What follows is a chapter from my unfinished novel Only Begotten Sons. The story concerns Marty Merlo, whose elderly father, Martin, may actually be the Second Coming of Christ.
The novel has problems, but I’ve always liked this bit. It works as a stand-alone story, I think.
Sam was only eleven, and he played for a Peewee football league that was not especially competitive. Unlike his father, he had never mastered sports. He was fortunate that every kid who signed up for the league ended up on a team somewhere and got some playing time. usually, he was brought in on special teams to prevent the opposing team from scoring on kickoff returns. This was not because Sam possessed some sort of athletic prowess that made him indispensable in such efforts, but rather because it was the safest place to dump him. His recently assumed role of Starting Kicker had not been earned so much as settled on by default. in truth, very few teams in the Peewee League ever attempted field goals or extra points, preferring instead to go for touchdowns or two-point conversions.
His team, the Tigers, was coached by an affable man named Petersen who prepared for each game like Vince Lombardi cramming for a Super Bowl. He drew up plays, studied film, revised the previous plays, and then cursed like a sailor when his masterwork could not be properly implemented by ten through twelve year olds. Despite this, he never blamed his players, believing that his coaching was to blame. He’d try harder next week. The kids loved him.
On this particular afternoon, Coach Petersen’s plays worked better than usual, and the Tigers managed to hang close to the Broncos throughout the contest. Marty paced the top row of the bleachers, waiting to see his son do something, anything. His parents sat with his wifeJessica and talked casually, as if a game were not happening fifteen feet away from them.
Sam stood on the sidelines, consciously standing on his left leg and seining his right back and forth in a slight kicking motion, hoping to stay loose for that moment when he would be called upon. It had not occurred to him that his position was entirely ceremonial; he was too caught up in the idea that he was a starter to notice that he would never play.
Coach Petersen paced, too, muttering about the shitty officiating that was robbing his boys of the blowout victory they so surely deserved. The clock was winding down now, and his team was down by two, courtesy of a safety that had occurred in the third quarter when a trick play he called resulted in a fumble recovered by the Tigers quarterback in his own end zone, where he was promptly tackled. Petersen was sure there had been a defensive offsides that had blown the play up and went uncalled, although, he had to admit, it was the wrong thing to call that close to your own goal line. The question was whether his boys could get up the field in enough time to score a touchdown and claim victory. He had only one timeout remaining, and he had to be judicious with it. (Unfortunately, the hurry-up offense remained elusive, despite his insistence on doing two-minute drills in practice.)
As the Tiger drive began to stall out near the Broncos’ twenty yard line, a terrifying thought crossed the coach’s mind. They were going to have to send in Merlo to attempt a field goal.
“Shit. God damn it. Fuck,” he muttered, to the amusement of the players who heard him. (The swearing was, of course, one of the reasons why he was so beloved by the Tigers players.)
Finally, he signaled for a timeout, lest time should expire, and he motioned for Sam to come over to him.
“Just like in practice, Sammy. Put that son of a bitch right through the uprights.”
“We haven’t really practiced it, though, Coach.” It was true. Field goal practice was always the last thing scheduled for any practice session, and generally extra time was expended trying to master the Wildcat formation or the 3-4 Zone-Blitz defensive scheme, and kicking was ignored. Who the hell kicked field goals in the Peewee leagues?
“Well, then, son, do it just like you see on television. Just like the pros do it. If we win or lose it’s because of what you do right now.” He smacked Sam hard on the side of the helmet. “Now get out there and kick some ass, son!”
Sam’s ears were ringing, and he began to think about what Coach had said, about the fate of the contest on his shoulders. He looked to the stands to see his father staring at him, yelling something, then he turned to see the opposing team standing opposite him, looking downright fucking huge, as if they could vault Sam’s teammates and crush him without expending effort. The holder was a kid everyone called Goose (although no one knew why). Sam began to wonder what would happen if Goose bobbled the snap and the ball was unkickable.
“Yo, Sam,” said Goose, as the refs placed the ball on the hash mark in front of the long snapper. “You kick me in the hand and I’m going to fuck you up. For real.”
