“Tomorrow, then, in the afternoon,” said Sören looking expectant. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “Look, you go on, I have to stop at Mr. Uselman's today."
"Don't you just hate that job? I mean, killing crows? I think they are so clever and I don't mind their caw."
"It’s not crows this time, too late in the year for that. No, Mr. Uselman wants me to help him patch up some holes in his foundation. He said the mice are looking for ways to get in for the winter."
She shuddered and started walking toward her house. “Ugh. Mice and boys named Frank Kern. I can’t stand either sort,” she began to trot and called more loudly, “I have to go. Chores at home. Bye Sören."
"Becky, wait! What do you mean?" But Becky was out of earshot. Sören scowled. He remembered the time that Frank Kern had been playing ball in the school yard. He felt his cheeks heat up at the memory.
"Swing, batter-batter-batter, swing!" Frank hooted as Sören stepped up to the plate. The batter focused on his grip. Right on top, left is lower, he repeated to himself. He bent his knees with a tiny spring to his stance.
The ball whizzed past. Sören hadn't moved a muscle.
"This boy's a chicken. He won't hit. Move in boys, no need to worry about this swinger," Frank heckled from first base.
Sören swallowed. He bounced on his feet, peered down the line to first base, cocked his head at the pitcher and waited, the bat hovering over his right shoulder.
Another ball flashed by. Again, Sören hadn't moved a muscle.
"Strike!" called the ump like a crisp snap of an icicle.
Sören's stomach clutched inward. He swung his bat, slicing the air, testing its weight. He shook his shoulders and rotated his head.
"Watchcha waiting for, Markusson? Want me to hit it for youuuu?" Frank continued to razz from his position on the base.
Sören visualized hitting the ball straight into Kern's crotch, ricocheting it off his knees, sending it flying ten feet over his Swiss-cheese head.
The ball appeared in Sören's field of vision. As if it was floating on a stream of air. Sören straightened his left arm, his right arm following suit. He heard a crack as the bat and ball connected. The ball rolled down the bat as it flew out.
Sören dropped the bat where he stood and started running for first. His hat flipped off his head. He kept running. He heard, in the distance, a voice screaming, "Catch it!" Sören kept running.
His right toe touched the base as he barreled into the infield player. Frank stood there like a gorilla, holding Sören's fly ball, grinning so that Sören could see Frank's wad of sorghum caught between his teeth.
"You're out, you little pup. Out like rabid bat" the bigger kid growled. Then Frank elbowed Sören in the ribs, but hollered, "Coach! This kid spit at me!"
Coach Lindgren yelled back, "Don't be a tattletale, Kern!"
That only made Frank sneer; under his breath he said, "Just wait to see what happens this Saturday, little Sorehead."
Sören realized he was clenching his fists like bullets when he knocked on Mr. Uselmann's door. The elderly man opened the screen.
"Come in, Sören, don't pound so hard, you'll break the door."
Sören declined, "Sorry Mr. Uselmann, I'm needing to get straight to work today. My far and I patched up our house two days ago. I know what to do so how about if I got right to it?"
Mr. Uselmann nodded, "There's always time for courtesy, Sören."
The boy looked down at his feet. "Yes, sir. You're right." Soren pulled at a stray thread on his jacket. "Um, would it be alright to visit after I reinforce the foundation? We can talk while the cement is drying."
"Good idea and good response; you've patched up this old man's feelings."
Sören grinned. Mr. Uselmann was like a grandfather to him. His own grandfathers lived across the Atlantic. Farfar Markusson still preached at Uppsala Cathedral. His mor's far lived in Osthammar, north of Stockholm, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
Later, when the work was done, Sören walked home whistling Spring efter vatten, a tune his far had taught him just last night on the nyckleharpa.