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Robyn Ryle: The Hit (fiction)

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We’d get his crew about twice a season and it was two times too many. I don’t know if he worked it that way. A special sicko request or something. Maybe he had a thing for me and maybe he didn’t. They don’t tell you a lot about how the refereeing works and who cares, anyway?

They’re invisible when they’re out there and that’s what makes them dangerous. No one notices the refs until someone bumps into them. One gets knocked over on the sidelines and we all laugh, because you hate them. Weaselly guys. They’re like insects living on the floor of the tiger cage. We used to joke at the hard-ons they’d get every time they got to turn on their microphone, hear their voice echo across the stadium. We weren’t sorry when we knocked one over, really. I don’t feel bad about what happened to him at all.

They touch you, all of them. They pull at you when you’re jawing at another player. They tell you to calm down like they’re your friend. They push you off the pile. They help you up sometimes. I would brush them off like flies. Like a mosquito buzzing around my ear.

This guy, he touched me a lot. A hand on my shoulder. Fingers that lingered too long on my thigh when I was in the pile. A squeeze against the flesh of my waist.

“What the fuck?” I’d say to J-Man. “You see that?”

He shrugged. He’s the inside linebacker. He can’t be watching what the refs are doing.

I started counting. My first season in New York, it’s four times in a game. Then six. It got hard to focus on the ball. My assignment. “Get your head in the game,” Coach said. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Lay off me, fucker,” I whispered to him at the Green Bay game.

He smiled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, son.” They liked to call you ‘son.’

I maybe had another season in me. I could’ve played another year. Hell, it’s all borrowed time. They all think we’re stupid, but I know every hit is six months off my life. Every injury gets me closer to that cane I’ll be using when I’m 40. If I’m lucky. We’re dogs. Dancing, fighting dogs, every one of us. What did I care?

There wasn’t a team that wanted to pick me up afterwards, so I got out early.

But in my last season, I got him. It was a Hail Mary at the end of the half. Everyone’s eyes followed the long arc of the ball. It was traveling across the big screen that hung from the roof of the dome when I made contact. I could hear his teeth bang together. He lay on the ground with blood coming out of his mouth and I stood over him long enough to make sure he knew it was me.

They replayed it over and over again. I still see it in highlights sometimes, when they talk about violence in sports. The image of me standing above the body of that frail old man.

I watch the games from the couch now, and he’s still there. He crews the biggest games. Monday Night and playoff games. I watch him close.

 

Robyn Ryle spends a lot of time watching and thinking about football. She teaches sociology to college students when she’s not writing and has stories in CALYX Journal, Bartleby Snopes, WhiskeyPaper, and Cease, Cows among others.  You can find her on Twitter, @RobynRyle.

Jared Yates Sexton: Live off the Land (Fiction)

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It was two-thirty and all the food and booze was gone and drunk and the two couples settled into the living room. As they did Harris turned on the TV with the remote. A basketball game filled the screen. A team in green jerseys was playing a team in yellow in a nearly empty arena.

My god, Bessie said, I thought it was later than that.

Later than what? Harris said. He was sitting in his recliner next to the couch where Bessie was cramped in with their friends Steve and Alice. Harris had the remote in his hand, extended like he would be changing the channel at any moment.

I mean, Bessie said drunkenly, later than a basketball game would be on.

That’s in Alaska, Steve said, leaning forward and squinting. It’s earlier there. Still late, but earlier.

Bessie seemed confused. She turned and looked across Steve to Alice. She wanted to see if she was confused too. Earlier? she said. You’re drunk, doll.

Everyone’s drunk, Harris said.

Speak for yourself, Alice chimed in. I’m not drunk. If we’re going to be honest, I didn’t get enough to drink. The two of you drank up most of the booze.

Honey, Steve said, you’re drunk.

Don’t bet on it, she said and crossed her legs.

That’s the nature of the beast, Bessie said and then stopped.

Harris waited for her to finish. She had a habit, when drunk, of starting to say something and then letting it drift off like a balloon. Experience had taught him it would’ve been better to just let it go and watch the game. He said, What is?

What is what?

What’s the nature of the beast?

Oh, Bessie said. I’m just saying that’s what happens when you get a couple of men together and the booze comes out.

What does that mean? Steve said.

Wait, Alice said, what time is it in Alaska?

Ten or eleven, Harris said and set down the remote.
Bessie laughed. Harris thinks he knows everything about Alaska. Just ask him. He’s a real expert on the subject.

Now hold on, Harris said. I’d like to hear what she has to say. What happens when you get men together, Bessie?

You know what I mean, she said. You get some booze out and you puff up your chests and you start taking shots to prove who’s biggest and baddest.

That’s right, Alice said. You just hit that right on the head. The men start competing and don’t leave hardly any behind. Not enough for anybody to get good and drunk on anyway.

Steve said, Alice, you’re plenty drunk. Just listen to yourself.
           
Alice got off the couch and walked a shaky line up and down the floor. When she finished she touched her nose with her finger and took a bow. Sober as a nun on Sunday, she said.

I tell you what, Harris said, you want some booze we’ll go get you some booze. No problem. Unless you just want a reason to sit there and complain.

That’s my Harris, Bessie said, a knight in shining armor.

Unamused, Harris stared back at her. Do y’all want something else to drink or not?

Hey, Steve said, I doubt anything’s open. And I’m in no shape to drive.

Now who’s drunk? Alice said.
           
Ted’s might be open still, Harris said. And I’m fine to drive. No problems.
           
Here comes Harris on his white steep, Bessie said.

Steed, Harris said.

What did I say? she asked her friends.

It’s fine, Steve said.

Well, Bessie said, whatever. All I’m saying is that Harris always wants to be the hero. He always wants to be the savior.

Bessie, he said.

What?

They looked at each other, Harris’ face unchanging and Bessie staring back until her gaze fell to the floor.

Steve broke the silence. Let me grab my boots, he said.

What do you want to drink? Harris asked Alice.

I don’t care the least bit, she said.

Nah, Harris said. You name it and we’ll get it. Rum? Vodka? Shit, we’ll pick out some champagne if that’s what tickles your fancy.

Truth be told, she said, I don’t think this is so hot of an idea. Let’s call it a night. Let’s just pack it in.

Nonsense, Harris said. Steve, toss me my keys.

With them in hand the two men went outside. It was chilly, cold for that early in September, and the streets were empty save for a few scattered leaves. Harris pressed a button on his key ring and the garage door growled to life and started to lift. As they waited Harris took a deep breath and watched his exhale turn to steam.

Colder than a tit out here, he said.

You bet, Steve answered.

Stepping through a crowd of tools and shovels and rakes, they got into the Ford Harris and Bessie shared and he pulled out and maneuvered around Steve’s station wagon and into the road. Harris paused there as he put the car in drive.

Ted’s is this way? he said, unsure. Right?

Sure thing, Steve said. Say, he said, you really think this is a good idea?

It’s the only idea, Harris said and pressed the gas. We’ll never hear the end of it if we don’t go.

I guess that’s right, Steve said.

I know it, Harris said. There’s something in Bessie that makes her incapable of letting anything go. I tell you, she won’t let a single thing go ever. She’s like one of those, uh, what do you call those damn things? Those plants?

Plants?

You know, he said, making his fingers into teeth, the one that eats things.

Steve said, I don’t think I know what the hell you’re talking about.
           
Harris’ face scrunched up like he was trying to wrench out the information. As it did the car drifted into a neighboring lane. Harris paid no attention until it reached the shoulder and the rumble strip shook the car.

Damn it, he said and corrected the wheel. What the hell are those things called? I can see ‘em like they were right here in front of me.

Sorry, Steve said. I’m not much on plants.

Me neither, Harris said. Not much on plants at all.

Ted’s Spirits was in a strip mall eight blocks away. On one end of the shopping center was a twenty-four hour Kroger’s and on the other a Radio Shack. Ted’s was in the middle and it was immediately clear that it was closed for the night. The lights were switched off and the windows were gated shut.

Well, son of a bitch, Harris shouted and punched his dashboard.

Thought that was a possibility, Steve said.

That’s a shame, Harris said. Never understood for the life of me why liquor stores weren’t open all night. Situation like this happens more than you like to think.

Too many unsavory characters, Steve said.

Shit, Harris said. Too many folks incapable of handling their own business and ruining it for the rest of us.

Yes sir, Steve said.

Tell you what, Harris said and nudged Steve, pick you out a rock and let’s bust in there. We’ll clean the place out and be gone before anyone’s the wiser.

Steve looked at his friend. He couldn’t tell if he was being serious. Yeah, he said. Right.

Yeah, yeah, Harris said. I could do it though, if I wanted. You don’t know this about me, he said, but I’m a man of means. If I wanted, if the idea struck me, I could go in there and take anything I wanted. No problem at all.

Sure you could, Steve said. But if you don’t mind, Jesse James, let’s just head on over to the Kroger’s and see what there is to see.

When he quit talking Steve flashed a smile at Harris and expected one in return. He was disappointed, though, as he could tell Harris didn’t like his joke one bit.
I swear to god, he said as he put the car in drive, ain’t nobody listens to one goddamn word I say anymore. He drove across the parking lot and into the closest spot to the store. As he opened his door he was saying, Everyone nowadays thinks they know everything.

The automatic doors whooshed open and let them in. The store was blindingly bright, cold and empty save for a single open register and the sound of someone running a buffer somewhere. Harris ambled in the direction of the liquor aisle, Steve close behind.

I was telling Bessie awhile back, he said, that I got half a notion to pack it all up and head for greener pastures. Say sayonara to all this bullshit and go and live off the land somewhere.

Live off the land, Steve repeated.

You got it, Harris said. They’d arrived at the liquor aisle, where there cases upon cases of beer stacked on the shelves, color-coded and sorted by brand. Harris grabbed some Miller Lites and said, I’d like to get away from this shit we call a life. I’m sick of having it easy. I want to get my hands dirty, work up some calluses, you know. Go to sleep at night, exhausted and proud.

Steve grabbed some beer for himself and said, Sounds good.

I figure it wouldn’t take much, Harris said, leading Steve over to the shelf with the wine. Near the bottom was a row of cheap champagnes, the bottles green and topped with golden foil. All I’d need, he said, grabbing one at random, is a few acres, my axe, and some good ol’ fashion know-how.

I reckon that’s about all it takes, Steve said.

The only register with its light on was No. 8. Underneath, looking just about as bored as anybody the two men had ever seen, was a thirty-something cashier. She was on the frumpy side, but her face was nice enough and her hair was done up in a red handkerchief with a lot of charm.

When Harris put the alcohol on the belt she whistled and said, Looks like somebody’s having a party.

You got it, Harris said. Don’t stop ‘til the sun comes up.

The cashier smiled at him and then at Steve. He returned it and then looked away. He stared off across the store, into space, and then finally focused on an end-cap twenty yards away. It was advertising a new cartoon movie for kids and there were monsters of all different colors and shapes and sizes on the cardboard cut-out. With no idea why, they reminded him of the plant Harris had been talking about in the car.

Steve remembered sitting in his seventh grade biology class and sitting in a dark room and watching a movie on a projector. It was about flora—he remembered that word—and all the different kinds of plants in the world. The shaky picture played on a white pull-down screen and he could see the plant on there, its triangle-shaped teeth wide open, like regular everyday leaves, until a fly landed and the trap sprung on it.

What was the name of it? he thought. It was right there.

Hey, Harris said, you up for it?

What’s that? he said.

Me and Kelly here, Harris said, holding up the champagne and gesturing at the cashier, we’re gonna head up to Alaska and live off the land. You in?

Steve looked from Harris to the cashier. He was half-serious while Kelly the cashier was only playing along. We should probably check with our wives first, Steve said.

Harris’ face soured. There you go, he said, pissing all over our parade.

He didn’t speak to Harris until they got back to the car. As he tossed the beer and champagne into the backseat he said, You’re not gonna believe this, but Bessie has ruined every goddamn dream I’ve ever had. Every last one.

Where would you go? Steve said.

Huh?

If you were gonna live off the land?

It’s like I told her, he said, Alaska’s an option. Parts of it anyway. Canada too. Saskatchewan. Hell, maybe ever Siberia. I told her, same as I’m telling you right now, I’m dead-serious about this.

I know you are, Steve said. What’d she say?

What’d she say? Harris said. She said I was crazy. Steve, I’m not making this up at all. She laughed right in my face.

They drove back to the house, past a cop waiting in a roadside lot, in silence the whole way. Harris kept steady at the wheel, his face twisting as if he were in a constant conversation in his head, while Steve kept trying to remember the name of that plant. He could see it, that grainy killer, but just couldn’t catch the word.

At the house they pulled back into the garage and stumbled past the tools and junk again on their way inside. To their surprise, Bessie and Alice were three-quarters of the way into a bottle of Scoresby’s.

Looky here, Bessie said, shaking the bottle. We found a secret stash.

Harris stood in the door, holding the booze he’d bought. He looked pale to Steve, about ready to fall over or storm through the house. Where’d you get that? he said.

In the basement, Alice said, her words slurring. We went exploooooring.

She had drawn the last word out and when she finished both of the women burst into fits of hysterical laughter.

Why’s that so funny? Harris asked them.

It’s nothing, Bessie said. Anyway, it was in one of the boxes we never unpacked from the move.

No, Harris said, dropping the case of beer. It hit with a loud thud at his feet. I want to know why that’s so damn funny.

It’s nothing, Bessie said, clearly tickled.

Oh, Alice said, it’s no big deal. Is it, Bes? We were just sitting here, waiting and drinking and watching the basketball game.

Steve looked at the TV and saw a helicopter shot of some snow-covered mountains and a vast white desert of glaciers.

Honey, Bessie said, we were talking about that phase you went through awhile back.

Phase? he said. What phase?

Your mountain man phase, Alice said and burst out in laughter.

Bessie tried not to join her, but she couldn’t help it and started to giggle. I’m sorry, she said, they were showing the woods on TV and it just sort of came up.

Harris turned on his heels and walked back outside, the champagne bottle in tow. Steve went to follow him, but Bessie said it’d be best to give him a chance to cool off.

He gets like this, she said. He’s no better than a little boy when he gets in a huff.