Sam didn’t have time to think about this, because in moments the football shot out from beneath the center, like some sort of ass-projectile, and he saw Goose catch it and plant it on the ground, laces facing the uprights. He ran forward…
In the stands, Jessica had both her hands over her moth. She felt dangerously close to peeing herself.
Peggy clutched her hot chocolate so tightly that the Styrofoam began to crack, releasing a trickle of near-boiling liquid onto her index finger and making her drop the cup. It bounced off the foot-board and rolled under the bleachers, where it splattered onto garbage left there during the last game.
Marty yelled encouragement at his son, in a voice loud enough that the sounds were indistinct and lost in the general roar of the crowd, unable to be understood by even those close to him.
Martin was calm and focused. He kept his eyes on the ball, willing its perfect arc toward the holder and then its perfect positioning. As Sam ran toward the ball, Martin visualized the smooth motion of an extended leg booting a football forty yards through the air, right through the center of the goal posts. A split second after this visualization, it was a reality.
“I’ll be god damned!,” exclaimed Coach Petersen, as he dropped his clipboard and stared at Sam. “Who the fuck taught the kid to do that?”
“You did, didn’t you Coach?,” asked the waterboy, who made it his personal policy to stand as close to the coach as possible at all times.
“Yeah,” said Petersen. “I guess I did. Hot damn!”
Sam could not believe what he’d just done. He stood, staring at the empty uprights through which the ball had so recently traveled, marveling that somehow he had been able–on his first ever attempt–to not only kick something so far, but also so accurately.
“Good job not fucking up,” said Goose, who was still crouched on the ground.
“Thanks. You too.”
And then the rest of the team was around him, cheering and smacking him in the helmet and saying that they knew all along he was The Man. Coach Petersen had everyone huddle up, and he presented Sam with the game ball (which he promptly took back because the League was short on equipment funds this year and the whole Game Ball thing was all ceremonial anyway). Sam could not imagine anything more exhilarating than this. He felt his mother’s arms around him and heard his grandmother giggling and he could tell by the way his father was gesticulating up there in the stands that the man was bragging about him. His grandfather smiled serenely and nodded at him but said nothing.
Under the bleachers, Chris Augustine was trying to get laid. Had he been anywhere else–his own bedroom, the forest, a Wal-Mart parking lot–it might have worked out for him, but Lindsay had to give her brother a ride home when his football game was done, and she couldn’t just run off. The trash-littered area beneath the cheering fans was the closest she and her boyfriend could come to privacy. Yes, as Chris had pointed out four different times, there was no one around, no one to see what they were doing. Still, the wadded up paper towels covered in crusted-over pizza sauce didn’t set a tone that she could equate with eroticism.
Chris, being seventeen, was turned on by absolutely everything. He would have tussled with her in a trough full of pig slop if it meant genital-to-genital contact was involved. The minute he got her out of public view, he’d kissed her, his mouth dropping open so his tongue could attack hers. No sooner had their lips touched than he had put his hand on her breast, squeezing it like a wad of silly putty. This was how he assumed sexual encounters occurred–a semi-public place, intense and animalistic passion, saliva flying. He was incredibly aroused.
“Slow it down, Chris. You hurt my boob a little bit when you twisted it there.”
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit… Baby, I’m so sorry…” Then, an inspiration: “Do you want me to kiss it and make it better?”
“Jesus! No. Seriously. Don’t force yourself on me.”
“We won’t do anything you don’t want to do, I promise.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
At that moment, a cop of hot chocolate fell from the stands not five feet from them and splattered everywhere. Lindsay looked even more uncomfortable, but Chris seemed not to have noticed.
“What about a handjob?”
“I mean, I can understand not having sex. We don’t have a blanket–”
“Yeah, that’s the barrier here…”
“–and blowjobs are out because if you kneel down here, you’re going to cut your knees on the broken glass–”
“I think the game is over…”
“–but you could jerk me off standing up, and I am so ready, I could blow almost right away.”
“That’s gross. Can we not talk about this?”
