Little Boy and the Carp

Photo: © Olga Breydo. All Rights Reserved.

Sogo Park, 1950

Why did she come to see the Carp? Perhaps to look inside the newly-constructed stadium, or to glimpse the boys in their red-lettered uniforms. Taking pre-game infield practice, they scooped up ground balls, while along the first-base line, a lean young pitcher warmed up with a whipping sidearm, and in the outfield, teammates played long-distance catch in high looping arcs. Everything moved at a different speed but it also seemed part of a harmonious process, like a sewing machine with crank and hook and bobbin, stitching together a pattern. She wasn’t fond of baseball. But she’d felt drawn to the place, like a witness for others who were absent.

“I’m as good as he is.”

“Hah! Maybe half as fast.”

Teenage boys in the row ahead of her discussed the Carp’s pitcher, who kicked his leg and let fly.

“I’m serious. Next year, that could be me out there!”

“You’re dreaming.”

An older man in the same row leaned in. “Next year?” He laughed. “You might be dead.”

He had a scorched face and she suspected that he’d been drinking. Uneasily the boys laughed along with him. For an instant the action on the field disappeared. Everything moved inside. It didn’t matter that they were strangers. She could remember if she chose, but she must not think about it.


Five years ago, her son had pestered her first thing in the morning, demanding an early breakfast. The day was already hot. Other children would claim the field where he was eager to play. “I need to go now. They’re waiting for me.”

“No they’re not. Sit down and eat.”

He’d started to do his birdhop. That was the term his father had coined before he’d gone away. When the boy was excited he couldn’t keep still and he talked animatedly, fluttering his hands and sometimes his feet actually left the ground. He was like a little bird on the cusp of flight who would take off immediately if he weren’t in this cage. These days were hard on children, being cooped up. Now her son swung an imaginary baseball bat, hopping.

“I can’t miss it.”

“You heard me,” she said. “Sit down.”

He ate quickly. She watched him with a mix of irritation and amusement. She’d slept badly last night, lonely in her room. After he finished his breakfast, she still made him wait. When the siren sounded, she told him he could go.

“You will be good!” she called.

“I’ll be good!”

He didn’t look back. Other children poured into the street; her son was greeted by a boy with a pointy face and his hair parted down the middle, the son of a glass-cutter, and they ran off together. She yawned and closed the door and went over to her place next to the window where she’d set up her sewing machine to take advantage of the light. She heard the creaking of a push-cart and the high-pitched squeals of little girls as they trotted by.


When the game started, the teenage boys lit up cigarettes and, as an afterthought, offered one to the older man who happily accepted, biting down on the end, showing his teeth in his little round hole of a mouth. She disapproved of them but she couldn’t say why. Perhaps it was a quality of their voices, frivolous voices, more perceptible as feeling than as actual conversation. She wanted to ignore them, like another ache in her joints. Because at the same time, she felt a love coursing through her as she watched a player on the field throw the ball with a lank arm. It was like a memory of something she’d never seen.

The grass was resplendent green. The sky blue and empty. She imagined thousands of shadows walking around the city and filling the electric trams and boats on the river.

“Oh no!”

“Wait! Wait!”

But the throw was late, and an opposing runner slid across home plate.

The teenage boys slapped their knees.

“It can’t be helped,” said the older man.

In the excitement, she’d risen to her feet and added her own voice to the crowd. Her heart beat faster; she felt the capillaries pulsing in her neck. Presently the action slowed again, and a breeze parted the air.


The bomb, she’d learned later, was called Little Boy. That was what they said. The Americans had pushed Little Boy out of an airplane.

She was working at the window, sewing a collar for her husband’s great-aunt, a wily old woman who’d stopped by on the pretext of inquiring about her great-nephew. She’d also brought along a bag of mending that she expected would be done free of charge. Auntie helped herself to a palmful of peanuts and announced, “I can come back tomorrow.”

“I’m sure you can.”

This morning, when she opened the bag, her annoyance softened when she inspected the contents. The collar and undersash, the intimate garments that likely dated back to the previous century. She giggled, arranging them in a pile. “Oh, Auntie. Look at you.” She went to work. After a few minutes she straightened her back and rested her eyes, a smell of her neighbor’s cooking drifting through the window. Her elbow knocked a spool off the edge of the table, and she bent to retrieve it as it rolled away in a half-circle and then returned clockwise toward her feet.

Then came a flash—there was no noise—and it seemed the sun was in the room. She didn’t know what happened. The light made everything disappear.

Charles Holdefer is an American writer based in Brussels. His fiction has appeared in the New England Review, North American Review, Chicago Quarterly Review and Slice. His story “The Raptor” won a 2017 Pushcart Prize. His latest book is Agitprop for Bedtime. Visit Charles at

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