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THAT ONE PARTICULAR GAME I Tim Johnston IN THE SUMMER OF 1974, my father rewarded me for graduating from the sixth grade by giving me to my mother. He and his new girlfriend—a woman whose age could be derived, I'd determined, by subtracting my age from my father's—were bound for the Virgin Islands. When on the day of their departure I impetuously inquired, "Why Virgin Islands?" Linda giggled and said, "Honey, you got me!" As I packed, my father explained that whUe he didn't know how long they'd be gone, they would be back before school started; I was going to Mom's strictly on a loaner basis. "Why can't I go with you?" I begged. He squeezed my shoulder. "Aw, Tex. We've been through this. You wouldn't have any fun whatsoever." I imagined my mother's smaU house crammed with the bodies of her new husband and the nameless step-siblings I had yet to meet. I pictured chubby girls with fierce plastic jump ropes, loudmouthed boys with big wooden bats. But my new relatives weren't the trouble. Neither was being separated from my father and his big Victorian house. The trouble was this: I'd just learned the trick of hiding in the haU doset after bedtime and spying, through a hairline crack in the door, flashes of blonde Linda scooting naked between master bedroom and bath. The sightings left me dizzy, tearful, oddly despising my father, and wonderfully erect. "Take me with you!" I cried as my father pulled his Thunderbird into my mother's drive. He hauled the Samsonite from the trunk and set it beside me. I let it topple in the grass. * "Hey now," he said. "Is this any way for a young man to behave? A young man who'U be in junior high in a few months?" My gut pitched; junior high! "Can't we aU go to Dairy Queen before you go?" Sometimes, Linda held a plump red cherry to my Ups with a red plastic spoon. "No time, Tex. Our flight leaves in an hour." I sunk my fists deep in the pockets of my shorts. In one hand, my good one, I felt the sUck surface of her picture, a twin to the tiny square in her passport: red Ups parting on a seam of glossy white, blue-gray eyes flashing like quarters. The Missouri Review · 289 "So long, Son," my father said, hugging me. "We'U send postcards." As the Thunderbird disappeared around a corner, I pulled out the photograph. "So long," I said to the red Ups. "So long." At the door my mother attempted to reUeve me of the Samsonite. "Good grief! Did you stop at the quarry?" The house smeUed of baked beans and dgar smoke. "Just some books, Ma." "Feels Uke the whole Ubrary," she said. I lugged the suitcase to my tiny bedroom and stood at the window. From there I could scan the long drain of the landscape, down the hiU and through the uprights of twin pines, over the edge of Archibald Creek—a minor vein feeding the nearby artery of the Mississippi. Rooted in crabgrass near the water, two figures, one large, one smaU, tossed a basebaU. Something behind me yawned, and I turned to find a crib in the corner of my room. Inside the crib was a baby. It smeUed of Log Cabin syrup and bathroom cleaner—a sugary, ammonia stink. Back in the kitchen, Mom dished up pork-and-beans. "I made something in case you're hungry." "Tm not." "Okay." She scooped my plate back into the pot. "There's a baby in my room, Ma." "That's your Uttle step-sister, hon. WUIa May." I snorted. "Sounds Uke a basebaU player." She cocked her head. "You know it does? I wonder if Farley did that on purpose, the way he is about basebaU." Farley Dickerson Td met, both of us standing around the courthouse in too-stiff jackets and coUars. His kids had been vacationing with their mother then, and in their absence he'd smUed and pounded my back, it seemed to me, excessively...


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