“Abbott-O-Rabbit” is local shorthand for the greater community bordered by the Old Seward Highway to the west, Hillside Drive in the Chugach Foothills to the east, Abbott Road and the east end of Dimond Boulevard to the north, and Rabbit Creek Road to the south, forming a massive, irregular O-shaped loop. This parlance however is mainly limited to a small cadre of homestead families, and is therefore so esoteric that as far as most people know, it’s simply the quirky name of the little league fields off the Old Seward Highway near O’Malley Road. Few people, even those in the league, tend to question the unusual name. Other leagues in the area are simply named after people, or more readily identifiable geographical locations.
The complex of three fenced-in baseball diamonds, each with bleachers and dugouts, a concession shack, and parking lot, sits on a former homestead site. Immediately adjacent, is a small neighborhood that sits on part of two former homestead sites that were owned by Wil’s grandparents. The streets of the neighborhood that borders the south end of the ball park were named after Wil’s mother, aunts, and uncles. It’s a neighborhood of mostly small single-story houses and trailers, with a square, blue two-story house perched atop the hill, from which Wil’s grandmother, Miriam Hayes, could look out across the land she previously shared with two different husbands. The first, Roger Bellford, had died young, in the late-1940s, after suffering a lifetime of ill health. Shortly thereafter, Miriam remarried to Darrell Hayes, who had the next homestead plot over. Eventually they formed the Bellford-Hayes Corporation, and began parceling the two homesteads for future land sales. When Darrell died in the late1950s, Miriam sped up her real estate efforts. The first major sale was the Turnagain Tavern, a local pub that she and Darrell had run. It sat on the west side of the Old Seward near the intersection of Klatt Road, and was now a topless bar called the Kit Kat Club. Directly across the highway, at the edge of the neighborhood, she had sold a plot of land to an entrepreneur who built a small diner called the Sad Shack Cafe, which was the epitome of a “greasy spoon” dive. This was the business where Mona Delsin (then Mona Bellford) had worked her way through college as a cook and waitress. The plot across the side street from the Sad Shack was sold next, and the new owners built a large, Japanese styled restaurant called Far East Gardens. This was a special place for the Delsin family, where they got to put on their nice clothes and eat once or twice a year. The family-style multi course dinner they always got was the height of fine dining to the Delsin kids, and if they were lucky, they got one of the tables with a window looking out onto the tea garden, with its miniature pagoda, koi pond, and bridge.
When Wil was Seven, Pete had come home late one evening. He announced that he’d signed up to coach a little league team, and that he could pick whomever he wanted to be on his team. “And guess who I picked?” He asked Wil teasingly, as if expecting enthusiasm “Um… Me?” Wil had responded. And that was exactly the tone that was set for his entry into the world of little league baseball.
Like Pete, Wil was left-handed, so Pete had bought him a red, white, and blue Rawlings “Lefty” glove, to be worn on the right hand in order to throw with the left, which was how Pete caught and threw. This turned out to be a mistake, and was not the first time other peoples’ assumptions about his left-handedness had put Wil at a disadvantage.
When Wil started first grade, dyslexia had become a wildly popular diagnosis for any child with poor academic performance. Wil had tested above average, and given a stellar performance in kindergarten, but, being left-handed was considered “backwards,” and a presumed hallmark of dyslexia, so he began first grade in a special education class which was allegedly a program for dyslexic children. The teacher in this class, a Mrs. Triplett, was a bitter woman whose interactions with children ran from stern, to condescending, to passive-aggressive, to sarcastic, to enraged. There were even instances of physical abuse with children who really tested her patience, although Wil was never subjected to these. The sharp contrast between the enjoyable and nurturing kindergarten environment he’d experienced and the stark, angry, abusive classroom that he now found himself in ended any chance he might have had of developing a positive outlook toward school. To introduce the children to math, Mrs. Triplett taught them how to add up how many years of schooling they had left. When six-year old Wil arrived at the answer of twelve years, he began to cry at the thought of spending twice his current lifespan in this institution. For this he was chided by Mrs. Triplett, who then did nothing to quiet the other children who were now openly mocking him and calling him a crybaby. He couldn’t know it of course, but this was a pivotal moment in a shift toward years of unhappiness. It would also signal the beginning of an insurmountable emotional wall between Wil and Mona. Any pleasant childhood memories he’d have of a loving mother figure would stay on the other side.
