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Scott O. Handy

White Flight

I WAS trying to let the sound of my broom's sweeping drown out the sound of Pops's and Mr. Marone's argument. But that was like trying to drown out an orchestra with a transistor radio. I tried whistling. I whistled Yankee Doodle Dandy and Take Me Out to the Ballgame before giving up. It was useless. My mouth was so dry my tongue stuck to its roof and then made a dry cluck sound every time I unstuck it. In a few months, Pops would be dead -- suicide -- but, of course, I had no way of knowing that. I only knew I was scared and that my mouth was dry. I wished I had a piece of Bazooka to chew on, like that came in the Topps baseball-card packs. I wished I was allowed to chew the Bazooka that came in the Topps baseball-card packs.

Mom had told me, emphatically, that eavesdropping was a sin you could go to Hell for, vs. the chewing of gum, which you could only get grounded for. Because the one was harmful to yourself, which was bad enough, but that the other was harmful to others, even -- Mom said especially -- if they weren't even aware of it.

But, before I'd started sweeping, Pops backed Mr. Tates's Buick out by the gas pumps, leaving the garage empty, leaving nowhere for Pops's and Mr. Marone's words to go except to bounce off the cement walls and the concrete floor and into my ears:

-- Burger, you are the ee-pit-toe-mee

-- Aw cut the crap

-- Vic Raschi couldn't strike out Jimmie Foxx's mother

-- That fat mutt was washed up

-- You know how dumb

-- Not on his best day. Not on a motor

I dropped the broom's wooden handle -- actually I kind of flung it down -- on purpose, so it would hit the floor with more of a racket, bouncing once then twice then rolling an inch or so one way then the next, before it rested there for good. I put my palms to my ears and pressed as hard as I could, trying to get them to meet somewhere in the middle. The sound this made was like when you dip your head underwater and everything above the surface goes straightaway warbly- and distant-sounding. I thought: Yes! Score! I pressed harder. I was having trouble breathing for some reason, even though my hands were nowhere near my nose or mouth. But I could feel my forehead turning purple. But the underwater sound was even louder now, it sounded like my blood was whaling as hard as it could on the walls of my ears, and I could just barely make out Pops's and Mr. Marone's voices and nothing specific anymore of what they were saying. Yes! Yes! Score! Score!

I must've pushed too hard, because the next thing I knew I was laid out flat on the floor. The broom was to my right, its long handle poking up past my ear. It wasn't cold down there, like you'd expect a concrete floor to be at about six o'clock on an April PM in Fox Hills, PA. It was actually kind of snuggly warm, which must've been on account this was the spot Mr. Tates's Buick was parked just a few minutes earlier. It was also in this spot -- four months later -- that they would find Pops, inside Mr. Tates's Buick, with the engine running, and the Yankees game still playing on the radio.

Out of nowhere, a hand that wasn't attached to a wrist or an elbow or even a face reached down at me. It was black around the fingernails and its pointer finger was double Band-aided in that way you do when you've cut the very tip and need the other Band-aid to anchor the first one on. The hand grabbed me by the front of my school uniform and hoisted me back to my feet with such gusto I nearly blacked out again, just from the upward rush, till I was standing there upright like nothing ever happened--except for the flashbulbs that kept popping in front of my eyes.

Mr. Marone scratched at the side of his cauliflower nose with a double Band-aided pointer finger. His black mustache twitched in a way that suggested he was about to say something but then didn't.

-- Gee, I told him, blinking in time to the popping bulbs, -- thanks.

Pops bent way down to give me the once-over and didn't say a word as his big blue fish eyes moved side-to-side looking into each one of my eyes one at a time. His thumbs were hooked up inside his suspenders, like he was supporting his entire torso just by the first knuckle of each. -- You okay, boy? he said, finally, breaking into that gap-toothed grin of his that made his entire head look like it was being eaten from the inside out. And like he already knew I was okay or else he wouldn't've had to ask.

I grinned back at him and nodded, like: I guess so.