In a few minutes Steve heard the garage open and saw Harris walk out carrying an axe. Steve and the women moved into the kitchen and watched out the window as Harris took a slug of the champagne, rolled up his sleeves, and swung the axe into the side of a walnut tree near the edge of their property. The sound was loud, even in the kitchen, and Bessie looked terrified.

Oh god, she said, he’s going to wake up the neighborhood.


Three swings later and a few of the houses lit up. Bessie ran outside and yelled at him from the carport, but he wouldn’t stop or even slow down. Within ten minutes all the surrounding houses were up and someone was yelling that they were about to call the cops.

Before that happened Alice grabbed Steve’s hand and tried to pull him away. Steve wanted to watch though. From where he was he could see everything: the sweat on Harris’ brow, the glint of the axe in motion, the sharp white glow of the tree’s wound. He wanted to watch until Harris was either drug away or the tree fell, but Alice was persistent.

When they got home Steve milled about the kitchen while she went upstairs to get ready for bed. He made a drink and leaned across their counter. The sink was nearby and he turned on the water and let it run. He watched it closely as it streamed down the drain. A little later he turned it off, threw back the last of his drink, and climbed the stairs.

Sitting on the bed, he untied his boots and slipped off his socks and pants. Next was his shirt and as that came over his head he was aware that it was soaked with sweat. He brought it to his face and inhaled the sour smell before balling it up and dropping it to the floor.

He couldn’t get to sleep right off because he kept expecting the phone to ring. It could be Harris, calling from the county jail and looking for bail money. Steve crunched the numbers in his head. They’d have enough, or at least close to enough, if the call came.

You awake? Alice said to him.

Yeah, he answered.

Some night, she said.

Some night, he said back.

I’ll tell you something about Harris, she said.

What? he said.

He waited for her to say something else, for her to have something to add to the subject, but she drifted into an easy sleep and left him alone to listen to her breathing.

After a while he settled in himself and pulled the covers up and tried to go under. But it wasn’t easy. Whenever he got close he’d get the feeling he was falling, like he did when he was younger. Each time he’d nearly jump out of the bed.
Only it wasn’t falling, he decided as he lay there, the morning sun starting to creep into the world. It was something else. More like there was a set of teeth somewhere, sharp and uncaring, and they were ready, at a moment’s notice, to spring shut.

 

           
Jared Yates Sexton is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working in Georgia as an assistant professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University. He serves as managing editor of the literary magazine BULL and his work has appeared in publications around the world. His first book, An End To All Things, is available at Atticus Books. 

Neil Serven: Hurry Someday (Fiction)

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Benjamin Young, 17, SS/3B, R/R, Harper Woods H.S.: Reads the ball off the bat better than anyone coming out of high school. Fluid range left and right. Soft hands, accurate arm with confidence to make the off-balance throw. More a slinger than a thrower. Toolsy player with a leader’s instincts in the field. A spray hitter with fringy power, his compact swing generates decent bat speed but leaves him vulnerable to pitches down and out of the zone. At 6’1”, 205 pounds, may grow too big to stay at shortstop. Good makeup, solid grades, some family baggage.

We bring the phone outside so we don’t miss the call.

Benji’s agent—that still sounds so weird—told him it might come before 5 o’clock, if the first two rounds proceed as the experts say. All the mock drafts have Burrell going to the Phillies but after that it’s up in the air. Weak class, college commitments, signability issues: anything can happen, the agent said. An elbow injury here, a DUI there, we could be looking at first round.

Then he said: I shouldn’t tell you this, but Detroit’s been checking in.

Once we heard this, me and Donleavy got to work. We roped in Donleavy’s brother to call the Young residence around 2:30 or so, when they’d be into the first round. He’d put on his best cool executive voice and be all, this is Randy Smith, General Manager of the Detroit Tigers baseball club and may I speak with Mr. Benjamin Young, please?

With all of us gathered round while Benji shits himself.

It’s not believable, C. J. says. Detroit needs pitching.

You guys are jerks, Kimmi says. She and Spike are here with the baby. It’s still surreal to see that thing, the way Spike holds her to his side the way a running back holds a football.

Kid’ll forgive us when he gets his bonus, Donleavy says. Then he’ll forget us.

Benji’s folks are throwing him a party for his big day. His aunts and uncles and cousins are all here in their backyard. Maybe forty people in all. Rumor is there might be some celebratory under-age champagne later, so long as we’re discreet about it.

Action News is here to do a feature on Benji and his folks. Harper Woods has never seen one of its own go first round before. If I wanted, I could tell Action News that me and Benji switched positions during our junior year so he could be marketed as a shortstop. Guys at short can be moved anywhere, Coach said. Benji always had the hands for either position but this year I got to play the line and take bad hops into my mouth.

The rest of the seniors arrive: Duster, Virgil, Lorenzo. All us never-wills. Donleavy quit after Babe Ruth and Duster never came back to baseball after he got sick. C. J.’s hoping to intern in a front office somewhere. Lorenzo’s driving trucks for his dad. Virgil got a scholarship to Maryland. Best I could do for myself was a chance to play juco ball in Ohio.

Lorenzo brings news. The A’s took Mulder, he says.

You shitting me? Second overall? Mulder?

I heard Detroit was looking at Mulder, C. J. says.


Two-thirty on the dot, the phone chirps. Everyone hushes. Someone turns down the radio while Benji’s dad hands him the receiver.

But Benji’s back is turned to us so we can’t see his face. He plugs his other ear with his finger.

We hear him say, all giddy, Are you serious? And there are Benji’s folks off to the side, leaning in, optimistic.    

Kimmi mouths to me over the baby’s head, You’re an asshole.

Donleavy mutters, Aw, fuck.

Whit, Spike whispers. You did this. You go tell him.

Swear to God, they have one kid and he and Kimmi are all Ma and Pa Responsible now. It’s rich.

I walk up to Benji and tap him on the shoulder, make the cut-off sign across my throat. Joke’s over, guys, I say, loud enough for Donleavy’s brother to hear me. His cackle comes through the phone.

Hey, man. I’m sorry.

It’s all right, Whit. He collapses the antenna, then stuffs the phone into my ribcage. It was a good play, he says. I owe you one.


We do what we always used to do when the day was slow. We find a Wiffle bat wrapped with electrical tape and a tube of tennis balls and head out to the street. We bring the champagne, pop it early, pass around swigs. Benji lives on a cul-de-sac bordering a ravine so it’s not like cops or anyone will see us. With a couple of his cousins joining us, it’s five-on-five.

The rules are the same. Over the guardrail is a home run. Into the woods on a hop is a double. Everything else is an out. When we were kids it was a challenge. Now it feels like you could spit that far.

We can dent our own cars. Spike hits the antenna on top of the Action News van and we laugh and decide that should count as a homer. I hang a changeup to Virgil and he loses it into the ravine.

Then Benji steps in against me. Vulnerable to pitches down and out of the zone.

Easy on me there, Juco, he says.

I let the first pitch fly and it sails up and in.

Jesus, watch the melon! That’s money!

The second pitch is behind his head.

Whit! What the fuck are you doing?

Everything goes silent, even the birds. I flip the ball to C. J. and tell him to pitch. Everyone lasers their eyes on me.

I already know how it will go down and I don’t care. I wonder if this will be the last time we all play ball together. We don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about the fact that it is getting close to dusk and Benji’s relatives are anxious to leave and Action News is waiting, except the phone hasn’t rung for real yet and one of us will need to answer it when it does.

 

Neil Serven lives and works as a dictionary editor in western Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in Washington Square Review, Atticus Review, Cobalt, and elsewhere, and he blogs at www.neilserven.com .

Ray Charbonneau: Grit is in the Soul (of my shoes) (Nonfiction)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/06/ray-charbonneau-grit-is-in-soul-of-my.html




“You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't You?”  -Carly Simon


Earlier today, I happened to stumble across another congratulatory article about the benefits of running, especially marathon running. This one explained how true success was primarily a result of “grit”, and how marathon runners exemplify the qualities that make up “grit”.

Grit, it appears, “is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals” and “stamina, both mental and physical”. Marathoners are credited with those qualities in spades, though the article doesn’t make it clear whether marathoning helps develop those attributes, or if those attributes are inherent in people who gravitate to running. Perhaps it’s both. But either way, marathon runners are pretty clearly a special bunch, primed for success in life.

Maybe so. I’m a marathon runner, so I’d like to think that marathon running automagically makes me an amazing person.

Certainly, the qualities that make up “grit” are useful, but to imply they’re unique to marathoners is just self-aggrandizement. “Grit” can appear anywhere, in poets or auto mechanics or, yes, even marathoners. Admitting that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of running a marathon.

The fact is that there are plenty of people, including runners, without enough grit to sand down balsawood. A marathon runner can also be someone overly obsessed about what others think about their race time or their weight, or someone who spends hours running to escape from dealing with their family, their job situation, or other problems in The Real World.
The ability to run a marathon doesn’t even mean you’re exceptionally healthy. All the studies I’ve seen say the major health benefits of running accrue with moderate exercise. 45 minutes to an hour three or four times a week is all anyone needs. Long distance running might make you fitter, assuming you don’t get hurt, but it’s a specialized sort of “fit”, nothing that weight lifters or football players would care much about.

It’s natural to form groups with like-minded people. There’s comfort in spending your time with people who share your values, your beliefs about what’s fun and important. That’s especially true for distance runners, who spend 8-12 hours of their limited free time every week training for a marathon. There’s not a lot of time left over to spend hanging out with people who don’t run.

But you have to watch out for the echo-chamber effect. When you spend a lot of time with people who agree with you, in a safe zone that reinforces what you believe, it can be hard when those beliefs are questioned. Never forget that not everyone shares the values of your group.

If someone challenges your values, it’s natural to get defensive, but try to keep from overreacting. Jokes about Jim Fixx’s heart attack (“and Keith Richards still lives!”), getting hit by a car (“Q: What do you get when you run in front of a car? A: Tired”), or the value of running 26.2 miles only to finish in 18958th place wouldn’t hurt if they didn’t carry some truth. Try to remember that, and try to remember that to someone who’s not a runner, the jokes can honestly be funny. That person might just be trying to share a laugh about your hobby with you.

Or maybe they ARE an asshole, but that’s not your problem.

We all run for our own reasons. There’s no need to justify running by crediting running with some unique mystical essence that it probably doesn’t really have. I run because I like it, and that’s enough for me.






Ray Charbonneau writes a lot about running, but this article isn’t just about running, is it? He also writes about time-traveling demons and aliens who do improv. Check out his books and more aty42k.com.

We're Not Saying Goodbye

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Goodbye... a word that can convey so much in two syllables. Stymie has been publishing the words and thoughts and opinions of amazing writers since 2008 - we've been fortunate to include literary rock stars, emerging artists, new voices and all points in between in our digital pages. The magazine has seen itself featured in places like ESPN The Magazine, The Writer, The Classical and others. We published a trading card series. Stymie tried to break new ground or at least introduce people to the notion that literature and sports could intersect in a serious way. Readers - like you - have been generous in your time by reading our content and embracing our authors, and everyone who has had a hand in the magazine for the last six plus years sincerely thanks you for that. But now, as is true with all great things eventually, we come to an end.

Stymie is closed to submissions and wrapping up the process of publishing the last remaining acceptances we've been fortunate to secure - the site will stay live so that you can continue to access the amazing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry we've been graced to publish these last several years - but for now we are going dark if you will. Thank you to everyone - writer, reader, editor - who has had a hand in making Stymie awesome experience it has been for me and the team I've found myself surrounded with these last several years.

- Erik

Erik Smetana
Founding Editor
Stymie Magazine

Janet Buttenwieser: Personal Record (Nonfiction)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/10/janet-buttenwieser-personal-record.html





A triathlon starts with a swim, they say, to lessen the likelihood of fatigue-induced drowning. Photographs of the Northern California race location did not imply risk: tropical fish gliding through clear, serene waters under a cloudless sky. But race day dawns in a chilly mist. Kayakers bob on four-foot swells around the course perimeter; the rescue boat hunched in the middle of the course has already plucked two seasick swimmers out of the gunmetal sea.

Wetsuited and lilac-capped, my goggles already fogging, I approach the first buoy. 100 of us swim in each group, clustered by age and gender, identically costumed. From above we might look like a dragon from a Chinese New Year parade, the long, sprawling tail decorated with purple rubber balls. As we navigate the triangular course, we choke on fifty-eight degree seawater, arms tangled in noodles of brown kelp, turning our heads for breath after breath. We kick each other with numbed feet, knocking bodies as we scrabble for a good position.

Why do endurance sports appeal to anyone, let alone those of us with young children? We are busy and exhausted. In many cases we have households to run, careers to pursue. No time, no energy.


We run for our sanity. As parents, our independent adult selves exist as a state of being that we gather up like water drops on a washcloth, squeezing them into a mason jar for later use. Exercise gives us escape, mental clarity, a greater capacity for patience, all in one endorphin burst. Post-workout, we feel more equipped for our roles as art director, short-order cook, hygiene supervisor, naptime enforcer.

 For me, exercise affirms my status as a Healthy Person. This was not always so. When I was 28, doctors discovered a benign tumor on the outside of my intestine. Five years later, the tumor came back, and another invasive surgery resulted in a permanent colostomy. I spent my recovery learning to use my newly configured intestines. A walk around the block took all of my energy. But then I got better. I tried out some races. I like the feeling I get when I’m training, gratitude for my body’s resilience.

Around the time that I was contemplating my first Olympic-distance triathlon, my friend Beth developed a brain tumor, her second in five years. She underwent surgery, and then began a long regimen of chemotherapy. For both of our illnesses, Beth and I traded roles of caregiver, sitting at the foot of each other’s hospital beds, making meals, accompanying each other on walks. This time, I could do a race in her honor. I learned about Team in Training, where I would raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In turn, they’d provide me with the training I needed to complete the race. I would need a lot of help. Even though I’d done two sprint-distance triathlons, I was far from an expert.

Triathlons are not a team sport. But training with a group held me accountable. Rain or shine, a group of people waited for me to show up early Saturday mornings for a bike ride or a run. I began to look forward to Monday evening swim practices, the churn of water, the chlorine up my nose, our voices echoing off the concrete as we conferred with each other between laps.