“Okay okay okay. How about I do it and you just touch it. Just for a few seconds, like a little squeeze and then BAM all the toothpaste is out of the tube, you know?”
She backed away from him. “No. No. Don’t be so eager… I’ll call you, okay?” She turned and walked quickly away.
“Please, Lindsay, please. PLEASE!” But she was climbing out from under the bleachers and not looking back.
He considered his options. He could stay here, amidst the trash and rub one out, but with his girlfriend gone, the sheer unpleasantness of his surroundings was overwhelming. He decided to let the matter rest for now, though he could feel his erection straining against the inside of his skinny jeans. It was a fifteen minute drive to his house, and most likely his tumescence would not survive that distance. He could settle the issue that night in the comfort of his own bed.
He made his way back to the parking lot, noting that the game did indeed appear to be over. He couldn’t remember which team Lindsay’s brother played for. Was it the orange team or the brown one? Whatever. His 1994 Crown Victoria was parked crookedly at the edge of the lot, taking up the last two parking spots. He was already feeling better. The throbbing need he’d felt just minutes before had subsided. He slid into the car, put the keys in the ignition and buckled up.
When he reached up to start the car, he caught a glimpse of a cheerleader–the orange team, maybe the Tigers?–sitting on a bench in front of him, maybe ten feet away. She was talking on her cell phone and apparently pouting. She was slouched down, her long legs extended out in front of her, her skirt riding up dangerously high. Suddenly, any thought of holding off all the way home was forgotten. He reached down and unbuttoned his fly, and then he went to work.
“I’m really proud of you, Sammy,” Marty said, for perhaps the seventh time in the last half hour. “Really damn proud.”
“I know, Dad. Jeez. It’s just a game.”
“Yeah, man. A game that you won. You’re the hero! You got the Game Ball!”
Jessica nodded. “Your dad’s right this time, Sam. It’s okay to be happy. I kind of feel like celebrating. Do you want to go get some Coldstone or something?”
“I’ve always said that kickers were the key to a successful team,” Marty noted for the first time, ever. “You win or lose based on the guy who kicks for you.” On and on he went as they made their way through the parking lot, to the far end.
“I didn’t realize how far away we parked,” said Jessica.
“That’s what happens when you run late to one of these games, hon.”
“Did Grandma and Poppy get you here on time, Sam?,” Jess asked the boy.
“Poppy’s never late for anything.”
“Christ,” scoffed Marty, “he won’t let you forget that shit either, will he?”
Chris tried to be subtle, really. He kept the motion almost entirely to his wrist so that people glancing his way would be less likely to guess what he was doing. He also occasionally turned his head to look into the back seat or on the passenger side floor, as if he was looking for something. He tried really hard not to stare at the cheerleader, but his eyes kept coming back to her legs, and he watched with interest as she moved her feet, causing the muscles in her legs to tense and un-tense. He imagined what it would be like to feel those same muscles tensing on the small of his back as he pounded ever faster, ever harder–
A shriek startled him.
“What are you looking at?” It was the cheerleader. “Oh, my gosh… Are you playing with yourself?” She screamed.
Chris let go of himself and turned the key in the ignition. The car rumbled to life, and he jammed the gas pedal hard into reverse, spinning the wheel wildly. When he was out of his double-wide parking space, he glanced over at the cheerleader one last time. She was still screaming, and now she was pointing directly at him. A rather large man–her father? her boyfriend?–was listening to her and headed for his car. He slammed on the gas and shot forward, turning his head just in time to see Sam Merlo’s face hit the windshield in front of him. Now it was his turn to scream.
Sam had been about five feet in front of the car when Chris jammed the pedal to the floor. His mother and father, who had begun to walk a little bit ahead of him (and still going on about his field goal), had already moved off to the left, toward their metallic blue Toyota Camry. He had been startled by the yelling, not sure what the girl was shouting about, or why it made the man in the car accelerate so quickly out of his space. Sam stood, stunned, trying to comprehend this scene, and then he found that he was no longer standing.
The car’s bumper took his legs out from under him, and he slid forward across the white hood, looking into the eyes of a scared teenager and moving rapidly toward him. Then everything went black