September 08, 2017
About Jotham Burrello
Jotham Burrello is the publisher of Elephant Rock Books, Director of the Yale Writers’ Conference, and a professor at Central Connecticut State University. His writing has appeared in journals and magazines. He’s a proud winner of the New Yorker Caption contest. He’s currently completing his novel, Spindle City. He lives with his wife and three tax breaks in Ashford, Connecticut, the crown jewel of the Quiet Corner.
We price the cotton. We spin the yarn. We weave the fabric. We dress the world. Same as it ever was, and as it will always be.
Welcome to Spindle City.
— Colonel Cleveland, president of Cleveland Mill, speaking to visiting French Trade Council, 1886
Fall River, Massachusetts, 1911: The kind of day Minister Johns said Jesus had promised. Crisp and sunny, though warm for June. The type of weather, Johns said, that respects a man’s daily toil. The paper predicted 50,000.
Despite it being Friday, Joseph Bartlett was nowhere near the Cleveland Mill; no, today he was trying to belong, so he stood with the other Centennial Committee members in the assigned section of the temporary grandstand directly opposite city hall at the assigned time, wearing his assigned straw Milan boater with the blue silk ribbon and his assigned smile, or half smile—he had another bad tooth—waiting for the presidential motorcade to crawl beneath the grandstand that held aloft the portly fathers of Fall River.
The Decoration Committee had gone off. The Granite Block, the commercial heart of the city, resembled an exploding firework. Wreaths of red carnations hung from all the office windows. Old Glory fluttered from every building on the block. Red, white, and blue bunting dangled from city hall windows and bell tower like bats wings. Suspended from a cross weave of wire down Main Street hung garlands of roses and thousands of incandescent globes. Young female clerks tossed confetti from McWhirr’s Department Store windows; the store’s marquee flashed red, white, and blue. Out-of-town revelers, probably stock-owning Bostonians, serenaded the crowd from the street-facing rooms of the Hotel Mohican.
A homespun racket accompanied the patriotic decorations. Screechers, scrapers, rattlers, and croakers filled the spaces between hoarse shouts and whooping calls. Those who couldn’t afford the peddlers’ noisemakers shook tin cans filled with dried beans or beat coal shovels on frying pans. The Policeman Union band marched below playing “Hail to the Chief.” Taft’s motorcade was close. Boom! Boom! Boom! The battleship Connecticut’s eight-inch guns rocked the grandstand with another salute from Mount Hope Bay, and the crowd flinched at each blast. A spooked dray horse galloped wildly past the review stand; police gave chase. Children clutched their mothers’ skirts. The roar of the mill’s spinning room was peaceful compared to this din, Joseph thought. Main Street was no place for a nervous person.
Young men carried paper signs tucked into the bands of their straw hats. “I Am out for a Good Time.” “My Home Is Yours.” And, “Oh, You Kid.” Many gawked at the message carriers. The ladies got in on the act with slogans like, “My Heart Is Yours” and “I Am in Love.” And Joseph’s favorite, “My Heart’s on Fire,” worn by a red-haired Irish girl with wide hips who reminded him of Mary Sheehan. In the sea of bodies, the suffragettes’ yellow “Votes for Women” pennants popped against the gentlemen’s black suit jackets.
A ragtag crew of Portuguese boys wearing their lint-covered work overalls marched back and forth under the Centennial Arch singing the first verse of the “Invitation Ode.” No doubt their overseer forced them to memorize it:
One hundred years ago,
To crude machines we owe
A tribute grand.
Unfailing progress came,
Weaving both cloth and fame,
Wafting Fall River’s name
Through every land.
On the horizon, Joseph saw a rare sight: clear sky between the hulking redbrick smokestacks. He smiled. Taft had done it. One hundred and eleven mills were silent. Only a president could close the mills. Anarchists, socialists, suffragists, all stripes of ists and isms had tried and failed. In Joseph Bartlett’s lifetime, textile alley never ceased to produce cloth. He had half expected Taft would try and fail, too.
The president’s speech would conclude the Cotton Centennial, a carnival of sorts, to celebrate 100 years of great American innovation in the great American city of Fall River, Massachusetts. Everyone loves a carnival, with the beauty queens, floats, circus animals, parades, contests, and rickety, stomach-turning rides whipping through the sweaty aroma of blood sausage and kidneys, cotton candy and hot nuts. To celebrate the city’s product, the Cotton Manufacturers’ Association had organizers stack 500-pound cotton bales on street corners.
Joseph spotted one of his boys in the crush pushing toward the review stand. He recognized his checkered hatband. The boy spun and grabbed the arm of a shopgirl. No, on second glance, it was neither Will nor Hollister; their tickets to the grandstand were tucked away in his breast pocket, had been all week. He touched them now, squeezing the thick cardstock between his thumb and finger. A fellow on the Horse Show Committee slapped Joseph’s back, and he bit down hard on his bad tooth. The man shouted something and laughed, but Joseph couldn’t make out the joke over the searing pain in his jaw.
* * *
Up in the Highlands, on June Street, the faint strains of the military band in Taft’s motorcade reached Evelyn as she worried over the temperature of Elizabeth Bartlett’s tomato soup. The poor woman could guess temperature to the degree. Tomato soup must be served between 137 and 139 degrees Fahrenheit. And the soda crackers must be fresh, straight from the tin, and served on a saucer, six per serving. Before Elizabeth’s illness, Evelyn intentionally hardened poached eggs and oversalted beef stews, but now she painstakingly measured, mixed, and stoked in the surefire manner her mother taught her as a girl in Ireland. She and Elizabeth had dispensed with the usual employee-employer fussiness. They were friends, sort of, given that Highland society had ceased to visit Elizabeth’s parlor after Dr. Boyle imposed twenty-four-hour bed rest. At this stage of the fight, Elizabeth’s hollowed bones couldn’t support her own weight. “Cored like a bird’s bones,” was how Dr. Boyle described the cancer’s invasion in a recent note to Joseph. It was Evelyn’s idea to move into the small room at the end of the hall; handling Elizabeth’s “dirties” had earned her the household’s respect. Evelyn believed cleanliness curried favor with the Lord.
Evelyn backed noiselessly into the darkened room. Elizabeth had instructed her to double up the lace curtains during daylight hours to keep her mother’s furniture from fading, giving the room the hue of a bruised peach. The trapped air reeked of bedpans and phlegm; it circled the bed like a noose. But before setting to fixing lunch, Evelyn cracked the window, and a salty breeze rolled up the hill from the Taunton River. Elizabeth’s cut glass animal collection vibrated when the Connecticut’s big guns fired. The animals were pastured on the oak drop desk cabinet that housed the Minnesota Model-A sewing machine Joseph had bought her for their first anniversary. Will had sprinkled straw for the animals and arranged them in clusters by species, chickens with other chickens, pigs with pigs, sheep with sheep, and so on up the barnyard hierarchy. The older one, the wanton Hollister, attempted to crossbreed the species at every opportunity. Will had balanced the mateless white unicorn on top of the miniature wooden barn. Elizabeth had told him of its magic. Rub its horn and make a wish. The boy hadn’t the heart to tell his mother that he’d already made hundreds of wishes.
