The Darkened Corner covers seventeen years in the life of a traveller, conman, self-hater and hard-drinker, and his continuing obsession with his childhood crush, Katie Rose. Tom Hamilton's fragmented story is delivered in short, sharp bursts of prose.
Sharp palms scratched against a clear, cold sky and the fading yellow light baked away from the black outlines of the buildings like a beautiful gas. Out in the groves we could hear the sprinklers spitting as the farmers tried to cover the tangerines over with ice. Their goal was to coat the trees with just the proper amount of slush. If they could manage to keep the temperature right at 32 degrees Fahrenheit then they could preserve the endangered crop; freezing it so that it doesn't freeze. Like lowering some one's pulse rate so that their heart doesn't burst. But like every idea this was much better in theory than it was in practice and if they were off by only a couple of degrees, the trees wouldn't be able to hold the weight of the hardened ice and they'd split down the middle like a broken heart.
Joe Flannery and I could hear the jets of water slicing through the branches from where we were sitting near the entrance to the old campground. It was so cold that we could see our own breath. Once darkness fell the wind had turned crisp and we'd sought shelter underneath the overhang in front of the rec room. There wasn't very much in the way of recreation in there: just a red velvet topped pool table, a phooseball game, a couple of pinball machines: 'The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders' and I think perhaps 'Grease', plus a snack distributor and a pop dispenser.
For Joe and I it had been a long day of doing not much of anything. We were Irish Traveler kids which is tantamount to being a gypsy. Standard procedure for brats our age was to be pulled out of school early so that we could help our fathers at work. So Joe and I had both hit our last book the previous spring, even though we were barely preteens. But on days when our old men choose to end up at the Temple Terrace Tap instead of working, we didn't have much else to do aside from hanging around at the front of the campground.
That morning, Joe had came walking down the road telling me that John Lennon was dead; gunned down by some lunatic in New York City. We talked about it for a couple of minutes and then didn't think too much more of it. Actually, 40 seemed pretty old to me. I remember thinking that if I could make it to that age, I probably wouldn't feel cheated if I got gunned down by some lunatic.
Joe had only recently reemerged from the woods after an earlier incident; there were usually several younger children milling around the billiard tables begging for coins, which they would either pump into the pinball machines or use to buy snacks. I wondered what the hell Joe was doing when I saw him holding a quarter in between two Popsicle sticks, running a cheap, transparent BIC cigarette lighter along its silvery surface; heating the coin until it was an almost liquid white. When it was ready he dropped the molten money in between the pool table and the far one which bracketed the little impaled soccer players. He then twirled around as if he had dropped it by accident and was now searching for it. Many kids leaped up and dove after it, anxious to fund a bag of Frito's or play the silver ball. But Mick Whitney, a peculiar white haired kid whose I.Q. must have topped out somewhere in the high teens, was the fleetest of the bunch. He grabbed the simmering quarter and, for a fraction of a second, grinned in celebration. In the next instant, however, he screamed in agony and dropped the coin back onto the hard concrete floor where it spun around a few times before landing eagle up. I cannot say that there was a red raw depiction of George Washington branded onto his palm but the skin had bubbled to a blister as he ran crying back down the gravel road towards the trailers; Joe laughing after him for a few feet before veering back off and chortling his way up underneath the overhang.
Of course it wasn't long before Aunt Jane, Mick's mother, was marching up towards the rec room, her white haired offspring hanging from her shoulder like an organ grinder's monkey. By this time, however, Joe had retreated into the tropical woods, which were nestled in between the swimming pool and the laundromat. In his absence Aunt Jane turned her fury towards me as Joe's frequent accomplice. As she pelted me with heated accusations I patiently kept repeating that it wasn't me who had done her son wrong. Several of the smaller kids, when questioned, also said that it was not me but Joe who had done the depredation. Finally, frustrated, Aunt Jane gave up on the verbal assault and turned back down towards the trailers. Mick, who by now had cried himself into a stupor, which his M&M sized brain was never far from anyway, followed her while blankly holding the now bandaged hand close to his ribs. Once they were gone Joe reappeared. After the smaller kids had filled him on all the drama he'd missed he looked over at me and grinned conspiratorially.