Time was, on a summer afternoon in the northern Vermont hamlet of Kingdom Common, when Ethan Allen could walk completely around the rectangular village green and never be out of earshot of the Red Sox game on somebody’s radio. That’s what E.A. was doing on the early afternoon of his eighth birthday. He’d started at the short south end of the green, where the Voice of the Sox was blaring out over Earl No Pearl’s portable, perched on the top row of the third-base bleachers beside the town ball diamond so that Earl could listen while he chalked the batters’ boxes and base lines for the Outlaws’ game that afternoon. The same resonant and, as it seemed to E.A. in those years, omniscient Voice was broadcasting the game from the dusty pickups angled diagonally against the long west side of the green across the street from the brick shopping block. Backcountry farmers in from the outlying hollows sat in their cabs with the windows down, listening to the play-by-play from Fenway while their wives did their Saturday marketing. As E.A. crossed over to the heaved blue-slate sidewalk in front of the stores, he could hear the Voice drifting out through the screen doors of the IGA, the hardware, the five-and-dime, and the office of the Kingdom County Monitor, where Editor James Kinneson sat by the front window, typing and listening to the game. Since there was no local television station in the mountains of northern Vermont in those days, and no cable TV, every Sox fan in the village was listening to the game on the radio.
E.A. stuck his head inside the newspaper office. “Hey, Editor.”
Editor Kinneson looked up and smiled. “Hey, Ethan.”
“I reckon we’re holding our own today,” E.A. said, nodding toward the radio on the corner of the desk.
“So far,” the editor said. “But you know us, Ethan. If there’s a way to lose —”
“We’ll find it,” E.A. said, and ducked back outside.
Editor James Kinneson always spoke to E.A. as if he were a man instead of a seven-year-old — as of today, an eight-year-old — kid. E.A. would give nearly anything to have it turn out that Editor K was the one. He knew better, though. He knew he might as well wish for the Sox to win the Series. It wasn’t Editor Kinneson.
He continued north along the brick block, with the buzz of the big Fenway crowd now coming through the screen door of Quinn’s Pharmacy. On the outside of the screen was what appeared to be a baseball. Actually, it was a baseball-size ball of cotton soaked with bug dope to keep away the flies. As E.A. approached, George Quinn II stepped outside in his white coat with his aerosol can and sprayed the cotton ball with a fresh dose of Old Woodsman. E.A. stared at him with his pale eyes. He’d seen the druggist eyeing Gypsy Lee when he thought no one was watching.
He hadn’t liked the way Quinn had looked at her.
“What are you staring at, E.A.?”
“You,” E.A. said.
“Scat,” George Quinn II said. Like a man shooing away a mangy stray cat, he gave the aerosol can a squirt in E.A.’s direction, suffusing the air with the smell of citronella. Then he retreated back into the pharmacy while the all-knowing Voice of the Sox announced that after three complete innings Boston led New York 2–1.
To which E.A. replied, “I reckon I won’t hold my breath.”
“To whom are you speaking, Ethan Allen?”
It was Old Lady Benton, leaning over the rail of her second-story rent above the pharmacy and glaring down at him the way she used to glare at whispering pupils in her third-grade classroom at the Common Academy across the green. She’d spotted him from her porch rocker while pursuing her two favorite avocations, listening to the Sox game and spying on the village.
“I asked, to whom are you speaking?” Old Lady Benton said again.
“Nobody,” E.A. said.
“You’re patrolling the streets and mumbling your mouth to one of those imaginary companions of yours, aren’t you, E.A.?”
E.A. gave her his iciest wysott Allen stare, but she looked right straight back at him, waiting for an answer. Old Lady B was one tough customer. To this day she was feared by all three generations of Commoners who’d had her as a teacher. Everyone knew how she had faced down E. W. Williams and the entire Outlaws baseball team a decade ago, on the night of the torchlight procession in honor of the Outlaws’ fifth consecutive Northern Vermont Town Team League Championship. Earlier that afternoon, E.W.’s game-winning home-run ball had struck one of the twin wooden decorative balls on the back of her porch rocker while she was sitting in it. Unimpressed that it had traveled a distance of 442 feet (not counting arc), according to Bumper Stevens’s Stanley metal tape measure, Old Lady Benton had refused to return the baseball in question. That night, cheered on by his teammates, E.W. had stood, drunk and swaying, below her porch and callled her Battleax Bentonnnn and worse besides. She had merely come to the rail and said that while she didn’t deny being a battle-ax, the ball had nearly taken her head off and therefore she would keep it as a souvenir, thank you kindly. After which E.W. had staggered off and the torchlight procession had fizzled out.
E.A. nearly always knew whether Boston was ahead or behind by a certain subtle inflection in the Voice of the Sox. Now blasting from the porch of the Common Hotel, the Voice was worriedly describing a Yankee threat. Several bat boys, retired from the Green Mountain Rebel baseball bat factory, sat out on the hotel porch in the sunshine in folding chairs listening to the game on Fletch’s hunch-shouldered Stromberg Carlson. Fletch liked to tell how, when he was E.A.’s age, in October of 1918, the bell at the United Church had rung of its own accord when the Sox won their lastWorld Series.
With the score now tied, 2–2, at the end of the fourth, Fletch reached back over his shoulder to the windowsill, where the Stromberg Carlson sat, like an old-fashioned breadbox with dials, and turned down the volume. Loud enough for E.A. to hear as he crossed the street, Fletch said, “Here comes that Allen boy again.”
E.A. stopped at the foot of the hotel porch steps to eyeball the pensioners. He regarded them and they regarded him. A slender, redheaded boy in jeans and scuffed Keds and a T-shirt and a Sox baseball cap. Not big for his age but wiry, with hair the color of barn paint and a pale blue stare that was already as cold as the ice cliffs on Allen Mountain in January.
“We saw your hit in that pickup game on the common yesterday, E.A.,” Early Kinneson said. “Saw you lace that opposite-field triple over first base.”
“You keep at it you might take the playing field for the Outlaws someday,” said Early’s brother, Late.
“Might even crack that other knob offen Old Lady B’s rocking chair,” Early added.
E.A.’s eyes moved carefully from one seamed face to the next.
Then he headed down the lane beside the hotel toward the commission- sales auction barn. Inside the barn a couple dozen local farmers and downcountry cattle buyers stood on the sawdusty floor while Frenchy LaMott, the auctioneer, sat on a high stool above the cattle ring and presided over the Saturday afternoon auction. The Voice of the Sox droned indistinctly from somewhere beyond the ring while Frenchy chanted into a microphone.
“Who’ll give a thousand dollars for this fine animal, gentlemen?
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