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A Hive Full of Green Bees
I sit up, my heart pounding. When my eyes focus, I see my dad standing at my bedside with his hands above his head; he’s wearing his number 5 McNabb jersey.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” he continues to scream, until I get out of bed, raise my hands, and say “Ahhhhhhhhhh!”
We do the chant, spelling the letters with our arms and legs. “E!-A!-G!-L!-E!-S! EAGLES!” When we finish, instead of saying good morning or anything else, my father simply jogs out of my room.
I look at the clock, and it reads 5:59 a.m. The game starts at one o’clock. I promised to join Jake’s tailgate party by ten, which gives me two hours to lift and an hour to run – so I lift, and Tiffany is outside at 8:00 a.m. just like she said she would be.
We do a short run – maybe only six or seven miles.
After a shower, I put on my Baskett jersey and ask my mom for a ride to the PATCO station, but she says, “Your driver is waiting for you outside.” Mom kisses me on the cheek and hands me some money. “Have fun, and don’t let your brother drink too much.”
Outside, I see Dad in his sedan; the engine is running. I get into the car and say, “Dad, are you going to the game?”
“I wish I could,” he says, and then we back out of the driveway.
The truth is that my father is still serving a self-imposed ban and is therefore not allowed to attend Eagles games. In the early eighties, Dad got into a fight with a Dallas Cowboys fan who dared to sit in the 700 Level, which were the cheap seats at the Vet, where the die-hard Eagles fans sat.
The story I heard from my since-deceased uncle was this:
When the Cowboys scored a touchdown, this Dallas fan jumped up and began cheering real loudly, so people started throwing beers and hot dogs at him. The only problem was that my dad was sitting in the row in front of this Dallas fan, so the beer and mustard and food rained down on Dad too.
Apparently, Dad lost it, attacked the Dallas fan, and beat him within an inch of his life. My father was actually arrested, convicted of aggravated assault, and incarcerated for three months. If my uncle hadn’t made the mortgage payments, we would have lost the house. Dad did lose his season ticket and has not been to an Eagles game since.
Jake says we could get Dad in, since no one actually checks IDs at the gate, but Dad won’t go back, saying, “As long as they let the opposing fans in our house, I can’t trust myself.”
This is sort of funny, because twenty-five years after Dad beat the hell out of that Dallas fan, he is just a fat old man who is not likely to beat up another fat old man, let alone a rowdy Dallas fan with the guts to wear a Cowboys jersey to an Eagles game. Although my father did hit me pretty hard in the attic just a few weeks ago – so maybe he is wise to stay away from the games.
We drive over the hospital-green Walt Whitman Bridge, and he talks about how this just might be an important day in Eagles history, especially since the Giants won both games last year. “Revenge!” he keeps yelling indiscriminately. He also tells me I have to cheer real loudly so Eli Manning – who I know (from reading the sports pages) is the Giants’ QB – will not be able to talk or hear during the huddles. “Scream your goddamn lungs out, because you’re the twelfth man!” Dad says. The way he talks at me – never really pausing long enough for me to say any-thing – makes him sound crazy, I know, even though most people think I am the crazy person in the family.
When we are stopped, waiting in line to pay the bridge toll, Dad quits his Eagles rant long enough to say, “It’s good that you are going to the games with Jake again. Your brother’s missed you a lot. You do realize that, right? You need to make time for family no matter what happens in your life, because Jake and your mother need you.”
This is a pretty ironic thing for him to say, especially since he has hardly said anything to me since I have been home and never really spends any time with me or my mother or Jake at all, but I am glad my father is finally talking to me. All the time I have ever spent with Jake or him has always revolved around sports – mostly Eagles – and I know this is all he can really afford emotionally, so I take it, and say, “I wish you were going to the game, Dad.”
“Me too,” he says, and then hands the toll collector a five.
After taking the first off-ramp, he deposits me about ten blocks away from the new stadium so he can turn around and avoid traffic. “You’re on your own coming home,” he says as I get out. “I’m not driving back into this zoo.”
I thank him for the ride, and just before I shut the door, he raises his hands in the car and yells “Ahhhhhhhhh!” so I raise my hands and yell “Ahhhhhhhh!” A group of men drinking beers out of a nearby car trunk hear us, so they raise their hands and yell “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” Men united by a team, we all do the Eagles chant together. My chest feels so warm, and I remember how much fun it is to be in South Philly on game day.
