The Soccer Players (by Mafisto)
[Fantasy casting: Wesley Cotton as Wes Collins]
It was the weekend of the great game, and I was all out of beer. Now listen, I’d only had “Flannigan’s Pub” for… let’s see… we signed the papers on September 14… about a month… so I was still new at this. The previous owner had vanished during the summer, just like that. The bank suit in charge of the bankruptcy told me it was following ‘undisclosed criminal activities’. The negotiation was quick; the price was dirt-cheap. I didn’t have enough money for the ten thousand grand downpayment, but the bank found some way of making the numbers work. Owning a pub was not my lifelong ambition, but ambitions have to be sensible, don’t they? I wanted to avoid any links with the past, so “O’Shea’s Pub” became “Flannigan’s Pub”. This was the real thing, an authentic Irish pub. No television. No pinball machine. A place to talk. And to listen. Live Irish music every night but Tuesday — that’s when we’d have the ghost story readings. All in all, a quiet, orderly spot. The beer was cheap, at least the domestic stuff. I tried to increase profit a bit by importing draught and bottled beers directly from Ireland: lagers, stouts, dark ales, and of course, Guinness. I figured the rich kids would pay extra for the good stuff. I was right. Too right, I guess. The imported stuff became such a hit that I ran out of it after two weeks. My next order was due to arrive only in November. Meanwhile, the customers had to settle for the domestic stuff in the taps. Then even the taps were dry the Friday before the Ivy League’s soccer match between the Harvard Crimson and the Dartmouth Big Green.
Those beer suppliers morons told me they couldn’t deliver anything until Monday. I was so pissed! The Harvard crowd wouldn’t hang around five minutes if all I had to offer was sodas and fruit juices. There’s the hard stuff, but then the hard stuff is a bit of overkill before the sun’s down, isn’t it? And there was no way I was gonna lose money by reselling beer bought at retail!
Oh, something else I’ve got to mention: this was the same week as the Ghost Stories Night Incident, and that was still real fresh in my mind. You see, those Harvard snobs sure loved an opportunity to make fun of anyone who displayed the slightest vulnerability. So the Tuesday before, one of them, a clean-cut hunk, had told a story about a dwarf who’d killed himself in a pub after he learned he’d been rejected from some university. Now, how he had found out about my own failed attempt to attend Harvard, I’d no idea! And, just to get things straight, I may not be six feet tall, but 5’5″ is not that short either. So after he’d ridiculed me, he and his friends started to challenge my authority. I tried to look cool, you know, not to show any sign that his insinuations had any effect on me whatsoever, yet by the end of the night I was surrounded by total chaos. They turned the place upside down, threw chairs around, jumped on tables, shouted and laughed at me, called me the “illiterate midget”. Those fuckers! They may look great, especially the straight jocks, but let’s not forget they’re either there on athletic scholarships or because their parents are footing the bill, so what’s all the attitude about? Do they think it makes them something like young gods, with the right to mess up everything around them? Fuck did they hurt me that night! High school had been a breeze for me: all it had taken was a little discipline to study throughout the year and do the assignments as soon as they were assigned. I loved reading, especially books about how to take control of your life. I mean, Anthony Robbins was my god. I was ambitious as hell, and was aiming for Psychology at Harvard. Nothing else would do. So why apply anywhere else? My grades were excellent, and my SAT scores even better. So what if I couldn’t afford tuition? I’d work during the summer at some get-rich-quick scheme.
I wasn’t prepared for rejection. The letter was polite enough, and it described a few technicalities I had neglected. I was crushed. Took me all summer to get over it. Especially after I heard that Dave Berg, top jock, worst student, had been admitted. With a scholarship. He didn’t need it — his parents were loaded — so he spent it on a Porsche 911. Anyway, so I moved to Cambridge to be close to where I ultimately wanted to be; I bought the pub two years later to be close to the kind of people I ultimately wanted to be part of.