The abuse didn’t end in the classroom; home would be no respite. As his performance and behavior in the classroom began to rapidly deteriorate, Mrs. Triplett would send him home with progress notes for Mona to read and sign. Upon reading them, Mona would make him drop his pants and lay across her lap, and would then whip his bare bottom with a belt, held with both ends in one hand to form a loop, all the while screaming with rage over his inattentiveness, failure to complete assignments, and poor interactions with other pupils and Mrs. Triplett. Each lash of the belt resulted in a searing pain that penetrated his entire, thin body, and left him unable to clearly answer the accusations Mona screamed at him. This enraged her more, which would extend the beating. When it was all finally over, he’d be sobbing deeply and uncontrollably, physically and mentally spent, and unable to sit without pain. And so, this became the cycle: Wake up and dread going to school, then dread going home to get beaten. It was at this point that he began wetting the bed.
As it turned out, Wil actually batted left, but caught and threw right. But here he was, his entire first season of baseball, unable to catch a thing. Anything that came his way ended up on the ground, and after scrambling after it, he’d clumsily pick it up, and then throw it awkwardly with his left hand, usually in a short arc into the ground a few feet away. Sometimes several feet to the side of the intended recipient. Pete, not wanting to show any nepotism over more able players, made the only move he could, which was to assign Wil perpetually to right field, the position with the least amount of action. Lack of activity for Wil led quickly to boredom, which is how he happened to be kneeling in the grass during one game, searching for four-leaf clovers, when a fly ball hit by a player from the other team thumped into the ground right next to him. Startled, he ran after the ball which had rolled farther away, with a cacophony of Pete, his teammates, and spectators in the bleachers all yelling commands. “WILLY! GET THE BALL! WAKE UP! WILLY! THROW THE BALL!” Upon reaching the ball, he fumbled picking it up a couple times, then threw it wildly in exactly the wrong direction. Randy Belcher, the second baseman, managed to get hold of the ball, but it was already too late. Bases had been loaded and the other team scored four runs, including the weak hit that Wil had missed, allowing it to become a home run. This play ended the game with a heavily one-sided win for the other guys. As Wil’s team returned to the dugout, he felt the glares of contempt from the other boys. Pete, grabbing him by the shoulders and stooping to put his face right in Wil’s, was visibly incensed and embarrassed. “Son” he began. “What were you doin’ out there??” Wil, the beginning of the realization that he was in trouble setting in, sobbed meekly “I… was… trying to find a four-leaf clover. So we’d have good luck and be able to win.” Pete was incredulous. If his jaw could’ve reached the ground it would have. He stood dumbfounded for a moment before ordering Wil to help the other boys put the gear away and drag the field. Usually after a game Pete would buy Wil his favorite from the snack shack; a hotdog and a grape soda. On this evening however they drove directly home, Pete not speaking to his son for the three mile trip.
Shortly after the season ended that year, the Delsins went on one of their regular weekend outings to their cabin at Big Lake. Pete watched from the boat ramp as Kara and Wil walked a ways down the shoreline, and Kara began teaching Wil how to skip rocks. Pete was actually impressed at how quickly Wil picked it up, getting multiple skips with each throw, from his right arm. He could’ve kicked himself. The following Monday evening, Pete came home with a brand-new right-handed glove for Wil. After dinner Pete took Wil out onto the lawn to play catch, and was astounded at the immediate improvement. Wil barely missed anything Pete threw his way, and easily sent them directly back. Once back inside, he showed Wil how to oil his glove, then place a baseball in the pocket snd wrap it closed to break it in more quickly.
