“Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game” by William Kennedy

But Martin knew Billy to be a generalist, a man in need of the sweetness of miscellany.


I know how it is to live in the inescapable presence of the absence of the father.


Billy went for his ball, kissed it once, massaged it, chalked and toweled his right hand, spat in the spittoon to lighten his burden, bent slightly at the waist, shuffled and slid, a bazoo-bazoo, boys, threw another strike: not just another strike, but a titanic blast this time which sent all pins flying pitward, the cleanest of clean hits, perfection unto tidiness, bespeaking power battening on power, control escalating.


He salted his oatmeal and spiced it with raisins, those wrinkled and puny symbols of his own dark and shriveling years.


She was remote cousin to Charlie’s mother and would want to lend whatever strength she had to the troubled family, a surge of good will that would now be intrusive.


a reporter whose stories were so sugary that you risked diabetic coma if you read them regularly.


Pray to Jesus, but where is Jesus? Jesus, Charlie, sits at my desk in the person of an equivocating Welsh rarebit who doesn’t understand sons because he never had any. But he understand money and news and power and decency and perhaps such things as these will help save the boy we remember.


to begin spreading the blanket of silence over a story whose magnitude punified even his own recurring glory dreams of news at its colossally tragic best.


Car? I never even had roller skates.


being alive in a way he wasn’t sure his father still was. Is death hereditary?


But you don’t give them that edge even once: I beat Billy Phelan last week. No edge for bums.


Suckers demand humiliation and it is the duty of people like Billy to answer their demand.


Billy even tried that one himself to see how it went, but didn’t like it, didn’t have the patience or the vocation for it. Because cheaters, you see, already know how it’s going to end, and what the hell good is that?


Bump Oliver dealt and Billy came up with kings wired. Very lovely. Also Billy heard for the first time the unmistakable whipsaw snap of a real mechanic at work dealing seconds. Billy watched Bump deal, admiringly. Billy appreciated talent wherever he saw it. Nobody else seemed to notice, but the whipsaw was a loud as a brass band to Billy’s ear. It was not Billy’s music, however. He did not mind the music cheaters made, so long as they didn’t make it all over him. He caught Bump’s eye, smiled, and then folded the kings.

“No thanks,” was all he said to Bump, but it was plenty. Bump stopped looking at Billy and folded his own hand after the next card. He played two more hands and dropped out of the game. The cheater lost money. Never took a nickel from anybody, thanks to doughty Billy. Nobody knew Bump was really a wicked fellow at heart. Nobody knew either, how Billy absolutely neutralized him.

Billy, you’re a goddamned patent-leather wonder.


No man who socks in Albany felt better in the night-time than Billy Phelan.


Billy learned everything by himself, everything worth learning.


If I was in trouble, I’d be the first to know.


There was world of behavior in this room Billy did not grasp with clarity he had in pool and poker, or at the crap table. Billy knew jazz and betting and booking horses and baseball. He knew how to stay at arm’s length from the family and how to make out. He resisted knowing more than these things. If you knew what the McCalls knew, you’d be a politician. If you you knew what George McQuinn knew, you’d be a family man. They had their rewards but Billy did not covet them. Tie you up in knots, pin you down, put you in the box. He could learn anything, study it. He could have been in politics years ago. Who couldn’t on Colonie Street? But he chose other ways of staying alive. There never was a politician Billy could really talk to, and never a hustler he couldn’t.


he would find a way to make love to Melissa again, in the way a one-legged man carves a crutch from the fallen tree that crushed his leg.


But perceiving now that a second infusion of pain distracts the brain and reduces the pain of the first and more grievous wound, he would, yes, make love to Melissa as soon as possible.


The quest to love yourself is a moral quest.

How simple this psychic game is, once you know the rules.


The test of a real mustache is whether it can be seen from behind. Red Tom’s therefore is not real.


He wrote of Billy’s disdain of money and viewed Billy as a healthy man without need for artifice or mysticism, a serious fellow who put play in its proper place: an adjunct to breathing and eating.


They went down the stairs and out the front door onto Eagle Street, confronting a golden October afternoon, the bright sun warming the day with Indian summer’s final passion.


a gesture which called the validity of the land transaction into some question.


To free the children it is necessary to rupture the conspiracy against them. We are all in conspiracy against children. Fathers, mothers, teachers, priests, bankers, politicians, gods, and prophets. For Abraham of the upraised knife, prototypical fascist father, Isaac was only a means to an enhanced status as a believer. Go fuck yourself with your knife, Abe.


Martin Daugherty climbs out of the DeSoto with the aim of stretching his legs. But he does not get very far with his stretching before he is greeted by a double-breasted hello from a sawed-off shotgun peeking out of the window of a parked car. Being respectful of double-breasted hellos of such size and shape, Martin goes back where he comes from and ponders the curious ways kidnappers have of taking out insurance on their investments.


We are only as possible as what happened to us yesterday. We all change as we move.