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Authors: Michael T. Fournier

Swing State

BOOK: Swing State
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Swing
State

A NOVEL BY

Michael T. Fournier

THREE ROOMS PRESS
NEW YORK

Swing State
A novel by Michael T. Fournier

Copyright © 2014 by Michael T. Fournier

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. For permissions, please write to address below or email
[email protected]
. Any members of education institutions wishing to photocopy or electronically reproduce part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Three Rooms Press, 51 MacDougal Street, #290, New York, NY 10012.

First printing

ISBN: 978-1-941110-09-6
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014937998

AUTHOR PHOTOS:
Rebecca S. Griffin

COVER AND INTERIOR DESIGN:
KG Design International
www.katgeorges.com

DISTRIBUTED BY:
PGW/Perseus
www.pgw.com

Three Rooms Press
New York, NY
www.threeroomspress.com

Sandra Styrna Griffin
February 12, 1952 – December 21, 2011

Gray eidolon! so quickly gone

When eyes, that make thee, onward move;

Whose vast pretense of permanence

A little progress can disprove!

John Townsend Trowbridge

The Old Man of the Mountain

Swing
State

1.

E
MPTY RESTAURANT.
H
OT OUT.
I
NDIAN SUMMER.
Twenty in quarters lasted Roy weeks.

He lost the first two or three. Sometimes for real. Getting warmed up. The feel of the cue. Each one different. Wanted his own. But couldn't afford one. And no one would play him. But knew a few of the bar's. Recognized them.

After two or three he didn't pay. He started small. Played for next game. Made some lucky play. Oops. How did I do that? Kids without faces, always the same. Never any good.

Nothing to do there. Afghanistan. Hurry up and wait. Got good fast. Came back with skills. Both hands. Kids too stupid to realize. Anyone playing for money thinks they can beat you. But he didn't think. He knew. And he did. Fuck them when they got pissed.

Except the nights with no one there. Middle of the month, Tuesday. Sox on TV. One couple at the bar. Jap walked the bases loaded. Again.

Empty restaurant. Hot out. Saw river swimming on the walk over. Kids bridge jumping. Charcoal. Meat. No bugs. Cold one on the porch. If you had one. He didn't. Kitchen, one room. Hamburger Helper. But a porch. A grill. He wouldn't play pool. Game on the radio. Cold ones in a cooler.

No one to see his row of next game quarters. The guy, the fuck was his name? Patterson? Or was the lady Patterson? He brought the first one. Here you go, Roy. Slow night. On the house.

First beer tasted good. Cold. It'd be better outside. Drink it in the weather. Not AC. But better in the AC than in his apartment. In front of a box fan. He'd tried. Game on the radio. Six pack. Fan didn't help. Still felt the heat. Drinking by himself in front of a fan.

Racked 'em. No one around. He'd play himself. Do challenges. Stripes had to hit one bumper. Solids, another ball. If someone came he'd stop. Play lefty. Miss a few.

Patterson still standing there. I hope you get to play someone, Roy.

Me too. If not, I'll practice.

It'll be cheaper if there's other people.

Patterson, the lady, she'd say something about gambling being illegal. He knew the type. Didn't want that nonsense in her bar. But Patterson. He knew. Didn't mind. Liked the guy.

Want to play?

I'd love to. But it's my bar. I owe you a game, tell you what.

Roy respected that. Business. And she'd freak out. Be like don't play pool with customers. All right, Roy said. Say when.

I'm not that good, Patterson said. Smart. He owned the place, had the table. Probably played before work, after.

The door opened. Four people came in. Here we go, Patterson said. He walked to the altar by the door. They talked. Roy couldn't hear, but saw them laugh. Patterson knew what to say. The people went to the bar, Patterson smiling, pulling taps. Shaking shakers. Drinks. Cold. Must feel good. To sit at a bar and talk. With friends.

Jap gave up a single on TV. Two runs scored. Fucking Sox. Solid in the corner. Hit another ball. Hard. A stripe hit a solid in front of the pocket and in. He swallowed beer. Still cold. Glass sweat. Radio jazz. No good music. Not until late night, after dinner. Bar crowd. Sometimes. Never Korn or Disturbed or Ministry. Stuff they played overseas. Scare factor. Probably not good for a bar. But AC/DC. People liked them. Reminded him. When he drove he heard them a lot. Good music for it. But didn't mind not driving. Could walk everywhere. A little slow. Leg still not right. Stronger every day. But still not the same.

