Chapter 10 continues

The story so far: Allen and Annette delve into classic literature over hot fudge sundaes.

"You know, this is just one person's list of 20 great novels," Allen said. "Someone else might give you a completely different list. It's not like science. It's subjective. Not only do we disagree with each other, we disagree with ourselves. If I made up a list 20 years from now, it might be very different. What I'm saying is that literature is mysterious. If it weren't, I wouldn't be interested."

She gave him a wry smile. "Did you ever ask yourself what your list reveals about you?"

He was surprised. He hadn't. "Tell me," he said.

She laughed pleasantly. "I think it means that you like unhappy endings."

"Doesn't everybody?"

She laughed again. But she was right. He thought it was much easier to make a reader laugh than cry. He thought tears were more profound than laughter, goodbyes more beautiful than hellos.

"I guess I'm just a pessimist," he said.

"You certainly are not."

Looking at his watch, he realized that they had been talking well over an hour. The patronage of the drugstore had diminished. Outside, the afternoon had grown grayer, a few flakes of snow beginning to fall. He guessed that she had to return home and make dinner for her kids.

"I'm afraid I've kept you too long," he said.

"Oh, no. I've really enjoyed it. Thank you." She hesitated. "It's the nicest afternoon I've spent for a long time."

He thought it was the nicest afternoon he'd spent for a long time, too.

Outside, on the street, he told her again that when she decided what book she wanted to read next to call him. If he wasn't mistaken, he had every book on the list on his shelf and would be happy to lend her any of them.

"I think I've decided already," she said.

"Which one?"

She smiled mysteriously and touched his sleeve. "I'll call you later."

Half a block away, heading home, he turned and looked back at her. To his surprise, she had stopped and was looking at him too. She stood there, snowflakes falling, empty storefronts and white boxlike buildings behind her, pedestrian scenes, provincial streets. Was there a tear in her eye? But she was smiling.

They waved to each other, turned and walked on.


As he was returning to his classroom after his free hour, he ran into Leland Bowman, Annette's son, standing in front of his locker. Lingering. Malingering. Allen stopped. He supposed he should ask the boy why he wasn't in class. But he didn't. "How you doing, Leland?" he asked instead.


The boy looked as if he had just snuffed out a cigarette in the lavatory. He slouched rather than leaned against the wall, his shoulders sagging, his head slanted to one side, as it was perpetually in the classroom. Conspicuous pimples marred his face and his dark hair fell disagreeably over his forehead. He looked unclean. As always, he appeared sullen and resentful. In the classroom, he invariably responded to questions with an idle shrug, insolent, sneering, as if the question were not worth answering. For "Cell-Mates" he had written a clever but malicious piece — too malicious — about the school administration. Allen thought that the boy disliked him personally, but he did not know why.

Allen tried to be friendly. "You're in the marching band, aren't you? I saw you during the Homecoming parade."

The boy shrugged.

He tried again. "You play the clarinet, right?"

"When I feel like it."

"Someone told me you won some kind of award."

"A dumb award."

Allen shook his head. Was it worth it? "I have the impression that you don't like my class very much, Leland," he said.

"It's OK."

The boy was not a loner, as he'd first thought. Allen had seen him several times standing with three or four other boys, in the hall or on the street corner. They were always smirking, as though they had secrets, as though they knew things nobody else did. They were practicing cynicism, Allen thought, although he was willing to bet that none of them knew how to spell the word. Except, perhaps, Leland.

"How about your other classes?"

"They're OK."

Allen glanced at his watch. He hesitated. "I also have the feeling that you dislike me personally. Is that true?"

"You're OK."

Allen shrugged. The bell rang. Moving away, he tried to punch the boy on the shoulder. Slippery, the kid slid away.

"I'll try to do better," Allen said.


Christmas decorations hung over Main Street, colored lights strung between rooftops and telephone poles. Wreaths appeared on shop doors, miniature Christmas trees in pots at the curb. From a speaker above the post office, carols issued for an hour each evening. At night, as light snow fell, church bells called worshippers to holiday services.

And then the basketball frenzy began.

Allen attended the opening game of the season, Stone Lake vs. Crookston. The gym was filled with spectators, students and adults, the noise level high. The town had closed up. The cheerleaders were the same as those he'd seen at the football game — JoAnne, Molly and Lois, running the floor in their white sweaters and green skirts, as athletic, he was sure, as the players. But the lineup included boys he'd not seen on the football field: most notably, Ray Nord, the center, taller than the others, but in his tiny uniform, paler and much frailer. Royal Knudson was there, a guard now. Bill Erickson was a forward.

Sitting far up on one side, Orville Christianson next to him, Allen was pleased at how bright and shining the floor looked under the lights, that same floor from which he'd gloomily watched rehearsals of the junior class play. He was also surprised at the skill of both teams, dribbling rapidly upcourt, passing to open players, driving in for layups, making one-handed jump shots and darting forward to intercept the ball. On the bench, with half a dozen reserves, sat Don Worthington in a green-and-white sweatshirt, jumping up when something exciting happened, harassing the referees when he disagreed with a call.

Allen asked Orville who the referees were.

"They're both from nearby towns," Orville said. "That way, they're supposed to be objective."

"Sounds pretty professional," he said.

"Small town manners."

Tomorrow: Chapter 10 continues.