that she even missed her boogery, endlessly complaining brother.

Weeping and hitching in big watery gusts of air, Trisha fell asleep. The bugs circled around her in the dark, moving closer and closer. Finally they began to light on the exposed patches of her skin, feasting on her blood and sweat.

A puff of air moved through the woods, ruffling the leaves, shaking the last of the rainwater from them. After a second or two the air fell still. Then it was not still; in the dripping quiet came the sound of twigs breaking. That stopped and there was a pause followed by a flurry of mov-ing branches and a rough rasping sound. A crow called once, in alarm. There was a pause and then the sounds began again, moving closer to where Trisha slept with her head on her arm.



Bottom of the Fourth


THEY WERE behind Dad's little house in Malden, just the two of them, sitting in lawn chairs that were a little too rusty, looking out over grass that was a little too long. The lawn-dwarves seemed to peer at her, smiling secret, unpleasant smiles from deep in their clumps of weeds. She was crying because Dad was being mean to her. He was never mean to her, he always hugged her and kissed the top of her head and called her sugar, but now he was, he was being mean, all because she didn't want to open the cellar bulkhead under the kitchen window and go down four steps and get him a can of beer from the case he kept down there where it was cool. She was so upset that her face must have broken out, because it was all itchy. Her arms, too.

Baby bunting, Daddy's gone a-hunting, he said, lean-ing toward her, and she could smell his breath. He didn't need another beer, he was drunk already, the air coming out of him smelled like yeast and dead mice. Why do you want to be such a little chickenguts? You don't have a single drop of icewater in your veins.

Still crying, but determined to show him she did so have 79. icewater in her veinsa little, anywayshe got out of the rusty lawn chair and went over to the even rustier bulkhead door. Oh, she just itched all over, and she didn't want to open that door because there was something awful on the other sideeven the lawn-dwarves knew, you only had to look at their sly smiles to get that. She reached for the han-dle, though; she grasped it as behind her Dad jeered in that horrible stranger's voice to go on, go on, baby bunting, go on, sugar, go on, toots, go on and do it.

She pulled the door up and the stairs leading down to the cellar were gone. The stairwell itself was gone. Where it had been was a monstrous bulging wasps' nest. Hundreds of wasps were flying out of it through a black hole like the eye of a man who has died surprised, and no, it wasn't hundreds but thousands, plump ungainly poison factories flying straight at her. There was no time to get away, they would all sting her at once and she would die with them crawling on her skin, crawling into her eyes, crawling into her mouth, pump-ing her tongue full of poison on their way down her throat Trisha thought she was screaming, but when she thumped her head against the underside of the tree-trunk, showering bits of bark and moss down into her sweaty hair and waking herself up, she heard only a series of tiny, kit-tenish mewling sounds. They were all her locked throat would allow.

For a moment she was utterly disoriented, wondering why her bed felt so hard, wondering what she had thumped her head on... was it possible she had actually gotten under her bed? And her skin was crawling, literally crawling from the dream she had just escaped, oh God what a terrible nightmare.

She rapped her head again and stuff began to come back.

She wasn't on her bed or even under it. She was in the woods, lost in the woods. She had been sleeping under a tree and her skin was still crawling. Not from fear but because Get off, oh you bastards get off! she cried in a high, frightened voice, and waved her hands rapidly back and forth in front of her eyes. Most of the minges and mosquitoes lifted from her skin and re-formed their cloud. The crawling sensation stopped but the terrible itching remained. There were no wasps, but she had been bitten just the same. Bitten in her sleep by pretty much anything that happened by and stopped for a chomp. She itched everywhere. And she needed to pee.

Trisha crawled out from under the tree-trunk, gasping and wincing. She was stiff everywhere from her tumble down the rocky slope, especially in her neck and left shoul-der, and both her left arm and left legthe limbs she had been lying onwere asleep. Numb as pegs, her mother would have said. Grownups (at least the ones in her family) had a saying for everything: numb as a peg, happy as a lark, lively as a cricket, deaf as a post, dark as the inside of a cow, dead as a No, she didn't want to think of that one, not now.

Trisha tried to get on her feet, couldn't, and made her way into the little crescent of clearing at a hobbling crawl.

As she moved, some of the feeling started to come back into her arm and legthose unpleasant tingling bursts of sensa-tion.

Needles and pins.

Damn and blast, she croakedmostly just to hear the sound of her own voice. It's dark as the inside of a cow out here.

Except, as she stopped by the brook, Trisha realized that it most surely wasn't. The little clearing was filled with moonlight, cold and lucid, strong enough to cast a firm shadow beside her and put ash-bright sparkles on the water of her little stream. The object in the sky overhead was a slightly misshapen silver stone almost too bright to look at... but she looked anyway, her swollen, itchy face and upcast eyes solemn. Tonight's moon was so bright that it had embarrassed all but the brightest stars into invisibility, and something about it, or about looking at it from where she was, made her feel how alone she was. Her earlier belief that she would be saved just because Tom Gordon had got-ten three outs in the top of the ninth was gonemight as well knock on wood, toss salt back over your shoulder, or make the sign of the cross before you stepped into the bat-ter's box, as Nomar Garciaparra always did. There were no cameras here, no instant replays, no cheering fans. The coldly beautiful face of the moon suggested to her that the Subaudible was more plausible after all, a God who didn't know Heor Itwas a God, one with no interest in lost little girls, one with no real interest in anything, a knocked-outloaded God Whose mind was like a circling cloud of bugs and Whose eye was the rapt and vacant moon.

: 2015-09-15; : 6;

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