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The Man with Two Arms

The Man with Two Arms

by Billy Lombardo

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“Undoubtedly modern America’s finest literary tribute to the baseball since Bernard Malamud’s novel The Natural” (Chicago Tribune).
Henry Granville, a baseball fanatic and high school teacher, spends hours in the basement with his young son Danny, introducing him to balls of all shapes and sizes. He even turns the basement into an indoor stadium.
Danny quickly distinguishes himself from his peers, most conspicuously by his ability to throw perfectly with either arm—a feat virtually unheard of in baseball. But he also possesses a visionary gift that not even he understands. Danny becomes a superior athlete, skyrocketing through the minor leagues and into the majors where he experiences immediate success, breaking records held for decades. When a journalist, a former student of Henry’s and hungry for a national breakout story, exaggerates the teacher’s obsession and exposes him to the world as a monster, all hell breaks loose and the pressures of media and celebrity threaten to disrupt the world that Henry and Danny have created.
A baseball novel—and much more—The Man with Two Arms is a story of the ways in which we protect, betray, forgive, love, and shape each other as we attempt to find our way through life.
“Magical realism meets baseball in [this] debut novel . . . [A] Roy Hobbs-like narrative.” —Chicago Magazine
“Sings with joy and tragedy . . . An amazing debut, as a lyrical paean to the national pastime and as a touching exploration of the life of a boy becoming a man both blessed and burdened with a unique and extraordinary talent.” —Flagpole

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590206027
Publisher: ABRAMS, Inc. (Ignition)
Publication date: 02/04/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 649 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Billy Lombardo is the author of four books of fiction: The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories, How to Hold a Woman, The Man With Two Arms, and The Day of the Palindrome. He is also the author of Meanwhile, Roxy Mourns, a book of poetry/prose. Billy is the cofounder and managing editor of Polyphony H.S., an international student-run literary magazine for high school writers and editors. He was the 2011 Artist-in-Residence at Illinois Benedictine University, and currently teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at The Latin School of Chicago. He is the 2011 recipient of the Nelson Algren Award.

Read an Excerpt



SEVERAL MILES WEST OF THE EXACT MIDPOINT BETWEEN COMISKEY Park and Wrigley Field in a town named Forest Park, on a street named Lathrop, in the first floor apartment of a two-story made of lumber and red brick, at eleven o'clock, on the night of May 15, 1984, just fourteen hours before the world's greatest baseball player was born to the world, Henry Granville applied cocoa butter to the mountainous belly of Lori Granville, his very pregnant wife.

A woman named Judy Copeland lived in the flat above the Granvilles. She was 103 years old, and apart from the fact that she controlled the heat, by way of the Honeywell thermostat on her dining-room wall, in both apartments of the stiflingly warm two-flat, Henry had no complaints about the tenant upstairs. She made no noise, and as she was nearly deaf, neither did she complain of it. To offset the heat, Henry, who'd grown accustomed to sleeping on the right side of his wife during their courtship, switched to the left side, next to the window, when they bought the house on Lathrop and inherited Judy Copeland. Even on the coldest of winter nights, when February bit like teeth into the ears of the city, Henry slept with the window open.

Every afternoon Lori Granville checked on Judy and sat with her over tea.

"I'm off to tea with my lady-friend," Lori would say to Henry.

"Give her my regards," Henry would say in reply. "And tell her to turn the heat down, if she doesn't mind," he'd add.

It was Judy who had convinced Lori of the healing properties of cocoa butter. She'd outlived two sons and a daughter, and from the late August day when she learned of Lori's pregnancy, Judy had told her how she'd rubbed cocoa butter on her own belly through each of her pregnancies, and in this way had avoided the "hideous stretch marks" that had "plagued mothers since Eve."

