West of Rehoboth
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Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: August 2002
Edition Desc: 1ST PERENN
The soft summer held them all. They gently sat upon the shimmering flecks of sun hidden in the cut grass. They came together like this every Fourth of July. It was a time when Lemon Hill Park was at its height of sweetness. They came together to grill hot dogs and hamburgers, to play catch, to escape the raging heat of North Philly. They sat among the trees and flowers, and for a short time the adults could throw their heads back and sigh. Inhale fresh life.
It was 1962. It was what white people called a holiday and the folks from the neighborhood were at the park. Doing what they wanted to do. Laughing. Telling stories. There were five blankets spread over the ground -- a blanket for each family. The young folks were all over the place. The girls were playing dodgeball, some of the boys were playing catch. The mothers were huddled together playing bid whist. The fathers weren't there. A baseball game on television held most of them at home, although Edward was pretty certain his father was firing up the grill. This was no place for fathers anyway, he thought. None of the fathers he knew could so completely relax and just "be" like his mother and her friends could. A day in the park almost never included the men.
Edward Massey was the only boy not playing. There were times when he just couldn't be like everyone else. Even though if he could control everything, he really wanted to be doing whatever the other boys were doing. Playing whatever silly game they were playing. Or talking about girls or sports or even sneaking a puff on a cigarette. But there were moments, like this moment, when sitting still, in thought, burrowed deep into his own mind, was all he wanted to do.
"Paradox," he said in the barest of whispers. It was a word he'd only recently learned.
The boys were now choosing sides for a baseball game. They had discovered another group having a picnic and realized there were enough kids to maybe play seven to a side. Edward knew that any minute somebody was going to run over and try to get him to play. After all, he was the best catcher out there. He was the thickest of them all, chubby even. The perfect size to sit behind the plate and throw runners out. But he would have to confess that he just plain did not want to play. Beside him sat a book which he intended to read a little of and the rest of the time he just wanted to think. The peace of the park was rare. The air, laced with the happiness of so many of his friends at one time, rarer still.
Sure enough, his best friend, Sonny Goodman, was jogging in his direction.
"C'mon, Eddie, man. We're gettin' up a game. We need you."
"I don't feel like it today, Sonny," Edward said quietly, hoping his mother who sat behind him wouldn't interfere. He knew she sometimes worried that he didn't play enough. Luckily she was so caught up in her card game she didn't even turn in his direction.
"We need a catcher."
"I'm reading," Edward said as be picked up his book.
"You can read later, man. Let's play some ball."
Edward could see Sonny's body already turning back toward the other boys. "I don't feel like it."
"Don't be lame, man. We just need one more player."
"Sorry, man. I don't want to right now." Was all that Edward had to say to finally send Sonny on his way. He opened his book.
Fifteen minutes later Edward sat, his back against his mother's back, reading Poirot Investigates. Hercule Poirot was his favorite detective. No one could compete with the brilliant deductive powers of the Belgian sleuth except perhaps Sherlock Holmes. There was something seductive about Monsieur Poirot that pulled Edward into the stories. Edward loved Poirot's arrogance, his profound self-confidence, and especially the fat Belgian's use of his "little gray cells."
Edward was nearly always reading. His mother paid him a dollar for every book he read in addition to the one he was assigned in school. That meant that every book during the summer was worth a dollar. It didn't matter which book, but if he finished it, after a brief quiz, he was given an additional dollar over his allowance. He was up to two dollars a week. His goal was to read three books a week over the remainder of his vacation.
As he sat reading, he felt the pressure of his mother's body against him. When her time came to play a card, she would lean forward. He would try to anticipate her and hold his back stiff, awaiting her return. And even as he tunneled into the mysterious world of Paris high society, the banter of the women penetrated. It was rapid-fire, free-ranging, bouncing from neighborhood news to card-game boasts and taunts.
Edward looked up from his book. His own gray cells stimulated, he focused on the other boys. They were always playing.
They never hardly talked about books. Even Sonny, one of the smartest, never seemed to be serious about anything. And Rooster, well, to Edward, Rooster was one step away from being a member of one of the many gangs that surrounded them. They were both the same age as Edward -- twelve.
He often had to suffer the teasing and ridicule for being so much of a "bookworm." But what else was he supposed to do with his time? Aside from the fact that he actually did love to read and his mother literally fed him books like snacks, he had nothing else to occupy himself. Yes, he could play baseball in the summer and football in the winter, which he did...
From "West of Rehoboth" by Alexs D. Pate. 2001. All rights reserved. HarperCollins Publishers.