“What'll it be, mister?” the skinny eleven-year-old boy asked him. He wore a baseball cap and torn jeans.
“It'll be three trout, son,” he answered, smiling.
“Why don't you go fishin'?” he asked.
“I don't think I'd rather like fishin,” he answered, using the southern, outlandish drawl of New Orleans. He missed the state and wanted to go back.
“What do you mean?”
He leaned across the counter. The boy looked nervous-and he should. No one knew he had been in jail when he was nineteen, for stealing a television set from Mr. Rawls. Mr. Rawls was big and fat.
John Blanchard was a short, stout man and had a bumbling mustache. He walked with a limp and his forehead was wide as the sea to the left of him. The smell of the ocean drifted to his nostrils and he looked small against the backdrop of the water behind him and it sparkled like a mirror. He glanced behind him and the water shifted and folded over itself, and everything about it was close to him and he could touch it with his bare hands, touch the sparkling diamonds.
“I don't go fishin' because my hands don't work so good,” he replied.
“How come they don't?”
“I was in the war, boy. The one in the Persian Gulf.”
“That wasn't such a long time ago,” he scoffed. “You must be jokin.' We never lost that war.”
“No, sir, but some people did.” He straightened his shoulders, and smiled at the bratty boy. He picked up his purchases and left.
John felt awkward, going into places like that. Most people didn't talk to him, and it was no wonder. He was small and swift like a bird and had a hard time going, especially in the winter and his bones creaked and he realized the creaking of his bones was the passage of time, in between the reluctance of time. John didn't understand the concept of time, and never wanted to. Time was nothing more than an hour glass folded in on itself. He thought of all his favorite authors, how they died and how they lived and how he would like to live like that, as swift and barren as the folds of clothing after it was dried. John didn't think it was a good idea to think about it. He went home and made himself dinner in his small, quiet apartment and he heard the screams of the traffic outside. John never did get his license, and never bothered to care. He didn't know why. It seemed like too much trouble, trouble was something he could do without. He went home and put the trout on the cupboard and washed it and skinned it and delicately took out the bones and threw them in the trash. A dog barked outside, startling him. He loved to read in the summer and it made him think of all those special days his mother brought home a book or magazine and let him read it and then she would walk back to the five and ten and she would bring back some more. More happier times occurred before John's father died, faded away like a flower rooted from the ashes-faded away in the midnight sky and left them alone, alone in the sea of blackness and stillness below them. John remembered at nine years old, sitting on the porch at night and looking out at the pond in the yard that shimmered like a mirror and everything was grander than it was. John's innocence left him the next year, after Morgan McFad socked him in the stomach for no reason at all and John punched him in the back of the head and was sent to the principal's office. That was the summer he realized people were different, and when they started talking about the Holocaust.
He didn't know anything about the Holocaust, only that it had something to do with some Jewish people who were killed a long time ago before they were Jewish. John didn't know they had ways of finding things out that happened a long time ago, after Jesus was crucified on the cross, or before the French and Indian war or the American Revolution or World War II or all the other wars that happened in the world, maybe the universe. John didn't think about the universe much. He was more concerned with baseball.
His most favorite baseball player of all time was Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth was one of the most famous baseball players of them all, and a poster used to adorn his walls, back at the old house before Mom died. Mom had gotten cancer and his grandmother came to take care of him. She died and then his mother died and he was left alone, and he had nothing to eat and stole food from his neighbors and in town. One day, they caught him and took him to the sheriff and the sheriff didn't throw him in jail, but he gave him a spanking. John scowled at the man and rubbed his behind and ran home, hopping and then skipping and jumping. He was alone, but he was himself, and that was the best part, the only part that ever made sense to him.
Babe Ruth had become a valuable part of his life and it got him through some many rough times. He didn't realize things were that bad until his mother passed away and he was left alone for almost a year before Social Services came and carted him away in a blue Volkswagon and he was left at a local government agency until the social service's woman came back and told him he had a new family, the Spurts. They sounded like really nasty people and it turned out, they really were. They locked him in his room and fed him once a month, and the kids made fun of him at school and poked and laughed at him. John did exceedingly well in math and dreamt of being an engineer, but his dreams were shattered by so many difficult things in life, the dreams of suffering, and the dreams of food, and the dream of shelter and a loving family.