Solids lining up just right. An accident. Some games were like that. Didn't have to do much work. Every time Roy hit a stripe a solid bounced right. Good shots.

Stripes into solids. Every time. Didn't miss. Stripes didn't have a chance. Eight ball in. Easy. Racked them again, more quarters. Paid. Solids had to hit two balls first now. Stripes, still one bumper. Handicap. Solids doing so good, had to even it.

Jap got out of the inning somehow. Commercial. People laughing, drinking beer on TV. Looked good. His was still cold. Might have one more. First one free. On the house. Then back. Nothing to do but sit in front of a box fan and listen to the game. No people. Too hot. In their cars, on their porches.

Lefty next. Another beer. He tried hard lefty. Wasn't great. Play games with people lefty. Then for money. Switch hands.

On TV Ortiz struck out. Ended the inning. Yelled at the ump. Never used to, Ortiz. Used to mash. Roy saw it all. 2004, 2007. And the Bruins. Overseas for that. Heard the next day. Peck, it was. No radios on patrol. Your team, Peck said, they won. Peck who didn't like baseball. Or hockey. Wasn't his fault. From the south. They didn't care. There was Texas, their teams. Rangers. Astros. And Florida. New ones: Marlins, Rays. Or Atlanta. But instead Peck liked football. Bama, Cowboys. His teams. Roy liked football. Patriots. Peck got mad at him. Cowboys, Peck said. But Peck got it. Your Bruins, they won last night. Roy thought about drinking beers, going into his yard and yelling BRUINS. How the neighbors would be pissed. His Auntie Blake. He wouldn't care. BRUINS.

He missed Peck. The star on the side of his helmet. Cowboys, Peck said. No Patriots. Cowboys.

Patterson behind the bar with his good posture. Made him look alert. Another one, Roy?

Yessir.

Patterson pulled the Venerable tap.

Looks like you're doing trick shots over there.

Stripes hit a bumper, solid two balls. Tried just one but it was too easy. Might play lefty next.

It's amazing, Roy. You play better with your left hand than most people play with their right.

Never used to be able to.

Patterson put his beer down on the bar. Here you go. Good luck with the left hand.

Thanks.

Roy waited at the table. Racked them again.

On TV, the Jap walked another one. Always doing that. Load the bases, three strikeouts in a row. Some bullshit. Honor. They played different. Had to think about the opponent. Be respectful. Strikeouts. One man against the other. Pitcher against hitter. No grounders, no pop ups. Better man wins. He didn't agree. The opponent, humiliate them. Make them feel like shit. Get them down. Show them pictures. You see this? You know him? Your friend, this guy? He squealed like a pig when we did that. You know what a pig is? A fuckin' disgusting animal. Filthy. That's what he sounded like. An animal who sticks his nose in his own shit. Eats it. We don't have a broom in this tent. Lucky for you because you'd sweep all day. No hands. But we think you can do a ‘persination of a pig. Think you can do that? Or do we need a broom? Either way, your ass is grass. You know what grass is? Ever seen any? Probably not. But you better understand what it means when I say I'm the lawnmower. Got me?

Now do a pig ‘persination.

Humiliated. Like the other day. Walked down to the store. Ran out of food. Beans, ramen. All he could afford.

L'il Bee. Beer in the cooler. And dusty cans on shelves. Probably more expensive than the grocery store. But too far to walk.

Guy behind the counter put the cans and noodles in a plastic bag.

Walked back outside.

Explosion.

Was on his stomach before he could think about it. Was like that. Overseas. No time to think. Just react. Save your ass. Your buddies. Like that time. In the back of the truck. The clouds. Metal in his mouth.