“Did you know your arms are crossing in front of each other in your freestyle stroke?” My coach asked me. I did not. “Imagine you’re paddling a surfboard,” he told me. “Make a vee.” I liked having someone tell me what to do. I enjoyed swimming as fast as I could, until exhaustion crowded out other thoughts and emotions. After I showered and dressed, I would go back out to the pool deck to use the bathing suit dryer. I’d look across the darkened room to the water, now a piece of glass, hardly believing it had been a chaos of waves and limbs just moments before.

Always a solitary exerciser, I looked forward to the chance to form friendships in an athletic forum for the first time in my life. I imagined running in groups of two or three, then meeting up to exercise long after the race was over. But I was one of the oldest members of the group, and I the slowest, always dead last on group rides and runs. On the walk back to the parking lot after practice, people would talk about their time goals, their plans to break their records from previous events.

“I just want to do the whole race,” I told everyone. “I don’t care about my time.” But it was a lie. I worried about being the last person to cross the finish line. In fact, during my training, I became obsessed with time: my infant daughter’s eating schedule, my two-year-old son’s nap schedule, and whether or not I could sandwich exercise between it all. The hours I spent training and sleeping (not enough) and those I spent folding laundry, doing dishes, cleaning spit-up off my clothes (way too many). The time it would take me to complete the race, from the moment the starting gun went off until I crossed the finish line. The clock I forgot to watch was Beth’s, which was running out faster than any of us could have predicted.


 Race day marks 11 weeks and 3 days since Beth died. By now I’m used to the sound of her voice in my ears, our conversations coaxing me up hills on my bicycle, pushing me to keep running down the trail. Now, as I’m swimming, I hear Beth saying Keep going. Think of the giant sandwich you can eat afterwards. In my head, her words emerge as those of a sarcastic cheerleader rather than a coach. I smile underwater and, as I round the second race buoy, my shoulders relax. Every third or fourth stroke I hit a patch of kelp; I yank on its rubbery edges and swim through it. A quarter-mile from the beach, I accelerate and begin passing other swimmers. It’s a rare experience for me to pass anyone doing any kind of activity, in a race or otherwise.

When my hands hit the sand I stand and jog toward the beach, barely outrunning an oncoming wave. The cheering crowd and the music blaring through the loudspeaker disorient me. I speed-walk up the hill to the transition area, my legs wobbling. The swim, my strongest leg, is over. Time to peel off my wetsuit, clip on my bike helmet, lace up my shoes. I find my gear, laid out neatly on a towel next to my bike whose rear tire dangles on the rack. Behind me, a digital clock ticks away the hours, minutes, seconds in giant lime-green numerals. Hurry up, it seems to be saying. You’re running out of time.

At the registration table the day before the triathlon, my heart sank when I learned that I would be in the last swim wave, with a 9:30 start time. Each section of the race closed at a certain time so that the elite athletes, slated to go last, could compete on a relatively empty course. I was concerned about the bike closure, listed as 12:00. Even if I had the fastest ride of my life, I’d never make it. A race volunteer tried to reassure me.

“As long as you’re on the course by the closure time,” she said, “you’ll be fine.”

Now, I’m on my third bike lap of four. I take sips of lime-flavored electrolyte drink to get rid of the salt water taste in my mouth. Tiny needles of rain peck at my cheeks. One hundred feet away, waves crash against craggy black rocks, kicking up the stench of salt and fish. I pass the Beachcomber Inn, its billboard announcing “Best Summer Rates” through the veil of fog.

 I’m full of confidence, fueled by adrenaline and the encouraging words from a woman who passed me on the last hill.

“Keep thinking about that woman on your back that you’re riding for,” she said, referring to the photograph of Beth I have pinned to my water pack. “You’re almost there.” As other Team in Training folks ride past, we call out words of encouragement as we pass each other. I feel, for the first time today, for the first time ever, maybe, like a competitor. A cyclist. I don’t even mind the rain. Better than being too hot I think as I take another sip of sports drink.

 “Kill it, Janet!” a woman from my group yells as she pedals past.

 “Go go go!” I yell back. I look at my watch. 11:53. Plenty of time. I approach the turnaround for my last lap, and the yelling crowd.

 And that’s when it happens.


I see a black mesh barricade in front of me; on the other side, the mat I need to tag with my bike tires, the stretch of road ahead. I think of the craggy rocks, more visible with each lap as the fog retreats, the Beachcomber Inn at the top of the final hill, far in the distance. I’m supposed to pass these things one more time, finish my protein bar, drain my water pack.

“Break the race up into segments,” a teammate suggested. “Just focus on each section of the race as you’re doing it.” I’ve been trying to do that, to remember all of the race wisdom, not worry about my pace, the course closure, or the clock. And now my forward progress is grinding to a halt. Another interruption, just like my surgeries, Beth’s death. Everything, it seems, happens to me out of order, and not at all how I’ve planned it. The barricade stretches across the road like a boulder plunked in the middle of the river I’ve been paddling down.

“I have one more lap to do,” I yell to one of the volunteers as she waves her arms at me.

 “You won’t have time,” she yells back, pointing toward the course exit. I dismount onto rubbery legs. The elite race started only twenty-five minutes before, but already the leader is retrieving his bike from a set of racks placed outside the transition area for the professionals. Normally the elite racers go in the first wave of a triathlon, getting up before dawn and using the main transition area just like everyone else. This race was apparently a deluxe deal: sleep late, get your own special bike rack, and have the course all to yourselves. Only they didn’t. Plenty of people are still completing their last lap as the elites start theirs. I feel singled out for discrimination. But there’s no arguing, or doing over. My only choice is to move forward through the rest of the race. I weave my way through the crowd to the opening in the fence marked RUN START, fighting off tears. Time to run.


“Are you on your second lap or your third?” A woman asks as she runs past me, her blonde hair tucked in a still-tidy ponytail.

“My first,” I say through gritted teeth. I add her to my list of People I Hate Right Now, immediately below the race director, the elite athletes, and all of the people I asked about the course closure who told me not to worry. I think of the time I’ve spent – a year – preparing for this day. All for nothing. Surrounded by thousands of people, I feel a surge of loneliness. My only companionship since my feet hit the water hours ago has been the imaginary conversation I’ve carried on with Beth.

Race volunteers stand every half mile with Dixie cups of water and Powerade. I’ve just passed the fourth water stop when I feel someone’s hand clamp down on my shoulder, pushing me forward. I turn and see a man who, his attention on his own water-grab, did not see me.

“Sorry,” he calls behind him, already past me. He wears a pro-athlete unitard. It’s one of the elite competitors, the one who will go on to win the entire race. I got off the bike course for him, and now he’s trying to run me over.

Remember goal number three, “enjoy yourself?” I say in my head, pep-talk style. You’re failing. I try looking on the bright side. My legs don’t ache as much after nineteen miles of riding as they would if I’d done the full twenty-five. I won’t be the last person to cross the finish line. I think of all I have done, and try to be proud of my accomplishments. But the pride feels forced, the victory hollow. I came here to do the whole distance, just like everyone else. Beth is dead. Can’t I complete this fucking race?

We run on a concrete boardwalk lined with tourist shops and restaurants. The road above is filled with people ambling by, unhurried, as though no race is taking place. I turn toward the ocean, trying to focus. I think about how calm I felt swimming, despite the chaos, the waves, the kelp, the cold.

I make a decision, and my mind settles. I accelerate, and think of the running advice from my training coach for the first time all day. For those last yards, my feet strike the pavement mid-arch, my stride quick as though I’m running on hot lava. I cross the finish line. Racers are eating, taking photographs, laughing, celebrating. I weave my way through the crowd back to my bike. I clip my helmet strap around my chin, walk my bike onto the race course, and climb back on.

I ask a race official for permission to ride my final six miles. She tells me to wait until the road clears of everyone else: racers, officials, onlookers armed with cowbells and party horns.

 “Remove your race number from your bike and helmet,” she says. “Cover up the Team in Training logo on your shirt.” She doesn’t want me to cause alarm to anyone seeing me still riding my bike. I can’t be mistaken for a racer. I should look like someone out for a leisurely afternoon ride. I leave my water pack with Beth’s picture in the transition area, next to my wetsuit and running hat. Water bottles and half-empty gel packs form a breadcrumb trail across the damp grass. I zip my jacket up over my race jersey, and tuck my finisher’s medal in my pocket. And then I started pedaling.

The final lap turns out to be my favorite. I thought it would feel like a consolation prize, this post-race ride. Instead, it feels like a victory lap. It’s my own private triathlon now, and for the first time all day I enjoy the feeling of solitude. The lump in my throat dissolves. Through the retreating mist I see cormorants and gulls bobbing on the water. Underneath them I can picture seals swimming, their sleek bodies following a northward path parallel to my own on the other side of the outcropping of rocks.

The miles pass as my focus shifts from pedaling to what I will order from room service when I get back to the hotel to imagining my kids’ faces when they greet me at the airport the next afternoon. And I always circle back to Beth. For that brief moment of my solo ride, I think of her -- gone -- without a feeling of sadness, a weight on my chest. She wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I completed the race in my own way. She would be proud.

Look at you, she would say. You’re a triathlete.




Janet Buttenwieser’s nonfiction work has appeared several places, including Potomac Review, Literary Mama, Bellevue Literary Review.  She was a finalist for the 2014 Oregon Quarterly Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest, and won honorable mention in The Atlantic 2010 Student Writing contest.  She has an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.  Visit her at janetbuttenwieser.com.

J.P. Pelosi: How Australia Works the Give-and-Go With American Hoops (Nonfiction)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/06/jp-pelosi-how-australia-works-give-and.html







Fleer's Luc Longley NBA card from 1995 was the sort of stock I'd typically ride into the summer, even if the Chicago Bulls didn't win the title the ensuing campaign.

Consider his numbers, after all: 9.1 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks.
Alright then, screw the numbers.

Longley was the first Australian to reach the NBA, okay. That's a commodity where I come from.

You have to understand, outside of our Hollywood hunks, Ugg boots, and Oprah hugging a koala, Australia doesn't really rate in the U.S. Oh sure, you love our accents and reckless bravado in the face of deadly snakes, but we haven't truly won your attention, have we?

Yes, I know, when Chris Hemsworth takes his shirt off, or Mel Gibson is arrested after too many spritzers, then you're all over us like Steve Irwin on an antsy croc. The point is, Australia’s true value, at least in a global sense, has long been its rarity.

So I say it's time for America to forget our omnipresent movie stars - including the ones who are kind of ours, but not, like Maximus Crowe - because Australia's top basketball prospects, both those imported from and exported to the United States, are suddenly racing up the charts.

You’ve heard about some of them, but not all, so grab a cold one (and not Fosters!) as I talk you through it.

Have sneakers and sunblock, will travel

Firstly, we have players destined for a future in the NBA, a league in which only a handful of Aussies have played and perhaps just a portion have truly excelled. Andrew Bogut, currently with the Golden State Warriors, is certainly laying claim to being our best ever export to the league.

Now comes the new shipment. These players aren’t simply giants with low-post potential, as is commonly the case, or human pogo sticks who imitate Nintendo's NBA Jam –which, let’ face it, many base an entire career on - but genuine all-rounders who have NBA scouts and basketball writers alike giddy.

That's right. Boomshakalakaaaaaa!

The most highly touted of these prospects might be Dante Exum and Ben Simmons, both from Melbourne and groomed by the Australian Institute of Sport in the nation's capital, Canberra. Nobody really knows what happens inside those walls, outside of the people that go there. It’s some kind of futuristic sporting lab as far as I know. Listen, in lieu of an American-style college system, we have The Institute.

Anyway, the duo’s timing couldn’t be better because basketball culture Down Under is quietly stirring, from kids copying Andrew Gaze by hurling rubber Spaldings at rickety backyard hoops, to something much bigger and somewhat easier for nine-year old arms to manage.

And it's all happening at once. Following Bogut’s strong season with the Warriors, the signing of NBA draft pick James Ennis to the Perth Wildcats, the 76ers recent hiring of former Australian Boomers coach Brett Brown, and the success of Jonny Flynn in the National Basketball League (NBL) last season, Australian basketball is enjoying rave reviews.

Simmons isn’t yet drawing the bold headlines of Exum, though he’s younger at 17 and may end up playing college ball first anyway. For now he's a pulsating blip on the pro sports radar.

A recent CBSSports.com article went as far to suggest that if Simmons was at an American high school, he would be the country's top talent in the 2015 class.

Of course, his Aussie high school coach Kevin Goorjian has known of Simmons’ ability for some time, once telling a local newspaper that the teenager was more athletic than any player he’s come across, including one-time high flying Australian Boomer, Sam Mackinnon. Mackinnon dunked the ball as well as any Aussie international ever did. In fact, as well as any white man in the country ever did.

Simmons followers certainly like his athleticism and ability to finish. His repertoire is expanding too, as fans saw during his recent showing with the Boomers. In short, he's a good passer and will look for the open man, has quick hands and soft jumper, and at six-foot-eight might play a number of positions as a professional.

As you know, Exum is bounding up NBA draft boards. On the proviso that he's skipping college, ESPN’s prospects guru Chad Ford placed him at No.3 on his mid-year list and the idea went viral. “Who is this kid?” pundits wondered while tapping his name into YouTube.

Like Simmons, there's no reason at six-foot-seven that Exum can't assume a dynamic point forward type role. His versatility is so stunning that most people in basketball circles are no longer asking who he is, but rather, “Where’s he going next?, and, “Isn’t that the coolest name for a baller ever?”  

Prime cargo coming in

Australian imports is also a sound business to be in. Specifically, a number of new recruits to the NBL are making it feel like the nineties all over again, when the likes of Cecil Exum and Dave Simmons - the respective fathers of Dante and Ben - held court.

If you’re an avid fan of the college game, you probably know a number of the recently signed names such as Jermaine Beal of Vanderbilt, Jesse Sanders of Liberty University in Virginia, Charles Carmouche, who played his senior year at Louisiana State, Durrell Summers of Michigan State, Ennis who went to California State, and Demetri McCamey of the University of Illinois, to name a few.

Ennis is the standout and his inking was a genuine coup for our league, which is seeking the mass appeal it enjoyed 20 years ago. The 50th pick in the recent NBA draft stepped off the plane in Perth and onto a proverbial red carpet, before being excused for having little knowledge of Australian basketball. To be fair, he played his college hoops at Long Beach, which is separated from Australia's west coast by not only the Pacific Ocean and most of the Australian desert, but a distinct lack of cable feeds from the NBL.