The next time Lori visited her, the old woman asked if Lori had taken her advice regarding the cocoa butter. When Lori said she had meant to pick up a jar of it from the Healing Earth Resource Center in the city, but hadn't, the old woman flashed open her robe in order to show fully naked proof of the balm's healing powers. Lori did not mean to shriek in horror at Judy's sudden and wizened nudity, but she did. She also turned her head and, with her hands, shaded her eyes, which had been pressed shut anyway, but Judy Copeland refused to close her robe until she'd extracted Lori's promise to buy a jar of cocoa butter and begin applying it that very night.

"Okay, okay, okay," Lori promised, laughing through her nose at Judy's naked insistence.

"Excellent," the old woman said, and only then did she close her robe, smoothing it across her thighs as though wrinkles in cloth were a greater breach of propriety than her own bared skin. "Motherhood will provide you with your share of scars," Judy said. "No one needs to see them."

That same day, Judy also told Lori that while she was pregnant with Vincent, a doctor, and her oldest child, she read medical books aloud while she rubbed the butter on her belly; she listened to classical music while pregnant with Eloise, who'd become a concert pianist; and she read nothing but great world literature while pregnant with James, her youngest son.

"Did he become a novelist?" Lori asked.

"No," the old woman said. "He's a bit lazy. But he reads like mad and he's quite smart."

All of this Lori mentioned to Henry after having seen Judy Copeland naked. Even as she told Henry, she closed and held her hand over her eyes as if to fight off the thing she had already seen.

"She wouldn't let me leave until I promised to apply it every night for the duration of my pregnancy."

Henry laughed, his fingers twitching as he watched Lori's cocoa-buttered palm move in a slow and deliberate circle around her belly.

Henry had often pondered over the small part husbands played in the pregnancies of their wives, and so, where he felt he could participate more fully in Lori's pregnancy, he did. Between his classes, he phoned her from the high school science lab to ask if she needed anything from the grocery store on his way home. He sent flowers to her at the Oak Park bookstore where she worked part time, or brought them home, made fresh cuts at the bottom of the stems as he'd seen Lori do, filled appropriate vases with tepid water, arranged the flowers, and centered them on the dining room table. He baked bread on Sundays. He bought a throw rug for the kitchen and he took to his wife's clean-as-you-go approach around the house as well, towel-drying the dishes and putting them away immediately after washing them, rather than have them drip lazily on the dish rack. Seeing the cocoa butter as another opportunity to share in Lori's pregnancy, Henry held out his hand to receive the balm.

"Give it here, love," he said. "Let me have a go at it."

And as Henry rubbed his hands together to warm them for his wife's belly, what intrigued him most was this suggestion that Mrs. Copeland had guided the careers of her children by introducing them to medicine and music and literature before they were even born. Henry had heard of this phenomenon, of course — he'd read of it, or had seen it on a TV show — and long had wondered at the truth of it. He reflected on the myriad implications of prenatal education. There was something splendid and hopeful about it, the possibility of giving a child a head start before his first gulp of air.

Judy was old, of course, and whacky enough to bare her 103-year-old breasts to the world, but what if she was on to something? What if you could give shape to a child's future even as it was forming fingers and toes within its mother's womb? And if it were true, how might he shape the future of his own son? Would he pass along his interest in science, or encourage a career in medicine? Music? Art? What else might he give to his son?

What about baseball? Now there was a gift he could give. Baseball was about grace and beauty and character, it was about strength and achievement. It was about competition. It was about fathers and sons, and for the luckiest of mortals it was a way to play into adulthood. It was the best use of grass and dirt ever dreamed in the heads of men.

Yes, what about baseball? What would happen if he read baseball books to the child growing inside the mound of Lori's belly? If he watched baseball movies and read baseball articles and watched baseball games in the company of his pregnant wife? If he considered baseball strategies while rubbing cocoa butter on Lori's stomach? Could he somehow pass the gift of baseball to his child?

And on that first night of the cocoa butter — as Lori Granville, beneath the massaging warmth of Henry's fingers, slept the sleep of a child — Henry slowly and quietly swung his feet from the bed and walked to his desk in the unoccupied second bedroom, and ran his fingers along the spines of Lori's books until he found among them the only novel he'd brought to this life with Lori. He tilted it from the shelf and smoothed his hand over the paperback. In the lower right-hand corner, he ran his fingers over the teeth marks that Maude-Lynn, his long-dead cat, had chewed into the cover. He returned to his room then and knelt at the side of the bed, and with his face near Lori's stomach, his fingers moving over his wife in the shape of an infield, he opened the yellowing book to page one and began to whisper to his unborn son.