At the foot of the bed, the family’s two cats, Bobbin and Thread, snoozed in a pie wedge of sunlight. Evelyn set the lunch tray on the nightstand next to The Practical Family Doctor that leaned against a jar of Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound and other half-baked potions and tonics that Elizabeth had put her faith in during her steep decline—all against Dr. Boyle’s wishes. Like the rest of her, Elizabeth’s face had sunk in on itself as her body gradually shut down. Evelyn believed it an early stage of rigor mortis, though she wasn’t sure what rigor mortis was exactly. The term was tossed about when her little sister wouldn’t fit into the coffin her mother had traded her wedding band for. Evelyn peeled back the sheet and slipped her hand under the embroidered fringe of Elizabeth’s nightgown and pressed down lightly. Elizabeth’s eyelids fluttered. Her heartbeat was soft. Her breaths well spaced. A deep sleep. I know her body better than that silly frog Boyle does, Evelyn thought. She imagined herself Elizabeth’s personal physician. Dr. Evelyn Mary Daly. Her surgeon’s coat would be the whitest, the finest Egyptian cloth, and her bag made from the softest Italian leather. She rubbed Elizabeth’s chest another moment and then did her daily test of how far she could wrap her hand around Elizabeth’s bony wrist. She pressed her lips to her patient’s hot cheek. Let Saint Peter eat crow, she thought. Then suddenly she choked up. What will happen to me if she dies?
Evelyn knelt beside the bed. She made the sign of the cross and mumbled the Lord’s Prayer.
* * *
Not far from the grandstand, under a tent erected inside Big Berry Stadium, the local parishes sponsored boys boxing. Amateur classes only. Hundred-and-fifty-pound limit. The bank of lights hung low over the ring surrounded on four sides by wooden folding chairs. The only other lumination were tunnels of sunlight from the four entries, each glowing bright like a gateway from a celestial world. When the fights started, the light dimmed because of the rubberneckers who blocked it: men who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, pay the nickel gate. Those who could pay sat thirty rows deep. Each had a relative or bet in every bout.
“Hey, Father,” a drunkard, a Protestant most likely, shouted from the cheap seats. “That the blood of God?” The crowd, all workingmen, broke into a roar, as Father Maxi, a stout priest with a flattened nose that suggested his experience with the sport, bent down on hands and knees to press a towel to the loser’s split lip. The victor, Damian Newton, wiped the Yankee boy’s blood down his threadbare trousers. His red boxing gloves, like two rotten tomatoes, swayed over his head. Maxi glanced up. Not even the Romans made such a spectacle of victory.
Ringside, Damian’s little brother, Patrick, kept a firm grip on his father’s belt, hoping the old man didn’t blast off. Indeed, as his brother landed the knockout punch, Patrick coiled the belt around his fist like a cowboy might a leather rein.
Pete Newton had used his fists successfully in the general strike of 1894, then again on a granite wall behind Saint Anne’s the afternoon of his wife’s burial. In the years since, he’d raised the boys on church handouts and his fists, training them in late-night kitchen sparring sessions. Damian pummeled the calcified knots on his old man’s back and neck. After each blow, Pete stumbled to his feet, mumbling technique: “More on the jawline,” or “Gonna haveta stroke harder to beat a Yankee boy.” Patrick always hid under the sink, waiting for the roundhouse that would send his father off to sleep.
As Damian continued his victory dance Old Pete sat queerly silent, his arms folded over his reed-thin frame, piss drunk, no question, but oddly cool, as if he’d known the fight’s outcome before the first bell. Finally, a crooked smile stretched over his scarred face when Maxi announced that Damian’s final opponent would be Will Bartlett. Local legend held that Will’s grandfather, Otis, had tossed Pete’s father out a second-story window at the Cleveland Mill for barging drunk into the lady weavers’ latrine. Old Colonel Cleveland, the patriarch of the company, had investigated the incident, but the weavers said the old drunk had slipped, breaking both his legs.
A young priest escorted Damian from the ring to change out of his bloody trousers before the title bout against Will Bartlett. Outside the tent, the Fort Adams marching band played “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”
* * *
“How is our dear Elizabeth? Such a dear, dear creature,” cooed Mrs. Gower in a syrupy voice. Joseph stared at the enormous ostrich plumes protruding from her head. Mrs. G. was a 78 percent stockholder in the Gower Linen Company and an old family friend of Elizabeth’s people, the mill-owning families who lived on the hill. Since taking over the Cleveland Mill six years ago, Joseph equated everyone with his or her share value. If Lizzy died, his would free fall, but he’d be free of the Highlands. Her plumes reminded him of bunny ears. He was willing to bet half his meager Cleveland holdings that they were a foot tall, if not longer. Thankfully, Lizzy had never been a fan of such trims on her hats.
Mrs. Gower stood above him on the grandstand fanning a tiny bouquet of white sweet peas and violets tied with white satin under her nose. All of the committee members’ wives waved them, making the entire section of the grandstand smell like a summer night garden compared to the stench of manure at street level. The armada of shit wagons the city employed was no match for a weeks’ worth of mounted police, coronation coaches, trade parades, and the Ringling Brothers’ caravan of horses, elephants, and zebras.
Mrs. G. had yet to meet his eyes. Perhaps she was really broken up about Lizzy? Dr. Boyle had taken to leaving notes on the state of her condition rather than endure Joseph’s long silences. He thought about the inappropriateness of the word “creature.” Lizzy isn’t a creature. Joseph’s throat constricted. The word conjured up an image of Will’s pet turtle, Shelly. For a moment, he considered the social consequences of telling Mrs. G. to go to hell, but before he could summon the courage, her white-gloved hand tugged at his black coat sleeve. She repeated, “Such a dear, dear creature. We all miss her so.”
“She’s holding her own, I suppose,” he managed. Joseph pinched his tight collar. “No change, really. No improvements since your last visit. Easter, was it?”
“I’ve been meaning to . . .” Her voice trailed off.
After a long day at the mill, Joseph might not muster much more than a quick peck to Lizzy’s forehead. The girl he loved was slowly evaporating, like a bucket of water set out in the sun; each visit to her bedside proved costly to his memory. The porcelain-white feet he first laid eyes on that magical summer at Loon Lake were curled and yellowed. The baby-blond hairs on the back of her neck that stood on end when he pressed her against her father’s boathouse had lost their will. The blue eyes that had matched the lake water had grayed. Who had taken these pleasures from him? The Almighty, Joseph had long ago concluded, was partly to blame.