Still, despite being a world away from home, the six-seven swingman was undoubtedly reassured that he’d joined one the country’s best sports clubs, the Perth Wildcats, a perennial playoff contender with five championship trophies atop the mantle. You may have heard of the Wildcats via former Chicago Bull, Perth native, and the aforementioned trading card gem, Longley, who owned the team for a short stint after his NBA career.

Hey, most NBL fans would concede that if you’re going to join the league from afar, you could do worse than the 'Cats, a highly professional outfit that’s well coached, and conveniently located on the country’s sunny western shore, amid a relaxed lifestyle, a rich mining-based economy, and burgeoning food scene, no less.

This all must look favorable to a young Californian with the world at his feet, because here before him is an chance to settle into a friendly town with an easy-going pace and catapult its basketball team to the heights of local footballing heroes like the West Coast Eagles.
  
Igniting a new era

Scoff if you will, but Ennis’ arrival to Australia - as Flynn’s was last season - is indeed meaningful. The NBL has longed for an injection of fresh talent after over-expansion and poor marketing in the early 2000s reduced the league’s impact to a Kenny Bania punchline. Prior to this slump, the competition was a sizzling ticket, pulling big crowds, solid TV coverage and even a sprinkling of celebrities court-side.  

Basketball Australia, the game’s governing body in the country, seems to have righted the ship now though, in part by de-merging from the league so that it can make its own decisions using people closer to the ground. Better ties to community events and grassroots initiatives have helped, as has the league’s social media campaign.

But there’s still work to be done, and much of that you might be stunned to hear begins with players like Ennis. At his first press conference for the ‘Cats, he said politely that he felt the NBL was the ideal place to develop on and off the court. Hopefully he realizes he’s also here to further the league's development. The sport’s headlines will surely be impacted by how often players like Ennis rocket to the goal and rattle the rim. He’s already off to a flying start.

This all might sound an odd assignment to the uninitiated, but this is how basketball works in a nation of just 23 million people preoccupied with rugby, cricket, barbecues and good beer. It's a cluttered sporting market with few windows for growth, so if you're a smaller entity, you seize upon what you can. As a business, Aussie basketball is like an undersized forward fighting for low-post position: With a few clever exchanges and some a decent tread beneath its feet, success might be within reach.
  
Meanwhile, the Heat are keeping Ennis within their grasp, allowing him to play in Perth on a loan basis only, and retaining the rights to call him back should they need him. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for both Perth and Miami in the end, bolstering the ‘Cats with a star attraction and offering the Heat a chance to further assess the 23-year old.

LeBron and his talents can wait, I say. Ennis has a rare opportunity to be a national star, not to mention the fact that one of the world's best burger joints, Alfred's Kitchen, is just 25 minutes from the arena. 



*Note: Dante Exum was drafted  by the Utah Jazz in June, soon after this piece was written.  
**James Ennis was on loan to the NBL for one season and has since returned to the Miami Heat. The NBL continues to sign NBA prospects from the NBA D-League and college system.  






Jean-Paul Pelosi is a journalist and blogger from Sydney.

Chad Greene: In Transition (Nonfiction)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/10/chad-greene-in-transition-nonfiction.html






Later than most, I entered the area reserved for transitions. In a fog, I lined up to undergo an ominous-sounding procedure referred to as “body-marking.” Already anxious at the thought of swimming a half-mile in the Pacific Ocean in another hour and a half, the term made me imagine a body adrift in the surf, in need of recovery.
           
Twenty stories above the beachfront bluffs, the spotlights atop the revered Villa Riviera evaporated enough fog for the oxidized copper spire guarded by its Gothic-Revival gargoyles to emerge – the only landmark tipping participants off to the fact that they had, indeed, arrived at the strand of sand known as Long Beach on this misty morning. Also on Ocean Boulevard, but out of sight in that mist, was the fourteen-story Breakers – one of the first ten Hilton hotels, famous for the Art Deco opulence of its swanky Sky Room, where the “Sexy Ex-y” and I had shared our first kiss on the polished parquet where stars such as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and John Wayne had danced during the Depression.
           
Difficult to picture: the perpetually pigeon-toed “Duke,” dancing. Almost as difficult, perhaps, as picturing a man of similar stature finishing his first triathlon. However, filling out the registration form for the 2010 Long Beach Triathlon, I had discovered that there is a specific classification for big guys who want to “tri.” Instead of being categorized according to our ages and genders, as everyone else is, those who weigh 200 pounds or more compete as “Clydesdales.”
           
So, when the woman with the marker wrote “310” on my shoulder before inscribing my age, “32,” on my calf, inner insecurity made me wonder whether I should start clarifying for everyone else that the former was my race number – not my weight.

           
In an attempt to test my readiness for the triathlon the weekend before, I had run around Naples Island and then swam through the surrounding waters of Alamitos Bay. That same morning, after returning to my apartment to shower and dress, I had to take out my pocketknife to punch a new hole in my leather belt in order to pull it tight. I felt at least a little fit.
           
But then I went to try on wetsuits. In the fitting room at the triathlon store (Who knew?), I felt like a whale – specifically, a black-and-white killer whale. Fashioned of black neoprene, the only rental left in my size was sleeveless. Since I had spent almost all of my summer grading students’ essays, the shoulders and arms that extended out of it were white enough to earn the orca comparison.

And, as an added bonus, my impressive paleness made me feel like the black numbers that didn’t indicate my weight stood out even more prominently on my shoulder. As I was struggling into the skintight suit after returning from the body-marking station, the next indignity manifested itself.
“Excuse me?” I asked the heavyweight triathlete who was racking his bike next to mine in the Clydesdale corral. “Seems like an inappropriately personal favor to ask a total stranger, but … could you please zip me up?”

“Except for my wife, no one has ever asked me that,” he chuckled. “But, sure.”

Mumbling an embarrassed “thanks,” I silently lamented – not for the first time – the absence of the Sexy Ex-y. Sighing, I turned my attention to figuring out which side of my color-coded Clydesdale swim cap was the front and which side was the back. Continuing the trend toward positive spin, the big guys’ caps were not referred to as simply being “blue,” but rather “royal.”

A random memory fluttered forward: One of the Sexy
Ex-y’s childhood chums – on meeting me for the first time at a party – drunkenly declaring, “Chad looks like royalty, like a king.”

“Who, Henry the Eighth?” I quipped, shouting out everyone’s favorite turkey-leg-as-a-scepter sovereign. Then, slightly less than sober myself, I warbled out a couple lines of Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.”

“I’m Henry the Eighth, I am,
Henry the Eighth, I am, I am,
I got married to the widow next door,
She's been married seven times before,
And every one was a Henry (Henry!);
She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (No Sam!).
I'm her eighth old man, I, Henry,
Henry the Eighth, I am!

“Second verse, same as the first …”

Anyhow, as I was starting to wonder whether swim caps even had fronts and backs at all, a young girl traipsed up to my next-door neighbor.

“Daddy,” she asked, spreading her arms to encompass the sparsely populated Clydesdale corral, “why is there so much more space over here?”

“Because, baby,” he answered, “great big guys need great big spaces.”

Thrashing through the breakers with the rest of the royal-capped Clydesdale “wave” a little later, I was wishing that all the rest of those buoyant boys had heard those words – and taken them to heart. I was used to having some more space.

Even though the Sexy Ex-y and I only lived about 11 miles from each other, we could’ve conceivably been called a “long-distance” couple. As singles, we had run marathons; as a couple, we ran half marathons. We went out for a total of three years, but we had briefly broken up after the first two. Before reuniting for the third, conditions were established: We would work toward a more constructive form of communication, as evidenced by our participation in couple’s counseling; and we would lead a healthier lifestyle, as evidenced by our participation in at least three half marathons and one sprint triathlon. As she had been a swimmer and water-polo player in college, the Sexy Ex-y assumed primary responsibility for preparing me for the sprint triathlon’s swim. The 2009 Long Beach Triathlon was set for the fall, so we started swimming in the summer. We would share a single lane at the Belmont Plaza Pool, swimming side-by-side.

But even that intimate experience hadn’t properly prepared me for a crowd of Clydesdales crashing into one another as they attempted to paddle past the competition at the 2010 triathlon. Wanting some more space, I decided to tread water for a while next to the buoy marking the first corner of the course.

“Sir!” shouted a lifeguard sitting astride a surfboard the instant I stopped stroking. “Are you all right?”

Ironically, another lifeguard – instead sitting atop a high chair at the end of the lane – had asked me that exact question during one of my sessions at the pool with the Sexy Ex-y the previous summer. As if I hadn’t already been a bit embarrassed that my pretty partner was churning out five lengths of the pool for every two that I was gulping my way through.

“All right,” I gasped out this time. “Just slow.” To prove my point, I promptly rolled over and began backstroking toward the next buoy.

A lot can change in a little time. It was at the end of my second year with the Sexy Ex-y, in the fall of 2008, that I transitioned from my second career as a professional writer to my third career as a professor of writing. I started out as a “part-timer” at two local community colleges, teaching composition courses that always seemed to start either at about 7 in the morning or 7 in the evening. In-between, I was struggling to keep up with the responsibilities of my “day job” as the editor of a modest movie magazine up in Hollywood. The ratio of the number of “energy drinks” I was consuming to the number of hours I was sleeping a day was approximately the same as the one above – say, five to two.

The Sexy Ex-y started to wonder, out loud, if workaholic tendencies such as those would allow me to be – in the future – a suitable husband and father. During our triathlon training at the tail end of the 2008-2009 school year, when I had taken on first a second, and then a third, summer-session comp course, I started to wonder, out loud, if they would allow me to be – in the present – a suitable swimmer.

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to endurance events, the challenge is most of the attraction. But if, in the midst of a 26.2-mile marathon or a 13.1-mile half marathon along the Pacific Coast, the challenge became too great … well, my feet were still touching the shore. Instead of running, I could walk. I could stand. But if I left that shore, if the challenge became too great in the midst of a half-mile swim …

In the composition curriculum I was still stitching together that summer, I was asking my students to not only read Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, but also watch Sean Penn’s movie version. Early on in that beautiful film, our hero Christopher McCandless – whose fear of water will later contribute to his death in the wilderness of Alaska – nonetheless splashes out into the Pacific Ocean somewhere on California’s Central Coast. In the voice-over narration for the scene, he reads aloud a passage from the short story “Bear Meat” by Primo Levi:

The sea's only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.

On that one occasion, I didn’t feel strong enough to measure myself against the harsh blows of the sea.

The Sexy Ex-y, deeply disappointed, did the 2009 Long Beach Triathlon without me. I was still supportive, positioning myself at spot after spot along the course to cheer. My brother and sister-in-law were there at the finish line, as well, to congratulate the wonderful woman they had started to treat as their sister. Because it showed all four of my Midwestern mother and father’s so-called “California Kids” (with palm trees in the background, no less), the photo we took together at the end of the race course was sent out with the official family Christmas letter. It was still hanging from my refrigerator door.

I supposed it was silly to be thinking about my mother and father’s family Christmas letter as, blindly backstroking, I bumped into the buoy at the last turn in the swim with my royal crown. But I was.

The paragraph devoted to their “Number-One Son” this season will likely mention that I am in my first year as a “full-timer” at one of my community colleges. If I am feeling a bit boastful at the moment I email the paragraph out to my mother, it may inform my family that I beat out 135 other candidates to earn that shot at the tenure track. If I didn’t drown that day, I predicted that I will likely type an additional line about finishing my first triathlon. I will likely not type these short sentences:
           
            Chad is single again because his career comes first.
            So Chad works too much.
            So Chad works out too little.
            And she got tired of waiting for that to change.”

Since my face was covered with saltwater, anyway, nobody noticed a tear or two. At that point, it had been about six months since our breakup, but that was the first time I had simplified the primary reason for it into such succinct statements.

As much as I would duly enjoy my Clydesdale-style stomp across the finish line after first the 11-mile ride and then the 3-mile run that were still to come, the most satisfying single step I took during the triathlon was the first instant that my foot touched the sand underneath the surf at the end of that half-mile swim.

“How do you feel?” one of the volunteers shouted as I staggered out of the ocean.

“Strong,” I responded. “Slow, but strong.”

In triathlons, as in life, the secret to success is in managing the difficult transitions from stage to stage. Although getting my land legs back after the swimming stage didn’t take as long as shucking off that skintight suit, I subsequently staggered like the proverbial drunken sailor when I tried to run after the cycling stage. I got through it, but my times for the transitions were slow.

My brother and sister-in-law were there at the finish line – to take a picture of the three remaining “California Kids” for the family Christmas letter. It was after that, when I had trudged back into the transition area to retrieve my rented wetsuit and borrowed bicycle, that I received the text sent by the former fourth.

“Did you wind up doing the triathlon?” the Sexy Ex-y’s text read. “I was here to cheer, but I didn’t see you. Waited around as long as I could, but then I had to leave.”

At the 2010 Long Beach Triathlon, it turned out, I had missed the Sexy Ex-y in both senses of the word.

“Yes,” I tapped out on my slider. “Had a difficult time in transition. Finally finished, though.”

As I walked toward the exit of the area reserved for transitions, a Clyde without a Bonnie, my phone vibrated. I paused at the gate to read her response.

“Yay! You made it!” she had said. “So proud of you.”

With the fog gone, I could see past the Villa Riviera as I stood at the exit; I could see all the way down Ocean Boulevard to the Breakers. It seemed far away.
           

           





Chad Greene is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. He is an assistant professor of English at Cerritos College. His writing has appeared in 1000 Words, The Binnacle, Cuento Magazine, Journal of Microliterature, Nailpolish Stories, Nanoism, Oblong, One Forty Fiction, One-Screen Stories, Paragraph Planet, The Portland Review, Postcard Shorts, RipRap, Seven by Twenty, Six Word Stories, Southern California Review, The Southlander, and the flash-fiction collection Book by Authors.

