Battle Flag

It rained the last two days, and the players are all standing around in shorts and shirts, their helmets on the ground. They’re all fifteen minutes early for practice. Their first game is Saturday, and today is walkthrough. Their tall, thin, black corner, KP, is standing with the young man and with Ted.

“Yo, we gonna miss Jay Hall tomorrow night, man,” says KP. “Motherfucker was crazy.”

During the summer, Jay and Adrian, both starters from the previous year, took an unloaded pistol to a bait stand on the island, held it up for $30, and got caught about an hour later. They got probation . . . and kicked off the team.

“He beat me silly every time I went against him,” says the young man.

“Y’all remember when he broke that dude’s jaw from La Porte?” says KP.

“Yeah, what was up with that?” says Ted.

KP smiles. “So check this out. You gotta see it on film. That dude was an All-American. And he caught a screen for about twenty yards. And you can see this on the film . . . the play is so over that people are getting off the pile and walking away and shit, and Jay Hall come flyin in and spears that homie in the jaw with his helmet. So bad. Fifteen yard penalty. Broke that guy’s jaw in three places. Ended his season in the first quarter.”

A cool wind blows over the field, and the young man toes at the mud in the practice field. “It was savage,” he says.

KP shakes his head. “Jay Hall, dude was crazy. He back in the huddle all fired up. ‘Fuck them dudes’ all this shit. And the dudes from La Porte even hung around after the game near our locker room yelling for him to come out cuz they was gonna kick his ass. Corpus Christi’s finest had to get they asses on the bus.”

“That’s funny,” says Ted.

“But Jay Hall got concussed later that game, and after every play, we in the huddle, and he kept lookin at me goin, ‘Yo, KP. Where the fuck am I?’ I had to line his ass up every play, and then every huddle, he be all, ‘KP, help me out. Where the fuck am I?’ He was a good football player. We gonna miss him tomorrow night. He was all fucked in the head and still better than anyone we got this year.”

The young man shrugs. Tomorrow night will be his first varsity game, and he is starting at free safety. “Guess we’ll see.”

Just as he says that, a group of guys start yelling. “Let’s go check that out,” says Ted. “JP and RE are in the middle of that.”

They walk over, and RE is standing in a circle. Noe says, “Go on, you fuckin red necks. Do it.”

JP is tall–6’4″–but too slow to play a skill position and too skinny to play line. RE was slated to be the starting tight end, but a former All-District guard from Robstown moved in and beat him out for his spot. JP and RE are tight.

“How much?” says JP.

“I’ll put up $10 myself,” says Noe.

“Ain’t worth $10,” says JP. “Maybe, like, $50.”

Noe is the starting inside linebacker–a Mexican dude who is jacked from weight lifting and has knocked more than one guy out cold in practice and games. He’s also a Gold Glove boxer.

“Who else will put some in?” Noe says.

“I’ll throw in $5,” says Javier.

A few other guys chime in until they’re up to $50. Then Noe says, “All right, you nasty ass rednecks. Do it.”

JP looks down. “$50 for each of us, right?”

“Fuck no,” says Noe. “Y’all split it. Or pick one.”

RE is about 6’0″, has wavy brown hair, and wears a goofy grin. JP looks at him. “What do you wanna do?”

“Either way,” says RE. “I’ll split it with you. Or do it myself.”

JP shakes his head. “It’s all you, man. That’s some nasty shit.”

RE shrugs. “All right. All the money for me.” He starts to lean down to the ground.

“Hold on,” says Noe. “You can’t just swallow it. You gotta chew it up and show us the pieces.”

RE smiles. “No problem, man.” He reaches down and grabs an earthworm. The earthworm is at least three inches long and a full centimeter in diameter.

JP starts to giggle. “That’s fucked, man.”

“Don’t be a pussy,” says Noe. “Do it.”

RE shoves it in his mouth. They all start yelling. Ted is cracking up. The young man smiles.

“Let me see the pieces!” Noe yells over the din.

RE opens his mouth, and on his tongue are chopped pieces of earthworm with a mixture of blood and mud.

“Oh fuck! He fuckin did it!” Noe says. Now, he’s roaring with laughter.

Right then, they hear the screech of a whistle. “Is that a goddamn circle jerk?” Coach Powers yells. “Get your asses lined up!”

After practice, Ted and the young man walk out of the locker room together carrying their athletic bags and backpacks. They pass the weight room and the gym and emerge onto the sidewalk of the back parking lot. Brandon, a 6’6″ lineman, walks by wearing only a jockstrap and heads toward his truck. JP is standing with RE at his gray truck, sees him, and yells, “Put something over that fat ass!” Brandon gives him the bird.

KP is standing next to Jay Hall who is in street clothes and waiting for a ride.

“Take it easy, KP,” the young man says.

“Hey, you too, OG,” he says. “And relax about tomorrow night. Get some sleep.”

The young man smiles. Right then, they hear an engine roar to life. They all turn. JP suddenly floors it in his truck. RE is in the bed. He hoists a PVC pipe outfitted with the Confederate Battle Flag and yells, “Yeehaw!” The truck roars through the parking lot and out onto Tiger Lane.

They all stand there quietly. The young man glances back at KP who is shaking his head and laughing uncomfortably. Jay Hall is staring across the lot, and the young man hears him say to KP, “Tell those two trailer trash pieces of shit I’ll put a cap in they ass.”

“I got you,” says KP.

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