So if it weren't for their fathers, they probably never would have been friends. During the week, they never hung out, but they had those Saturdays, and there was something to those days, whether they hung out in the backyard, or wandered through the gravel dumps off Harvest Street, or hopped the subways and rode downtown - not to see anything, just to move through the dark tunnels and hear the rattle and brake-scream of the cars as they cornered the tracks and the lights flickered on and off that felt to Sean like a held breath. Anything could happen when you were with Jimmy. If he was aware there were rules - in the subway, on the streets, in a movie theater - he never showed it.
They were at South Station once, tossing an orange street hockey ball back and forth on the platform and Jimmy missed Sean's throw and the ball bounced down onto the tracks. Before it occurred to Sean that Jimmy could even be thinking about it, Jimmy jumped off the platform and down onto the track, down there with the mice and the rats and the third rail.
People on the platform went nuts. They screamed at Jimmy. One woman turned the color of cigar ash as she bent at the knees and yelled, Get back up here, get back up here now, goddamnit! Sean heard a thick rumble that could have been a train entering the tunnel up at Washington Street or could have been trucks rolling along the street above, and the people on the platform heard it too. They waved their arms, whipped their heads around to look for the subway police. One guy placed a forearm across his daughter's eyes.
Jimmy kept his head down, peering into the darkness under the platform for the ball. He found it. He wiped some black grime off it with his shirtsleeve and ignored the people kneeling on the yellow line, extending there hands down toward the track.
Dave nudged Sean and said, "Whew, huh?" too loud.
Jimmy walked along the center of the track toward the stairs at the far end of the platform, where the tunnel opened gaping and dark, and a heavier rumble shook the station, and people were jumping now, banging fists into their hips. Jimmy took his time, strolling really, then he looked back over his shoulder, caught Sean's eyes, and grinned.
Dave said, "He's smiling. He's just nuts. You know?"
When Jimmy reached the first step in the cement stairs, several bands thrust down and yanked him up. Sean watched his feet swing out and to the left and his head curl and dip to the right, Jimmy looking so small and light in a big man's grasp, like he was filled with straw, but tucking that ball tight against his chest even as people grabbed at his elbow and his shin banged off the edge of the platform. Sean felt Dave jittering beside him, lost. Sean looked at the faces of the people pulling Jimmy up and he didn't see worry or fear anymore, none of the helplessness he'd seen just a minute ago. He saw rage, monsters' faces, the features gnarled and savage, like they were going to lean in and bite a chunk out of Jimmy, then beat him to death.
They got Jimmy up onto the platform and held him, fingers squeezed into his shoulders as they looked around for someone to tell them what to do. The train broke through the tunnel, and someone screamed, but then someone laughed--a shrieking cackle that made Sean think of witches around a cauldron-because the train burst through on the other side of the station, moving north, and Jimmy looked up into the faces of the people holding him as if to say, See?
Beside Sean, Dave let out this high-pitched giggle and threw up in his own hands.
Sean looked away, wondered where he fit in all this.
THAT NIGHT Sean's father sat him down in the basement tool room. The tool room was a tight place of black vises and coffee cans fined with nails and screws, piles of wood stacked neatly beneath the scarred counter that split the room in half, hammers hung in carpenter belts like guns in holsters, a band saw dangling from a hook. Sean's father, who often worked as a handyman around the neighborhood, came down here to build his birdhouses and the shelves he placed on the windows for his wife's flowers. He'd planned the back porch here, something he and his friends threw up one blistering summer when Sean was five, and he came down here when he wanted peace and quiet, and sometimes when he was angry, Sean knew, angry at Sean or Sean's mother or his job. The birdhouses-baby Tudors and colonials and Victorians and Swiss chalets-ended up stacked in a corner of the cellar, so many of them they'd have had to live in the Amazon to find enough birds who could get use out of them.
Mystic River. Copyright (c) 2001 by Dennis LaHane. Reprinted with permission from Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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