by Jon Sindell
Louie stroked his smooth crown while all the other men cheered at the screen. Without a doubt, his hair had thinned. He was forty–five, fading. He sipped the Sauvignon blanc he had brought and grinned acidly.
A bulky young man with a round shaved head stared down at Louie. “Forty Fuckin’ Niners, huh!”
Louie checked the man’s face. It was flushed and demanding. The man brandished his palm, requiring flesh.
“That’s right,” Louie sighed. “Forty fucking.” He set his glass carefully on the side table and raised his palm. The young man slammed his hand into Louie’s hand and wrenched Louie’s elbow. Louie grimaced, and the man grinned as if he had sacked a QB. The man was Alfonzo, a warehouseman in a blood–red jersey.
Louie took up his wineglass and stared at the screen. He knew what to do. He had had to attend football parties before. He also knew he could not hold his wine. He poured a fourth glass.
“Enjoying?” asked Chris, Louie’s old friend, the host, and manager of the warehouse where the other men worked.
“Sure,” said Louie. “The spectacle, surely.”
“Amazing athletes,” Chris prompted.
“Yes, but,” said Louie.
Erik, a stocky blond shipping manager in his thirties, turned to Louie. “But what?”
“Well,” said Louie, spreading his hands, “it’s simply brute force. Just brute force and speed.”
“Well,” said Erik, “maybe so. But there’s skill in there too. Lots of skill.” He turned back to the set. Gore bulled up the gut. “That’s what I’m talking about!” said Erik, rising to thunder–clap Alfonzo’s hand and a bro–row of others. Alfonzo held a hand as large as a face over Louie.
Louie brushed the hand with the tips of his fingers.
“Fuck was that?” Alfonzo stared at his defiled hand.
A fourth glass, for Louie, always brought giggles. This time was the same. Alfonzo gave Chris a what–the–fuck? look. Chris smiled apologetically but set his hand upon Louie’s shoulder. Louie sipped his wine in the luxurious comfort of his protected status. “You sure can pick wine,” he told himself.
A receiver leapt for a sideline pass, but a defensive back smacked into him and he flew out of bounds before his feet touched. “Damn!” shouted Alfonzo. “No pass interference?” shouted the others. One was Alfonzo’s cousin Ty, a broader, swarthier version of Alfonzo.
Chris tapped Alfonzo on the hip. Alfonzo scowled.
“You see what I mean?” said Louie helpfully. “The athletes can’t execute their actions without unfair interference. Unfairness is baked into the game.”
“Fuck he talkin’ about?” Alfonzo asked Chris with a pained expression.
Chris fluttered his fingers. “Guy just turned forty–five.”
Alfonzo acknowledged the solemnity of the message with a grunt. “Happy birthday,” he said in a stony voice.
Louie nodded. “So happy.”
The opposing quarterback dropped back to pass but was slammed into as he reached back to throw.
“Hoo yah!” burst Erik.
“You see—”—Louie looked up at the large–bodied young men standing before him to decide which to share his insight with; he tapped Alfonzo’s waist, for the young man seemed intrigued by his observations; and if he wasn’t, that could be even better—“—that’s what I mean.”
Alfonzo grimaced. “What?”
“Yeah,” said Erik. “What?”
Louie looked at the two: one white, one not, both reminiscent of the glowering young men who had sat in his classes at City for years, slouching as if showing interest and respect would signal surrender to a conspiracy of the elite. His lip curled with regret and disdain.
“Compare tennis,” he said, conscious at once of the thinness of his voice, “or baseball, or soccer. Sports where you can’t simply slam into the athlete to prevent him from executing his maneuvers. Where you can’t interfere with the beauty of the athlete’s actions.”
“Beauty of the athlete.” Alfonzo’s tone was disgusted. Ty scrunched his nose as if from a stench.
Louie chuckled at their childish discomfort with male beauty. “When a high diver launches a beautiful dive,” he continued, “no one comes flying through the air to knock him off course.”
