Sean sat up on the old red bar stool and fingered the inside of the thick black vise, felt the oil and sawdust mixed in there, until his father said, "Sean, how many times I have to tell you about that?"
Sean pulled his finger back out, wiped the grease on his palm.
His father picked some stray nails up off the counter and placed them in a yellow coffee can. "I know you like Jimmy Marcus, but if you two want to play together from now on, you'll do it in view of the house. Yours, not his."
Sean nodded. Arguing with his father was pointless when he spoke as quietly and slowly as he was doing now, every word coming out of his mouth as if it had a small stone attached to it.
"We understand each other?" His father pushed the coffee can to his right, looked down at Sean.
Sean nodded. He watched his father's thick fingers rub sawdust off the tips.
"For how long?"
His father reached up and pulled a wisp of dust off a hook embedded in the ceiling. He kneaded it between his fingers, then tossed it in the wastebasket under the counter. "Oh, a good while, I'd say. And Sean?"
"Don't be thinking about going to your mother on this one. She never wanted you to see Jimmy again after that stunt today.
"He's not that bad. He's-"
"Didn't say he was. He's just wild, and your mother's had a fill of wild in her life."
Sean saw something glint in his father's face when he said "wild," and he knew it was the other Billy Devine he was seeing for a moment, the one he'd had to build out of scraps of conversation he'd overheard from aunts and uncles. The Old Billy they called him, the "scrapper," his Uncle Colm said once with a smile, the Billy Devine who'd disappeared sometime before Sean was born to be replaced by this quiet, careful man with thick, nimble fingers who built too many birdhouses.
"You remember what we talked about," his father said, and patted Sean's shoulder in dismissal.
Sean left the tool room and walked through the cool basement wondering if what made him enjoy Jimmy's company was the same thing that made his father enjoy hanging out with Mr. Marcus, drinking Saturday into Sunday, laughing too hard and too suddenly, and if that was what his mother was afraid of.
A FEW SATURDAYS LATER, Jimmy and Dave Boyle came by the Devine house without Jimmy's father. They knocked on the back door as Sean was finishing breakfast, and Sean heard his mother open the door and say, "Morning to ya, Jimmy. Morning, Dave," in that polite voice she used around people she wasn't sure she wanted to see.
Jimmy was quiet today. All that loopy energy seemed to have gone coiled up inside of him. Sean could almost feel it beating against the walls of Jimmy's chest and Jimmy swallowing against it. Jimmy seemed smaller, darker, as if he'd pop with the prick of a pin. Sean had seen this before. Jimmy had always been a little moody. Still, it got to Sean every time, made him wonder if Jimmy had any control over it, or if these moods came like a sore throat or his mother's cousins, just dropped in whether you felt like having them over or not.
Dave Boyle was at his most aggravating when Jimmy was like this. Dave Boyle seemed to think it was his job to make sure everyone was happy, which usually just pissed people off after a while.
As they stood out on the sidewalk, trying to decide what to do, Jimmy all wrapped in himself and Sean still waking up, all three of them fidgeting with the day hanging out in front of them but bordered by the ends of Sean's street, Dave said, "Hey, why's a dog lick its balls?"
Neither Sean nor Jimmy answered. They'd heard this one, like, a thousand times.
"Because it can!" Dave Boyle shrieked, and grabbed his gut like it was so funny it hurt.
Jimmy walked over to the sawhorses, where city crews had been replacing several squares of sidewalk. The work crews had tied yellow CAUTION tape to four sawhorses in a rectangle, created a barricade around the new sidewalk squares, but Jimmy snapped the tape by walking through it. He squatted at the edge, his Keds on the old sidewalk, and used a twig on the soft pavement to carve thin lines that reminded Sean of old men's fingers.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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