The next year, after third grade, Wil showed significant improvement. He was still however not a natural by any stretch, or even particularly athletic. He was also still the youngest on the team, and still suffered the ire of the the older boys who he’d played with the previous season. He was also still an outfielder, and therefore still bored. He would however sometimes be shifted from right field to center field, where he at least had a better view of the diamond from which to learn more of the game. Pete had also selected a few more players at tryouts who had more experience and skill, so the team naturally had more victories that season, although ultimately still not placing in the top three. This was the season Wil would get his first “home run,” on a technicality. Like everything else Wil did, it had to be weird. His turn at bat, the other team’s pitcher threw four balls in a row, and the umpire told Wil to take his base. As he trotted his way to first base, the pitcher, thinking one of Wil’s team mates was trying to steal a base, got confused and threw the ball to the first baseman, who missed it. Wil took advantage of this flub to steal second. The first baseman got hold of the ball and threw it to second base, who also missed it, so Wil took third as his teammate crossed home plate. In the confusion on the field the other team continued missing each other’s throws or throwing to the wrong position, so Wil went all the way home. Pete was shaking his head, while the other coach questioned the legality of the play with the umpire. All three men conferred for several minutes, with the umpire flipping through his pocket rule book, and the other coach eventually surrendered his objection. In the dugout the other boys laughed at Wil, but patted him on the back and were happy to have the point.
Pete never coached again, but both he and Mona started volunteering as umpires. They never “umped” any of the Delsin kids’ games, although Wil never knew if this was a league rule or just a matter of personal discretion. Wil continued playing under other coaches, improving with both experience and physical growth. He was now on the tall side for his age, but often still a year or two younger than other boys on the team. He got more accolades than insults from teammates now. Having graduated to mainly center field, he ran most of the outfield as right and left fields were always manned by the least-experienced players. Occasionally he’d be moved infield to play short stop, which was his favorite position as the action kept him alert and engaged. Passing into the majors, he was once again low man on the totem pole, and back in right field. This was a different game with boys in this age group however, as most hits ended up in the outfield, or even over the fence. You had to be on your toes and boredom was no longer a factor for any position. Bryce was short stop on this team, and his skill was orders of magnitude beyond Wil’s.
Right now Wil was catching a tantalizing aroma wafting downwind from the gardens, and his stomach rumbled angrily, reminding him that he and Bryce had skipped lunch. Suddenly he wanted practice to just be over so he could go home and eat dinner. Opening a duffel bag near home plate, he unceremoniously dumped the batting helmets inside onto the worn grass. Looking up at the blue house on the hill, he made a mental note to visit Miriam soon, after one of these practices maybe. “Alright alright let’s go!” Duane clapped loudly for enunciation. “Everyone fan out.” The boys took the field as directed, and Duane began hitting balls at random. Flies, grounders, line drives. Players jumped, dove, and kneeled to intercept them. For the older boys it was all natural, and few were missed. Wil had no problem with the fly balls, but was still intimidated by the cannonball line drives and bouncy grounders Duane shot his way. He wasn’t stooping low enough for a good angle on the drives and they’d bounce off his glove. The grounders were the most chaotic, and he struggled with the timing so they’d often bounce over the edge of his glove and pop him in the chest or shoulder. His biggest fear was catching one straight on in the face. “C’mon, Willy; get in front of it!” Duane barked. Wil made it a point not to show his irritation at being called “Willy,” having enough sense to know this wasn’t the place to correct an adult in Duane’s current mindset.