But then before I could even pick up the broom and resume my sweeping, Pops turned to Mr. Marone and said: -- Old Fat Fuck Foxx would've croaked for good he just done that.

Which Mr. Marone went just about cross-eyed over as he was picking up the broom himself and said: -- That's it, Burger, I've had it, you're fired!

Pops was at least a head and a half taller than Mr. Marone was, but Mr. Marone was Pops's boss. But Pops tilted his head way back and laughed at the ceiling, the way he did while listening to Amos 'N Andy on the radio. It was actually more of a holler than a laugh. -- Holy mackerel, Willie! he said, mimicking Freeman Gosden mimicking a Negro. -- We'ze all got to stick together in dis heah thing. Remember, we is brothers in that great fraternity, Mah-roe-nee's Garage & Auto Supply!

-- I don't know why I bother, Mr. Marone muttered. -- I really don't.

Then something funny happened:

As Mr. Marone was putting the big push broom in its corner, I jabbed him on the butt of his jumpsuit and said: -- Pops is right, you know.

I don't know why I said it, what purpose I expected it to serve. Revenge? A nine-year-old's defense of his wayward father (whom Mom'd already told me, repeatedly, was beyond redemption anyway, even by Jesus)?

Pops had to catch his breath, like I'd sucker punched him one vs. stuck up for him. Mr. Marone stopped short with the broom and instead of putting it away held onto it and used it to push himself back off the wall with and then spin around on like Gene Kelly did in On the Town and then looked, not at me, but Pops: -- You don't say, he said, smiling with his lips trembling and that made his mustache do the same jumpy twitchy thing. His smile was so wide you'd think it'd've made the ends of his mustache turn upward, but they didn't. Mr. Marone never opened his mouth, like Pops did, when he smiled.

-- Raschi's only played four years, not twenty like Foxx did. It ain't fair to compare him vs. Foxx's whole career. I mean, Foxx led the league in strikeouts four out of his first five seasons. As his homers kept going up so'd his strikeouts! Raschi had 124 Ks each of the last two years, and he's only given up 31 homers, total. I'd say he'd strike Foxx out pretty easy. Not just that, but if you stretch what he's done so far over twenty years, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His nickname's The Springfield Rifle, by the way.

I wasn't sure of what all I'd just said, exactly, though I knew where I got it. Mom and Pops had gotten me the MacMillan's Baseball Encyclopedia for my birthday that February.

Pops and Mr. Marone looked at me like I'd reached into one of their pockets and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and lit one up. You'd've needed a snow shovel to get their chins up off the floor. I glanced at the Coca-Cola clock by the door. It was nearly 6:15. Mom'd be wondering where we were. -- Sorry, I said, -- I'm kinda thirsty, I guess.

Pops burst out laughing so loud and so suddenly I worried he might re-rupture his appendix. Mr. Marone, finally now acknowledging my presence with his narrow little eyes whose lids looked like they were pumped full of water they were so puffy all the time, looked straightaway again back at Pops. -- What the

But then Pops did something he hadn't done since I was little: He reached down with both hands and sort of half-tossed/-lifted me up over his head, like I remembered him doing when I was a little kid. I stretched my arms out in front of my face like Superman and went: Wheeeeeee! like I was flying as he whipped me around in circles. It was funny because I was still scared, up there alone above the head of my six-foot-three father; but it wasn't the fear of falling; I wasn't afraid Pops was going to drop me. It was the fear this would never happen again. I felt as happy as I've ever felt, before or since. Which made all the Hell threats from Mom worth it. In fact, I decided right then and there, being whipped around for the very last time on the ride of my life: If Heaven's too good for Pops then it's too good for me too. Wheeeeeeee!


Scott Handy is a freelance writer and journalist based in Charlottesville, Virginia. His fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin and AETHLON. His journalism and nonfiction have appeared in C-VILLE, Blue Ridge Outdoors, America OnLine, and others. He is currently at work on a novel.

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