One of the hardest stories I ever wrote…

I mentioned this in my last submission: blank screens for three days, trying like hell to write just 500 words. We were asked to read a couple of poems from “WEE-satch” and form a story around them. It fought me like a pissed off cat, but here’s the result:

“You need to let yourself get hit a few times so you can see it’s not so bad or so you can see how bad it really is.”

            Those words somehow seemed to make perfect sense as Jesse stood there holding his ratty old football on the edge of the practice field. After all, his big brother Jake had said them, and he knew what he was talking about. He was the starting quarterback on the varsity team, and Jesse was certain his big brother knew everything there was to know about football.

Jake had been star athlete for as long as Jesse could remember. No matter what sport he played, he always rose to the top — baseball, basketball, soccer, wrestling — but where he truly shined was on the football field. Jake’s room was littered with trophies. He had so many Jesse was certain those gleaming gold and silver players posed at their tops were actually cast in his brother’s image. He longed to be like him, to see that pride beam in his parents’ faces, to hear the crowd roar at his latest feat. And Jesse was certain he would, too, just as soon as he got to be as big as Jake. Of course, standing there a scrawny eight-year-old, “big as Jake” still seemed like far off dream.

            “Now you gotta hold that ball tight, like this,” Jake said.

            Jesse snugs the ball close, trying emulate his big brother’s grasp. That the football star was giving him pointers on the sideline was something Jesse truly cherished. He hardly noticed that Jake’s friends had all quickly turned away, smirking.

            “And you gotta crouch down low, like this…”

            Jesse adjusts his stance.

            “OK. You ready?”

            Jesse nods, determined.

            “OK. I want you to run right along this line. I’m gonna try and knock ball from you, understand?”

            Jesse’s creases his forehead, focused.

            “Alright, go!”

            Jesse sprints ahead, narrowing the yardage between him and his brother. He wants to impress him, show him that he, too, has that football gene.

He barely hears the footsteps closing in on him from behind. Suddenly, Jesse’s entire vision goes white. Something — maybe a freight train or a stray bull — apparently hit him from the side, sending him flying headlong toward the bleachers. He falls in a crumpled mess near the fence, no idea what happened to his ball. He tries to climb back up, dazed and wheezing, and looks down the field for his big brother.

            Jake and his friends are doubled over in laughter. As Jesse later came to know, he wasn’t the first to have fallen for that particular trick, dirty as it was. It had been orchestrated dozens of times to little guys like him, much to the depraved amusement of the varsity squad. For Jesse, it would forever be the day his big brother lost his shine.

It was shitty thing to remember as he gazed down at his brother’s flag-draped casket.

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