Ty and Alfonzo shook their heads disparagingly, and Erik edged away from Louie on the sofa. They must be picturing sculpted gay divers in tight little trunks, thought Louie.
“I’ll put it in more American terms. No one bombs them.”
Alfonzo and Erik looked at Chris like linemen awaiting the coach’s instructions. Erik had spent parts of one and one–half semesters at City, where several teachers had made him feel dumb. He turned to Louie, breathed beery breath on him:
“Fuck kind of name is Perreault, anyway?”
Erik grinned in solidarity with Alfonzo and Ty, who, though silent, was listening closely.
“French,” said Erik, smiling as if at a lurid confession.
“Oui,” said Louie. “French name, like Babar. French rifles for sale—never fired! French faggots. French truffles.”
Halftime arrived, someone turned off the sound.
“Socialized medicine!” said Louie. He had been in the States since the age of ten, but his long–lost French accent returned at this moment, and he welcomed it like a wandering friend.
“Free healt care for all!”
Chris handed beer bottles to Alfonzo and Ty and the others. “French fries,” Chris suggested to lighten the mood.
“Non,” said Louie. “But gourmet food, oui. Note: the French word gourmet has a silent t. Like Perreault.” Through a gap in the red phalanx looming over him, Louie glimpsed young women in tight mini–dresses clinking bottles with men in a bar. “French lovers,” he said, though he was no lover. “French pastry. Fag pastry. Don’t touch it, oh no! French wine. Such swill!”
Someone snorted and jabbed someone else. Beer bottles clinked and beer was gulped down. Four huge guys in red jerseys stood shoulder to shoulder staring down at Louie like the O–Line posing for the pregame TV publicity shot.
“Healty food,” Louie said. “very fresh. Ahnd zee French paradox: zey eat zee good cheese, but no wahn ees obese.” He dared to peek upward: eight eyes glared down at him. “International treaties,” said Louie, jabbing a statesmanlike finger in the air. Suddenly, the young men ceased to exist. Forty–five, he considered. A time to take charge. The ED ad said so! A time to share wisdom. He looked up with a paternal expression. “Do you guys know they have six weeks paid vacation in France? You have how many, one? Two at most?” The men checked one another’s reactions. “In France, they have four months’ paid maternity leave. Papa gets time too.”
“Do we have to listen to this?” Alfonzo asked Chris.
Chris reached for Louie’s wineglass, but Louie clung to it.
“No bombs,” Louie said. “No pickup trucks with macho cowboys. No Frenchman Ford tough.” He turned to Erik. “Are you Ford tough? Or a cowboy, perhaps?”
“I’m an American,” said Erik. “I thought you were too.”
“You can take the boy out of France,” said Louie, and suddenly he was back in Provence, wearing shorts, traipsing across a wooden bridge that arched over a stream, carrying a basket brimming with leeks and sorrel for the soup that his mother would make to eat with the bread that his father would bring, the three at a little round table beneath blue–and–white linen, talking softly, laughing gently, savoring the lemony tang of the sorrel, admiring the deep purple of the lavender bouquet in a tabletop bottle, gazing out at the sunflowers of the kitchen garden and the wildflower spires on the far bank of the stream beyond the garden, and the woods beyond that …
He looked up at the men with no idea how he had come to be sitting beneath four big men draped in red, nor why they and the man seated next to him all tipped their beer bottles over his head poised to pour. Nor did he care, nor comprehend why, when they glared with contempt at his weak pea–sized eyes, the biggest one pursed his lips in a victory smile, and they all clinked bottles, and drained them, and rotated as one to face the TV.
Jon Sindell’s short fiction has appeared in Hobart, Word Riot, Zouch, New South, Many Mountains Moving, Prick Of The Spindle, Switchback, and elsewhere. He curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco and earns his bread as a fulltime personal humanities tutor. Lots of his published fiction can be found here