- Songs from the Woods
For a long time after Danny's brother Jim returned from the war, he didn't have much to say, but he liked to smile. It seemed Jim was always smiling, be he listening to new music—The Rolling Stones and Elton John—sitting in their backyard and staring at the woods, or getting screamed at by their father. Jim liked to listen to Marvin Gaye, too, his head back and eyes shut as his voice cracked, singing along with the high notes of "Mercy, Mercy Me," but "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" was his favorite, and he would play it over and over even as their father pounded on his bedroom door, screaming "Enough is enough!" This could be late at night, or early in the morning, but as it was summer, and school was out, Danny didn't have to rush anywhere and sometimes he would just sit and watch his father pound. Other times, he would pretend to eat his cereal, reading the back of the box. Jim's bedroom was the only one on the first floor, at the end of the hall. It was a hollow door and there was already a big hole in the middle where somebody had put their fist.
Danny was only eight, and Jim was much older. From what Danny picked up in bits and pieces, their father had been married before he met their mother and that was where Jim came from, but Danny didn't see how that was possible because he had never seen any other woman around. They had a sister, too—Louise—but she was only ten. Louise liked to swim and she liked to read, and on Friday nights their parents would let them stay up late to watch The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, and The Partridge Family. All in a row. A bowl of popcorn that their father would pop and sometimes burn, and sleeping bags on the floor.
When Jim had left for the war, Danny had only been six. Jim's hair had been long then, and he liked to lift Danny up and press his back to the ceiling, shaking him back and forth. Jim was just out of high school. Now his hair was short—buzzed—and he wore thick glasses with heavy black frames, his eyes looking magnified behind them. He used to talk to Danny [End Page 113] a lot—about football and fishing—but football season hadn't started yet, and as far as Danny knew, Jim hadn't fished since he got back.
Before he left, Jim would play football in the baseball field out behind Danny's house with the family of boys, the Flynns, from across the street. There were about ten boys in that family, some already grown, years out of college, and the youngest a couple years older than Danny. The field was surrounded on all sides by trees and almost seemed as if it were placed there magically. Only one road led in. A dirt road that was traveled once a week by the Park Department trucks carrying mowers to cut the grass, trash barrels and trash sticks, and white cans of paint for the lines of infield. The Park Department guys had green shirts and big bellies, and most of them wore baseball caps, all with the Letter W on them in white. W was for Willington.
Most of the time, Danny would just follow Jim and the Flynns out to the field and sit and watch the game—Jim had a strong arm and he could throw the ball farther than anyone—but once, right before he shipped out, they let Danny play, too. It was just getting dark, and the mosquitoes were buzzing, and the kids were running all over the place. Jim passed Danny the ball, and he didn't catch it, but he picked it right up, and then he ran with it. He didn't get far before somebody tackled him, but it didn't matter—his brother was letting him play, and that was all that mattered. A few minutes later, the Flynns' father...