Alle Hall: The Buddhism of Baseball (Nonfiction)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/10/alle-hall-buddhism-of-baseball.html





  
I have since learned that being a Mariners fan is not in conflict with being a Mets fan. (With the exception of the ’95 season, the Ms so rarely threaten other teams that you can follow them, too. They are kind of the Buddhism of baseball.) At the time of our first date, however, I had attended but a single pro game. Football. The autumn night smelled of hotdogs and beer and the rowdy crowd leapt to their feet with great huzzah and a number of high-fives, as if they personally had accomplished something. Perhaps someone named the Steelers won. On our first date, that being a Mets fan meant you could not under any circumstances like the Yankees was more than I could comprehend. That Cliff didn’t flip when I suggested we split the check, however, is more likely the reason I agreed to go with him to a home game.
               
 I enjoyed the nachos with the plastic cheese and the breaks for commercials, where an assortment of well-trimmed video clips made baseball look exciting, nay, action-packed. Griffey whapping one out of the park. This was before he was traded to the Reds. A pre-Madonna-schtupping A-Rod was at short, leaping, sliding, tagging out. The raw power of strong men moving gracefully. After Cliff and I progressed to co-habitation, we’d be talking about whatever couples talk about—me on the futon couch, Cliff in the middle of the floor. He’d be air-pitching. I took to calling it. “Ball two.”
                
“That was a strike!”
                
“I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

Occasionally, he’d throw a Nerf ball. Once, it bounced off my head. I jumped him. “Rush the mound!” Righteous hump of my young life.
                
We have since had a son.

A sporty son.
                
I am confused.

As an infant, we took our boy to Water Babies. The teacher tossed a beach ball into the circle for the babies to grab or kick or focus on long enough to stop howling at the cold and the water and the splashing and the noise. My child wanted the ball. He lunged so hard, he almost slipped out of my arms. By twenty months, he could kick a soccer ball while running. He could hit the wiffle ball we called a baseball—though when he pitched and I hit, he still ran the bases. Toward his first birthday, people started to comment that he had “an arm.” I replied, “Isn’t that weird? Where does he get it?” Cliff would mildly comment that a parent other than me had been throwing with him since he could hold a ball. But when my boy dove for that beach ball—dove again and again, heedless of sharing with the other babies or his own safety—dove with the single-minded need to get what he wanted, the thing he loved, I saw myself.

This is where our tale takes a serious turn. I know that in progressive circles, talking about God raises neck hair. Please keep in mind that my Judaism is infused with Eastern elements. I am sufficiently down.
                
Like most small children, beyond my parents, I had few external points of reference. Unfortunately, mine were remarkably bad parents. This was back in the day. We didn’t have terms like dysfunction. We had bad parents. We didn’t call it child abuse. We called it—who knows what we called it. No one talked about it.
                
As I was too small to flee, I went deep inside; so deep, I didn’t know I had gone there; deep inside, where I met a light. The light said, “You can get out. You have to.”
                
You might think that an occurrence such as meeting God would carry with it more specificity. I am sorry to say, that’s all I got. Now, when I think about that light, our meeting, I feel myself to be four or five years old and body-less, floating, which means I was being abused, being abused so badly that my choices were die or find a reason to live. Find the source of life.
                
Returning to the agreed-upon reality: as soon as I was financially able, I was gone. After a few years of defragging, I sought God in Eastern faiths and diets, in politics and no faith, sex, no sex, jobs, countries, and cultures. It was moderately successful, as existences go, lacking love, lacking direction, lacking much in the way of true friendship even, for I didn’t know how to love or be loved.
                
I kept diving. I wanted the ball.
                
By the time I dove smack back into Judaism, I understood that I could find God through a variety of paths—or no path, just God. Whereas once upon a time, you wouldn’t have caught me dead at services, about this time seven years ago, it was also and again the Days of Awe. I took my child to services.                
He wore kurta pajami, a to-the-knees Punjabi-style shirt and pants set schlepped all the way from India by my friend Risa. The linen was the color of a clean beach. He looked adorable, if not like an escapee from a midget production of Godspell. Holding my first child at our first High Holy Days together with havana shireem, songs of praise, sifting through the amber autumn morning, baby weight warm and powdery against my chest and belly. It was motherhood. It was the icicle breaking—a crash, matriculation. Same life, new life. The jump to catch the one that should have been knocked out of the park; what they should have given me, what I found instead. It was love. It was God.
               
I am still not religious, but I have faith. I am an abuse survivor and a parent. There aren’t the statistics to support me having a child, not without faith.
                
You have faith. Let’s talk about then-Mariners’ center fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. He stepped to the plate with the tight focus of haiku, swung the bat in a circle then up, adjusted his jersey and drew the bat to his shoulder, and you believed in him. You didn’t write him off because last week, he didn’t bat in the winning run. You knew: a single anywhere in the park he wanted to put it. Those clips again: on the Mariners’ homepage, under the ’05 highlights, there is an Ichiro clip I let my son watch over and over. The ball is flying toward the wall slightly faster than Ichiro appears to be running, headed over the fence. Number 51 turns his back on the ball, which you are not supposed to do, flings himself at the wall, scampers up, balances on its narrow top, and makes the catch.
                
Ichiro is not God. Ichiro is a majestic power outside ourselves that we are a part of yet remain in awe of. He is one reason I say men love and want and need baseball. It is the same reason I love, want, and need God.
In Judaism’s central prayer, the Sh’ma, God declares, “Listen, Israel. God is God, God is One.”

                               Sh’ma Yisrael
                               Adonai Eloheinu
                               Adonai Echad

Traditionally, Jews die with Sh’ma on their lips. I hope to. Traditionally, we say Sh’maas we fall asleep, should we die before we wake. I’ve said a bedtime Sh’mawith my son for his whole life. Around sixteen months of age, he started saying Sh’ma as I carried him to his crib or as he felt himself falling asleep in the car. He said it to the bunnies when we read Goodnight, Moon. He said it as a substitute for the Hebrew in the blessings he did not yet know.
                
In learning to love, how much I am loved is far less important than how much I get to love. Shortly after watching the climb-the-wall highlight, instead of Sh’ma Yisrael, our boy said, “Sh’ma, Ichiro.






Alle C. Hall won the 2008 Richard Hugo House New Works Competition, and has been mothering ever since. Her work is in or on Creative Nonfiction, BUST, Literary Mama, Literary Cafe Radio, and others; as well as in The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger, (Contributing Writer), for whom she interviewed Leonard Nimoy. All blogs About Childhood: Answers for Writers, Parents, and Former Children at allehall.wordpress.com.

Yazan Barakat: Fish (fiction)

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About twelve years ago I watched Rudy Esterhaus take a jump on his bike and whack his head on a tree branch. Me, Rudy and Tommy Cross had gone out to the woods to jump our bikes through the ditches. Five feet deep and ten around. Perfect size to shoot down one end and straight back up. Maybe catch some air, depending on how fast you went.

Rudy pedaled back about twenty feet and built up some speed before hitting it. He got up a good two feet. We whooped it up. He landed wobbly, still going fast, and swerved into the grass to slow himself down. Pow, tree branch. Rudy hung suspended in midair for a second, his forehead attached to the branch and his hands still reaching out for the handlebars, then falling straight onto his back, like in a cartoon. Tommy must’ve seen the same thing I did, because we were both doubled over laughing. The bike went a few feet on its own before falling over in the grass. Rudy staggered up, lurching and waving like someone was tilting the ground under him, trying to throw him off it. We laughed harder. What stopped us was the look on his face.

It wasn’t Rudy there. Just a blank sheet and the early makings of a purple bruise rising like a new continent on his forehead. He looked at us and said “Who?” in a small, lost voice. To me and Tommy it seemed about the scariest thing we could’ve heard him say. For ten seconds he wandered like that, slack-faced, newborn in his surroundings. He found his bike in the grass, stared a moment. And then Rudy became Rudy again. His eyes settled into their usual sullen narrows.

“What?” he snapped.

 Tommy pressed his hand against the bruise on Rudy's forehead.

“Ow! Fucker!”

That was twelve years ago. I’m sitting in my car in the here and now—thinking about Rudy’s lost face in the woods. The fish are blinking in and out of my eyeballs.

*

The three of us played Pop Warner football the following year. Rudy quit in high school but Tommy and I stuck with it. We both played at Virginia Tech until Tommy transferred out after sophomore year and then he quit too. I managed to get the attention of some scouts, enough for a team to take a flyer on me in the sixth round.

Cassie was there when I got the call from one of the personnel office guys. He welcomed me to the team while Cassie yelled in the background that I should’ve gone in the first round. He asked what was that noise.

“Traffic,” I said as I ducked to the bathroom and locked the door. When I came back she was doing cartwheels across the living room. She usually bursts into cartwheels whenever she gets excited about something. She managed three then hit her heel on the edge of the couch and fell against the wall. I went to see if she was okay, dug through a giggling mess of chestnut hair, looking for bumps. Her hands covered my ears. Her eyes grabbed mine. “This is when everything changes,” she said. That was two years ago.

It’s three weeks ago. Cassie is looking at me with a different face. She says one of my eyes has gone all funny. One pupil is bigger than the other. I shake my head. I have to figure out the here and now.

*

My first year was a wash. I was buried in the depth chart. Mop-up duty and special teams, mostly. We finished the season four and twelve. That spring I got an application to staff a cell phone kiosk at the mall. Cassie found it on the kitchen table and threw it away. She was working at a local college. She knew someone at the fitness center and got me a pass to go in and work out. I told her mini camp wasn’t for a few months. I was on vacation. She said I didn’t get a vacation.

That night Cassie and I were watching a show, some rich guy getting a bed made with four fish tanks in the shape of columns, one at each corner of the bed. Nothing as peaceful as watching the fish swim, the guy said. Cassie had a dreamy look. I told her I’d build a fish tank above the bed so she could lie back and look up and fall asleep to fish floating overhead. Blue fish were the best to fall asleep to, she said.

Cassie never let me get to the mail first. She knew that if I saw her loan statements I’d have to look. She was making her payments. I knew she’d be making payments for the rest of her life. I wondered where she was hiding the envelopes and I started to make a list. A life without hidden envelopes. A living room that can fit four cartwheels. Blue fish to fall asleep to.

Year two. Havermeyer, our top linebacker, left for free agency in the spring. That left Narrens, Connolly, Bowen and me, in that order. Connolly was packaged and sent to Philadelphia in a draft day trade. Third game of the season Narrens rolled an ankle and got pulled for the last quarter. Bowen got plugged into the right side but was getting swallowed up by the tackle. Coach Hilliard found me and told me to get my helmet on. He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me down to his eye level.

“You see number eight?” he said. That was the quarterback. I said yeah.

“Bury him,” he said.

First play in. I tried to go wide around the tackle. He took an easy step in front of me and swatted me hard in the chest. I went straight back and on my ass. The play was over pretty quick. I got up and started towards the sideline. Coach pointed back at the field. Over the crowd I heard him yell “get the fuck back in there.”

I ran back in and got the play. Same assignment: see quarterback, bury quarterback. I lined up and waited for the snap. The tackle saw me coming wide again and stepped out with the same move. This time I cut inside and slipped away from him. Nothing but empty space between me and number eight. I had his blind side. It was beautiful.

He was winding up to throw when I slammed into his back. The ball came loose. One of our guys jumped on it. I went back to the sideline to a flurry of smacks on the helmet. I was looking for a place to sit down but one of the coaches pulled me to a whiteboard and explained what we would be doing next time we were on the field. He drew x’s and o’s while I tried to peek at the monitors for slow motion replays of the hit, the fumble. Someone called my name, told me to pay attention to the here and now.

I spent the next few weeks as a situational player, mostly third-down pass rush. By the end of the season I was dropping back, covering guys, setting the edge. All the things you want out of a starter. At home Cassie was still hiding envelopes. Still no blue fish in the bedroom.

Five months ago I started the last year of my rookie contract. My agent called to tell me they were talking about an extension. Still hammering out the numbers. He mentioned four years, ten million, maybe five years, fifteen million with three up front. He closed the call with, “Just keep busting heads, kid.”

This was what happened before. This is not the here and now.

*

The here and now begins three months ago. It’s preseason. It’s a nothing game, a meaningless game. I’m in for a few plays to knock the rust off. The ball is snapped and the quarterback immediately turns left and throws to the receiver in front of me. The ball glances off his hands and falls to the ground, an incomplete pass. A whistle blows and the play is over. I pull up slow to the receiver, getting ready to say something to him about being lucky he didn't make the catch, about having him in my cross hairs.

There's a clap against my helmet and a white flash, like lightning in my face, and I’m on the ground. Clouds in my eyes. When they clear, two guys in red polo shirts are looking down at me. Behind them the sky has gone all orange. They’re asking me questions and I’m answering but can’t make out what I'm saying. They get me to my feet. Some of my teammates are kneeling on the ground a few yards away, hand in hand with guys from the other team, praying. They stand when they see that I’m up and start clapping, but the sound is like muffled waves, like I’ve got my ear against a conch shell.

On the bench now with one of the red polo shirts kneeling in front of me. Gary, from the medical staff. He asks me how I’m feeling. I can barely hear him from the static in my ears. Fine, I tell him. Gary floats a pen in front of my face and tells me to track it with my eyes. He tells me to count backwards from a hundred in multiples of seven. He starts asking questions.

“What stadium are we in? What quarter is it? What’s the score? Who did we play last week?”

He leaves me there to talk to the other red polo shirt. I can’t tell if he likes my answers. I’m worried about the sky that’s still orange. Coach comes by and talks to me but the whole time he’s watching Gary and the medical staff. He makes a joke and then laughs at the joke and walks away. I’m pressing my eyes with the heels of my hands like I’m trying to flatten them. Soon the static clears and the sky goes back to blue. I grab my helmet and head to the locker room. What was it that coach said that was so funny?

It’s two days after the game. Cassie and I are driving home from dinner. She keeps saying how worried she was when she saw the hit, how she couldn’t believe they just kept replaying it on the monitors. I watch the taillights ahead of us and say nothing. The taillights are red eyes shooting lasers, burning holes into my face. Cassie is still talking and all I can think is red eyes, red eyes, red eyes. My head suddenly weighs a hundred pounds and I need to sleep. I pull over and tell her I need her to drive. She asks if I’m all right but I’m too tired to talk. All I want is to lie down and close my eyes. She’s still talking. Just drive, I tell her. Stop talking and just drive.

The next morning Cassie tells me that Whitney Carmichael got cut.

“Who?”

