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"Night Bowl," short story excerpt

Sunday 10/3/21

I’ve been sufficiently alone at points in my life that when I’m inside, within a living space, a term of irony to me, I have spoken to myself simply to experience a human voice between four walls.

I don’t want to be jarred later on, if I’m not alone. I feel like if I go too long minus this sound, a part of me won’t be human anymore, and when that happens, the part doesn’t come back among the living. One becomes half a leaf, and I challenge anyone to find half a leaf on a tree. You’ll just never see it.

So really I’m acting on behalf of the wife and the children I don’t have yet, if it’s not too late, when I say to myself, “Okay, what should we do now?” after the pan has been washed in the sink, or the ribbon of floss passed between the teeth.

But what I won’t do is say anything to myself when I’m in bed, because that hammers at me as pathetic and moves you near a line that you ought not to approach, where the other side beckons and says, “come on over, man, just a quick hop,” but you know there’s no getting back.

I’ll throw on a sweatshirt, grab a beanie, and head off for a run. For a while I only saw rats on these sorts of races with myself, occurring as they did at three or four in the evening, or the morning, which are one and the same at that time. I can run for an hour, come back and sleep until eight, before life starts again.

My runs take me past the old football stadium, and when I say old, what I mean is that this place wouldn’t have been called a stadium in its prime. It was a bowl. You saw a game at the bowl in 1934.

“Heading out to the bowl for the big one?” you’d ask your ex-roommate, with both of you being back in town for homecoming. Or perhaps you never left, but you were the kind of person who needed to talk like they did.

The quiet is such at this time in this corner of the world that I can actually hear the nearby river. Rivers don’t normally make a sound, for all of their motion. Not the variety that moves so slowly that there has to be a leaf on top of it for you to detect a current. But I hear this river. The river readies me, makes me conscious that I can hear, which is a sensation that may be lost in instances of extreme quiet. Or panic. Anxiety. Doubt.

But it is when I run past the bowl—the great ovoid made of stone from when there were no people, with its concentric levels where humanity is so readily stacked—that I hear what is unmistakably a crowd at full fettle. I hear the piercing whistles of the referees—those shrill, but clear-as-you-please periods marking the end of energy-laced sentences—at a football game. The dull thud of bodies toppling each other that makes one infer the forthcoming presence of tomorrow’s raised purple welts and splotchy, marbled bruises. Shouted instructions to look out for the feared All-League end MacMannis and get his Irish ass blocked. Boot that ball. Hammer that line. Loft the end zone fade.

Clearly it’s a dynamic contest. You can tell when a game is packed with consequence. A time in one’s life that might have been one thing, but may become another, given what happens on a late afternoon in early November. Or so it seems. It always seems that way just before it happens, and then as it happens. But maybe not so much after. And probably not much at all, long after.

I’d wonder if what I heard as I ran was residual energy left over from seven decades ago, for such was the way desires, emotions, even dreams occurring in real time, were stamped into that long-ago autumn air that is also similar to the air of now.

Maybe that’s what does it. The air. The weather. The air currents within the stadium. I know I should be frightened. I think I’m frightened that I’m not frightened, if that makes sense. If you said to me, “You can enter through Gate H, here is a ticket that is still valid for this game of the dead, I have an extra,” I believe I’d thank you for your largess, and race into the bowl, hopefully in time for the second half, even if that meant I’d never come out and always be a spectator, absorbed by the crowd, declaring just like everyone else what I thought would be best to do on the next play. Fake the hand-off. That defensive back is going to bite. Then all you have to do is get the ball there. Our man is wide open. Don’t just run it up the gut. Can’t you see they’re stacking the box!


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