Now, all this made me think: fuck, do I really need to give Harvard jocks another reason to embarrass me this weekend? So, contrary to common sense, I closed down the pub at 1 PM on a Friday. I sat on a stool with the blues until Wes, my weekend barman, came in whistling. He was an exchange student at Harvard who studied philosophy at Oxford thanks to a scholarship from ‘the Richard Blackwell Scholarship Trust’ for ‘outstanding ability in rugby’. The UK version of a straight college jock who had it easy. A British young god. Well, demigod really: his parents were lower class, and his friends always made sure he remembered.
“Hey, you forgot about the sign, mate,” he said with his cut and dried British accent, pointing towards the door sign showing the ‘we’re closed’ side. Although he was dressed for the fall in a gray wool sweater, you could sense how well built he was from the way his sweater stretched across his upper body when he moved and how sturdy his legs looked in his fit jeans.
“Not really, I’m closing the fucking pub for the weekend. We’re all out of beer.”
“Bloody hell!” he said, trying to look disappointed. But I saw the spark in his eyes. I knew the news made his day: he’d been bugging me all week to get the weekend off to train for the soccer game. He waited almost a full minute before asking: “So, I guess you won’t need me this weekend after all, he?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I said, half-smiling at the grimace he then made. I enjoyed making things harder for him. It’s just that I couldn’t stand that life was so easy for him. To be completely frank, I also liked to have this kind of young flesh around me. “You’ll help me clean up in the cellar this afternoon.” The entire place had been a mess when I moved in, and I’d only had time to do the main floor before the grand opening.
“Shite! Can’t we do that tomorrow?” he whined, a hand in his short brown hair. “It’s just that I haven’t trained much for the game on Sunday, and I bloody need it. The coach warned me I could be off the team if I don’t get better at all that fancy footwork in football… I mean soccer… that you don’t have in rugby.”
“If we’re closed tomorrow, you can have the day off. You can practice then.”
I grabbed my flashlight. Wes sighed but followed me to the cellar door. As we were going down the stairs, I stumbled on a warped step and nearly broke my back. When I straightened myself up, I was shocked to see with how much junk the cellar was filled: planks of all sorts, half-empty buckets of paint and varnish, carpenter tools, old sofas, stools and stuffed chairs, a moldy mattress. In one cabinet, we found vials of colored liquids with little or no identification, yellowed sheets torn out of what seemed like antique books, flasks of powdered herbs and spices, etc. We stuffed everything in boxes as best we could, replaced the furniture a bit, then, when everything was more or less in a reasonable place, we washed the floor.
When we got to the stairs, I noticed the crooked step again: it was as if something had bent it out of shape. It was loose. I pulled it out, and then it occurred to me that it had been set in the wrong way. Something under the stairs reflected the light, and so I peered within the hole, using my flashlight. It was a keg of beer! A secret stash or something… The past owner’s must’ve thought of emergencies. We hauled it out from under the stairs. Someone had scrawled the word “tenderizer” with a wide felt tip pen over the Boston Beer Company label. This was fucking lucky. I looked at Wes smiling, and realized he did not see things like I did.
“Can I still have the day off tomorrow?” he said coldly. “This is the most important game of the year for us. We’ve had a bad season, and I’m dragging the team down. I just have to practice…”
“Wes, I said you’d get it if we’re closed tomorrow. We won’t be now that we found…”
He didn’t let me finish. He picked up the keg and said “I’ll set it up,” barely containing his anger. He stomped up the stairs. I ignored him, as I always did when he acted this way. What a temper!
There was something else in the hole, a small cardboard box. It contained a vial labeled “tenderizer” filled to the quarter with a clear liquid, a small vial labeled “dilator” almost completely filled with a dark liquid, and a torn sheet of paper which said: “Tenderizer effects are cumulative and last 24 hours. Dilator effects non-cumulative, take only a sip. Lasts an hour. DO NOT USE MORE THAN 3 TIMES A DAY. Domination.” I had no idea what this tenderizer or dilator shit meant.