Mrs. G. latched onto his forearm. The old biddy had quite a grip. He was unsure if she was overcome with emotion for Elizabeth’s dire straits or guilt-ridden for not calling in three months.
Slowly she turned down to face him, looking much younger than her sixty-five years. Winters spent south are said to preserve youthfulness. “Give her my love, from John and me.” She patted her gloved wrist against the corner of her eyes.
She glanced to either side of Joseph. “How are the boys getting along?”
“Evelyn can’t keep them out of her room.” He raised his fists. “They’re both entered in the boxing competition. I might sneak off to catch Will’s bout.”
“Righto.” She turned back to her husband, tugging at his sleeve so he’d acknowledge Joseph. John Gower tipped his boater sternly and then stroked his beard. Gower carried grudges like a camel carries a hump—square in the middle of his back. The old man had not forgiven Joseph for breaking with the Manufacturers Association during the 1904 strike. The owners told labor they needed a second wage concession in nine months to compete against the southern menace. Joseph disagreed and raised pay. Dividends and fair wages can coexist! During the strike, he transitioned Cleveland toward producing fine goods and odd specialty products like tablecloths that the South couldn’t yet manufacture. Cleveland prints were made from high-quality thread, and their colors became known for not running at the first sight of a washboard.
Not getting his long-overdue apology, Gower turned back to the parade.
Bastard. Joseph rubbed his chin with the stub of his pinky. Good riddance.
The roar of the Connecticut’s big guns tore through the Granite Block. Thirty thousand textile workers ducked, screamed, and then leaped to their feet and leaned on the shoulders of the person in front of them. Children cried. Women swooned. Men shouted. MR PRESIDENT! MR. PRESIDENT! OVER HERE! OVER HERE! From the review stand, the Mayflower’s own band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” Taft stood in the back of his black Buick touring car, waving his black silk top hat at the crowd. A dozen army regulars from Fort Adams and the president’s security detail surrounded the car as the crowd lurched closer. The short route from the car park to the review stand was lined with letter carriers waving American flags. Taft plucked a flag from a man’s breast pocket. He waved it high above his head. When the crowd roared its approval, the commander in chief smiled, showing his strong teeth. He wobbled toward the review stand. He was wide bodied and stout, resembling a potato with arms and legs. Music blew from all directions. Confetti sailed across the grandstand and down on the legions in the street. Gobs of the stuff, like colored snow, fluttered into Joseph’s ears and mouth. He could already imagine the headline in the late editions, Taft Declares Fall River Presidential City. The guns continued, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Twenty-one shots that rocked the grandstand. Noisemakers squealed. Children were hoisted onto shoulders. The hatband slogans and pennants blurred and the crowd surged forward as Taft mounted the podium stairs. THERE HE IS! THERE’S THE PRESIDENT! I CAN’T SEE! THERE! ON THE STAGE! I SEE HIM! I SEE HIM! A man on the Parade Committee knocked Joseph’s shoulder; he shouted, loudly into Joseph’s ear, “We did it! A red-letter day. The goddamn president in Fall River.”
Joseph forced a smile. “Heck of a day,” he said. But the man shook his head and pointed to his ear and then looked back to Taft, still waving the miniature flag.
* * *
The carnival midway ran down the length of Pleasant Street. The commotion from city hall rolled past the dunking booth, the three-hundred-pound woman, and the Incredible Shrinking Man, past pigs on spits and puddles of ale, past mounds of lemon rinds and elephant dung. At the end of the midway, the roar of the Connecticut’s big guns was reduced to a faint tremor deep within the bowels of the fun house.
Hollister Bartlett, Joseph’s oldest son, pushed his palm up his runny nose and then wiped his hand down his trouser leg. The touch of the flu he had woken up with that morning would be a worthy excuse for dropping out of the boxing competition. He sat on an upended mop bucket nestled in a fluffy bed of work rags and burlap that filled the cramped space with the smell of oil and straw. The closet was pitch black. Like his mother’s room, he thought. The ride operator, already in his cups, gave Hollister a key and three minutes to find the storage closet hidden in the Hall of Mirrors. Behind the famine panel, the operator joked, pocketing Hollister’s dollar bribe. Hollister pressed his ear to the back of the warped mirror and smiled. “Famine panel,” he said, just now getting the man’s joke. The mirror squeezed the life from you.
Out of habit, Hollister took out his grandfather’s pocket watch, but couldn’t make out the hands. When he had handed his girl of the month the two-cent admission, he instructed her to enter alone. Maria was the oldest yet, nearly twenty, a good four years older than himself. Their code word was “spider.”
Hollister worked after school managing all the women’s accounts in his father’s mill store. Maria got hired in the card room beside her mother when her father lost his job on a New Bedford fishing boat. In two weeks, Hollister’s eraser had worn her charge card thin in places. Two yards of cloth had become three yards. A quarter pound of sugar became a half. And, unlucky for Maria, her account swelled even when she wasn’t shopping. Hollister had gone out of his way midmonth to inform her of her cash deficit, something he told her he “didn’t do for all the girls.” Maria understood the word “deficit” because the landlord spoke of her father’s debt each month. Hollister pulled her to the end of the counter and said, “There are other ways, creative ways to pay off the debt.” Hollister’s pride and ambition were matched only by his ability to spot weakness.
“Spider. Spider.” Maria inched into the Hall of Mirrors, tiptoeing forward as if bracing for a blow. “Spider. Spider.” The first mirror gave her three heads. The next blew up her pencil-thin frame like a soaked sponge.
Hollister set his hand on the latch to open the panel, then sat back down. He still hadn’t figured what he was going to do with her. She was the prettiest of the five he’d outwitted. Unlike the pampered Highland girls who still believed storks delivered babies, the immigrant girls knew hard knocks and a woman’s obligation. His previous four “dates” hadn’t uttered a word while he squeezed their small breasts and spastically humped their bare legs, and only one actually spoke. Her name was Viva, and she asked him if he was proud of himself as she stepped out of the woman’s latrine, adjusting her stockings one morning before the mill opened. Viva gave Hollister pause, and if she had pushed him further, asked him what his mother thought of him or why he couldn’t get a regular girl, he might have stopped altogether. But she hadn’t, or couldn’t, given she spoke little English.
Viva? Freak? Only a freak would bother with these stupid girls. Silly Highland girls gave thrills if you bought them treats. And the dumb Irish, they charged a nickel a feel. The hell with Maria, he thought. Is it my fault her father couldn’t bait a hook? I could get her better jobs, but she had no imagination, no future.
“Spider. Spider.” Maria’s voice faded as she walked deeper into the ride.
