Excerpt from North River by Pete Hamill, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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North River

A Novel

by Pete Hamill

North River by Pete Hamill X
North River by Pete Hamill
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2008, 368 pages

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He opened the door leading to the outside shed. This was the place of everything that didn't fit anywhere else: shelves stacked with boxes of detergent; stacks of old magazines and newspapers, tied with twine; unused Christmas decorations; milk bottles; a rake hanging on a nail; a wide- bladed snow shovel; a large red toolbox. Most of the space was taken by Delaney's Arrow bicycle, its pedals and gears wrapped tightly in oiled cloth. He and the boy eased past the bicycle to a second door, leading to the yard. Delaney had to push hard on the door to move the piled snow.

Then it was before them, and the boy took a deep breath and exhaled. The North River wind was not as strong here, the buildings making a brick- walled fortress of the backyards. But it still had the magical power to whirl snow into small mountains, some of them taller than the boy. The rosebushes were blocky and irregular and white. And the olive tree, a gift from Mr. Nobiletti, the shoemaker, stood in its corner, wrapped for the winter in tar paper, so white it seemed like a giant ice-cream cone. The bases of the three fences had vanished under drifts. Delaney reached down and made a snowball.

"Snowball," he said, hefting it for the boy to see.

"O-baw," the boy said.

With his left hand, Delaney lobbed it toward the nearest fence, where it exploded in powder. He said, again, "Snowball!" The boy was awed. Delaney made another and threw it harder against the back fence. A snowy bas- relief fell off the fence. Now Delaney's lower right arm ached, though he had not used it for throwing. The boy pulled some snow off a small mountain and tried to make it into a ball. The fi rst ball crumbled in his hands. Then he tried another, and this one was packed better, and he threw it about two feet and saw it vanish into another small mountain. He laughed in delight.

"O-baw!"

He made another snowball and threw it, and another and another. Always with the left hand. Delaney understood why he kept shifting spoons over his cornfl akes. Looks like we've got a southpaw here. Like his grandmother. Like Molly.

"O-baw!" the boy squealed. "O-baw."

He looked at Delaney, as if trying to decide how far he could go. Delaney smiled. And then the boy dove into one of the snow mountains and rolled and pummeled the snow with his arms and kicked with his small legs.

"O! O! O! O!"

The boy fell asleep in his arms as he carried him up the stairs. Delaney laid him on his own unmade bed and removed the heavy clothes and the shoes. The boy came suddenly awake, his eyes taking in the strange room and Delaney's face. He didn't move and looked afraid.

"Mamá? Dónde está Mamá?"

"Don't worry. She's coming back."

Thinking: She'd better come back. Fast. I can't do this. He felt a wash of dread. Something out of rainy dawns with fixed bayonets. Thinking: I must read the letter. Afraid of it too. Thinking: I want to hit someone. Anyone. But not this boy.

"Everything's okay," Delaney said softly. "Todo bien, Carlos."

The boy's eyes moved around the room. His left hand went to his

crotch.

"Oh, okay, I understand, come on."

He lifted the boy and took him to the bathroom between the bedroom and the living room. He lifted the seat and helped the boy stand on the ceramic rim of the toilet. Delaney thought: I need to get a box in here. A cheese box, low and fl at and strong. I can paint it red. Or maybe yellow. What else do I need? What does the boy need that I cannot give him? When the boy was finished, Delaney showed him the chain for flushing and how to do it, and then turned on the hot water in the sink. He washed with a facecloth, and then the boy took the warm, wet cloth and washed his own face. Delaney dried him, lifted him, and took him back to the bed. He covered the boy with sheet and blanket, and the boy pushed his face into the pillow. He was still for a long moment. Then he sobbed.

Copyright © 2007 by Pete Hamill

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