Next came batting practice. Batting had never been as much of a challenge to Wil as the other aspects of the game, but he was still the weakest at bat on this team of mostly older boys. Bryce, Curt, and some of the others had no problem sending a ball over the fence during games. This meant that occasionally cars would screech to a halt or drivers would angrily honk their horns as errant balls landed on the Old Seward. None of the heavy hitters were swinging that hard at practice however, as all practice balls had to be retrieved and accounted for. Wil could hit a ball well into the outfield, but the guys on this majors team had no problem snatching every fly he sent right out of the sky. He also lacked the directional accuracy of some of the others, who could put a ball somewhere in the outfield with the least coverage. Duane walked over to the plate. “Now look, Willy” he began “Ya gotta set your feet, that’s where the swing begins. From the ground. Pull your arms in. Now, lead with your hips, then let your upper body follow.” Wil practiced the movement a few times til Duane acknowledged that he was doing it properly. “There ya go; now let’s try that.” He turned to the pitcher’s mound “Hey, Tim; throw him a slow one.” Wil hated when they had to make things easier for him, which was often. A perfect pitch sailed straight toward the plate, nice and easy, nearly impossible to miss. He connected. The ball flew in a low arc straight down center field, nearly hitting the fence. Wil could hardly believe it. Neither could his teammates, who all started cheering. Wil had never experienced this kind of elation. “Okay, Tim; throw some a little faster.” Duane instructed the pitcher. Pitch after pitch, hit after hit. He only missed a handful, and everything he hit was solid. He was now trying to get one over the fence at this point, but still falling short when Duane switched batters. “See, you can do this.” He winked as he slapped Wil solidly on the back. “Take the field, kid.” The other boys were clearly surprised and impressed, and probably relieved at knowing their position in the league may have just advanced. “WOOOOOH! Alright, Willy! Way to go!” Wil had never been cheered like this for anything, at any point in his life. The exuberance he was feeling was unprecedented and foreign.
After a short break, they spent the last hour dividing into two teams to run plays during a scrimmage game. This was less monotonous and the best part of practice as far as most of the boys were concerned, even with Duane frequently blowing his whistle to stop them and give corrections. Players in the field took the customary ready position, hunched forward with hands either resting on the knees, or aggressively punching into their gloves with their free hand. From his position in right field, Wil could see the telltale circle from cans of Skoal or Copenhagen “dip” worn into the back pockets of some of the older boys, their lower lips stuffed, frequently spurting streams of viscous brown juice onto the ground around them. Bryce had produced a can of Copenhagen a couple years earlier as he and Wil were spending time at their spot on the creek, and they’d both tried a generous “pinch between the cheek and gum” as the ads instructed. Wil found the taste atrocious, and they both became lightheaded and nauseous within minutes, and neither had tried it again. Most of the boys at school who “dipped” used Skoal, and the nauseating, sickly-sweet menthol smell would often emanate from the soda cans they carried around to spit into, or from trashcans and floors in the boys locker room or restrooms. In the locker room Wil found it extra overpowering, as it was compounded by the scent of sports rub used by guys on various school teams.
Mercifully, Duane finally called practice. A couple parents were waiting to take their players home, and everyone quickly had the gear back in the duffel bags and tossed into Duane’s van. Boys who lived closer to the fields hopped on their bikes or began walking home. Bryce and Wil stacked their bikes carefully into the Dillencourt van for the ride home. Duane offered Curt and Robbie a ride as well, which they accepted, so Bryce helped them with their bikes as well, and all four boys squatted awkwardly in the back of the van holding bikes so that they wouldn’t all mash into each other. “Anyone got time for a burger?” Duane teased. “Yeah!” Came four replies in unison. “Yes, please!” Duane parked in front of the Sad Shack, and the five of them took one of the larger tables. They ordered cokes and food, and started on their drinks. They made small talk and jokes as they waited for their food to arrive. “You’re lookin’ good out there, Willy” Duane said to Wil, which caused the other boys to pause and acknowledge that the compliment was real. “Lots of improvement since last year. We’ll get ya on the All Stars one of these days.” Wil was unused to this kind of unsolicited praise, especially coming from someone who knew their business. Duane was a quiet man who talked most at practice, and usually just to bark instructions or scold players. Wil actually couldn’t think of any other time Duane had initiated casual conversation, let alone a compliment. “Oh, um, thanks. I’ve been trying, and me and Bryce play catch a lot. Also, I just go by ‘Wil’ now, sir.” Duane looked at him in amusement, Bryce grinned. “Wil’ it is then.” Was the whole of Duane’s reply.