Let her die in the card room with her stupid mother. Loser.
* * *
Back on June Street, Bobbin, the more brazen of the Bartlett’s two cats, flopped down on a pillow, sticking her rear end in Elizabeth’s face. She rolled over for Evelyn to scratch her tummy. Instead, Evelyn deposited the cat on the foot of the bed, then snapped her finger into the beast’s nose: “What have I said?” Evelyn hissed. Bobbin scrammed. Evelyn pulled the starched sheet over Elizabeth’s shoulder and laid her hair across the pillow. The premature gray severely dated the forty-three-year-old Elizabeth. “No sitting on the pillows.”
Evelyn thought she ought not wake her patient for tomato soup. She set the lunch tray on the nightstand and took up the Dickens novel she’d been reading aloud to Elizabeth. Instead of a day off to attend the carnival, as Evelyn had been promised but secretly dreaded, knowing she’d either be stuck tending her sister’s children or be paraded past would-be suitors (squeaky-wheeled Irishmen from the Globe neighborhood) by her matchmaking mother, Evelyn chose to lounge in the cozy window seat of her small room with Oliver Twist. She made a mental note to tell Elizabeth about the two goldfinches that had taken up in the old oak outside the kitchen window, and then remembered she must tell Albert to refill the feeder. Momentarily, but only momentarily, she listed the household chores left to finish, ice to order. Luckily, Mr. Bartlett had been too preoccupied with the Centennial to notice her falling off lately. She cursed the second girl, Leah, for leaving the washing unfinished. Evelyn heard a streetcar pass down the hill and wondered what mischief Leah would get into on the dirty carnival midway. It was no place for a lady. The hall clock struck three bells. A roar rolled up the hill. Elizabeth slept on.
* * *
Joseph spotted Massachusetts governor Foss on the review stand, sitting with Senator Crane among the president’s entourage of secretaries and centennial dignitaries. Congressman Greene stood a few feet to the side, straightening his blue silk bow tie. Mayor Higgins, flush from his introduction of the commander in chief, waved to friends in the wings. Phrases like “largest cotton manufacturing city in the country” and “many races, more cosmopolitan then many other large cities” and “men never possessed by a selfish or sordid motive” flew from his mouth, hot with civic pride. The last phrase seared Joseph’s skin. He looked over the grandstand to see if anyone else noted the irony of the statement, but no man met his eye. These men spun gold from cotton, or so they believed. Joseph sat down on the hard wood bleacher and slumped forward over his knees, a tall thin man with a youthful face that could not hide the dark circles under his eyes. The other mill owners respected his intellect, but the tragic mill fire that led to his running Cleveland Mill cast a long shadow.
Joseph recognized Matt Borden’s voice and lumbered to his feet. He quickly spotted the great man smack-dab right in the center of the grandstand chatting with his son, Howard. Borden dabbed a white handkerchief to his bald pate and scratched his walrus mustache. He was well fed like Taft. Howard checked his watch and whispered something to his father, who nodded in agreement. Matt Borden lived in New York, in part to keep his extended family of hangers-on at a distance. He had gone to considerable trouble and expense to erect a forty-five-foot mast atop his formable American Printing Company to fly the stars and stripes. The flag greeted the president’s yacht, the Mayflower. Too much had been made of it. To the mill owners seated near Joseph, the flag wasn’t a symbol of America or Taft, but of Borden watching over the Manufacturers’ Association. Borden brushed confetti from his son’s shoulder as he peered into the swarm of newspapermen in the press section. Joseph couldn’t maneuver between the ladies’ hats to see who was catching Borden’s eye. More than one smut peddler had been rumored to be on Borden’s payroll.
Joseph heard, rather clearly, the Lancashire scowl of George Howard, the undersecretary of the United Textile Council, shouting something about the dissolution of Standard Oil, a topic sure to boil Yankee blood. Joseph smirked. He liked Howard’s gall, despite the fact that it might lead to Fall River’s downfall. Blackballed by British mills, Howard came to America looking for a new fight, shouting or punching whatever itched his brain. Owners were “cockwinders” and workers “builders.” Howard’s arrogance, when mixed with the owner’s sense of entitlement, led to strikes and lockouts.
On the review stand, Taft set his silk hat on the podium and cleared his throat.
“I esteem it a great privilege to be here to help you celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the great textile industry. When your committee, headed by your congressman, Mr. Greene, invited me to come here, I ventured to inquire whether any speech-making was necessary. I was told that was not important. All that was necessary was that you should see me.” Taft stepped back from the podium and the crowd roared. “I venture to think that if there is any street in Fall River that I have not traversed, it was because the committee forgot it.”
Standing between Matt Borden and George Howard, Joseph realized that like the red section rope that divided owners from workers, he straddled two worlds but belonged to neither: the Protestant boardrooms of Matt Borden and the Lancashire toil of Howard’s Episcopalian brothers with their lodges, clubs, and unions. He thought his father, Otis, and Jefferson Cleveland were probably the last two men, laborer and owner, Episcopalian and Protestant, whose relationship wasn’t predicated on deceit. As a cotton agent and then mill owner, Joseph had tried to appease the Yankees—converted to their church, frequented the Q club, learned golf, for God’s sake he married a Yankee—but he would never be one of them.
Taft continued, “Therefore, I think I have had the pleasure of seeing most of the people of Fall River, as they have had the pleasure of seeing most of me.” The crowd erupted in laughter and applause. Men waved their straw and felt hats. Sunlight reflected off the president’s big teeth.
* * *
Joseph peeled away from the grandstand, disappearing into the throng, all shoving forward to get a glimpse of Taft. In the street boys who usually swept floors or collected discarded tin raced up the block, weaving between gaps in the crowd. Ladies shouted at them to slow down. Many didn’t earn enough to enjoy the carnival rides or eat the vendors’ fried dough balls, so Joseph was pleased to see them enjoying themselves just the same. On North Main Street, he looped back to City Hall Square and dipped under the tarp draped around the grandstand. The stifling hot air choked him, and he began to retch. The cavern was a skunk works of wooden scaffolding. He nearly tripped over a mound of seaweed and rocks for that afternoon’s clambake. Flies buzzed past his face then returned to the seaweed pile. Joseph nuzzled a handkerchief to his mouth and glanced up at the stressed bleachers that bent toward him each time the crowd moved. Shafts of light shot between the gaps in peoples’ legs as if beamed from the projector at the Rialto Theater. The president’s voice was muffled, but Joseph could still make it out. He spotted Matt Borden’s soft leather heels.