Any loud noise, on the ground. Incoming. No time to think. Get down. Grenades, mortars, guns. Except none in fucking Armbrister, New Hampshire. Just some little bitch. And her fireworks. Over by the dumpster. Picked himself up off the ground. She didn't look legal. Flannel shirt, long hair. Denim jacket. Big. Tough-looking. Okay tits. Holding a paper bag. Pointing. Laughing. Oh, man. You shoulda seen yourself! You looked pretty stupid, you know that? Hahahaha. It's just a Silver Salute! Shit, these aren't even M-80s.

Couldn't get mad. Hit a girl. Say anything. But he felt it. Face flushed. Just some girl. Didn't know him. What he did. Overseas. No one did. He hoped.

2.

T
ESTING.
H
EY, TESTING.

Testes. Hey, testes. One two three.

Testes. One two.

* * *

(sound of explosion)

Holy FUCK was that loud!

* * *

(sound of explosion)

I don't think that one was as good. Hold on—

* * *

Nope. Silver Salutes aren't as good as M-80s.

Not even close. This tape proves it.

* * *

I'm walking home.

I've never had one of these things before. It was in a car.

I guess maybe I shouldn't say that. I should say it was on the road. Or in front of my mom's house.

Besides, I have a good hiding place. I keep all my stuff there.

But if you're listening, Ross: FUCK OFF. YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE.

And if you're still listening: I KNOW WHERE YOU KEEP YOUR SHIT.

Okay, this was just sitting there on the front seat.

Nothing on here was any good. I listened before I started. Some lawyer or something. Boring.

Ding woulda given me like a few M-80s or whatever for this. Six months ago that would've been cool, but now not so much. I mean, I love blowing shit up. It rules. But I'd rather get paid. Then I can get my own place.

* * *

I have a bunch of different places. Like the police station parking lot. That's a good spot. People think their stuff is safe because it's parked out front. But it's not like the cops are looking out the windows. They're doing cop stuff. So that's where I get wallets. Phones. GPSs. Ding likes those. Doesn't give me much, but I always get something. Says everyone uses them. Especially if they have a cord.

* * *

My voice sounds funny on here. Like tough. Good.

* * *

This is Dixon Dove. You are listening to the rock of New Hampshire. WNAH. Wilburton.

The rock of northern New Hampshire! WNAH. Wilburton!

* * *

I don't have the right voice for that.

* * *

I'm almost home.

Today's Monday, so Mom does the mill, then the register at the L'il Bee. She'll get home like 11:30.

Don probably has money left from his check, so he'll be at the bar.

Ross will be at practice.

Wonder what's in the freezer.

* * *

It's Tuesday now.

I didn't see anyone.

Mom's always yelling. Telling me I'm not going to make anything of myself if I don't go to school. Well, she went and look where it got her: the mill, and behind the cash register of a convenience store. And Don got his diploma. He went to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mom was like there are always nursing jobs. So I tried those classes. No way. Anatomy sucks. And besides, what kind of job would that be? Wiping asses. Mom's pissed I quit, but whatever.

My stupid brother is gonna go to college. Sometimes Coach comes around with recruiters. Mom takes time off work, and Don stops drinking. I have to clean before they come. Ross stops smoking so he doesn't stink or sound stupid.

How do they not notice? Maybe they don't care. I don't know how he's gonna get through college if he can't smoke. Drug tests and all that.

Recruiters come and tell him he's gonna be a star. Schools far away. Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin. After they leave I tell him how much it's gonna suck to be in the middle of nowhere but I'm just kidding. Kinda. I'd rather be someplace where no one knows me than in Armbrister. It's not like I'm stupid. You beat up a few boys and you get a reputation.

Well, fine. I'm a bitch. Whatever.

* * *

School today was boring. Just like it always is. I wish I could drop out. I mean, I could, but I'd have to get a job. I'd turn into my mom. Part-time, cool. But I don't wanna be like her.

Maybe I should have done voc. Stuck to nursing. But I hate it.

And I hate cars, and cooking, and building stuff.

I thought about joining up. Going places. Seeing the world. But Afghanistan is probably worse than Armbrister. Getting shot at? No way.

I mean, I could blow stuff up over there. That'd be cool. They have grenades and stuff. Explode some trucks. Or buildings. Demolition. But I'd come back, if I lived through it, and not have anything to do all over again. Like the guy I see walking around the common. Or Don. Jesus, all he does is drink. The bar, the couch, wherever. He tells Mom he's looking for jobs but then he sits and watches TV all day and gets wasted.