The All Star league was statewide, and made up of a team from each league drafted from the best players. It occurred immediately after the regular season was over at the end of each June. Bryce and Curt had both been on the Abbott-O-Rabbit All Star team the previous year, as had the Giants’ Lead pitcher, Tim Sterling. While Tim was the same age as Wil, he was a baseball prodigy who’d begun playing two years earlier than Wil. He was a natural to the game and had more passion for it than any other kid Wil knew. He had moved up with his family from Oklahoma the year Wil started fourth grade, when Mr. Sterling transferred with the oil company he worked for as the Alyeska Pipeline project was getting into full swing. After joining Wil’s class a week late, the teacher, Mrs. Peterson, had assigned Wil to show Tim around the school. Wil had liked him immediately. However, it didn’t take long for Tim to realize that Wil wasn’t the best company to associate with, being the “weird” kid, so he quickly made other friends. By seventh grade, Wil hardly knew him and they barely spoke.
There was no reason that Bryce, Curt, and Tim wouldn’t make the All Stars again. Probably even Robbie, but Wil knew that when Duane said “one of these days” it wouldn’t be this year. Bryce would be in seniors league before Wil was even close to the All Stars, so this would likely be their last year on the same team.
After what seemed an inordinately long time to the four boys, the waitress brought out their trays and they were stuffing their faces with huge, greasy burgers and baskets of hot French fries. Refills on cokes were brought to them to wash it all down. Wil felt like he could eat two of the giant burgers, but he knew better than to ask for more than was offered, and in any case Mona would be cooking something for dinner. Not as good as a hamburger, but he’d have to eat at least a fair portion to avoid raising her anger.
Duane dropped the Cutlers off on the way up DeArmoun. Like the Delsins, the Cutler house was also three stories with a gambrel roof, although considerably smaller than Wil’s house. It was finished though, and nicely decorated. Mr. Cutler was the only person any of them knew who owned a Porsche, and he was in the driveway polishing it when the van pulled up. Duane, Bryce, and Wil all waved to him, and said their goodbyes to Curt and Robbie.
Finally they pulled into Wil’s driveway, and Bryce helped him extricate his bike from the back of the van. “Good practice, Wil” Duane said in parting, demonstrating that the name shortening had registered “Keep it up, okay?” “Yes sir, thank you.” He slapped hands with Bryce. “Later days” “Better lays” and the Dillencourts rolled down the driveway headed home. Wil put his bike back into the garage and took the transistor radio off the handlebar. Mona’s Duster and Pete’s Dodge van were both in the garage. Before he even opened the door he could hear the sounds of the evening news coming from the television in the living room. As he ascended the stairs he saw the back of Pete’s head resting on the top of his La-Z-Boy recliner as he half slept, half took in the news, as was his custom after work. Kara was in the kitchen making a salad in a large wooden bowl while talking with Mona, who was busy with dinner, as was her custom after work. Not a custom that was her choice, as Pete’s was, simply a duty. Her family had to be fed. Some dishes she cooked well; chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, teriyaki chicken, rhubarb pie, and she put out a respectable Thanksgiving spread. For the most part however, dinners were utilitarian. Lunches were bland; peanut butter and jelly or bologna slices, usually on white bread, which was preferable to her attempts at homemade wheat bread she’d gone through a phase making. Wil dreaded the huge, irregularly-sliced chunks that were so dry they’d crumble as soon as he bit into them. Eventually, to everyone’s relief, the counter-top wheat grinder she’d bought from one of the Mormon neighbors was retired to a space under the bottom shelf in the pantry. Tonight she was making one of Wil’s least favorite entrees; goulash. Or rather, what she called goulash. Flat noodles with sparsely-seasoned ground beef, nothing resembling a true Hungarian dish. Wil cringed, knowing she’d go heavy on caraway seeds and he’d have to carefully pick them out to avoid gagging. He suddenly felt the burger and fries sitting heavily in his stomach, and had no more appetite.