“Over here, Captain.” Joseph turned to see George Howard standing ten spaces up in a sea of fallen confetti, crepe paper, and empty bottles of King Philip lager, eating a swirl of cotton candy off a wooden stick. Howard wore two buttons on his lapel, a Taft campaign button from the previous election and a souvenir keepsake printed with the carnival’s slogan, “Fall River Looms Up.” Years of police batons rapping against his knees and shoulders had taken their toll on the fifty-eight-year-old. He walked mechanically and sloppily like a windup toy soldier missing a part. His shock of white hair and wide, thin smile was ever present. He was the happiest foul-mouthed anarchist Joseph had ever met.
Joseph said, “Enjoying yourself?”
“Bingo bingo.” Howard licked cotton candy off his thumb. “Want some?”
“Got a bad tooth.” Joseph wondered how Howard managed to keep all his teeth. His tongue gingerly explored the far reaches of his mouth, the tip wedging between the gum and root of his top left wisdom tooth. His mouth was full of salty spit.
“I got a piece of string.”
Joseph snorted, and then spat a blood glob of snot over his shoulder. He said, “I hear your parade float won the union division.”
“I hear Cleveland’s was dead last.”
“We’ll get them at the next centennial.”
Howard narrowed his eyes and then choked on some cotton candy, getting the joke. “Yes, the next great one hundred years of cloth in Fall River.” The irony of the statement was greeted with a wave of applause in the grandstand. Of all the men in the audience, Joseph, Howard, and perhaps Borden were the only ones who could imagine an end to Fall River’s textile dynasty. Joseph flinched when the crowd stood; at any moment the weight of his well-fed competitors and their bejeweled wives might crush him.
Howard said, “These fat cockwinders won’t last another twenty.”
“My boy, he’s boxing. What do you want?”
Howard handed Joseph a leather-bound book. The binding was sticky. The name Cummings Mill was embossed on the cover.
“How did you . . .”
“We stole it.”
Joseph raised his hand. “I don’t want to know.”
“Go to the marked page. Cummings announced that he’ll be putting more looms on the idle list and shutting down for four weeks this summer—a vacation my union doesn’t need—because the price of goods in the market was below the cost of production.”
“Prices are down. That’s no secret.” Joseph ran his fingers down the rows. He couldn’t tell someone how to run a business—independence, another Cleveland mantra—but he was pleased to see Cummings paid a few cents more for their dye.
Howard tapped his cotton candy against the ledger and said, “Look at the advanced sales figures, lines ten through twenty-five. The brokers are paying far above the costs of production. The association is going to produce to the deadline, then sit on inventory for four weeks to raise prices for inflated profits.”
“You can deduce this all from one ledger, from one of the smallest mills in the association?”
“No, my friend. History foretold the scenario. This is just concrete intelligence. Bingo bingo. I won’t accept another lecture about temperance with operatives living in shitholes.”
Joseph snapped the ledger shut. He didn’t need a history lesson from Howard. “The 25 percent curtailment may be extended. I told you that months ago.”
“The spinners and others are already running low of curtailment benefits. The loom fixers and weavers are in dire straits.”
Joseph threw up his hands. He had grown tired of being the go-between for Howard. And right here, right under the other agents’ noses. Howard’s ego had no bounds. Bingo bingo up his ass.
Joseph said, “You should unite all workers. Cause a real ruckus.”
Howard fell back on the council’s mantra concerning wages: “The weaver for the weaver and the spinner for the spinner.”
The grandstand crowd cheered. A few men stomped their feet. The entire structure shook above them. Joseph hoped the Planning Committee hadn’t cut corners on construction. A wax hot dog wrapper floated down from above. Howard stepped closer to Joseph to be heard over the racket.
“We can handle another 10 percent, short term, but nothing more. And no shut down.”
“Borden won’t shut down. I won’t.”
“Don’t speak for Borden.”
Joseph removed his hat and wiped his eyebrows with his handkerchief. When had it gotten so Goddamn warm?
Howard said, “The association will. We’ll strike before allowing them to build up rich inventory on our backs.”
“Then a wage concession.”
“Where’s your compromise?”
“Just arrange a meeting.”
“This could have waited.”
“Do it today. The owners are buoyant. You’d think it was dividend day. If they can entertain the president then they won’t worry much over one little labor—”
“They’ll want to pound their chests in my face. They think they created all this cotton candy on their own.”
Joseph said, “I’m headed to the boxing tent.”
“That’s another way to settle matters.”
Joseph gave Howard a sideways glance.
Howard took another bite from the cotton candy. “Then a little heat, what’s another fire—”
“Never another fire.”
“You’re right. Sorry. Then perhaps a kidnapping will get their attention?” He licked the pink corners of his mouth and winked. “Send word by the end of day. Bingo bin—”
“Just shut up.” Joseph clenched his jaw and grimaced. “Now, my boy, he’s boxing,” He stepped to the edge of the tarp. “He’s a champion.”
“If only we were Highland boys,” Howard said, tossing his cotton candy to the flies. “We could be too.”
* * *
From his corner, Will Bartlett searched for his father and Helen Sheehan in the graduated darkness. Men pointed to each corner and then exchanged handshakes or money. Others smacked the rolled program over their knee and chomped poorly rolled cigars. The burning leaves filled Will’s nostrils more than his own stinking sweat. Will tried to think of a greater accomplishment in his young life than getting to this boxing final. Years of getting teased for his meager size—his mother promised he was a late bloomer—and look at him now, nearly the height of his brother and twice as strong. No high mark in school or timely completed chore had ever generated a crowd like this. And Hollister? Jerk. Will squinted into the crowd. He had given up on his mother years ago, of course, but his dad and Helen had promised. The stupid mill. Stupid cancer. Stupid Fall River.
Helen’s older brother Tommy worked Will’s corner, a towel draped over his neck. He snapped, “What you looking at?” He twisted the boy’s head forward.
Will avoided eye contact, had since the day Tommy got popped for welshing on a bet. The trauma messed his right eye, turning the white all soupy red around his iris, a real horror show. Tommy craned backward to survey the crowd. His pal from the newspaper flashed a thumbs-up and waved the list of bets he’d taken on Will. He rubbed his thumb across his index finger. Tommy imagined piles of money.
Tommy slapped Will’s sweaty back with his open palm. The crack turned heads. “The fight’s right here. They’ll be here. Focus on the madman.”
Damian paced the west end of the ring like a caged bull, reeling punches into the air, his hunched back extending his reach a few inches. Father Maxi called his name, and the boy pounded a combination off his own head. But he was running off the energy in the tent and off of fear, the fear that no matter how hard he socked his old man, the bastard got up. He would hit Will Bartlett into next week. The wonk wouldn’t walk again.
The opening bell rang, and the boys shuffled to the center of the ring.
