(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores December 2017.)
I hadn't been to the house since my father's funeral. Eighteen years. I had to go back ten years before that to find a good memory. At least, one that involved my father. I was nine and Little League baseball tryouts were a few days away. Dad was throwing me ground balls in the backyard. I'd just mowed the lawn down to the nub and it was playing fast. We had to do twenty-five in a row without an error, including the throw back to him, before we ended practice. Sometimes it took fifteen minutes, sometimes an hour. Sometimes we had to clip a portable spotlight with a long extension cord to the eaves of the garage to hold back the night.
That day, we were on a roll. Ten in a row. Clean. Fifteen. Clean. After twenty, my dad grabbed a handful of gravel from the walkway between the garage and the concrete slab on the side of the house where we kept the trashcans. He sprinkled the gravel three feet in front of me. He told me bad hops were a part of baseball.
A part of life.
Number twenty-one caught a pebble, took a bad hop and the ball ricocheted off my chest. I snatched the ball off the ground and fired a strike to my dad's first basemen's glove to beat the clock ticking in his head. Twenty-two missed the pebbles. Clean. Twenty-three hit a pebble and stayed low, but I gloved it and whipped the ball to my dad. Clean. Twenty-four shot dead right, but I backhanded it and made the throw. Clean.
Twenty-five clipped a pebble and shot straight up into my mouth. I fell to the ground on my back and grabbed my mouth with my right hand. Blood. Tears. Error. Dad hustled over, knelt down over me, and wiped my lip with his handkerchief. It stung and kept bleeding. He helped me up and started to walk me to the house.
I let go of his hand and wiped tears from my eyes and blood from my lip. "We didn't make twenty-five in a row."
"I think we can skip that today." He smiled, towering over me.
"No. We can't quit just because things get hard." I parroted the
saying he'd told me since I could first understand words. I believed the words. They were engrained in my psyche, my DNA. But my mouth hurt and the blood scared me and I wanted to quit. More than anything, though, I wanted my dad to be proud of me.
"Okay, but just one more. That one took a bad hop and wouldn't have been ruled an error."
"Twenty-five in a row."
We finished an hour later under the spotlight hanging from the eaves.
* * *
My mother sold the house three months after the funeral. Dad had died years before the bottle finally killed him. After he "retired" without a pension from the La Jolla Police Department. My mother
moved to Arizona with the man she began seeing while she and Dad were separated. I'd been to Arizona twice in eighteen years.
The neighborhood had changed a lot since I'd last been there. Every house but one in the cul-de-sac had either been remodeled or torn down and rebuilt. The lone holdout was the house I'd grown up in. But, even that was about to change.
The house was laid bare, stripped down to the studs and concrete slab. New owners had bought it from the family my mother sold it to. Looked like they wanted to make the most of the La Jolla zip code and take the tract out of the tract home I'd grown up in. Bigger. Better. Modern. They'd framed up to two stories so they'd get a glimpse of the bay down the hill three miles away. What was a house in La Jolla without a view?
Just a childhood with some good memories buried beneath the bad.
I got out of my car and walked through the open gate of the temporary chain link fence that encircled the house. The late afternoon sun cast a shadowed grid onto the ground. A couple construction workers were putting up drywall in the family room. Or where the family room used to be. I walked over to the porch and the front door opening. I knocked on the side of the frame. One of the drywallers stepped back and looked at me. Blond, buff. Probably surfed the daylight hours he didn't work.
"This is a construction site. You can't be in here." No anger, just stating the facts.
"I've got an appointment with the new owner, Bob Martin." I had my own facts.
"Mr. Cahill." A voice came from behind the tarpapered framing of the garage. A tall man appeared. Mid-forties, short curly brown hair. Wire rim glasses. Looked like an architect, which he probably was. Tear down, build up, and flip. We shook hands.
"The item I called you about is out in the back."