I dunno if he used to be like this before he went, but he's always giving me shit like he's my dad or something. But I should be glad. If it wasn't for him I'd still be trading GPSs for fireworks instead of saving to get out of here.

* * *

I was bored at lunch today. I can't believe kids listen to me when I tell them to give me cash. What a bunch of idiots! But they're scared of me, so they do, even though I'm kidding. Or at least half-kidding. Hahaha.

There's this skinny kid with glasses who starts to give me cash now before I even say anything to him. He just, like, gives it to me. And the tall kid who shakes when I come over. I haven't seen the fat kid who always brings the same sandwich for a while.

* * *

I got an iPod today. One of the little ones. Ding loves those. He'll give me some cash.

A watch, too. Looks like gold. Just sitting there in an SUV. Mass plates. That'll teach a Masshole. Live free or die, bitch!

* * *

I went to the parking lot to see if Ding was there. He wasn't. So I went up to the quarry.

All the usual people were there, sitting around, drinking beers, and smoking butts. Someone brought a radio, playing WNAH. Block Party Weekend. Ozzy doing “Crazy Train.”

The new girl was up there. I've seen her around. She's in my English class. She sits way up front. I saw her looking at me when I came in a few times. Her name's Mary.

Steve said you want a beer, Dixon? I said yeah, and he threw me a can of Venerable.

He said gonna jump today?

I said if I was gonna, I wouldn't wait until it got cold out. And I'd bring a fucking towel.

They all started laughing. Steve sat there stroking his shitty moustache like he always does. He said hey, Earl, she's got you there.

Earl was all wet, shivering with no shirt on. He gave me the finger and said why don't you just take your shirt off and jump in?

I was like yeah, you'd like that. You'd go home and spank it.

They all laughed. Even Mary.

Earl said I only spank it to girls with tits.

I was like whatever. I have great tits and I know it. And I know how to use them.

Steve said you gonna open that beer?

I sat next to him on the granite slab and opened it.

He said whatcha doing up here? You're not jumping.

I said looking for Ding.

Steve goes I heard he might have some M-80s.

I said I'm not into those any more.

He said Silver Salutes?

I said no, I'm trying to make some cash.

He nodded and said that's cool. Then he asked about my brother. I told him that Ross was doing football.

Steve said Ross used to hang out up there a lot. At the quarries. I told Steve about Ross's practices.

Earl came over and put a shirt on. He was drinking a beer and shivering. He said what's up, Dixon?

I said same shit.

He told me he applied over at the mill.

Steve started laughing at him and said he'd never get in.

Earl was like fuck you.

Mary came over and asked Steve for a beer.

While he was getting one out of the case she was like hey, aren't you in my English class?

I was like oh yeah, I guess so.

She sat down on the slab and said that class is pretty cool. I was like yeah, even though I never pay attention. I don't like reading.

Earl and Steve were arguing about the mill.

Mary said what are you guys talking about?

Steve pointed at Earl and was like this guy thinks he's gonna work at the mill.

Earl said I put in an application. He wasn't shivering anymore.

Steve stroked his shitty mustache. He said everyone wants to get in at the mill. Even though they used to pay fifteen and now they pay nine.

I watched Mary's eyes get all big. She was like why did they do that?

Steve said there's less jobs in town. They can pay whatever they want.

Earl said nine isn't bad.

I was like you're gonna get stuck here.

He said maybe I wanna get stuck, you ever think of that?

Steve looked at Mary and said Dixon's not gonna get stuck. Her brother's a big football star.

She looked at me and I kinda shrugged.

Steve asked if he knew where he was gonna go for school. I said not yet.

Earl said when he goes pro you're gonna have it made.

I was like whatever and took a big haul off my beer.

I burped. It was a good one. Everyone clapped and laughed.

Steve said you gonna go to the game this weekend? Cheer on your brother? I told him I didn't know. Then I told them I had to go.

Before I left I said hey, Mary, see you in class.

I don't know how much a pro football player makes. I'll have to find out. That means the library tomorrow.

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