She says he’s the lineman from the other team who got me with the late hit.

“Who?”

She speaks slowly. Something about a lineman who got cut.

“Who?”

She says I’m not being funny. I don’t say anything. I don’t know any Whitney Carmichael. I don’t know what she’s talking about.

*

Later that day in the film room I see the fish for the first time. We’re watching tape of the game and all of a sudden my temples are caving in and there’s something like an ice pick jabbing my ear. It happens so quick I nearly shatter my teeth when my jaw clamps down. I close my eyes and that helps for a little bit but then the fish are there, sparking across left to right and bouncing at the edges of the dark.

They’re tiny, these fish. Little daggers of light. They dash and flow and scatter when disturbed. They’re not like the blue fish that Cassie wants to fall asleep to. They’re mad and lost. They squirm and carom off each other and the sound they make is a whistle, a whine that stabs the softest parts of my ears, and there’s a pulse in my head like a drum and they jump with every clatter and bang.

I sit in the back and close my eyes. I’m still listening to Coach. If I hear my name I'll answer. If I hear them switch on the lights I’ll open my eyes again.

*

It’s three weeks later. Our home opener. I’m on the field and it smells like grass. Which is weird since the field is turf and has its own plastic smell when you’re up close to it. There’s a tight end in front of me and I’m watching, waiting for him to come off the line. But there's something behind him. A bike on the turf. I turn and yell for someone to move the bike before we can start the play but now everyone is running past me and I’m standing there and the bike is gone.

Gary finds me on the sideline, asks me what happened out there. I tell him about the bike. Gary wants me to follow him back to the locker room. I’m thinking about blue fish and hidden envelopes, and all the quarterbacks I haven't buried yet. I’m going back in. Gary is looking behind me. I turn to see Coach shaking his head. Gary grips my arm and starts pulling me away. I want to grab that skinny little neck and feel it break like chicken bones under his thin skin. I yank my arm away but then the world drops from under me. My feet won’t plant right and I crash into the water cooler, spilling cups and Gatorade. Everything spinning like looking over a ledge. I’m on all fours, trying not to throw up. When it finally settles I let Gary take me by the elbow and lead me to the locker room.

It’s two days ago. Cassie and me watching TV and I don’t know what the show is but turn it off, I tell her. Every time I look at the screen my head tightens. Even with my eyes closed I can still see a white square flashing white and white again. And I don’t want the fish, not now. She turns it off and doesn’t say anything, but she’s watching me. I tell her about the bike, how I saw it on the field but it disappeared. She starts crying. Why is she crying? I want to throw the TV out the window. I want to see it fall quietly to its death.

It’s three in the morning. My head is being squeezed in a vice. My head is being crushed under an elephant’s foot. All I want is sleep but my head is collapsing and goddamnit my ears are ringing too. A kettle whistling, raining needles in my ears. I’m screaming to hear my own voice above it. Cassie is backed against the headboard. Her mouth is open but I can’t hear her scream. I smother myself in the pillow and I’m crying now and just waiting for my head to break apart. To crack open. Anything, anything.

*

There is no here and now. Only pieces.

I’m in the living room waiting for Cassie to get out of the shower. I blink and the bathroom is empty.

I’m on the field. Everyone’s run past me and I’m alone. There’s a bike in the middle of the grass. A voice asks, “Who?” but I don't know the answer.

I’m sitting in my car. I’m thinking about Rudy Esterhaus. Coach Hilliard would've said that Rudy got his bell rung.

It’s night. No sound. The fish curve and dance, all alive and electric.

 

Yazan Barakat lives and writes in New York. He is currently working on his first novel.

Joshua Bartee: Beckham County Has No Team (Poetry)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/01/joshua-bartee-beckham-county-has-no-team.html

Beckham County has no team, but we
all love the Braves: Justice, Smoltz.

Scattered homestead tractors, redbud,
form archipelagos in the wheat,

and town, a tired heart, desolate clap-
board stations, peeling, and a gas pump.

Farmers head to town, visit the co-op,
talk beef and batting orders. The way

home is taken lonely: to watch Atlanta
on antenna, then the weather, drift 

off in recliners. The hope of someone wakes
them, brings them out of doors: they

look out, beyond the field, for coyotes
on the esker, hear the air buzzing with

wasps up at night, building hives
in he hayloft--the frogs sing too,

and crickets drone swift martellatos.
Television static: the ploughers have

forgotten--they drink, undress for bed,
read L'Amours washed with handling,

dream five hundred horses trampling down
an endless grassland, golden sabers

drawn, and Custer, terrible and sure--
or, as children, they run in diamonds,

in the same pasture, taking arrowheads.
Bent rabbit ears catch three channels,

the signals fail often in April rain,
and tornadoes all but kill them.

Tomorrow Maddux'll be on the mound,
and men milling around radios.




Joshua Bartee holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in English Literature from Humboldt State University. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he studies poetry and American environmental writing. he characterizes his poems as satirical and romantic. An avid road cyclist, he rides and lives with his girlfriend, Kaylee, and their dog Milo.



Malon Edwards: The Remy Cut (fiction)

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The corner from Walcott bends toward me. It has a bit more pace than usual. Don’t matter. The world moves in slow-motion.

Just like the Indigo said it would.

***

Pre-match interview:

Jimmy Falafel: What must you do to triumph and kiss the trophy tonight?

Remy Lamers: We need to just do it. Get it done. Play Gunners football. Leave it all on the pitch.

Jimmy Falafel: It’s been a long, hard-fought season. Thirty-eight games. Both the Gunners and the Red Devils stand alone atop the league table. Equal in points, goal difference and goals scored. Talk a little bit about the battle you must undertake in just minutes for this playoff match.

Remy Lamers: It’s war, man. Plain and simple. We ’bout to get it. We ’bout to battle hard.

Jimmy Falafel: There you have it. They’re about to get it. They’re about to battle hard. Over to you, Martin and Alan.

***

The Indigo want love. Our love. Human love.

I want a high temporal resolution. And maybe a Spanish villa. With a butler. And a Ferrari 458 Italia. With a Members Only jacket.

I think that’s a fair trade-off.

***

Smalling and I throw down in the box. I’m like, move, bitch, get out the way. For him, our tussling lasts only but a second. For me, it’s a four-second fight for position on the White Hart Lane pitch.

And then, I make my run.

Walcott’s ball picks me out for a successful connect. It hovers. Beckons. Invites me to read its logo through its languid spin.

Barclays Premier League. Nike Incyte. Official match ball. 2013-2014.

I jump.

Swoosh.

***

My very first time, the Indigo said it wouldn't hurt. That was true.

I felt no pain as they sawed open my skull. They went in through the crown of my head. Stood me up. Stuck me in a block of some cold, viscous goo. Tilted me back. Blinded me with overhead bright lights.

I think it helped that I couldn't see them. Wigged me out, though.

At every new whir and buzz and screech of machinery, I slit my eyes open. Deep blue shapes teased my peripheral vision. Played hide and seek with it.

The shapes could have just been my blurred eyelashes. Or they could have been the Indigo. Searching for my visual processing systems. Heating my sensory tissues. Increasing my metabolic rate.

Trading athleticism for love.

***

Smalling doesn’t have a chance.

I’m at the apex of my jump just as his quads flex. I’ll win this header. No contest.

Or so I think.

He leaps. Reaches behind his head. Unsheathes his Oakeshott from his scabbard. Delivers a backhand neck cut with the light short sword. All in one fluid motion.

I raise my left forearm. Block his strike with my carbon fibre titanium gauntlet. Sparks fly. The ball caroms off my head. Off target. Nowhere near the goal. Out of bounds.

Goal kick.

Dammit.

***

My second experience with the Indigo was very different from my first.

They dimmed the overhead bright lights. Played some knockin’ boots music. Whispered sweet nothings in my ear from the edges of the shadows. Spoke as one. Used that smooth brown brother voice. That mackdaddy voice.

And then, just as Lou Rawls told me he wasn’t tryin’ to make me stay, the Indigo switched it up with some Anita Baker.

I couldn’t help but bust out laughing as I lay in that cold-ass goo. They were playing my mixtape. The one I put on when I brought that fit li’l posh bird (still feels weird saying that) from Dublin I’d met at Whisky Mist back to my flat after our final match last season. She liked my American accent.

I hadn’t seen the Indigo yet, at that point, and I didn't love them none, neither. But I for damn sure liked them after that.

How could I not? Right now, they’re probably blasting my mixtape out into space. Back home.

***

For a non-meta, Smalling has good aerial ability. I won’t lie; he got some hops. Good reflexes. Good swordwork.

He reminds me of me before the Indigo made me meta. Before I started processing visual information four times faster. Before the world got slow.

But the kid can’t hang with this.

Evra concedes a corner. It’s just the second of the day for us.

Walcott places the ball. He lingers. He wants to get it right. No one wants to go to extra time. That could lead to a penalty shootout.

Those crossbows ain’t no joke. Just ask Rooney. He’s not wearing that headgear because it’s fashion-forward.

The referee checks our backs to make sure our swords are sheathed before he puts his whistle to his mouth. Smalling and I throw ’bows as we jostle for position in the box. So does everybody else.

We’ll remember these ’bows, these shoves, this tugging at the latches of light armor beneath our jerseys once we’re airborne. Once we slide our swords from the scabbards between our shoulder blades.

Rooney’s solid mass bashes into me from the left. His buckler is in his fist. He’s detached it from his chestplate. Carbon fibre titanium. Just like mine.

I know what’s about to go down, but I’m hemmed in by Smalling on my right. And then, Walcott delivers a sweet ball toward me.

***

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a Gunner.

My moms had brought her Louisiana Creole, her love for Thierry Henry, and me to the South Side of Chicago from Natchitoches. She left behind my triflin’-ass father and his heavy fists.

It was hard being a Gooner in the Manor surrounded by Bears fans. To them cats, football was the Monsters of the Midway. Trap blocks. Cover 2 defense. Not corner kicks and the Arsenal side.

Even at five years old, I was Gunners for life. I got it tattooed on my stomach. I wanted to play the Arsenal way.

The friendly neighborhood gang recruiter didn’t know what to do with me. I tripped him right the fuck out.  

When he came around the house sniffing for recruits, my moms told him no. Didn’t matter I’d have the brothers she never gave me. Didn’t matter I’d have more money than she could count. A diamond in the back. Sunroof top.Nine millimeter for both hands.

She closed the door in his face.

When our friendly neighborhood gang recruiter came around the second time, my moms went to the backyard and cut a switch off the maple tree. Ran his hard-headed ass back home.

He didn’t come around a third time. But just in case, my moms sent me to the Arsenal soccer school in Hawaii. Far away from his dumb ass.

I never made it to the Big Island. I had my first of many experiences with the Indigo on the way, though.

***

I jump earlier than I usually would to avoid Rooney’s shield punch. Don’t matter. His visual processing systems are jacked up, too.

Rooney’s buckler catches me in my hamstring. The carbon fibre titanium there takes the brunt of it. Still, I go arse over tit.

Shit.

***

The world didn’t slow down for me until after my twelfth experience with the Indigo.

What’s tripped out about that is I’ve lost just as many years. I think I spent them on their ship. Put a gun to my head and tell me to remember that chunk of my life, and I’d tell you to shoot.

Wouldn’t do much damage, though. There’s a big-ass hole in there. Not much in there to hold memories.

One day, I was five and three-quarters years old and on a plane to Hawaii. The next day, I was playing for the Fire. And I was damn good.

Had two hat tricks in four games. Scored five goals at the Bunker against the Reds. I could bend it into the box like nobody’s business. The Gunners wanted me on loan.

Tremendous respect for the Indigo came with the quickness after that. Thing is, they’d mistaken it for love. Don’t judge. Most sentient beings take whatever they can get.

Either way, the Indigo had given me what I’d wanted. Ever since I was that little boy with ‘Gunners for Life’ tattooed in Gothic script on his stomach.

And now, I’ve given the Indigo what they've always wanted. Ever since Levis Brosseau in 1929.

***

My only option is the bicycle kick. I’m set up perfectly for it.

But Smalling ain’t having it.

He slashes my left arm. My back. My ribs. His sword sings of bloodlust and deflected strikes. Sparks fly again.

And then, I hear a horrible, awful Wilhelm scream. With an accent. Coarse, dark hairs feather my left cheek.

It’s the Dutchman. Someone got under his armor.

He falls to his knees. Raises his jersey.  Removes his half-latched chestplate. Looks at his half-furred six-pack.

A swath of the dark, curled carpet has been shorn away from his stomach. Manscaped. I think most of it got in my mouth.

I turn my head and spit. Never liked him, anyway.

Focus, I tell myself.

I look back to the incoming corner. My right boot and the ball touch. A soft caress of kanga-lite and micro-textured casing. Until I snap-kick my leg.

It’s a clean strike as I volley the ball goalwards. De Gea’s left-hand post. He’s out of position. He dives too late to tip the ball over the bar.

Goal. Top corner. 91’ Remy Lamers.

Gunners 1, Red Devils nil.

***

Post-match interview:

Jimmy Falafel: That was a brilliant goal you smashed to the back post in the ninety-first minute. Take us through that set-piece.

Remy Lamers: First, I’d like to thank the Indigo, the head of my life, who, without Their devices and procedures, I wouldn’t be here today.

Worship is a lot like love. The public declaration of it makes it true.

***

Fire licks the frame of my bed. The wavy cutout headboard. The crown moulding where the rope lights should be.

We are illuminated against the walls by yellow-orange-blue flames. They curl and spike and crest in the darkness. There is no harm in their slow-motion movement. Only thrall and excitement.

Just like the fit bird on top of me.

Her name is Ruth. She’s from Dublin. She lives near Phoenix Park. She likes the Viking cemetery there. When she blinks, she blings. Diamond-encrusted eyelashes.

My Bonaldo Glove super king size bed is by Giuseppe Vigano. The flames won’t damage its Emery leather frame. It’s thick. It’s not bonded leather.

Neither will the fire twist and warp the white gloss of the headboard. It’s Italian.

Which means it’s expensive.

These are the thoughts that make me last longer. These are the thoughts that make the world slower.

You ready to get started now, luv?

In four seconds, Ruth will realize we’ve already started. Tomorrow, we will go find a Spanish villa. The next day, my Ferrari. The day after, more diamond-encrusted eyelashes.
This is my life now. Gunners for life.