After three matches, their movement was confined to the upper half of their torsos. Their feet rocked forward and back. The fatigue played with their minds; technique discarded. The crowd chanted, propelling their rubbery arms. Jabs gave way to wild roundhouse punches. The crowd jumped to their feet, cheering the boys’ wildness. Grown men shadowboxed in the aisles. In the ring misguided palms and wrists caromed off shoulders and hips into Father Maxi. By midround, Will’s neck was rubbed raw by the laces of Damian’s left glove. Maxi danced a two-step, up then back, separating the two. He shouted, “Fight” then “break up” in quick succession. Tommy shouted too, instructions he’d pounded into the boy’s head, but Will heard only his beating heart. Damian’s arms whirled as if he were clawing through a swarm of hornets. At the bell he clawed faster. Will covered up. Separating the two, Father Maxi caught a punch square on the jaw.
The boxing judge, Father Croix, sucked on the tip of his blue scoring pencil between rounds. His subjective powers hadn’t had much work. The majority of matches ended in one of three ways: with one boy cowering under Maxi’s long wingspan, with a spectacular nose and eyeball explosion of blood and mucus, or with a knockout. None of these required Croix’s crisp numbers to separate the winners from the losers. He was encouraged by the stamina of these two boys. Poise and enthusiasm weighed heavily in Croix’s scoring, as did making the sign of the cross prior to each round, though the latter didn’t appear on the official scorecard. After one round, Damian, the Catholic, held a slight edge.
Will couldn’t catch his breath. Like his grandfather Otis, he suffered from shallow lungs. Between rounds, Tommy rubbed out his arms and poured water down his gullet but Will gagged, spitting most of it out.
Will choked, “Where’s Helen? Where’s—?”
Tommy pulled Will’s chin forward; their two foreheads touched. “Concentrate, or he’ll knock your block clean off.” Tommy pointed across the ring.
Will gasped, “If no one sees, it never happened.” Will peered over his shoulder, and Tommy pinched and twisted the younger boy’s right nipple. Tommy couldn’t believe his baby sister stood between him and fifty dollars. “He’s over there,” he shouted, and then, “She said she’d be by after running dinner pales.” Will peered over his shoulder. “You better be whipping him when your girlfriend arrives. She doesn’t go with losers.” Will snapped back around. Tommy spat out instructions for the next round, and Will rubbed his gloves down his hairless twelve-year-old legs to stop his thin calf muscles from quivering.
Damian didn’t lift his head between rounds. The young priest working his corner repeated the command, “Punch, move, punch, move,” and attempted to get Damian to take some water. When the boy pushed the water away, Pete Newton exploded off the bleachers, his ruddy checks burning their usual crimson. Rumbling down the aisle he forearmed the popcorn vendor into a row of spectators. Pete hung onto the ropes to steady himself. His cup of ale sloshed over the canvas.
Pete said, “What kind of sissy did God deliver me?”
The young priest said, “Knock it off, Pete.”
Into Damian’s ear, Pete whispered. “Sissy.”
Little Patrick dangled off his father’s belt. “Stop,” he called. “Leave him be.”
Father Croix shouted, “That’s enough, Pete.”
The popcorn man marched toward the ring, “Goddamn drunk.”
“Don’t come home if ya loses.”
“Find him a seat,” a spectator shouted. Others start throwing cups and programs.
The popcorn man and a parishioner from Saint Anne’s dislodged Pete from the ropes.
“Kick him out.”
Pete threw his cup at the ring. “Orphanage for you, boy.”
* * *
Hollister pressed his ear to the door. Nothing. He jumped to his feet. A broom handle smacked the floor. The floorboards rattled outside the door.
“Spider. Spider.” Maria pressed her face against the famine panel.
Hollister braced his hands against the jam.
“Please. Spider. Spider.”
Her breath dampened Hollister’s palm.
Hollister fingered the latch, paused, and then leaned his shoulder into the door. He could wait all day.
Maria tapped her forehead against the mirror. Near tears, she whispered, “Spider. Spider.”
Hollister sniffed his palm, damp with Maria’s hot breath. He frowned, and then wiped it down his trousers.
“Someone comes.” Her voice cracked. “I’ll tell.”
Hollister snapped the latch up, yanked the door open and grabbed Maria’s forearm, jerking her into the storeroom. She gasped at the darkness. The door latch dropped as a gang of kids stomped into the Hall of Mirrors laughing and spitting insults. Fatso. Pumpkin Head. Two face. They ran through the entire litany of names the mirrors encouraged.
Hollister spoke through his teeth, “Why didn’t you go away? You’re so stup—”
Maria cupped his mouth. “Shhhhhhh.”
Hollister grabbed her wrist and bent it back. “Stupid stupid stupid.” Maria took a deep breath but didn’t scream. He twisted her arm, and Maria’s knees buckled. She clutched two fists full of his trousers above the knee, began to hiccup. “Quit that.” He pressed his palm over her mouth.
Hollister double-checked the latch, and they both froze, as the gang stopped at the famine panel. Pencil-neck.
* * *
Sympathy for the children of killed mill workers had no timetable. Admissions, and the like, were carte blanche for Helen. So were penny candies. But any baby dolls or dresses over a dollar had to be stolen. The boxing was standing room only, men only, so to secure entry she nicked a bag of roasted nuts for the priest at the gate.
The priest manning the east door waved her through. “You’re late.”
Helen leaned close to his ear, whispering in a greedy voice, “Who’s Will Bartlett’s next victim?”
But the priest didn’t flinch or wave his finger and say, Now now, Helen. Boxing is for exercise. He smiled and said sarcastically, as if Helen was the last person on earth to know, “Damian.”
Helen coughed up a nut. The Damian who bit off Billy O’Brian’s earlobe last summer at Bluffins Beach? The Damian who dragged a coffin from the undertaker’s motorcar? The Damian who urinated in Sister Mary’s pea soup?
The priest popped a hot nut into his mouth.
* * *
“Who’s there?” Evelyn jolted awake, Oliver Twist smacking the floor as the cats scurried under the bed. She wiped a trickle of drool with her sleeve. She glanced at the window. How long had she been asleep? She only knew that the cats had overturned the soup and that her patient still slept. The lukewarm soup was sprayed across the hardwood. She should never had let Elizabeth brainwash her into loving the dirty fur balls. They washed with their own spit, for ham’s sake.
Evelyn righted the bowl with her toe and wet a towel in the china bowl on the washstand. She knelt to slop up the mess. The cats watched her from under the bed; their shiny eyes followed her movements. “Bad girls,” she scolded. “No more fish for dinner. Bad girls.” At a minimum, Evelyn thought, they could kill mice like the tabby at the apothecary. Evelyn crawled toward them, wiping up their radish-colored paw prints. Suddenly she was a big game hunter stalking prey on the Dark Continent. Or rather, leading the mercy killing of a wounded beast. She, and Elizabeth, and the adventurer Margaret Bullock sporting mosquito—net hats and khaki trousers cinched at the waist with large leather belts—three sisters of adventure—leading a band of shirtless natives deep into the bush.
