Excerpts from Freshwater Boys

Below are brief samples from a few of the eleven stories featured in the collection.


Restraint: A Confession

My mom used to play Nerf basketball with me, too. We hung the plastic rim from the bookshelves and played throughout the cramped apartment, crashing into furniture and appliances. She wasn’t afraid to foul. By the middle of seventh grade I didn’t want to play with her anymore. Even when we were alone in our apartment, I started feeling embarrassed and wanted her to be quieter and more distant like other moms I knew. We didn’t have room for distance. She slept in the only bedroom in the apartment, and I had the hide-a-bed in the living room. I didn’t mind it usually—I could watch TV in bed—although there was nowhere to hide things if I needed things hidden.

My mom once read the entire Bible. She was a notoriously slow reader, and usually only read things assigned for class. She read three chapters of the Bible a day and finished in a year. We never went to church. The Bible was mine, given to me by my Catholic grandma after my dad died. My mom was standing at the kitchen counter when she finished the last lines of Revelation. I was watching TV. I heard her close the book, and I looked up. She was crying, her face wet from eye to chin and her mouth open in one of those huge, sad wails that don’t make any sound.


Debts and Debtors

Zeke Mockerman’s new white truck rumbled down our road, bright as a comet with a tail of country dust behind it. He pulled into our dirt driveway and extended a thin arm out the window, waving at my dad and me with a spidery hand. My dad had just heard about Zeke’s good fortune at the casino. He didn’t return Zeke’s wave.

We’d heard the truck coming a half mile away. The roads around our Zeeland house were straight and quiet, crossing in mile intervals, dividing the land into the perfect squares of the farmer’s geometry. Through the soft buzz of insects and clatter of treetop crows, we’d heard the dings of stones being spit up by tires into the steel belly of the truck. When it came to a stop by our granary, my dad slung the wooden bat onto his shoulder like a lumberman resting with his ax.

Zeke dropped out of the high driver’s seat, stumbling and hopping on his good leg before gaining balance. “Sergeant Major!” he yelled, waving his arm over his head. He was about a hundred yards off, and I had to shield my eyes with my glove when looking at him, the hot sun glistening off the truck with the silky shine of an egg white. Zeke headed toward the field, limping our way.


Camouflage Fall

I’d been tricked. Someone—probably a kid—had put a mutilated doll inside along with some broken toy trucks and scattered cards from a kid’s card game. The doll was a plastic twin of those by the trailhead. Its white skin and bald infant head glowed like the moon. An arm was missing, and one of its eyelids—which was supposed to blink shut when the doll was lying on its back—was stuck open. The iris was blue.

I heard murmuring behind me and turned around. Jim stood with his light aimed at the forest floor and the green glow of the cell phone illuminating his fist. “Oh Christ,” he said. His voice was tight in his throat as he swallowed. “Caroline says he’s still not home yet.”

I wasn’t sure if he’d seen the doll. I bent to close the refrigerator door and then walked over to him. I felt as useless as I had all night and patted him gingerly on the shoulder. I noticed Luke’s light slicing through the woods, coming our way. “Luke’ll be here in a minute,” I said. “Rest up. Stay calm. I’m gonna walk a little ways ahead and check out the cathedral.”

Maybe I had wanted to feel helpful and pretend I was taking charge, but I left Jim there alone for a few moments, and I regret that.


Deer Run

Last Thursday, while idling at a red light, I witnessed a desperate attempt at escape. The rest of the story I got from Channel 8 News, the Press, and my neighbor Dave Greeno, who was driving his tow truck down the East Beltline when the final scene unfolded.

Four deer broke free from the narrow confines of Plaster Creek, an urban waterway running through Grand Rapids that’s as filthy as it sounds. I was on my lunch break from the architectural firm where I work, headed east down 28th Street and stopped at the Kalamazoo Avenue intersection, when the deer crossed a grocery store parking lot and plunged into traffic. All four were does, and to my human eyes they all looked the same, especially at that speed, at that blur. The deer didn’t hesitate. They were bigger than most deer I’ve seen during my walks in the woods, all obviously mature. They knew what they were doing, even if they were influenced by The Grays, which may make animals crazy from a sky full of clouds the way some go crazy from a full moon. The four of them must have detected some slender opening through the city that, like their trails through the woods, was invisible to most human eyes.