Mona ordered him to set the table. He set out five plates, forks, and butter knives at the massive table that Pete had built out of two-inch thick veneered particle board with a heavy glaze. He pushed the loose newspaper pages and mail into a neat pile at the end opposite Pete’s spot, where a seldom-used sixth chair sat. Sorting through the mail he found a recognizable brown envelope with a fake check peeking through a cellophane window. “Hey, Dad; looks like you got that million from Ed McMahon.” He briefly held the Publishers Clearinghouse envelope up for Pete before tossing it into the tinder bucket next to the fireplace. Kara set the salad bowl in the center of the table. As Wil rounded back into the kitchen, Mona instructed him “Go find your brother.” Just then a loud thudding came up the front steps and Garrett poured through the front door. “Found ‘im.” As Mona set the pot of “goulash” onto a hot pad next to the salad, they all took their places at the table, Pete taking a moment to pull himself away from the news.
They held hands around the table and bowed their heads as Pete said grace: “Heavenly Father, thank you for this which we are about to receive. Bless our food and those who prepared it for our use.” This was followed immediately by murmured “Amens.” The Delsins attended a liberal Methodist church regularly, and practiced some superficial trappings of protestantism, but weren’t otherwise religious. It would come to light years later that Pete and Mona were in fact agnostic, and church was simply a social activity that they’d hoped would install some values in their children. Nevertheless, grace was said before every dinner. The worst to Wil was the performative grace which the children were made to sing whenever guests joined for dinner. This would be either “Bless Our Friends, Bless Our Food” sung to the tune of “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music, or, even worse, the “Johnny Appleseed” prayer.
“Oh, The Lord is good to me, and so I thank The Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun, and the rain, and the apple seed; The Lord is good to me!”
Guests would sit in awkward silence, smiling politely, as the Delsin kids chimed their way through one of these awful tunes. Wil, being ever-intuitive, could feel the guests cringing internally, vicariously embarrassed for the children. Kara and Garrett would belt out the verses enthusiastically as Wil mumbled along, Mona staring at him with the nervous smile she put on for those outside the family. During his grade school years this was often followed by a private scolding about him humiliating Mona in front of guests. The choice was always embarrassment, or being chastised by Mona for embarrassing her by not wanting to be embarrassed himself. In the end, he was always embarrassed anyway, but he’d try to preserve some sense of self-respect by signaling to the captive audience with tone and body language that he wasn’t a willing participant. This was the closest he could ever get to a victory.
Serving himself the smallest helping of “goulash” he thought he could get away with, Wil began sifting through it with his fork looking for the caraway seeds and pushing them to the side of his plate as he found them. “You don’t like caraway seeds?” Pete asked, as though this was a new development. “Wil glanced Pete’s way briefly, then continued his search. Without fail, every time a dish was served that contained caraway seeds they went through this. Wil hated caraway seeds and always had. All three of the Delsin kids did. Nevertheless, any time there was a complaint Pete would act as though he was hearing it for the first time. Surely he couldn’t be that forgetful Wil thought, so this must be his idea of fun. “Your dad asked you a question.” Mona snapped. “No. I don’t like them. I’ve never liked them. I’ve told you this a thousand times. They’re disgusting.” Pete enjoyed teasing children in this manner, which Wil had never found amusing. Being forced to participate in the discourse made him feel helpless and frustrated.