Evelyn sighed and then hoisted her knees up in two labored motions. She wanted everything perfect. Standing, she saw a trail of paw prints leading over the sheets to Elizabeth’s pillow. She paused. The word queer zipped across her mind. Lifting her skirt, she shuffled quickly around the bed, and the cats raced out of the room.
There was a streak of blood under Elizabeth’s chin. Evelyn covered her mouth. They’d attacked Lizzy! “I’ll kill them!”
She snorted back tears and cradled Elizabeth’s chin in her palm. She said, “Elizabeth, dear,” dabbing red spittle from Elizabeth’s lips. The cats have scratched her face. Evelyn grimaced, half expecting to see a scrape on Elizabeth’s porcelain skin, but there was no gash. Was it all soup then?
Evelyn sighed; she replaced the pillow with the fresh one she kept nearby. Elizabeth’s head flopped to the opposite side. A bitter smell filled the room. Evelyn crouched down and slipped her hand under the sheet and mattress pad. It was wet. What a mess. Joseph would be livid. Evelyn tapped Elizabeth’s shoulder. She had to move her to the divan.
“Dearie,” she began. “Come on, droopy eyes.” Elizabeth was still. Evelyn knotted her fingers together to suppress the shakes. She squinted. Another shallow pool of redness had collected under her patient’s chin. As Evelyn reached to wipe it away two canals of blood burst from Elizabeth’s nostrils.
* * *
In the dark, he licked the moist hand that had covered Maria’s mouth. She smelled nice. Something soapy, something peppermint; but she was as stupid as the others. He clutched her thick black hair and massaged her head. Her cheek brushed his thigh as he pressed his nails into her scalp. He said, “That’s not so bad,” and eased up the pressure. She jerked, pushing against his knees, but he chopped down on her shoulder blades with both hands and her body collapsed as if suddenly deflated. Her head fell into his groin; he smothered it against the beating shaft of his penis. Maria stiffened. He rose up on tiptoes as his body shuddered. Maria’s arms dangled at her sides.
As his heels lowered to the floor, he released on her head; they both exhaled. He pinched his damp trouser leg.
Far off a marching band played. Voices outside passed through the Hall of Mirrors.
He whispered, “Maria.” He began smoothing down her hair with both hands as if she were a doll. He could now make out her small figure. Her head swiveled in his hands, her face turned up, but he couldn’t make it out. By touch he straightened the seams of her blouse directly over her shoulder blades. He rubbed out the newly made creases in the dark. When his fingernail caught on a tear in the cotton, he stopped to pinch the two ends together. “There,” he said, thinking he’d mended the rip. “You can be my secret girlfriend.” Nothing. He cupped her face in his hands, “Hey,” he whispered, “I’m talking to you.”
Maria’s heel tapped a metal bucket as she stood on the ragged floor. Her mouth dipped near Hollister’s ear. “You pig,” she shouted, and he stumbled backward. “Proud now?” Her hand fumbled for the door. The latch released. He jumped, blocking her way. Proud?
She was as pretty as the girls on the postcards hidden under his mattress. He thought of buying her something expensive on the midway. A hand-painted cameo perhaps. I’ll be seen with her. She’ll be my girlfriend. Who cares what people say? In time, she will understand that a man can’t control his raging desires.
She repeated, louder. “You proud?”
Suddenly, Hollister remembered Viva. She had said the same thing, hadn’t she? Could the two conspire against me? Now Viva had someone to back up her story. Impossible. He was sure to pick girls in separate departments. Most had been Portagee but he’d never seen any together. He knew this to be true. He’d scouted them as if they were ball players. But who was to say the girls weren’t sly kittens, scheming against him? And Maria was the star in their plot. Perhaps they were all outside the door ready to pounce.
Maria shouted, “Freak!” She spat in his eye.
Hollister slapped her face. No, he thought, I didn’t just do that.
She whirled back around. “Freak!”
He punched her face. Maria toppled backward, upsetting the bucket and brooms. He hovered over her. “Shut up.”
A voice outside said, “You hear that?” Feet shuffled. The voice was now right outside the mirror. “Is it part of the ride?”
Hollister clamped his hand over her mouth. He pressed his knee into her chest. He whispered, “Shut up, and they’ll go away.”
The voice outside moved to the crack in the secret door’s frame. “Who’s there? You hurt?” The voice turned away. “Get the man.”
Another boy, farther off, shouted, “Right!” Feet thumped off the wooden planks.
Hollister eased his weight off her as the footfalls faded. He released his hand from Maria’s mouth and wiped it across his chest. “That was close,” he whispered conspiratorially.
Maria jammed her knee into his crotch and sliced her nails along his neck in one motion. Hollister’s surprise left him unable to register the pain, and he lost his bearings. Maria scurried toward the door. Two loggerheads of pain crashed in the middle of his spine, and then his brain, already disturbed from a touch of the flu, exploded. He staggered backward, unsure which wound to grasp hold of. His foot landed in a bucket. The far-off marching band seemed to pass right through his head.
Maria’s hand was frantic on the latch. “Help me,” she cried.
“Who’s there?” The voice outside called.
“I’ll save you. I will.”
No one needed saving. The word gathered force in his bowel and reached his brain as he grabbed a knot of Maria’s hair and yanked. Her scream was cut short as his elbow connected with something fleshy near her throat. She collapsed to the floor. Turning, he stepped on her knee and his ankle rolled.
“Shut up,” he growled.
“Who’s that?” The boy outside yelled.
Everyone just shut up. Hollister leaned on a broomstick. The pain in his ankle calmed him. Slowly he began to separate the sounds: the approaching footsteps, the trumpet from the tuba, the boy’s breathing through the crack and Maria’s whimpering. Her groveling was maddening. She wouldn’t shut her hole. She’ll never be my girl. None of them know how to love a man. Hollister zeroed in on her crying. He smashed the broom handle down on the noise.
* * *
The postal messenger had lost his hat, and now his six-button blue jacket was spread open, fluttering behind him like a cape. He was running full bore toward City Hall Plaza, worming between the merrymakers. He ducked under arms and around flying noisemakers. A woman stepped on his foot and fell, but he had no time to stop, others would help her. He clutched an unsealed note. Of grave importance, the dispatch had said. The dispatch knew the boy would recognize Joseph on sight.
“Mr. Bartlett!” the boy shouted when he saw Joseph walking near the grandstand. Joseph knew the boy. It was Hank Casey, Evelyn’s younger brother. He was really hustling. Blooms of confetti, an inch thick on the sidewalk, exploded under his feet. Not more than ten years old and already a worker. But the boy ought to be in school. Hank called louder. Joseph smiled weakly to passers-by; his throat constricted. He wondered if anyone had spotted him with Howard. He glanced around for any of the local smut peddlers, but all eyes were on Taft. Hank stopped before him and doubled over, out of breath.
