Excerpt from Cool Nation

I meant to post this Friday, in keeping with recent tradition, but the past week was nuts. This is from the third chapter of Cool Nation. The previous excerpts are posted on the sidebar, lower right.

The Invasion (part 3)

Hastings hit me.
�Get out,� he said.
He hit me again, harder this time, first in the mouth and then the stomach. �You ain�t playing. Now get.�
When he hit me the third time I dropped the bat and Hastings picked it up. I went behind the backstop as they resumed the game, to which I’d contributed little.
I couldn�t catch. I couldn�t throw. I couldn�t hit�not like they could. I was unreliable as a teammate, having been blessed with little coordination, meager strength, and insufficient confidence to overcome either. In a country where sports has become religion these are not deemed worthy traits. I was beaten off to join the ranks of the uncoordinated meek, who played in the dusty corners of the schoolyard, hoping not to be noticed. I felt a disgrace to my father, and my grandfather. They wouldn�t have taken it, but I had already been beaten enough to know where I stood. Even my sassiness, which at times could be considerable, made no difference.
The teachers, who were all up the hill, hadn�t seen. Seth had though; he came running in from shortstop and took the bat from Hastings.
�He plays,� Seth said.
�No he doesn�t.�
�You go to hell, Hastings. He does.�
�What did you say?�
�I said go to hell, Hastings! Go to hell.�
The other boys gathered. Hastings stared at Seth but made no move. No one ever did. No one ever would. Seth was neither big nor brutal, but he was something whole that Hastings would never be, and Hastings knew it. Seth was also revered, and Hastings knew that too.
Seth brought the bat to me. �You’re up.�
I shook my head. �No.�
�You’re up, Pete.� He held it out like an offering that only he could make. I didn�t take it.
I walked away and only when my back was turned did I wipe my eyes. �No.�
I heard Hastings laugh, I heard the others laugh. I walked on across the field to the barbed wire fence that separated the school yard from the Horton�s pasture. Lucy was out of her barn, grazing the newly green shoots of April. I gathered some of the taller grass by the fence and held it out. She came over and ate from my flattened palm. Seth came up from behind, and climbed to the upper wire of the fence.
�Do you want to ride her?� he said.
From shame, I couldn�t look at him. �No.�
�Come on. Let�s ride her. It�d be fun.�
We topped the fence and climbed onto her sagging back, I in front, since I understood horses and Seth did not. She meandered away with us, head down, flanks shivering, grazing until I pulled on her mane and tapped with my heels, when she would trot maybe thirty more feet and stop to graze again. In her enormous warmth I lost, at least for a moment, my adolescent depressions and inadequacies. We rode the horse in an ecstasy of liberation.
�Peter McKenna and Seth Drummond! Mr. McKenna and Mr. Drummond! Now! Right now!�
We turned. Mrs. Hazlett, with her angry features and blunt chin, was blowing her whistle and stomping in her pumps, her scarf from that distance like a diminutive sail stranded on an unyielding rock. I turned Lucy toward her.
�No sir! Off that horse. Off that horse now!�
We slid off and walked to the fence.
She herded us down the long hallway; a humorless battle-ax who told us admirable stories about George Worshington and tended to say things like between you and I, young man.
The principal�s office with his undertaker�s suit, undertaker�s shoes, walking back and forth before us, we on his bench, heads down, to one another smirking. His name was Blackwell, and once a month he walked up and down the halls blowing a portable air horn, to the shriek of which we would file down to the basement, put our heads between our knees, and wait for the Russian missiles to hit.
Themes after school that day, but that night playing �I Want to Hold Your Hand� over and over on the Hi-Fi. The only forty-five I owned, it had cost me eighty-five cents at Jenkins. We played it until we couldn�t play it anymore.

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