I opened the dilator vial and took a sip. Not bad. Cherries and cinnamon, sweet and spicy. I waited a minute or two, anxious to see what it was exactly that would last an hour. I felt nothing. As I stood up, however, I felt like my brains were puffing up, and it almost made me pass out. I stumbled, but managed to get back to my feet. My head felt light and clear. That stuff would have been great for headaches! I guessed that was probably what it was: some kind of homemade remedy. I replaced the box under the stairs, and went to see what Wes was up to upstairs.
“Beer’s ok,” Wes said, extending a half-filled glass towards me. “Want some?”
“No, thanks. I’ll take your word for it.” I was still feeling light-headed from my sip of dilator.
“I’ll go adjust the door sign. I guess we’ll be open after all.”
His voice had made an echo in my brain. I’d heard what he’d said twice, with a few seconds delay between the two. I tried to ignore it. I figured it was a side effect of the dilator stuff. Maybe it was some kind of drug. Wes was talking to me but wasn’t making any sense. I wondered if the dilator tenderizer stuff was linked to the “undisclosed criminal activities” of the previous owner. Fuck! That beer the owner was selling might be spiked beer. Wes’ voice was still buzzing, it was distracting, I… I suddenly realized that Wes wasn’t truly talking. Yet, I was hearing him talk. Was it some kind of dream? « …have to find some bloody time for shite cynthia is coming tonight maybe a quick shag find some reason to go to bed early maybe if I asked someone to replace me if I found someone to take me place tomorrow would it be okay if I took the day off… »
“If I found someone to take me place tomorrow, would it be okay if I took the day off?”
Wes had actually asked that question out loud, and there’d been that echo again. Suddenly it all made sense: I was hearing his thoughts! That’s why I was hearing everything twice when he actually talked: I heard what he was about to say as it came to him in his mind, then I heard it again when he really said it.
“Don’t think so,” I answered distractedly. “You know I’ve my own way of doing things here. It took you long enough to learn it. I don’t want to spend the day teaching a stranger who’s gonna be gone the next day.”
A wave of anger crashed upon his thoughts: « …should quit this bloody job now who does he think he is can’t he make an exception to his bloody rules hate this bloke bossing me around must find a way could say I’m sick tomorrow not come in might lost the job but need the job tips are excellent might not find another the rent is due should’ve used dad’s check for rent not go out at all next two weeks… »
The loose, simplistic blah blah within his mind fascinated me. You see, my teenage memories were filled with young gods like Wes bullying, rejecting or denying me; although I’d always despised them, they had impressed me with their strength, they had awed me with their charisma. I had assumed… some sort of coherence in their actions, some sort of forethought, some complexity in fact. And I respected that it was certainly a complexity different than my own. But Wes’ mind was simple as a preschool toy. Big shiny colorful buttons: performance in his social life, performance at school, performance in sports, performance in bed… His entire personality was centered on the satisfaction of his most basic urges in the quickest, simplest way. His decisions were mostly impulsive, not even considered by his reason. Wes’ simplistic thought patterns — what made him what he was — were now exposed to me, and my despise rose to a higher degree. It was a revelation to me: I now knew what went on in the heads of the young gods.
« …still no customers obvious he doesn’t need me did I mess up me hair keep putting me fingers in me hair not too bad these pants are starting to be tight must be the gym bloody hell me undies in me crack my balls squeezed is he looking no quick snap the button hand inside feels better… »
I was violating someone’s mind; I was intimate to someone’s private thoughts. I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, watching from the shadows as Wes went through his typical day, unaware of his mental nudity. Fuck, my heart was beating like a drummer in a solo. I should stop, think about this, and tell someone…
« …an exam monday I think so hell haven’t read a single page call cynthia can study with her like it when she’s there maybe she bring sarah her tits be nice study with two girls cynthia would never be up for it… »
That mess… Wes’ errant illogical thoughts… I had an urge to shape them up into something useful… To impress him with how well I understood him, and by how well I’d help him make sense of his thoughts… “Cheers Chris,” he’d say in the future I dreamed of then, “I’m so bloody grateful that you straightened me out. I’ll dedicate meself to you from now on.”
The roles would be reversed, man, that’s it: I would soon be a god to him, and he’d worship me.