Pete occasionally asked for someone to pass one dish or the other, or the salt and pepper. He talked casually with Mona about the current state of their jobs or upcoming events. Kara always wore a mask of enthusiasm when engaged in small talk with Mona. Garrett chewed loudly and smacked his lips constantly, and would occasionally interject with some mundane anecdote about his day, as though its significance was on par with the adult discussion. Wil forced himself to get through his bland food. There was no waste in the Delsin household, you ate what you took. The rub was that you had to take enough per Mona’s standards. Many times as a child he had to sit alone at the table after everyone finished, until he ate everything he was served. More than once Mona would lose patience, and begin screaming at him while cramming his crying mouth full of food until he choked. Once she briefly panicked when his airway became blocked, but after clearing the blockage by pounding on his back she returned to berating him. Pete always pretended not to see these episodes, and would simply continue reading his newspaper or watching television.
The forced feedings had stopped after the last choking episode, but Wil had attributed it to his getting too big physically for certain modes of corporal punishment. By the time he was ten in fact, whippings had stopped as well, and Mona had switched to slapping him angrily across the face when he “mouthed off”, i.e., stood up for himself. As he slowly chewed, forcing himself to swallow another mouthful of noodles, Pete asked him about practice. “It was pretty good” he responded. “Duane gave me some batting tips, really paid off.” Pete’s eyebrows raised slightly. “Wow. Well that’s good to hear. Does he think you’ll make All Stars?” Wil wondered if Pete had genuinely been ignoring how inept of an athlete he was for all these years. “Uh, he mentioned something, but I don’t think this year. Maybe next year.” Mona observed that he’d been later than usually getting home from practice. “Well you must be getting better if he’s got you at practice longer.” Wil thought about the first dinner he’d eaten that evening “Yeah, we worked on a lot more.” “The lawn sure looks nice.” Pete complimented. “Thanks.” He hated being praised for things that he was made to do, but it was good to have at least one parent happy, and Mona would’ve snapped at him again had he failed to acknowledge the compliment.
“You’ve got a game Thursday, right?” Pete asked. “Yeah. Six O’Clock.” “Hm. Garrett’s got a game at seven on the other field, but we can catch the start of yours. Kara has a recital that night and your mom’s taking her.” Garrett was in the Pee Wee league, two leagues below Wil. Overlapping schedules like this was common in a family that pushed their children into activities. “It’s fine” Wil said, releasing his parents from their own planning, “I’ll just catch a ride with the Dillencourts. We’ll probably get something to eat afterwards anyway.”
He asked to be excused. Mona glanced at his plate to ensure that it was empty, then gave him permission to leave. He cleared his plate and silverware and left them in the sink. Not his turn for dishes. He headed outside with no plan. The sun was still high in the sky, and evening light this time of year was a unique brightness that for reasons he couldn’t define evoked a sense of nostalgia. It had an almost stage light quality reminiscent of theatrical specials that sometimes aired on television. With nothing to do however, ennui set in, and he began puttering aimlessly around the yard looking for something interesting. Nothing new around the borders of the yard, or in the rusty old Buick frame that sat in the middle of the unused horse corral. But he sat in it anyway, basking in the sun and taking in the sounds and smells of summer, enjoying the solitude and the break from people who couldn’t understand him. Eventually he became bored even with solitude, and headed back inside.