“Easy, Henry Casey,” Joseph said. “Where’s the fire?”
“Sir,” Hank started but broke into a coughing fit. Another boy arrived with Henry’s black cap. Neither would meet Joseph’s eyes. Joseph patted Hank’s back. A man nearby asked if the boy was going to be sick. Taft’s voice boomed from the plaza.
Joseph forced another nervous smile for the man. He squeezed Hank’s elbow. “Speak up, son.” The crowd surged forward, carrying them with it. Joseph crouched down. Henry Casey held out the note, his face a mat of tears.
Before succumbing to another coughing fit, he managed, “Mrs. Bartlett, sir. She’s, she’s dead, sir.”
* * *
A cloud of cigar smoke floated beneath the bank of lights as the bettors belted out hot air into the sweltering canvas tent. Tommy held a paper bag over Will’s mouth and instructed him to breath. Father Croix’s score card had the match all square. He motioned to Father Maxi, who twirled a finger to the bell ringer to start the last round. Maxi wanted a scotch. The boys hadn’t trained hard enough. Perhaps four fights in one day was too much. Helen huddled next to Tommy. The bell jostled her from prayer.
Taft said, “And now, my friends, I did not come to make a speech.”
Joseph pulled Henry Casey into his arms. He wanted to tell the boy that it was all a mistake, that the mill fire the killed Thomas Sheehan and Stanton Cleveland was not his fault. That none of this was supposed to happen: not the silly Horse Show or the stupid parade float or overstuffed Georgian mansion on the hill. Lizzy and a New Hampshire lake, that was all he had ever wanted. But how do you define devastation? How could he tell a boy what he’d only experienced by living?
Taft said, “And I did not come to get squashed by gigantic cotton bales.”
Maxi waved the boxers to the center of the ring. He held their wrists up so their gloves touched. “Last round, boys,” he said. “Everyone’s a winner.” Maxi dropped their wrists, and Damian’s gloves fell to his knees. Maxi shouted, “fight!” but Damian didn’t move. Tommy yelled for Will to get his dukes up. “Be steady! Watch out!” But Damian was no magician. Pete ran toward the ring, cursing his boy. He pushed a large man down in the aisle, and a scuffle broke out in the seats. Damian stretched his chin as far out as it would go and shut his eyes.
“Deck ’im!” Tommy called. “Around the house and through the barn.” Fifty bucks would pay off a lot of debts.
Will closed his eyes as he whipped his arm around his body. The glove slammed into the side of Damian’s head, the laces slicing open the soft skin behind his left ear. Damian crumpled to the canvas. Will whirled in a circle, his feet tangled in Damian’s splayed limbs. Falling, Will spotted his father marching toward the ring.
Taft said, “Nor did I come to shake hands and make long speeches.”
Maria’s hand fell from Hollister’s leg. Hollister whispered, “Stop fooling,” and nudged her ribs with his heel. The scrape on his neck throbbed against his collar. He unbuttoned the top and felt a sticky wetness. “Quit. Someone’s coming. Get up.” He could make out his own breathing but nothing else. He knelt down. “Maria?” He jostled her shoulder. Her blouse was soaked with sweat. His hand slid over her chin then her nose and forehead. He licked his finger. Blood.
“Open the door,” the ride operator called. A second later he rammed his shoulder into the famine panel, popping the latch.
Taft said, “I only came to see you, to say howdy-do.”
Will met his father’s eye between sunken chins and pumping fists of cash. Joseph’s bow tie was cockeyed and his slicked-back hair mussed. The straw boater he was clutching had a fist-sized dent in the top. Pete Newton stormed up the opposite aisle with little Patrick twisting from his belt like the tail of a kite.
Taft said, “And to congratulate you on the wonderful prosperity and on the wonderful progress that you have made.”
Dr. Boyle measured out one gram of head powder and stirred it into a glass of tepid water, but Evelyn couldn’t lift her head to drink. Boyle pushed aside the cut glass animals and set the glass down. He lifted Evelyn from the divan, stepping on the unicorn as he left the room.
“To congratulate you even more on the happiness of the individual in Fall River, of which there is evidence on every side.”
Will dove under the ropes, landing on all fours on the cement floor and skinning his knees. He juked under his father’s grasp and sprinted toward the hazy light shooting between the bettors’ heads. Half the crowd turned for a glimpse of pig-eyed Pete; the other half twisted to catch Will’s gymnastics. Father Croix snapped his blue scoring pencil in half. Maxi lifted Damian’s limp body from the ring.
Will ran up June Street, ripping the glove’s laces free with his teeth. His left eye was purple, the other nearly swollen shut. Ladies out walking screamed at the sight of him. He stopped at the house gate. Dr. Boyle sat hunched over on the front stoop. He looked up and shook his head, and without a word, Will ran further up into Highlands. Joseph’s automobile jumped the curb. The engine roared as he leaped into the lawn. “Will!” he shouted. “Will, come back!”
Helen rounded the corner, her legs pumping like pistons. “Which way?” she stammered. “Which way did he go?” Joseph pointed, she pointed, and then sprinted down the sidewalk.
Tommy appeared at the corner, doubled-over, gasping. Joseph met his eye. “Find Hollister,” he called. “Go find my son.” Tommy slowly pivoted back down the hill. Joseph ripped his assigned badge from his lapel and spun his boater down the street. He snapped his jaw shut and ground his teeth. His eyes welled up. He inhaled deeply, and then spat his rotten wisdom tooth into the grass.
“And to wish you Godspeed in making greater steps forward in the next hundred years.”
Thunderous applause and cheering swept Taft from the review stand with many in the crowd believing they’d see the next hundred years. Taft encouraged them by flashing his presidential chops; they stood four and five deep down Main Street and hovered on rooftops waving red, white, and blue streamers and rattling noisemakers. All bounced on tiptoes to catch a lasting glimpse of the man who had helped them, for one afternoon, forget everything but their pride.
Far out in Mount Hope Bay, the Connecticut’s big guns fired, and the crowd, momentarily stunned, flinched; the boom rumbled up June Street and then echoed eastward down into the Globe neighborhood; rattling tenement windows in the Flint and Mechanicsville, disturbing the water in Bleachery Ponds. Its rumble recorded in the town of Westport, five miles to the east.
Before the Connecticut lifted anchor, the special editions of the Herald and the Evening News hit street corners. Newsies shouted, “President Declares Fall River Presidential City! Read all about it! Next hundred years to rival the last! Historic edition! Here today, gone tomorrow! Two bits buys you immortality! Read it here! It’s all here!”