Page 13 of Mystic River

"Flights are cheap," Eve said.

"Real cheap."

"Real cheap," Diane agreed, her voice trailing off as she looked away down the chipped sidewalk.

"Okay," Katie said, the word popping from her mouth like a bright explosion. "I'm going to go before someone cries."

Eve and Diane stretched their hands in through the window and Katie took a lingering pull on each of them, and then they stepped back from the car. They waved. Katie waved back, and then she tooted the horn and drove off.

They stayed on the pavement, watching, long after Katie's taillights had sparked red and then disappeared as she took the sharp curve in the middle of Sydney Street. They felt there were other things to say. They could smell the rain and the tinfoil scent of the Penitentiary Channel rolling dark and silent on the other side of the park.

For the rest of her life, Diane would wish she'd stayed in that car. She would give birth to a son in less than a year and she'd tell him when he was young (before he became his father, before he became mean, before he drove drunk and ran over a woman waiting to cross the street in the Point) that she believed she was meant to stay in that car, and that by deciding to get out, on a whim, she felt she'd altered something, shaved the corner off an edge in time. She would carry that with her along with an overriding sense that her life was spent as a passive observer of other people's tragic impulses, impulses she never did enough to curb. She would say these things again to her son during visitation days at the prison, and he'd give her a long roll of his shoulders and shift in his seat and say, "Did you bring those smokes, Ma?"

Eve would marry an electrician and move to a ranch house in Braintree. Sometimes, late at night, she'd rest her palm on his big, kind chest and tell him about Katie, about that night, and he'd listen and stroke her hair and back, but he wouldn't say much because he knew there was nothing to say. Sometimes Eve just needed to say her friend's name, to hear it, to feel its heft on her tongue. They would have children. Eve would go to their soccer games, stand on the sidelines, and every now and then her lips would part and she'd say Katie's name, silently, for herself, on the damp April fields.

But that night they were just two drunken East Bucky girls, and Katie watched them fade in her rearview as she took the curve on Sydney and headed for home.

It was dead down here at night, most of the homes that overlooked the Pen Channel Park having been scorched in a fire four years before that left them gutted and black and boarded up. Katie just wanted to get home, crawl into bed, get up in the morning, and be long gone before Bobby or her father ever thought to look for her. She wanted to shed this place the way you'd shed clothes you'd been wearing during a thundershower. Wad it up in her fist and toss it aside, never look back at it.

And she remembered something she hadn't thought about in years. She remembered walking to the zoo with her mother when she was five years old. She remembered this for no particular reason except that the hanging tendrils of stale pot and booze in her brain must have bumped against the cell where the memory was stored. Her mother had held her hand as they walked down Columbia Road toward the zoo, and Katie could feel the bones in her mother's hand as small tremors snapped under the skin by her wrist. She looked up at her mother's thin face and gaunt eyes, her nose gone hawkish with weight loss, her chin a pinched nub. And Katie, five and curious and sad, said, "How come you're tired all the time?"

Her mother's hard, brittle face had crumbled like a dry sponge. She'd crouched down by Katie and placed both palms on her cheeks and stared at her with red eyes. Katie thought she was mad, but then her mother smiled, and the smile immediately curled downward and her chin went all jerky and she said, "Oh, baby," and pulled Katie to her. She tucked her chin into Katie's shoulder and said, "Oh, baby," again, and then Katie felt her tears in her hair.

She could feel them now, the soft drizzle of tears in her hair like the soft drizzle against her windshield, and she was trying to remember the color of her mother's eyes when she saw the body lying in the middle of the street. It lay like a sack just in front of her tires and she swerved hard to the right, feeling something bump under her rear left tire, thinking, Oh Jesus, oh God, no, tell me I didn't hit it, please, Jesus God no.

She slammed the Toyota into the curb on the right side of the street, and her foot came off the clutch, and the car lurched forward, sputtering, then died.

Someone called to her. "Hey, you okay?"

Katie saw him coming toward her, and she started to relax because he looked familiar and harmless until she noticed the gun in his hand.

* * *

AT THREE in the morning, Brendan Harris finally fell asleep.

He did so smiling, Katie floating above him, telling him she loved him, whispering his name, her soft breath like a kiss in his ear.



DAVE BOYLE had ended up in McGills that night, sitting with Stanley the Giant at the corner of the bar, watching the Sox play an away game. Pedro Martinez reigned on the mound, so the Sox were beating the holy piss out of the Angels, Pedro throwing so much ungodly heat the ball looked like a goddamn Advil by the time it crossed the plate. By the third inning, the Angel hitters looked scared; by the sixth, they looked like they just wanted to go home, start making dinner plans. When Garret Anderson blooped a dying sigh of a single into shallow right and ended Pedro's bid for a no-hitter, any excitement that had been left in the 8-0 game floated out past the bleachers, and Dave found himself paying more attention to the lights and the fans and Anaheim Stadium itself than to the actual game.

He watched the faces in the bleachers most? the disgust and defeated fatigue, the fans looking like they were taking the loss more personally than the guys in the dugout. And maybe they were. For some of them, Dave figured, this was the only game they'd attend this year. They'd brought the kids, the wife, walked out of their homes into the early California evening with coolers for the tailgate party and five thirty-dollar tickets so they could sit in the cheap seats and put twenty-five-dollar caps on their kids' heads, eat six-dollar rat burgers and $4.50 hot dogs, watered-down Pepsi and sticky ice cream bars that melted into the hairs of their wrists. They came to be elated and uplifted, Dave knew, raised up out of their lives by the rare spectacle of victory. That's why arenas and ballparks felt like cathedrals? buzzing with light and murmured prayers and forty thousand hearts all beating the drum of the same collective hope.

Win for me. Win for my kids. Win for my marriage so I can carry your winning back to the car with me and sit in the glow of it with my family as we drive back toward our otherwise winless lives.