Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The way of all flesh

Down below, the Fairhaven and Empire Falls players were trotting back onto the field, halftime over. Janine did her best to act interested and upbeat, yet she couldn’t help thinking how soon these limber cheerleaders, now doing back flips, would be married and then pregnant by these same boys or others like them a town or two away. And how swiftly life would descend on the boys, as well. First the panic that maybe they’d have to go through it alone, then the quick marriage to prevent that grim fate, followed by relentless house and car payments and doctors’ bills and all the rest. The joy they took in this rough sport would gradually mutate. They’d gravitate to bars like her mother’s to get away from these same girls and then the children neither they nor their wives would be clever and independent enough to prevent. There would be the sports channel on the tavern’s wide-screen TV and plenty of beer, and for a while they’d talk about playing again, but when they did play, they’d injure themselves and before long their injuries would become “conditions,” and that would be that. Their jobs, their marriages, their kids, their lives—all of it a grind. Once a year, feeling rambunctious, they’d paint their faces, pile into one of their wives’ minivans, and, even though it cost too much, head south to take in a Patriots game, if the team didn’t finally relocate somewhere to the south where all the decent jobs had gone. After the game, half drunk, they’d head home again because nobody had the money to stay overnight. Home to Empire Falls, if such a place still existed.

In their brief absence a few of the more adventurous or desperate wives would seize the opportunity to hire a sitter and meet another of these boy-men, permanent whiskey-dicks, most of them, out at the Lamplighter Motor Court for a little taste of the road not taken, only to discover that it was pretty much the same shabby, two-lane blacktop they’d been traveling all along, just an unfamiliar stretch of it that nonetheless led to pretty much the same destination anyhow.
--Richard Russo, Empire Falls



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