"One Swift Effort"
A former athlete receives an invitation to a ceremony honoring his team’s achievements.
“One Swift Effort”
Copyright © William Auten
Andrew’s email pings, and Carmen starts for his phone, but he brushes her off and scoots toward the tray as the goalie misses the shot. The red light and buzzer behind the net whirl and wail; the crowd swells; and the shooter’s teammates spill onto the ice and congratulate him. Andrew wavers between the TV, Carmen mentioning the Halloween-movie marathon, and his weaker hand flopping onto the tray and knocking over his cane. With his left hand, he turns his right palm down and molds it onto his phone and forces it over before his and her alarms chime at the top of the hour. She resets his cane on her way to the kitchen. He thanks her and fumbles across his phone until the email opens.
Carmen lays a brownie and a glass of milk on the tray.
Andrew eats, reads, and waits for the medicine to take him elsewhere.
“Straw?” she asks.
“Probably should.” He jolts when the game-winning shot replays—the goalie in position, diving, but missing; the winger, after he shot, tossing his gloves like he foresaw the result—and jolts again when the reporter interviews the players. “They did it. And they’re not at home. Road wins were for tough for them last year.”
“Need anything else?”
“No, thank you.” He purses his lips.
Carmen kisses him and flips channels.
“Can you delete this? I’m feeling it.”
She hovers over the garbage-can icon as she spies his email. “They want you to come. How awesome is that?”
“They send those out when they find out what your life has become. It’s a pity party.” His chair leans back as its motor cycles. “It’s not a party. They’re all fat and old now. But not me.” He smirks as the movie flicks on.
“So, you want me to delete it?” She glances again at the email:
Hey, Andy! How you been? We’re getting everybody together, including Coach and maybe (we hope) trainers and staff, for the anniversary of our…
“We’re free that weekend,” she says. “We can go.”
“Yeah, I could dress up. I don’t need a costume. Maybe my drool will kick back in by then.”
She demurs. “We haven’t seen any of them in so long. Maybe Doug will be settled down and married. They meant a lot to both of us. They sent prayers and well wishes when Dad had his surgery.”
Andrew spasms when the actress loses a shoe but keeps running as a black-cloaked figure pursues her. “Doug played in Europe for a couple of seasons.”
“I didn’t know they had leagues.”
“You go there when all your options here are gone. It’s technically professional. You get paid to play, but… OK?” He checks his tone. “Let’s enjoy the movie. You’re gonna need me close with the blood and jump scares.” His chair lifts him, and he hobbles to the sofa and plops next to Carmen who snuggles into him after he can’t curl his arm.
She calms his chest as the black-cloaked figure dumps a body into a pit surrounded by a tall fence. “I forgot the popcorn.”
“I’ll get it.”
He sneaks out his phone and almost drops it while adding time to the microwave. When Carmen doesn’t notice him, the beeping, or popcorn and butter wafting through the house, he steadies his phone on the kitchen counter and opens his email’s trash. He hears Kayvon’s voice as he reads:
And yeah, this award thing will be great, but it’s more than that. We all miss hearing from you, and it’d be great if you could swing by. Pop in and say hi. You don’t have to stay. We’d be close to you—just down the street in a lot of ways. And you got to bring Carmen. Myers still talks about losing her to a sophomore pitcher.
We did something nobody who came before or after us did, and it’s time to celebrate that again and get together. Twenty years is too long. I’m a dad and a pastor now, and I’d love to share all that with you. And I want to find out what you’ve been up to. And I know speak on behalf of all the guys that we’d love to see you. Come on, Dandy Andy. Round the bases with us.
“Are you eating all the popcorn?”
Andrew peeks around the doorway: at Carmen’s heart-shaped silhouette on the couch and the movie panning back and revealing a field and its speck of a black-cloaked figure and pit and its tall fence and bright green grass that reminds Andrew not of his playing days but of his parents’ backyard where his mom or dad or brother or sisters or Carmen would roll him in a wheelchair and, on his best days, let him watch squirrels and birds scuttle by and where, on his worst days, he would joke they could roll him out there, dump him in a six-feet deep hole, and leave him until he fed flowers and trees, having nothing left in him.
Cradling the popcorn bowl, he enters the living room but shuffles beyond the couch—toward the black-cloaked figure and the body in the pit fusing, before him, as one image but then blurring apart into separate images that step to the edge of the TV screen where, if they could cross, they would fade in and out without end like ghosts among Andrew and Carmen and inside their walls that held his awards and jersey he had framed.
Carmen helps him down. “Good dose?”
“Makes me want to get up and go.” He forces his right hand to shovel popcorn into his mouth before he peeps at his phone. “And I wouldn’t feel a thing, if I did.”
Carmen pulls into the parking lot, but Andrew asks her to keep driving toward the back rows.
“That’s a ways from the entrance.”
“It’ll be good for me after sitting.” He stops himself saying that their travel was only from the suburbs. The distance of a marathon, he thinks. Running it until the finish.
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