"Roy Hobbs pawed at the glass ..."

Henry applied the cocoa butter on every evening of Lori's pregnancy, and if there wasn't a baseball game on television, he read from The Natural as he set his fingers to his wife's belly. There were nights that Lori read her magazines quietly while Henry tended to her, and there were nights she listened to him read. Often, Henry would look up from his book and find Lori gazing at him. He would look into the blue of Lori's eyes then and they would seem to sparkle. She would smile.

"You love baseball, don't you?" he would say. "I can see it in your eyes when you look at me that way."

And Lori might smile a tired smile — a mother's smile already — or she might nod and say, "Eh. Baseball's okay."

Many nights Lori would drift into sleep at the sound of her husband's voice, at the touch of his fingers. Sometimes she would speak, sleepily, of the day she had while Henry was teaching his science classes at University High.

And every evening, after Henry bent back a corner of a page to save his place, clicked the tin lid on the glass jar of cocoa butter and twisted it shut, he kissed his wife on the forehead.

"Goodnight, sweet Lorelei," he would say, and even in her sleep it seemed she would smile.

And it was here, several months later, on the night of May 15, 1984, following a line drive homerun off Wonderboy that shot into the sky like a star, that Henry prepared to rub cocoa butter on the belly of his pregnant wife for what would be the last time.

Sleepily, Lori arched her back off the bed to free her nightshirt from the weight of her body. Henry slipped it over her stomach, and to warm the dollop of lotion in his palms, passed his hands over a candle he had lighted on his wife's bedside table. Lori's arms were crossed rigidly over her night-shirted breasts. Her feet were flat on the bed and her knees raised. Henry touched one finger to Lori's belly and began to move it in the tiniest of clockwise motions. The small circle started at the hill of her round stomach and as Henry added more fingers to her, the circle opened to include more.

Henry wondered if the child inside of Lori could feel his fingers. He wondered if a fetus made sound.

Lori closed her eyes, and within minutes the tension responsible for the crossing of her arms began to fade, and Henry's hand widened gradually into a greater circle around his wife. As he reached the bottom of her belly, the heels of Lori's feet began to inch away from her along the bed sheet. At the top of the circle, Henry brushed the tips of his fingers against the southern curve of Lori's breasts and the rigid lock of her arms across her chest loosened more. On each return of Henry's hand to the bottom of her belly, Lori's heels moved closer to the foot of the bed, and on each return to the top, Henry slipped his hand further into Lori's nightshirt and whispered his fingers against her breasts more certainly, and the tension in Lori's body diminished until her knees were lowered completely, and her arms had fallen softly to the bed at her sides.

For Henry to hear the gentle, throaty hums escape from Lori's lips was to be paid handsomely in a kind of poetry or song. The sounds were a re-acceptance of a proposal, a first kiss, a wedding, a promise of love and a request for more, and so Henry brought Lori's legs into the ring of his touch, ran his fingernails along the inside of her thighs and slowly they opened to him, and when they did, he knelt between them, and began to circle Lori with both hands. Henry wished for more hands, then. He wanted Lori to feel that his love had many hands, that there was neither beginning nor end to them, that there could be hands on the swell of her belly and on her hips, and hands moving toward her breasts and smoothing across the hem of her panties as well. He wanted hands to brush her hair, and hands to rub her feet, fingers to trace along her legs.

When Henry's fingers were deep beneath Lori's shirt, Lori moaned as though her breasts had been waiting for the fullness of his hands for years. She raised her hips and lifted herself to the possibility that Henry might have another hand available for her there. Henry circled Lori's breasts as she lifted and lowered her hips like a kind of calling. Her hands moved toward her hips then. Her fingers closed around the hem of her underwear and she tugged them downward.