Back in the house, Pete and Mona were watching M*A*S*H as Kara practiced her viola in the basement. He walked up to his room to read a book he’d started, The Sword of Shannara, which he’d recently purchased from The Book Cache. In fifth grade he’d read The Hobbit, in sixth The Lord of the Rings. He’d really gotten into a groove with the fantasy genre, and was really liking this new author, Terry Brooks, although the premise was a clear ripoff of Tolkien. He opened to where he’d left off, and immersed himself in the familiar story of dwarves, elves, and a wizard fighting the forces of a dark, shadowy entity. Before long it was Eight O’Clock, and Mona was reminding Garrett that it was bedtime. Winter or summer, school or no school, the Delsin kids had a bedtime. Eight O’ Clock all through grade school, period. At the start of Junior High, it was extended to Nine O’ Clock, mainly to accommodate the greater homework load. Even with the sun out late and every other kid in the neighborhood still running around and playing noisily. Friends of the Delsin kids were always appalled at this unreasonable situation, and sleepovers at the Delsin house were rare because of it. One of the reasons the Delsins always wanted to sleep at friends’ homes was because of the thrill of staying up late. This was also usually Mona’s reason for denying permission.
Wil went into the bathroom, showered quickly and brushed his teeth. Returning to his room, he picked his jeans up from the floor and withdrew the small notebook from the back pocket. Sitting at his desk he pulled a legal-sized blue spiral notebook from the small stack in his drawer, and made an abbreviated entry. He often did this when he didn’t feel like writing much. Sometimes he’d return to the entry later to fill it out in greater detail, but sometimes brevity said enough.
“First day of vacation.
Saw Cheri and Billy. Cheri is a fox, Billy is the coolest guy in the world.
Fish and cigs with Bryce, then practice.
Burgers with Bryce, Duane, Curt, and Robbie.
It’s sunny out, going to read some more.
Acceptable day, wrote this:”
Following, he transferred the Bobby Driscoll haiku he’d written earlier. He cracked the window in his room for fresh air and to hear the evening sounds, pulled the blinds to blot out the summer daylight, then climbed into bed in his white Jockey shorts and started reading again, ever alert for Mona’s footsteps to check on her kids who were supposed to be sleeping. He heard the TV droning at low volume, with occasional laugh track crescendoes, and Pete and Mona’s unintelligible voices periodically murmuring to each other. Eventually he found himself reading the same paragraph over and over again, and it became difficult to keep his eyes open.
Before long he found himself in his dreamscape, with the familiar overcast sky and walls of mist surrounding the scene from a distance. To his left, Billy Dillencourt stood, wearing a gray suit and coat, a somber expression on his face, passively gazing down a long, narrow pathway. The path was flanked by dense trees that bowed inward at their tops, forming a tunnel that became progressively darker the farther it went. A female figure was making her way down the trail, her back to them. Wil recognized Cheri’s pink satin jacket and faded blue bell-bottoms. He felt an impending sense of urgency and dread, as though Cheri was walking into oblivion, crossing a point of no return. He tried shouting to get her attention, but the most he could get out was barely a croak. In a panic, he began moving forward, but a strong hand on his left shoulder stopped him. Billy was still focused on Cheri’s back as he held Wil carefully in place, never looking at him or speaking a word. Just before disappearing into the misty grey end of the tunnel, she paused, turned to look over her shoulder at Wil, and smiled. A soft smile of acceptance and reassurance.
Wil woke with a start, bolting upright in bed and gasping. As he caught his breath he realized he was sweating, although his room had cooled considerably. Outside the sun had set, but twilight still streamed in through the gaps in his blinds. The smaller birds were now sleeping, but he could hear owls hooting in the distance. He couldn’t tell how many there were, but wondered if they were communicating. What did they talk about? “Hoo! This is my tree. Stay away, you filthy cats!” “Hoohoo! I say, neighbor; are there any mice over your way?” “Hoo! A few, but I caught a lovely, fat weasel last night.” “Hoo! Ohhh, that does indeed sound delicious, but I could go for a nice supper of shrews right about now.” “Indeed, indeed, but my family may be eating cat tonight if these vermin become any more curious.” “Hoohoo! Give my best to the missus and owlets.” He amused himself with the fictitious owl conversation, which had a calming effect. As his breathing eased back into a normal rhythm, sleep began to take him once again, the sense of urgency he’d felt in the dream already fading.