We’re back with our final excerpt from Robert Goolrick‘s highly acclaimed new novel, Heading Out to Wonderful, which will be hitting bookstores in just days. You can click here, here and here to read the three previous excerpts, and be sure to check out an essay by Goolrick about his inspiration for the novel.
Today is the last chance to enter for a chance to win one of 25 autographed copies (SORRY, THE WINNERS HAVE ALREADY BEEN CHOSEN). Just fill out the form below, and check back in the coming days as we feature more from Heading Out to Wonderful.
From Heading Out to Wonderful…
The boy was always with them. The boy and the dog. They began to forget he was there, forgot to keep an eye how far or near or needy they were from him, and sometimes, when they made love outdoors, they could feel the boy and the dog in the woods, circling them, catching their scent, their sounds, but they were so lost, so gone, they couldn’t take the time to think about that.
They weren’t bad people. Charlie wasn’t lewd, and she’d been raised up in the country, in a natural kind of way, with natural manners and grace and a sense of what’s right. And Charlie loved the boy. He sometimes thought he was the boy’s father. He knew he shouldn’t think that way, that it was a mistake, bad for him, and bad for the boy, who shouldn’t, at his age, have been asked to bear the weight of that kind of confusion.
And he knew that, often, when they were running together in the fields, chasing that dog, or sleeping out in the open, doing the things that Will was too old to do, he knew that Sam sometimes forgot that Charlie wasn’t his father. Sam himself never forgot where his true home, where his true his heart lay. The infinite and inexorable pull of blood. But, with Charlie Beale, he felt paid attention to, watched and guarded, even as he was given the freedom to be, never scolded, never made to sit up straight, or to hold his fork in the way his mother said polite people did.
Sam still didn’t know what Charlie and Sylvan were doing when they lay down together, glimpsed through a window or through the branches of a pine tree, but he knew it was something, and it stirred his heart and his body in ways he couldn’t explain to himself.
Sylvan was full where his mother was spare. Her lips a full slash of crimson, high, hot summer, whereas his mother’s palette was more mute, more like winter. Still, it was Sylvan who seemed to bring a chill to him, where his mother brought warmth.
When his mother’s warmth left him at night, after they had said his prayers and the light had been turned off and the wind was rustling in the trees outside his window, pitch black, it was Sylvan’s chill that crept into the sheets and kept him from sleep.
He lay, between sleep and waking, and he would think about all the questions he wanted to ask Charlie, things he noticed in the world, things that struck him as strange, or funny, words he had heard that meant something specific to everybody but him, or just things a boy his age would never in a million years know the answer to; things he knew his father was too busy or too tired to answer. Charlie was never tired. And he knew the answer to everything.
They would lie in the grass in the evening, out by the river, without her, just Charlie and Sam and Jackie Robinson, and the questions would come back to him, and Charlie always knew exactly what to say.
“I’ve been thinking. Sometimes the moon is really, really big, and sometimes it’s little. Why does that happen?”
They watched the moon rising over the river, huge, bigger than an orange in the palm of your hand. Charlie smoked a cigarette while he took a minute to think about it, and stared at the sky, as though he hadn’t even heard him. Charlie could blow smoke rings, and Sam knew that, when he was old enough, he’d blow smoke rings, too, just the same way, and that Charlie would teach him how.
“Sam? Have you ever been to a party? A birthday party?”
“What did they have there?”
“Presents. And balloons.”
“Thought so. Well, the moon is like a balloon. It starts off little, and then somebody blows into it, and it gets really, really big, and then it pops, yours popped didn’t it?”
“So then somebody gets another balloon and blows it up again.”
“Promise you won’t tell anybody?”
“Promise.” He made a cross over his heart.
Sam didn’t laugh right away, not until he knew Charlie was teasing. Then he pounded Charlie’s chest, as Charlie pulled his head down and tugged on his hair and they rolled over and over in the twilight field, stubble in their backs, Jackie nipping and yapping at their heels.
He believed whatever he was told. He was tired of not knowing. He could read already, he had learned in secret just from watching the words on the page as his mother read to him, he could read the funny books by himself, almost. He didn’t see any reason to go to school, as he was supposed to do in the fall, but he was tired of not knowing so many things.
Somehow, in the dark, as he listed and memorized the things he wanted to ask Charlie the next time he saw him, all the questions became one single question, a question he knew he would never ask and never get the answer to: What was it they were doing when they took their clothes off? Why was it a secret? Why did they pretend, when he was back with them and they had their clothes on again, why did they pretend that it had never happened?
It made Sam feel alone in a way he had never felt alone before. In fact, he had never quite known what solitude was, he had never felt it, until the first time he saw them walking out of the door in Boaty Glass’s house, when they stood in the kitchen and acted as though nothing had happened. While he had been looking at funny books, they had turned into different people, and he knew somehow that the people they had turned into were what he would turn into, as well, once something happened. He didn’t know what that something was, he didn’t know how long it would take, he just knew that it would happen, and it made him sad, because he suddenly felt as though anything that happened between now and then wasn’t any more important than the silly pictures of ducks in pirate outfits he had been looking at.
He grew suddenly aware of the body he lived in, knowing that it would change in time into something else. He hoped it would change into something like the body Charlie wore, lean, muscular, smooth, not tall, instead of something like his father’s. A body like Will’s seemed too heavy for him to inhabit, too much to carry around.
His father was all warm rounds and folds; Charlie was like a wooden table, all flat surfaces.
Sam grew not just aware of his body, he also became afraid of it. It seemed so fragile to him, so small, so transitory. Things went on inside it he didn’t understand. Things moved in him. He heard noises, the noises of his body working, a tiny train running smooth on flat track. He didn’t know how these things happened. He didn’t even know what were the right questions to ask, and he didn’t know who to ask. Not his mother. Not his father. And, even though he knew Charlie would tell him anything, he didn’t know what to ask.
But he couldn’t sleep. So he fought. He was tired, and that made him angry most of the day, and he fought with his mother and father, acted like a baby, and got into wrestling matches with the other boys on the street. He bullied the younger ones, and he pushed the older boys to their limits. He would come home with scraped knees and a bloodied nose, and his mother would clean him up and bandage him and worry and console, and his father would tell him always to give better than he got. It made Alma sad that he fought, but it seemed to please Will in some way, as though the boy had put on the cloak of a man, heavy on his tiny frame, but carried with energy and purpose.
Sam didn’t know why, but he felt mad all the time. Mad and alone, even though he was surrounded by love. But he knew one thing: He wanted to see Charlie and Sylvan again and again and again. He wanted to be near them, to smell their smells and hear the sounds they made when they touched, when they took their clothes off.
Sometimes, he wished it would all go back to the way it was, when he and Charlie were alone in the world. Sometimes he wished they had never stopped at Sylvan Glass’s house, but not often. Now, when he saw them lying on a quilt down near the riverbank, or watched them, sweat on his forehead, Jackie Robinson tied up and yowling in the yard, through the keyhole of the locked bedroom upstairs, he wanted to be them, to lie in the infinitely small sliver of space between their undulating bodies, to feel their skin smooth against his own, to melt into them, until he was nothing and they were, as they were, everything.