I just hope it isn’t swallowed up by the hole in my head.
 



Malon Edwards was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, but now lives in Mississauga, Ontario, where he was lured by his beautiful Canadian wife. Many of his short stories are set in an alternate Chicago and feature people of color. Currently, he serves as managing director and grants administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation, which provides a number of grants for writers of speculative literature.

Denise Heinze: Easter, 1966 (Poetry)

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http://www.stymiemag.com/2014/02/denise-heinze-easter-1966-poetry.html






After church
Our father scattered us to the borders of the three-sided field
A sister or two per team
To unnest the motley eggs.

I, the lone hunter, uncoupled
Scrambled to my linear wood
Peered into last year's growth, impaled by the Michigan winter,
And gathered my sacred clutch.

I made it back to our father first
The winner
It was enough, his chuckling admiration
This ex-warrior with the brash medals he kept silent.
Who called us flowers. 

He patted my head, pet my name, handed me the prize
I had not expected.
A Wilson. Ash blonde and tightly strung.

How did he know, I wondered then, I wonder now
How perfect it was.
A towering father bestowing
His tow-headed postulant
With a varnished scepter
Or so it seemed to a little girl.

I understood little then of the beclouded Calvary noons
That our father had witnessed in battle.
How afterwards he planted innocence
In the regenerate countryside;
His unfettered brood, antic ritual, the simple wooded racquet
His way, which would later become my way,
Of making it to the light of the third day.






Denise Heinze is Teaching Assistant Professor of English at North Carolina State University. She has a long list of publications, made possible in large part by periodically escaping to the tennis courts whenever in need of inspiration.

Marcus Meade: A Seat at the Table (Fiction)

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Patrick jerked his head when the bell rang. He always hoped to see Uncle Paul or Aunt Marie or any of his dad’s friends who frequented Vito’s. His dad showed only the slightest interest, lifting his eyes briefly from his mug. He sat calmly at their table right near the jukebox and drank deeply.

Helga walked quickly inside, hugging herself against the cold. Patrick turned back to his dinner. He didn’t like Helga. She was a small, mousy woman who called him spoiled and laughed at him when he told her he wanted to be a police officer one day.

A chilly wind came in behind Helga and touched each of the dozen or so people inside Vito’s. Most of them didn’t mind. They’d felt the wind of nights like these for decades.

Patrick slurped the bottom of his Coke, and walked to the bar to ask Stan for more. Stan took his drink gun and shot more Coke into the plastic cup. Patrick loved the drink gun so much he’d asked for one for his birthday last year. He got a baseball glove instead.

When Patrick returned to the table, the bell rang again, and again, he jerked his head to see. It wasn’t Uncle Paul or Aunt Marie. It wasn’t anyone Patrick recognized.

New people rarely came into Vito’s, and if they did, it was usually as a friend or relative of one of the regulars. Vito’s belonged to its regulars, and they were hesitant to give even a small piece of it up.

The man wore a dirty jean jacket buttoned all the way up with the collar popped to cover his neck. The few hairs remaining on his head draped long and limp from behind his temples to the back of his neck. He shared the worn look of the Vito’s crowd.

After wiping his feet, he walked quietly to the bar to order a drink. Patrick watched the new man curiously, hiding his gaze by nibbling on his greasy cheese sticks. The new man got his drink and paid. He stood at the bar, still as a cinder block, his eyes locked forward. Patrick suspected he was looking in the mirror at something.

A few sips in, the man turned from the bar and headed for the coat rack.

“Dad,” Patrick said.

“Yeah?”

“Who’s that?” Patrick’s dad always told him not to point at people so he set his eyes on the man instead.

“Uh,” his dad turned to see. “I don’t know. Never seen him.”
The stranger unbuttoned his jacket and hung it next to the others. Patrick watched as he turned, revealing to Patrick his left side. For a moment, Patrick wasn’t sure what he was seeing. The man wore a long-sleeved gray shirt, but his left sleeve folded up above where his elbow might have been. Only a stub of left arm extended from his shoulder.

Patrick had never seen anything like this in his nine years—not that he could remember anyway. He picked up a new cheese stick and quickly turned his head. He wondered if the man had seen him watching.

In his mind, Patrick saw the man yelling at him for staring while grabbing his shirt and smacking him repeatedly. He pled and apologized, tried to shake free and run. He tried to fight the man off, but in his mind, the man was too strong. The man’s face scrunched in anger as he reached back to strike another blow, and Patrick screamed for him to stop.

In the background of the scenario running through his mind, Patrick heard someone push the lever on the pool table. He peeked back. It was the stranger. Patrick looked away again, and allowed himself only periodic glances, as he often did with scary movies.

The man left the balls and went to pick out a cue. He didn’t rack, which made sense because he didn’t have anyone to play. Instead, he placed some money on a side rail, grabbed his drink from a nearby booth, and waited at the head of the table.

A few minutes passed while the man stood sipping his drink. The tension in Patrick’s chest was easing a bit, and he allowed himself to take longer glances, always careful in his gaze for fear of attracting attention. For the most part, the man focused on the empty table. His eyes didn’t wander or investigate the new surroundings. They watched the faded green felt. 

“How’s he going to play pool?” Patrick whispered to his dad.

“Poorly, I’d imagine.” His dad smiled and took another gulp of beer.

The bell rang once again, but Patrick hardly noticed this time. He remained focused on the task of watching the man without watching him.

“Hey,” Patrick’s dad said to get his son’s attention. “I’m gonna go say hi to Marla, alright?”

“Yeah.” Patrick noticed Marla standing near the door.

Patrick’s dad crossed the bar to greet her with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Patrick knew Marla well. Sometimes, she’d help him with his schoolwork or play with him on the nights she came home with them after they left Vito’s.
Eventually, Hicks approached the pool table, set his money down, and shook the stranger’s hand before picking out a cue and racking the balls. The man took another sip before setting his drink on a nearby table. He stood the cue straight up, held the tip and the chalk in one hand, and chalked before positioning himself to break.

Patrick knew how to play pool. He’d watched his dad beat everyone in the bar, and asked questions about how to hold the stick and everything. He tried to imagine how this man might do it. Lean the stick against the rail. Use the bridge, but how will he hold the bridge? Place a part of the stick against his body. Will he use what little he has of his left arm in some way?

The man leaned his stick against the table while he grabbed the cue ball and placed it just off center. By now, Patrick watched intently as the man leaned over the table, his round belly tucked underneath the side. He held the stick roughly three-quarters down in his hand, placed the tip just behind the ball, and rapidly pulled his arm back before shooting it forward. The balls scattered with a loud crack.

The man moved to take his second shot, and Patrick watched again. He didn’t use the railing. He didn’t use the bridge. He didn’t use what was left of his left arm. He just pulled the cue back and struck the ball, as if an invisible hand were guiding the front of the cue and holding it steady.

The man beat Hicks soundly. He missed one shot the whole game. Hicks made one, missed his second, and the game was over. Hicks paid the man and returned to the bar to order a drink. The stranger put more money on the side rail.

Franco and Birdman both took turns against the newcomer. Franco lost two games and Birdman one. Franco managed to keep one game close, but couldn’t finish, and the stranger rallied to win.

Patrick’s dad returned with Marla midway through Birdman’s game.

“Hi sweetie, how are yuh?” Marla asked in her soft, kind voice.

“Good.”

“You know,” Patrick’s dad said. “I think I’ll shoot some before Pat and I head home.”

Patrick’s dad placed some quarters on the table to indicate he would play next and returned.

“He’s good, dad. He just—”

“Yeah?” Patrick’s dad asked before pausing to look at the newcomer. “Well, I’m OK too.”
Marla asked Patrick about school and soccer, and Patrick told her about a substitute teacher he hadn’t liked.

When Birdman tossed his stick on the table and shook the stranger’s hand, Patrick’s dad stood to greet him. He picked out a cue and racked the balls.

The man failed to make a ball on the break, and Patrick’s dad sank nearly every ball before the newcomer got another chance. When the man missed a fairly easy shot in the side pocket, Patrick’s dad put him away. It was quick, efficient, and unsatisfying, a soulless piece of business. The man gave him the money, and they decided to play again.

Patrick’s dad broke this time. The balls exploded, running from the center of the table like marbles from a shattered mason jar. After a few easy shots, he missed, and the newcomer had his turn. He made a difficult shot to start, a combination, and a few easier shots after that, but missed on a long shot in the corner. Patrick’s dad didn’t give the table back.

The man took a large gulp from his drink and hunched his shoulders as Patrick’s dad cleared the table of striped balls. He kept leaning against a pillar and then standing, moving his cue from one side to another, chalking and re-chalking for shots that weren’t coming.

After the second defeat, the man asked for a third game. His face, so loose when mowing down Hicks and Franco and Birdman, tightened while he plugged more quarters into the table. He racked quickly, placing balls onto the table with more force than the previous game.

When the rack was finished the man stood against the nearest pillar waiting for his shot. Patrick watched him as his dad broke, watched his eyes fixed on the table. He wondered who taught the newcomer to play pool. His dad? A friend?Did he teach himself in places like Vito’s?

Patrick’s dad didn’t miss in the third game. From break to the eight ball, he was perfect, and the stranger didn’t get a chance to shoot. Near the end of the game, the man’s concrete posture returned. He watched silently as Patrick’s dad sank a long shot on the eight ball and calmly pumped his fist at his accomplishment.

The man handed Patrick’s dad the money before both men put their cues away. The stranger put his coat on quickly and left. Patrick’s dad returned to the table smiling. He bought beers for Franco, Hicks, Birdman, and himself. They all gathered around Patrick’s table and talked about the stranger and pool. Of course, it eventually moved to football and stories and dirty jokes. Patrick laughed when the others laughed.

After a few victory beers, Patrick’s dad decided it was time to go home. Marla stood to leave with them, and they all bundled up to face the cold walk ahead. Patrick’s dad decided to use the bathroom before the walk home, leaving Marla to watch him. While Marla finished paying her tab, Patrick walked to the empty pool table. He grabbed the cue ball from its home and centered it in front of him on the table. He chose his usual stick off the wall, the smallest one, and faced the ball in his winter coat. He held the bottom of the stick in his right hand and kept his left by his side. The tip shook while he tried to steady it for a clean strike. He pushed the cue forward and missed. He tried again, and the ball squibbed off the tip. He couldn’t stop his right arm from shaking and had to twist his body for any strength. He couldn’t be still like the stranger had been, like concrete. He tried once more and missed again. Before his dad returned and could see him imitating the stranger’s style, he put the cue ball back and returned the stick to the wall.  He sat next to the empty pool table waiting for his dad to return, like always.

 

Marcus Meade is a writer, teacher, and PhD student at the University of Nebraska. He is both a fiction writer and composition and rhetoric scholar with his research interests focused primarily on student-athlete writing instruction and the rhetoric of the body. He earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and a masters in English from Northwest Missouri State University. He was often picked right near the middle in kickball games and dead last in games that require someone to pick clothes that match. For clothing tips or anything else, Marcus can be emailed at meademarcus@gmail.com.

Richard Peabody: Hedgehogs 31, Renegades 10 (fiction)

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Hedgehogs 31,   Renegades 10

Renegades ………….0  10  0  0 – 10
Hedgehogs ………….7  10  7  7 – 31


FIRST QUARTER

Hedgehogs: S. Fitzgerald  20 pass from T. Pynchon (S. Beckett kick), 9:08

SECOND QUARTER

Renegades: FG  V. Sickler 27  14:51
Hedgehogs:  J. Kerouac 12 run (S. Beckett kick) 12:33
Renegades: H. Van Noy 1 run (V. Sickler kick)  6:26
Hedgehogs:  FG  S. Beckett  32  1:03

THIRD QUARTER

Hedgehogs:  R. Moody 11 pass from T. Pynchon (S. Beckett kick) 9:08

FOURTH QUARTER

Hedgehogs: R. Bolano 31 interception return (S. Beckett kick)  :53


Attendance: 64,005

                                                Renegades                   Hedgehogs
First Downs ……………………………16                         25
Total Net Yards……………………. 311                        421
Rushes-Yards…………………….25-74                 43-201
Passing…………………………………237                          220
Punt Returns……………………….2-19                        4-46
Kickoff Returns………………….3-113                      3-70
Interceptions Ret…………………..0-0                         1-31
Comp-Att-Int………………….24-35-1                  22-35-0
Sacked-Yards Lost……………….2-14                       1-10
Punts……………………………….4-43.5                      1-33.0
Fumbles-Lost………………………..1-0                            2-0
Penalties-Yards…………………...4-51                         3-25
Time of Possession……………19:34                        40:26



RUSHING

Renegades:   H. Van Noy 9-35,  T. Duff 6-24, K. Hill  4-7, R. Bell 4-3,  S. Webb 2-5.
Hedgehogs:  J. Kerouac 20-117,  D. F. Wallace 19-74,  I. Reed  4-10

PASSING

Renegades:  K. Hill  24-35-1-237
Hedgehogs:  T. Pynchon 20-30-0-185,  I. Reed  2-5-0-35


RECEIVING
Renegades:  A. Friel 8-86, W. Pope 7-63, S. Webb 4-43, T. Stokes 3-39, H. Van Noy 2-6.
Hedgehogs:  S. Fitzgerald 8-93, R. Moody 6-38, B. Behan 4-50, D. F. Wallace 2-24,
M. Martone  1-8,  T. Wendel 1-5.


MISSED FIELD GOALS

Renegades:  V. Sickler  31  (WR)
Hedgehogs:  S. Beckett 51  (short)



RECAP


Hartford –

Roberto Bolano’s 31-yard interception return with less than a minute to go slammed the door on the Karl Hill-led Brooklyn Renegades. It was the linebacker’s first touchdown in a five-year career and he had a sack and a half to go with it. Hill turned the ball over only once but that was enough. Hartford’s defensive line dominated the Renegades after the half when a light rain turned the playing field to mush. The Hedgehogs were able to run most of the game and dominated the clock from that point on. Jack Kerouac and David Foster Wallace combined for nearly 200 yards on the ground. Thomas Pynchon threw touchdown passes to Scott Fitzgerald and Rick Moody before tearing his ACL late in the third quarter. Ishmael Reed kept the ball on the ground the rest of the way, and even showed a brief flash of the scrambling ability that drove the Hedgehogs to pick him up as QB insurance in the off-season.

