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Nickel a Throw THESE are the things Gooden sees from his perch eight feet above the dunking tub at the Dixford Congregational Church's Charity bazaar. The sun touching the ridge on the river's western shore. Orange, underlining of black. The river itself. A canoe. A boy in a canoe lighting sparklers. A ferris wheel turning slowly clockwise, dipping into the people massed at its base. Strings of light. Lights as aural as sounds. Red snap, yellow crackle, blue pop. Refreshment stands. A tent on the town common. Lobsters held by the belly. Faces disappearing into wads of cotton candy, emerging pink. Individuals. A girl climbing a slanting rope ladder over an inflated cushion. A baby squatting behind a dusty-looking golden retriever, pulling out tufts of the dog's hair. The town band badly tuned. Professorial-looking types from the college, in cardigans, in July. Summer campers down from the mountain, roped together. Stuffed E.T.'s dragged by the ears. Farmers, bald. Farmers ' wives, shy-looking, toting bags. Ray Stanton in a straw hat manning the goldfish booth. Gooden's wife Angela dispensing change behind the baked goods, smiling with a radiance that pleased and puzzled him at the same time. Angela in the blue 65 NICKEL A THROW 66 gingham dress she had worn on their first date seventeen years ago, as beautiful and desirable as she had been then. A Frisbee appearing from nowhere. Hovering. Observing. Sailing away. Space. Starlight. Shadows. And then much closer, in the narrow chute left between the tub and the booth's entrance, a teenager with purple streaks in his hair cocking back his arm to hurl a tennis ball at the saucer-sized target beneath Gooden's stool. "Missed," Gooden says timidly, in a voice hardly above a whisper. The boy doesn't pay for another ball. Gooden sees how long the lines are at the other booths, sees how short it is for his, remembers Stanton's advice about banter. "You throw like a girl," he says, a bit louder. The boy struts away. Gooden sees the razor blades hanging from his ears, sees the yellow hair mixed in with the purple, hears the music from his huge transistor, tries to remember the right name for it. "Runts!" he yells, too late. The boy is gone. Five minutes go by before another customer arrives. Gooden sits on the stool with his head in his hands like Quasimodo above the gargoyles, worried. He sees Angela slicing bread. The sight of her-wanting to please her-shoots through him in a surge that almost makes him jump into the tub from joy. A ball whizzes by his head. Down below, a foul-looking man with a size eighteen neck winds up again. "Shit," he hisses, as the ball curves wide. He slaps down a nickel, picks up another ball. His throwing is stiff and brutal. Ball mashed between fingers, brought up like a sledge hammer, punched more than thrown. "Missed!" Gooden yells. The man's friends begin to ride him. Tubucular-looking with NICKEL A THROW slicked-back hair, "Elvis Lives" buttons, Budweisers stuck in their 67 pants like guns. "Cretins!" Gooden yells, in a high-pitched voice so different from his usual modulation that it startles even him. He senses their hostility but for once in his life it doesn't frighten him. Hostility brings in the nickels. Hostility makes the booth a success, enriches the bazaar, supports charities, feeds babies, does good. "What's the matter, moron? Be a sport and try again." His loafers. His wire-rimmed glasses and neat sports coat. His superior height there on the stool. Gooden can tell each of these things infuriates the man, but his words anger him not, and the balls fly at him with diminished force. Gooden searches the beefy face for clues. "Drunkard!" he shouts, slapping the stool's side to gain his attention. "Inebriate!" He hurls all the insults he can think of, as if they are balls he is firing back at him, aiming for the spot in him that is his trigger. Redneck, hick, bum. But none of them connect, and the man is shaking his head with a laugh, and proudly patting his stomach, and turning away with his friends to the next booth. The mashed ball. The axlike chop of the arm. The violent, satisfied grunt as he lets it go. Gooden remembers these things and then suddenly he has it, and it...


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