The Natural

Тема

Having no timepiece he appraised the night and decided it was moving toward dawn. As he was looking, there flowed along this bone-white farmhouse with sagging skeletal porch, alone in untold miles of moonlight, and before it this white-faced, long-boned boy whipped with train-whistle yowl a glowing ball to someone hidden under a dark oak, who shot it back without thought, and the kid once more wound and returned. Roy shut his eyes to the sight because if it wasn’t real it was a way he sometimes had of observing himself, just as in this dream he could never shake off — that had hours ago waked him out of sound sleep — of him standing at night in a strange field with a golden baseball in his palm that all the time grew heavier as he sweated to settle whether to hold on or fling it away. But when he had made his decision it was too heavy to lift or let fall (who wanted a hole that deep?) so he changed his mind to keep it and the thing grew fluffy light, a white rose breaking out of its hide, and all but soared off by itself, but he had already sworn to hang on forever.

As dawn tilted the night, a gust of windblown rain blinded him — no, there was a window — but the sliding drops made him thirsty and from thirst sprang hunger. He reached into the hammock for his underwear to be first at breakfast in the dining car and make his blunders of ordering and eating more or less in private, since it was doubtful Sam would be up to tell him what to do. Roy peeled his gray sweatshirt and bunched down the white ducks he was wearing for pajamas in case there was a wreck and he didn’t have time to dress. He acrobated into a shirt, pulled up the pants of his good suit, arching to draw them high, but he had crammed both feet into one leg and was trapped so tight wriggling got him nowhere. He worried because here he was straitjacketed in the berth without much room to twist around in and might bust his pants or have to buzz the porter, which he dreaded. Grunting, he contorted himself this way and that till he was at last able to grab and pull down the cuff and with a gasp loosened his feet and got the caught one where it belonged. Sitting up, he gartered his socks, tied laces, got on a necktie and even squirmed into a suit coat so that when he parted the curtains to step out he was fully dressed.

Dropping to all fours, he peered under the berth for his bassoon case. Though it was there he thought he had better open it and did but quickly snapped it shut as Eddie, the porter, came walking by.

“Morning, maestro, what’s the tune today?”

“It ain’t a musical instrument.” Roy explained it was something he had made himself.

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

“Just a practical thing.”

“A pogo stick?”

“No.”

“Foolproof lance?”

“No.”

“Lemme guess,” Eddie said, covering his eyes with his longfingered hand and pawing the air with the other. “I have it-combination fishing rod, gun, and shovel.”

Roy laughed. “How far to Chicago, Eddie?”

“Chi? Oh, a long, long ways. I wouldn’t walk.”

“I don’t intend to.”

“Why Chi?” Eddie asked. “Why not New Orleans? That’s a lush and Frenchy city.”

“Never been there.”

“Or that hot and hilly town, San Francisco?”

Roy shook his head.

“Why not New York, colossus of colossuses?”

“Some day I’ll visit there.”

“Where have you visited?”

Roy was embarrassed. “Boise.”

“That dusty sandstone quarry.”

“Portland too when I was small.”

“In Maine?”

“No, Oregon — where they hold the Festival of Roses.”

“Oregon — where the refugees from Minnesota and the Dakotas go?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Roy said. “I’m going to Chicago, where the Cubs are.”

“Lions and tigers in the zoo?”

“No, the ballplayers.”

“Oh, the ball —” Eddie clapped a hand to his mouth. “Are you one of them?”

“I hope to be.”

The porter bowed low. “My hero. Let me kiss your hand.” Roy couldn’t help but smile yet the porter annoyed and worried him a little. He had forgotten to ask Sam when to tip him, morning or night, and how much? Roy had made it a point, since their funds were so low, not to ask for anything at all but last night Eddie had insisted on fixing a pillow behind his back, and once when he was trying to locate the men’s room Eddie practically took him by the hand and led him to it. Did you hand him a dime after that or grunt a foolish thanks as he had done? He’d personally be glad when the trip was over, though he certainly hated to be left alone in a place like Chicago. Without Sam he’d feel shaky-kneed and unable to say or do simple things like ask for directions or know where to go once you had dropped a nickel into the subway.

After a troublesome shave in which he twice drew blood he used one thin towel to dry his hands, face, and neck, clean his razor and wipe up the wet of his toothbrush so as not to have to ask for another and this way keep the bill down. From the flaring sky out the window it looked around half-past five, but he couldn’t be sure because somewhere near they left Mountain Time and lost — no, picked up — yes, it was lost an hour, what Sam called the twenty-three hour day. He packed his razor, toothbrush, and pocket comb into a chamois drawstring bag, rolled it up small and kept it handy in his coat pocket. Passing through the long sleeper, he entered the diner and would gladly have sat down to breakfast, for his stomach had contracted into a bean at the smell of food, but the shirt-sleeved waiters in stocking caps were joshing around as they gobbled fried kippers and potatoes. Roy hurried through the large-windowed club car, empty for once, through several sleepers, coaches, a lounge and, another long line of coaches, till he came to the last one, where amid the gloom of drawn shades and sleeping people tossed every which way, Sam Simpson also slept although Roy had last night begged him to take the berth but the soft-voiced Sam had insisted, “You take the bed, kiddo, you’re the one that has to show what you have got on the ball when we pull into the city. It don’t matter where I sleep.”

Sam lay very still on his back, looking as if the breath of life had departed from him except that it was audible in the ripe snore that could be chased without waking him, Roy had discovered, if you hissed scat. His lean head was held up by a folded pillow and his scrawny legs, shoeless, hung limp over the arm of the double seat he had managed to acquire, for he had started out with a seat partner. He was an expert conniver where his comfort was concerned, and since that revolved mostly around the filled flat bottle his ability to raise them up was this side of amazing. He often said he would not die of thirst though he never failed to add, in Roy’s presence, that he wished for nobody the drunkard’s death. He seemed now to be dreaming, and his sharp nose was pointed in the direction of a scent that led perhaps to the perfumed presence of Dame Fortune, long past due in his bed. With dry lips puckered, he smiled in expectation of a spectacular kiss though he looked less like a lover than an old scarecrow with his comical, seamed face sprouting prickly stubble in the dark glow of the expiring bulb overhead. A trainman passed who, seeing Sam sniff in his sleep, pretended it was at his own reek and humorously held his nose. Roy frowned, but Sam, who had a moment before been getting in good licks against fate, saw in his sleep, and his expression changed. A tear broke from his eye and slowly slid down his cheek. Roy concluded not to wake Sam and left.

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