Nick Hornby had a half-sack for the Hedgehogs. Strong Safety Wesley Brown nearly picked off another Hill pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by nose-tackle David Bradley. The rest of the defensive line—Chester Himes and Icepick Slim—played lights-out all game. The Renegade running back tandem of  Henry Van Noy and Terry Duff were never able to turn the corner to create any sort of momentum. Brooklyn had to rely on their short passing game. Hill was unable to complete anything longer than 15 yards the entire game. Stan Webb almost took a kickoff return the distance in the second quarter before being pushed out of bounds on the 11 yard line. Van Noy scored the only Renegade touchdown a minute later.

Tight end Brendan Behan broke his nose making an impossible one-handed catch for Hartford at the end of the first half and still managed to get out of bounds, allowing Sam Beckett to kick a 32-yard field goal to put them up by a touchdown at the break. From that moment on the momentum stayed with the Hedgehogs and essentially the game was over.


 

Richard Peabody is a French toast addict and native Washingtonian. His latest books are Speed Enforced by Aircraft (Broadkill River Press) and Blue Suburban Skies (Mint Hill Books). He won the Beyond the Margins “Above & Beyond Award” for 2013.


Justin Brouckaert: Barry Sanders Speaks (Fiction)

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There is no lateral movement in the Sanders household anymore. Just Barry, alone, in a plain brown bungalow with straight walkways and 90-degree turns, fifteen miles from Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Just Barry, alone, drinking Crystal Light and watching OK State games on basic cable. Just Barry, alone, waking early to bait his rod, waiting for sunrise on the creek.

Just Barry, alone, in his twilight years.

“I live a simple life,” Barry says. “I write poetry when it rains.”

It took years for journalists from the nation’s major news outlets to give up their quest for the Definitive Barry Sanders Interview, the Barry Sanders Feature Story, the Barry Sanders: Behind the Scenes special, but over time the calls and emails waned. Eventually Lions fans stopped making their pilgrimage to Stillwater—gone, finally, were the turkey legs they chucked at Barry’s window, the shreds of Honolulu blue and silver they molted on his front lawn.

“I used to think it was impossible to disappear,” Barry says. “I ordered copies of all the big newspapers and cut my name out of all the columns. Every few months I burned the scraps in a hollow gourd—some voodoo magic Kevin Glover taught me.”

Barry pauses to pop a Werther’s Original in his mouth.

From across the table, Jon Chalk nudges his tape recorder closer to the former Lions star. Barry talks in a low drone, just louder than a whisper, and Jon worries some words will turn out fuzzy on the tape. With the biggest story of his career on the line, he isn’t willing to take any chances.

“But Jon, one day I realized something,” Barry says. “I realized the guy they’ve got on those videotapes, the photographs, all those stories—that’s Barry the Ball Player. That’s not Barry the Man. Barry the Man—they never even knew him.” Barry clicks the Worther’s against his teeth. “And after I realized that, Jon? Well, escaping got a whole lot easier.”

“What about the fans?” Jon asks. “They loved you.”

“They might have loved Barry the Ball Player, but they never loved Barry the Man,” Barry says. “Nobody ever loved Barry the Man.”

In the mid-1990s, Metro Detroit football fields were infirmaries for strained hip flexors, sprained ankles and broken legs. Cities were strewn with casualties of clumsy imitation, teenagers attempting to mirror Barry’s cutbacks, his hip-swivel-and-turn, his dart around the offensive line into a gap, back out of a gap, jab in one direction, shift to the other and reverse through the backfield into daylight so clean that not even the camera man could catch him.

Jon Chalk had been baptized in the lurching, shifting explosion of a Barry Sanders touchdown run, the wobbling fart of a Scott Mitchell interception. When Barry faxed in the news of his abrupt retirement, Jon Chalk was nine years old. He swore to his mother he’d never love again.

Forty years later, he still hasn’t let it go. The rest of the sports world was too easily satisfied with Barry’s attempts at closure—a Heisman commercial, a video game cover, a gutless autobiography—but for Jon Chalk, it wasn’t enough. None of it was enough.

After a lifetime of being ignored and denied, Jon never asks Barry why he finally agreed to the interview. But after walking into his Stillwater home, Jon begins to understand.

The only pieces of furniture in Barry’s living room are a 12-inch TV set on a plastic crate and a brown Lay-Z-Boy chair dimpled with the mold of Barry’s bloated hips. The walls are an unblemished beige. In the kitchen, the counters have been scrubbed so hard the laminate is beginning to peel.

“I just figured it’s time,” Barry says. “I just figured you might have some questions to ask me.”

“How much do you still think about football?” Jon asks. “Does it keep you up at night?”

“It was a job,” Barry says. He stares at Jon blankly. Though his cheeks hang lower in old age, his face is still the same as the one that stared back at Jon from the wall opposite his bed in his childhood bedroom—the same face that Jon and his father finally tore down together.

“Do you miss anything about it?”

“The camaraderie, I guess.”

“With your teammates?”

“No, I mean with the refs,” Barry says. “Used to treat the whole crew to lunch every Saturday. Chili’s or Applebee’s. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys.”

“Why didn’t you just embrace the fame?” Jon asks.

“I told myself I’d never be what anyone wanted me to,” Barry says.

There is a long-buried memory forcing its way up that Jon can’t keep down: him, age, seven, riding in his dad’s truck to the Silverdome where Lions players were signing autographs. He and his father standing in line for hours, inching closer to Barry—his hero, the man with his hips on a swivel. Him clutching the plastic Lions helmet in his hand for an hour, two hours, three. He and his father watching Barry stand up and, despite the pleas of the crowd, slink away across the field, into the recesses of the stadium. Jon’s father, brushing a tear from his boy’s cheek. Jon bravely telling his father it was OK, really, it was only Robert Porcher’s autograph he wanted anyway.

Jon’s nails dig crescents into the imitation wood of Barry’s table. He came here as a journalist, but he can’t help that he is burdened with the same curse that has doomed Lions fans since the days of Bobby Lane: inside him are two wells, one of hope and one of anger, and the two of them are dug so close that he’s never sure which will erupt from within him.

“Gutless,” he says. “You’re gutless. You gutted your team and your fans and then you did the only thing you were ever any good at—you ran away.”

Jon has had enough of Barry’s blank expressions, his non-answers, the smell of Lysol in the air.

“You gutless motherfucker,” he says, the anger up to his eyes. “Don’t you feel guilty for what you did? Don’t you regret it? The lawsuit? The kids and their fathers—goddammit, Barry, do you even feel shame?”

Sweating and panting, Jon knows he’s gone too far. Never in his thirty years as a reporter has he raised his voice in an interview, not even in response to a player’s goading or a coach’s taunts. He runs his hands through his thinning hair. He is thinking of how he will defend himself to his editor, what he will do for work when he is fired, when an unexpected sound breaks the silence in Barry’s Stillwater home.

Barry begins to cry.

“Son,” he says, “you have no idea. My own teammates were afraid of me. They were jealous, they were angry. Have you been in a Lions locker room lately? It was toxic in the nineties, boy. For ten years I ate alone—Jason Hanson and I both ate alone. I couldn’t even look him in the eye; I knew I would lose it if I did.”

The tape on the recorder zips to a stop on the table, but Jon doesn’t dare move.

“You ask me if I know what I’ve taken from Detroit, but has anyone ever asked what Detroit took from me? What Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer and Scott Mitchell took from me? I used to love the game. I used to think I was capable of love. Son, you don’t know how easy it was for me to change direction. I was born to do this shit. And now look at me—look at how it all went to waste. By ’95 Wayne Fontes was feeding me a half flask of vodka before every game. It was the only way I could face them, all of the fans who thought I was their savior. The fans who thought I was an answer and forgot I was a man. And now you ask me if I regret the life I’ve lived? If I miss going back to that field, those people, who took from me everything I ever loved? Son, you don’t even know what you’re saying. You don’t even know who I am. All I ever wanted to do was run.”

Barry brushes his sleeve across his cheek. Jon reaches into his pocket and hands him a tissue. The two men stare at each other, each bleary eyed and desperate for the other. Finally Barry speaks again, soft and slow.

“Son, let me ask you a question. After all these years, what can I do for Detroit? What is it that you want from me now?”

The voice that answers him isn’t Jon Chalk the Lions beat writer but Jon Chalk the child, the one who refused to eat for three days after the Lions’ 1997 playoff loss to Tampa Bay. The one who held his plastic Lions helmet over the trash a dozen times but could never drop it in.

“An autograph,” he says.

Barry meets Jon’s eyes and nods. He hangs his head in his wrinkled hands.

Jon reaches into his bag and pulls out his old number twenty jersey, the companion to the plastic helmet he finally lost in a move long ago. He lets his fingers move over the mesh, the tape of the name on the back. After all these years of asking questions, finally a chance to get the only answer he’s ever wanted to hear.

But when he lays the jersey out on the table, Barry is already gone. He’s slipped out the back way, made his escape into the shadows like he’s always done. Like he’s always wanted to do.

 

JustinBrouckaert's work has appeared in The Rumpus, The McNeese Review, Banango Street, Sundog Lit, Metazen, and Squalorly, among other publications. Born and raised in Metro Detroit, he is now a James Dickey Fellow in Fiction at the University of South Carolina.

That Time We Re-opened

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It is with a mix of excitement and trepidation that we announce the re-opening of Stymie, nearly 12 months to the day since we published our last piece. In the time since our closure, the space that is serious writing about sports and games has evolved and changed - in some ways good, in other ways not so much. We're not sure what our re-entry into the fold means for that conversation other than another literary journal entering into the scene to try and fill a void.

We hope it means that the high quality fiction and nonfiction that so many of you used to rely on Stymie for in the past becomes a reality once again. We hope it means that writers - new, aspiring, expert, and seasoned - have an opportunity to find a new home for their outstanding words. We hope it means we get inundated with thoughts on Tecmo Bowl, the 1985 World Series, that time a horse race was so much more than a horse race, and everything in between.

That said, new Stymie is coming in 2016 and we hope you love it.

Seeking Reviewers of Books

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On occasion we get asked to take a look at books centered around sport and games, sometimes other things (let's not go there) and as much as we'd love to not only read, but review and discuss those books, it is challenging as our primary focus in this volunteer endeavor is to source, edit, compile, and share as much amazing (unpublished) literature written through the lens of sport and games as possible. That said, we'd like to remedy this whole hiccup in what we do and don't typically do.

Stymie is seeking individuals to serve as book reviewers, for both those tomes we're queried to look at as well as those we may not even be aware of - these reviews would shared here on the site on a regular basis outside the 3-4 issues we will deliver again starting in 2016.

Interested parties should please email us at: stymiemag AT gmail DOT com; subject line: "Awesome Book Review Opportunity Thing".


Header Photo Credit: Bill Liao via Compfightcc
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Book Review: Press Start to Play

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Press Start to Play
Edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
528 Pages, $15.95
Vintage (Penguin Random House)

Videogames are incredible analogies for sports. They have, and by all accounts, will continue to create a new understanding of what we consider sport. Gamers are constantly trying to beat the systems in place, whether that is a Hideo Kojima title or a speed-run of Super Mario 3. They want to break records in the same way that fans want someone to break Barry Bond’s 71 homeruns or Michael Jordan’s six championships. Now, especially now, there is a movement of creating games to be more like sports. E-sports like League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Halo are becoming as significant as Major League Soccer. People love to be their own Babe Ruth. Press Start to Play, another top notch anthology produced by John Joseph Adams, showcases the ups and downs of videogames and their effects on the human mind; it shows that they are as romantic as baseball, intricate as soccer, as violent as football, and as obsessive as the fans who cheer on the sideline. It is the epitome of everything good and bad in the world we live and foresee ourselves in.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was something of a catalyst for writing fiction about video games. It wasn’t the first, nor the best, but it was written by a man who had grew up during the golden age of videogames and created a new adventure, one that was fought and journeyed through on a computer screen. This collection includes stories like that, but there are also cautionary tales, stories of love found and lost, and fictions that are important to the literary community as Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” An added bonus to the reader, especially one well trained in the videogame arts, is the inclusion of actual crafters of videogames; Micky Neilson, the lead writer at Blizzard Entertainment; Mark Laidlaw, the lead writer for the Half-Life series; Chris Avellone, the creative director at Obsidian Entertainment all contribute incredible stories to this collection. We have stories by literary writers like Charles Yu, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, T.C. Boyle, Austin Grossman, and Andy Weir. The writing in this collection transcends that of any one form. Videogames have always told stories, even the ones the kids think are primitive now, but they are monumental stories in the same vein Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are for so many of the creative ilk.

This isn’t a collection of Cline-like nostalgic walkthroughs of old games. There is horror, actual exploration of what constitutes science fiction, romance, and heroes in the truest sense of the world. This isn’t fanfiction of men and women writing about games. It has a pulse on the moment, that awe of the first time you saw the opening title for any of your favorite games. S.R. Mastrantone’s “Desert Walk” made me put the book down and consider the mythic nature of unreleased games and the stories we tell to convince ourselves of legends. “Save Me Plz” by David Barr Kirtley is one of the hidden gems of this collection. It is the story that focuses on the relationships we develop with games, with each other. In many ways, it is the thematic core of the book. We love the chase; we love the action of saving the princess and when we find her, our logical reasoning is that we must do it again. We live for the restart.

These stories represent both the importance of games and the people that play and create them. They are all labyrinths, the stories and the games, and they act as mazes that we never intend to escape from. Collections are fickle beasts to tame, there is an overwhelming fear that one story will outweigh the rest and spoil the reader, and a greater fear of that one story that may leave a sour taste in your mouth. Press Play to Start is one of the rare collections that keeps the reader hungrier with every passing story. One might question why we even need a collection like this, or if Cline’s like revolution of videogame stories is simply a fad waiting to pass like the Dreamcast. And another would counter that, this collection should not and will not be sectioned off as a mere collection of nerdy stories; it is an utter and visceral look at our humanity, a reflection of us as both Bowser and Mario.

Review by Nick Sweeney, Stymie Books Reviewer
Header Photo Credit: BRICK 101 via Compfightcc