"Take these, Henry," she said, and some of Henry's hands swirled in the eddy he had set into motion above at her breasts, and some of them pressed into the place newly revealed, and some of them pulled gently at the material Lori felt slip down her legs and brush against her toes. Henry undressed and returned to kneel between her legs. Lori began to guide Henry inside of her, then, but barely entering her, Henry put his fingers to where Lori's hands met her wrists and he set them at her side. He held himself there, with his hands on her hips he held himself at the very edge of his wife, and when Lori lifted herself to more of him, he gave himself to her in quantities that were capricious and unpredictable; one offering at a depth nearly imperceptible from the one before, and another that stopped her breath.

They made love. Sweetly, as they always did, and slowly as they sometimes did, and the sounds Lori made as she breathed through her mouth were so like the sounds that emerged between tears that Henry opened his eyes several times to assure himself that she was not crying, or if she was, that it was for something other than sadness.

Inside her, Henry pressed and pulled within the rhythms of the murmuring song of her breath, and soon it felt to him as though she were breathing at all only because of him. If he were tall enough to kiss her over the mountain of her belly he would have done so. He would have stood by her side and kissed her, breathed into her mouth — that much life he felt he had, enough life for both of them. All three of them. Several times he began pulling himself from her, slowly and gently, in order kiss her, but so responsible did he feel for her breathing that he returned each time to a greater depth.

And Lori put her hands to the side of her belly, and Henry laid his hands upon hers, while her song moved into her throat, and then into her chest, and her song moved into her stomach and through their almostchild, and into Henry, too, until it reached his own throat and his own eyes, and Lori laced her fingers into Henry's and pulled him deeper until Lori and Henry were both so filled with breath and song and life, that neither could contain it any longer. Henry trembled with all of it, and Lori shuddered and gasped. Her body quaked from her legs to her shoulders.

The shudder, the gasp, the quake that came from Lori turned out to mean a number of things, for within minutes they were on their way, in an easy and quiet rain, to Good Samaritan Hospital.

* * *

With the intermittent and rubbery squeakings of the windshield wipers marking time, Henry turned onto the entrance ramp of the Eisenhower Expressway, wondering if any man in the history of the world had ever made love to his wife so close in time to the birth of their child.

Leaning back in her seat and smoothing her hands on her stomach, Lori looked over her shoulder at the buckle of the seat belt, and then at Henry.

"Be careful, Henry," she said.

Henry angled the rearview mirror until their eyes met in the parallelogram of silvery glass. Lori smiled at him there, her eyes so blue they made him look again.

Were they blue enough, Henry wondered, then, to dominate the brown of his own eyes, given to him by his parents, now gone. What, Henry wondered, of Lori, would he give to his son if the choice were his to make?

For starters she had made a home of nothing. When they were looking to buy a home and first viewed at the two-flat, Henry told Lori he could never live there.

"Don't you think it's kind of dumpy?" he'd said.

"Oh my, no," Lori replied. "You can't see how beautiful it will be, can you?"

So Lori sketched blueprints with colored pencils, drew perfect lines without the aid of a straightedge, she'd shown him precisely how beautiful it would be, and it was. To an empty and ugly place, she'd brought curtains and sheets and tablecloths, she'd wallpapered and painted, and tacked hangings to walls, she brought plates and cups and silverware. She changed the outlet covers and made a home of nothing.

And when she was away — once for a long weekend with her girlfriends from school, and once for a visit back east — the house on Lathrop Street didn't even seem like a home to Henry. It was an apartment when she was away, and nothing seemed right.

If the choice were his to make, Henry would have this be among Lori's gifts to their child.

The driveway to the hospital circled around a flower garden where hundreds of tulips, yellow and red, bloomed in the cones of light from the driveway lampposts.

"Opening Day tulips," Henry said, and Lori, leaning back in the passenger seat, breathing deliberately and massaging circles into her belly, smiled. She knew the story of the tulips.


Excerpted from "The Man With Two Arms"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Billy Lombardo.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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