This is the eighth installment of the novel “LiveCell” by Belfast author Eric Green. You can find the previous installments on VillageSoup.com (Soup Select subscribers only). LiveCell is also available in local stores or from online bookstores. To learn more about the LiveCell contest and win cash or artwork, go to cadentpublishing.com/contest.

 

In the last installment, Mary and Garland drove to Jake’s pool hall and were served by Sammy Holmes, the bartender. As Mary practices before the tournament, Nick, the owner, begins talking to her.

 

Chapter three, section three

 

“You know what I nickname you after that shot in the semi-final last month?” His voice was gruff. “Mary Massé.”

“You saw it?”

“Saw it? Course I saw it. What’s wrong with you, saw it? You know I saw it.” He was already getting angry. Nick was always getting angry about something.

“I still lost in the final.”

“Mary.” He paused, peering at her through his thick glasses, the heavy black frames contrasting with his papery skin. “What do I keep telling you? Safety. You gotta play safe. You, you shoot at anything, so what happen, you miss. Safety, you get the table back. But you won’t listen to Nick.”

“I just love making the crazy ones.”

“Make them when you not play for money. Money, you gotta play smart. I’m telling you, you got the nerves, the heart. That’s what it takes. All in the head.” Nick tapped his white hair with his index finger. “And the stroke. But you, you make that massé, but you make Nick mad.” And he walked off.

All around her women were practicing, the clicks and taps of varied shots ringing in the big room, the jukebox still thumping. She glanced over at the bar; Garland had Sammy laughing. She sensed that he was taking his cousin’s illness very hard, yet outwardly he still managed to be so cheerful, so positive. He seemed to accept things as they were and go on from there. Maybe that was the secret? She sighted down the row of support columns that bisected the room, the same two-tone as the wainscoting and the walls, a dingy green with a cream above, and wondered if Nick’s North End room in Boston had been painted in the same combination. She would have to ask him, but you could never tell what would make him mad. Most questions about his past in Boston upset him. Even her cue irritated him. “What you need all that inlay for? That don’t make a stick play better. And that fancy box. You waste your money, Mary.” And as if he’d heard her thoughts, there he was ringing the bell signaling the start of the tournament.

She drew Karen Valdez as her opponent for the first round and won the coin toss. Mary shattered the rack, holing the three ball and the seven. Break patterns, like most things in nature, are never the same, each with its own quirky perfection. She examined the lie of the seven remaining balls as she rubbed her cue tip with the edge of a chalk cube. As the balls lay, she couldn’t quite see the one. She considered calling a push-out or playing a safety. Instead, checking quickly to see if Nick was watching, she lifted the butt of her cue so that the whole stick was at a 45-degree angle to the cloth; then she stroked in a downward motion onto the top of the cue ball. It curved in a gentle arc around the six and pocketed the one, Karen Valdez tapping her cue on the linoleum in recognition of the shot. “Another massé for you, Nick,” she said under her breath. “Maybe I am Mary Massé.” She ran out the remaining balls. As the nine ball fell into the pocket, she heard a hoot. Actually, everyone in the entire poolroom heard a hoot. He stood by the bar, draft in hand, mouthing Sorry, and she had to smile. He gave her a thumbs up and walked over.

“You didn’t miss,” he said in a whisper. She was waiting for Karen to rack the balls.

“Isn’t that the idea?” — though secretly pleased.

“And that curving thing was frigging unbelievable.”

“Massé shot. The guy who invented the leather tip, Mingaud, discovered the shot while in prison because there was so little room in his cell. The more you lift the butt of your cue, the more the ball will curve. I love them, but they’re inconsistent.”

“Something special to see. You mind me watching from here?”

“Are you going to hoot every time I win?”

He blushed again. “Couldn’t help it. Never seen them all run out like that.”

“It happens a lot around here. It’s stringing the runs together that’s tough. The best I’ve run is a four pack, but only once during a tournament.”

“Four pack?”

“Four in a row.”

“You ran out four games in a row?…. No misses?

She nodded and walked over to check the tightness of Karen’s rack. A loose rack could lose a match. Another Kelly Harris admonition.

The match with Karen went to Mary, Garland only letting out a chirp when she dropped the last nine ball into the pocket. As she played out the set, Jay kept intruding into her thoughts. Each time she waited for her opponent to rack, he was there again. Only when she was shooting did her thoughts of him recede.

 

* * *

Late now, a settled quiet blanketed the poolroom. A crowd of beaten players and stragglers watched from the shadows, slumped in chairs or leaning on nearby tables, all the other table lights turned off, the one rectangle of chalky green everyone’s focus; Sammy was out from behind the bar, the kitchen long closed, the jukebox mute. There was an intimacy to the moment, a closeness that a group of people can encounter when they are all concentrating on the same thing, sharing the same momentary obsession.

Mary was in the finals with Laura Sedgewick, who, as she insisted on telling everyone, had played snooker in England for two years. Tall and blonde and snobbish Laura Sedgewick. Mary had wanted to crush her quickly and collect her money, yet after 16 games they were both on the hill. Mary had missed a few crazy ones and let Laura back in, Nick frowning at her from the duskiness at the edge of the audience. She just wished she wasn’t so tired.

As fate would have it, the final game hinged on her decision between a safety shot and a nearly impossible 90-degree cut down the rail, the bank shot blocked. She didn’t want to find Nick’s eyes. She did see Garland smiling confidently at her, looking certain she couldn’t miss, no matter the difficulty. If she fired the cue ball with full left English into the cushion just behind the two, the cue could kick off the bank at enough of an angle to clip the ball down the rail and into the pocket. About to attempt this shot, she inadvertently caught Nick’s expression.

She stood back up. Looking the table over again, she played a perfect safety, delicately touching the two and trapping the cue ball behind the seven. Nick smiled. At least for Nick it was a smile. No one else would have noticed, but she did.

Laura rose from her stool and addressed the table. For her even to touch the two was unlikely, and if she missed, Mary would have ball in hand and a likely win — the one large. Laura, her arrogance finally looking ruffled, stared at the lie of balls. She was stuck. Snookered. Her only chance was a three-rail hit, but with all the other balls on the table in the way, the shot had slim odds. She had to try it. Laura stroked smoothly and the cue ball bounded off one rail, then two, whispered by the eight ball, cleared the six by a wish, off the final cushion to contact the two perfectly, running it down the rail and into the pocket. A unified shout from the shadows. The crowd quieted and Laura, back to her cocky blonde self, carefully ran out the remaining balls. Mary congratulated her with a firm handshake.

As she was unscrewing her cue Garland walked up.

“You were great,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“Never seen no one play like you.”

“As my dad says, God loves a trier.”

Garland thought a moment. “I like that. God loves a trier. That is dang good.” Garland nodding his head, looking serious, then brightening. “Hey, you hungry or thirsty or anything?”

“I just need a ride to the airport.”

“You flying somewhere?” — sounding concerned.

“I’ve got a rental waiting.”

“You don’t need no rental. Drive you anywhere you wanna go.”

“Just the airport. Okay?” She looked at him, hoping he would read her expression. She was too exhausted for anything else.

When she collected her 500 for second place from Nick, he wouldn’t meet her eyes. He handed her the envelope full of bills. As she turned to leave—

“Mary.”

She stopped.

“You play the right shot. You lose the match, but you play the right shot. Over time you win. Believe me. No one beat the odds. You play the right shot. I feel this.”

She glanced down at him, studying him for a moment. “Thanks, Nick. Thanks for caring about me.”

The old pool player looked up at her, and if he’d ever smiled in the last 20 years, now was that time.

 

To be continued next week.