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Book Preview: ‘The Fall’
Posted on Mar 25, 2011
By Ryan Quinn
“What do you do here? I mean, why’d you come to Florence?”
“My parents thought it was a better school than OSU. They both teach there. I didn’t get into any of the Ivy League schools like I wanted. But Florence’s reputation is almost as good so I worked really hard on my application and I got in.”
“That’s really great.” This is really lame. “What are you studying?”
“Psychology. I started premed. That’s how I met Casey. But premed is really hard so I changed my mind. I want to be a psychologist.”
Krista was plainly boring and completely harmless except for her attachment to Case. She talked as if they’d be together forever. I was indiscreet about checking my watch but she got off another question before I had a chance to stand up. I’m telling you this girl will terrorize patients if she ever becomes a psychologist.
“What about you? You got a girlfriend back home or something?”
We were interrupted by singing. It was a male’s voice, clear and effortlessly in key. A giant man in a Hawaiian shirt filled the doorway behind the screen, and the first thing I thought was that his singing voice had seemed much too high for a man of his size. He was wearing sunglasses despite the hour and most of his deeply tanned arms and legs were marked with tattoos. Case followed him through the door.
“This is Afa.”
“Hey, man. Welcome,” Afa said. “Case told us everything about you.”
Afa picked up the plate of beef patties he’d set down on the railing and hummed to himself as he wandered to the grill. After we ate burgers it was dark enough to see stars. Case plunged a hand into the cooler’s watery bed of ice.
“Anyone wanna nother beer?”
“Oh yeah, baby.”
I felt a remote sense that I was drunk—did I just say Oh yeah baby?—but my self-consciousness paled in comparison to my emerging enjoyment of the evening.
“Let’s break into the stadium and steal the bases,” said Todd, the stocky safety everyone calls T-Smalls.
Everyone looked at Todd across the lawn.
“Dude,” Case said. “Don’t be gay.”
“I’m serious. Let’s do it. Who’s in?”
Todd had either had the most to drink or was the least capable of handling it. He was pissing at the edge of the woods, his body turned only slightly away from us. His head was back and tilted up at the rim of the baseball stadium. The moonlit upper decks were chalky white through the tops of the dark trees rising abruptly at the edge of our backyard.
“Come on. We can climb over the back gate.”
“You want to do it that way, you gotta go through the woods,” Afa said. “You’re on your own, man.”
“What are you afraid of?” Todd said. He finished pissing and zipped up, but he stood with his back to us, staring into the woods.
“I’m just sayin’,” Afa said. “Those woods are haunted. You wouldn’t be the first person to walk in there and not come back out.”
“Whatever. That happened once. One time, like ten years ago. And, for the record, he did come back out.”
“Yeah, on a gurney. Point is, his ghost is still in there.”
“The fuck are you talking about? He didn’t die in the woods.”
“How do you know? They beat him pretty near to killing him.”
“They didn’t kill him. He killed himself. Besides, that happened over in the old church that burned down.”
“Don’t matter,” Afa said.
“Casey? Jerrell?” Todd said. “Someone please tell Afa he’s a fucking fruitcake.”
“Why you always get so crazy when you’re drunk?” Jerrell said.
Jerrell didn’t speak much. I’d been looking for a way into a conversation with him but he spent most of the evening in the same chair drinking at his own pace and listening to Afa tell stories about crazy cousins back home on Oahu. Jerrell held himself close like a hand of cards. I didn’t know anything about him except that in this way we were alike.
Todd raised both arms triumphantly and a new intensity electrified his impaired gaze. He flashed us wild eyes.
“It’s not ’cause I’m drunk. It’s ’cause I’m invincible. And if I ain’t invincible I don’t want to be anything. Now, who’s with me? We’re going through the woods and over the back gate, we’re stealing the bases, and then we come back here. Okay? I got dibs on home plate. I’m gonna hang it in my room.”
“You want to sit and have another beer and think it over?” Casey said.
“Hey, I got a better idea,” Todd said. “We should do this for the Homecoming ritual.”
Everyone turned to Todd like he’d said something wrong.
“Dude, shut up,” Case said.
“What’s the Homecoming ritual?” Krista said.
“Shut up,” said Afa.
“Seriously,” Jerrell said. “What will take for you to shut up?”
Krista looked at Case. “What is it?”
“It’s nothing.” Case glared at Todd like now look what you’ve done. “It’s just something the team does. And we can’t talk about it. Sorry. It started with the very first Homecoming game and it’s continued as a secret that only the players know about.”
Krista turned to me. I shrugged like don’t look at me I don’t know what they’re talking about. She jabbed Casey in the side with a finger.
“Bullshit,” she said. “You’re telling me stupid football players have been able to keep a secret for a hundred years?”
“Sixty years,” Case said.
“I still think we should steal the bases tonight,” Todd said.
“Shut up,” everyone said.
Todd shrugged. “Okay, you’re right. I’m gonna sit and have one more beer first.”
He settled into the hammock on the porch. Nearby, Krista had cuddled up with Case, imposing her head in the crevice between his chest and shoulder so that he’d wrap his arm around her. Something occurred to her and she lifted her face to look at Casey.
“This place has only been around for sixty years? I thought it’d been around as long as Yale or Harvard.”
“That’s what they want you to think.”
“I thought it was founded right after World War Two.”
“Nope. June twenty, 1950.”
Everyone looked at Case.
“Man, are you shittin’ me?” Jerrell said. “How the hell you remember something like that?”
Afa let out a loud high-pitched laugh and wrapped an arm around Case’s shoulders.
“I love this guy. Never doubt anything this guy says if it’s got anything to do with numbers.”
“Seriously,” Jerrell said. “He’s shitting us. How you know that?”
“I read it somewhere. I don’t remember where. Numbers just stick in my head if I can attach them to something important.”
“What’s so important about June twenty-five, 1950? Or whenever it was,” Krista said.
Case was quiet for a moment and then nodded as if confirming it for himself.
“June twenty. When DiMaggio got his two thousandth hit. Against the Indians.”
Jerrell shook his head. “Unbelievable.”
Krista kissed Case on the mouth. “You’re so weird. I’m going to bed.”
Case stood and looked down at Todd snoring on the hammock.
“I guess Mr. Invincible is staying the night. Let’s get him inside on the couch.”
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