Saturday, April 5, 2008

Damned If You Do

Dontrell sprung off the line, and within three paces had already shifted into a higher gear and left the young man tasked with covering him hopelessly lost. The end of this play would also be the end of the game, the end of the season, and if he could catch it the end of rival UCA's storied winning streak. Thoughts flashed through Dontrell's mind as he charged towards the end zone with short huffs and long strides.

He thought about his two years of running track in high school, before the coaches explained to him that his frame was filling out to a point where the 100 yards of football held more promise for college scholarship than the 100 meter dash. Still, the training of launching out of the blocks served him well here. He thought of how the play was drawn up to depend on him, and how with the final seconds ticking off the clock, the glory and the pressure that would come with this catch. Finally, his mind rested on the words of his coach. No one believed in them. No one thought they would even make it this far, and certainly didn't think they belonged in this championship game. No one thought they were as good as UCA. No one except Dontrell and his coach. It was the extra push he needed in his step.

The ball was too damned high, he thought as he saw it spin in the air. He leapt, aiming with one last chance to somehow extend his body and pull it down while still landing in bounds in the back of the end zone. With the defender far enough behind to be an afterthought, he reached out, the ball stuck to the tips of his fingers, and he crashed to earth in the corner of the end zone cradling the winning touchdown in the palms of his outstretched hands. The replay confirmed it, CF State had won.

Most of the entire stadium's 86,000 temporary residents roared, jumped, and hugged. Among the few not particularly celebratory was Jack Jenkins. Jack was dejected. "Just my damned luck", he said, speaking only to his left palm, which was covering his face while his head shook in disbelief and disgust. One 20 year old young man's catch had just cost Jack $119,000, his home, his old car, and perhaps all of his very few remaining favors from family and friends. Perhaps as importantly, the improbable win had cost Jack the last vestige of hope to somehow dust off what had become an unmistakeably crappy life. Had Jack been honest with himself, he would have acknowledged that it was largely his own choices along the way that led to him being The Great Bill Jenkins's screw-up little brother. But admitting that would be like admitting that relying on a shady way out of a shady situation often yields only the shadiest of results. Jack had spent enough time biting the slim remains of his fingernails and employing every conceivable use of the F word, the stadium had mostly emptied. Jack slunk out and back to spend what might be the last night in what until just now had been his house.

Marissa having finally left him the week before, Jack sat in a torn folding chair with his two remaining friends on the kitchen table --- a black revolver and a bottle of Early Times whiskey. His thoughts continued to come back to an even darker way to break his seemingly unbreakable spiral. His silence was interrupted by a song.

"Happy Days are Here Again". He'd chosen it as the tone on his cellphone, not because of any optimism, more out of a sense of sarcasm and irony. It was his brother, Bill, calling.

"Jack, I want you to come by my office. I've got something to show you. It's pretty, well... I can't quite explain it but I think I've really got something here. And, well, since you're the only guy I know who's probably up at this hour... anyway just get on over here when you can."


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