As I walk toward the west Lincoln Financial Field parking lot – following the directions my brother gave me on the phone the night before – so many people are wearing Eagles jerseys. Everywhere green. People are grilling, drinking beer from plastic cups, throwing footballs, listening to the WIP 610 pregame show on AM radio, and as I walk past, they all high-five me, throw me footballs, and yell, “Go Birds!” just because I am wearing an Eagles jersey. I see young boys with their fathers. Old guys with their grown sons. Men yelling and singing and smiling as if they were boys again. And I realize I have missed this a lot.
Even though I do not want to, I look for the Vet and only find a parking lot. There’s a new Phillies ballpark too, called Citizens Bank Park. By the entrance ripples a huge banner of some new player named Ryan Howard. All of this seems to suggest that Jake and Dad weren’t lying when they said the Vet was demolished. I try not to think about the dates they mentioned, and I focus on enjoying the game and spending time with my brother.
I find the right parking lot and begin to look for the green tent with the black Eagles flag flying from the top. The parking lot is full – tents and grills and parties everywhere – but after ten minutes or so, I spot my brother.
Jake’s in his number 99 Jerome Brown memorial jersey. (Jerome Brown was the two-time Pro Bowler defensive tackle who was killed in a car crash back in 1992.) My brother is drinking beer from a green cup, standing next to our friend Scott, who is manning the grill. Jake looks happy, and for a second I simply enjoy watching him smile as he throws an arm around Scott, whom I haven’t seen since the last time I was in South Philly. Jake’s face is red, and he looks a little drunk already, but he has always been a happy drunk, so I do not worry. Like my father, nothing makes Jake happier than Eagles game day.
When Jake sees me, he yells, “Hank Baskett’s tailgating with us!” and then runs over to give me a high five and a chest bump.
“What’s up, dude?” Scott says to me as we too exchange high fives. The big smile on his face suggests that he is happy to see me. “Man, you really are huge. What have you been lifting – cars?” I smile proudly as he punches my arm, like guys do when they are buddies. “It’s been years – I mean, um – how many months has it been?” He and my brother exchange a glance that I do not miss, but before I can say anything, Scott yells, “Hey, all you fat-asses in the tent! I wanna introduce you to my boy – Jake’s brother, Pat.”
The tent is the size of a small house. I walk through the slit on one side, and a huge flat-screen television is set up on milk crates stacked two by four. Five really fat guys are seated in folding chairs, watching the pregame show – all of them in Eagles jerseys. Scott rattles off the names. After he says mine, the men nod and wave and then go back to watching the pregame show. All of them have handheld personal organizers, and their eyes are rapidly moving back and forth between the small screens in their hands and the large screen at the far side of the tent. Almost all have earpieces in, which I guess are connected to cellular phones.
As we exit the tent, Scott says, “Don’t mind them. They’re all trying to get last-minute info. They’ll be a little more friendly after they’ve placed their bets.”
“Who are they?” I ask.
“Guys from my work. I’m a computer tech now for Digital Cross Health. We do websites for family doctors.”
“How are they watching television out here in the parking lot?” I ask.
My brother waves me around to the back of the tent, points to a small engine in a square of metal, and says, “Gas-powered generator.” He points to the top of the tent, where a small gray plate is perched, and says, “Satellite dish.”
“What do they do with all this gear when they go into the game?” I ask.
“Oh,” Scott says with a laugh. “They don’t have tickets.”
Jake pours a Yuengling Lager into a plastic cup and hands it to me, and I notice three coolers loaded with beer cans and bottles, probably four or five cases. I know the plastic cup is to keep away the police, who can arrest you for having an open beer can in your hand but not for holding a plastic cup. The bag of empties just outside the tent suggests that Jake and Scott are way ahead of me.
As Scott finishes grilling breakfast – thick sausages and eggs scrambled in a pan he has placed over the gas flames – he does not ask me many questions about what I have been up to, which I appreciate. I’m sure my brother has already told Scott all about my time in the bad place and my separation from Nikki, but I still appreciate Scott’s allowing me to reenter the world of Eagles football without an interrogation.
Scott tells me about his life, and it turns out that while I was in the bad place, he married someone named Willow, and they actually now have three-year-old twins named Tami and Jeri-Lyn. Scott shows me the picture he keeps in his wallet, and the girls are dressed alike in little pink ballerina outfits – tutus, tights – their hands stretched up over silver tiaras, pointing toward heaven. “My tiny dancers. We live on the Pennsylvania side now. Havertown,” Scott says as he loads a half dozen sausages onto the top rack of the barbecue, where they will keep warm while the next batch cooks. I think about Emily and me floating over the waves only the day before, and again I promise myself I’ll get busy making my own daughter just as soon as apart time is over.
I try not to do the math in my head, but I can’t help it. If he has twins who are three years old and he was married sometime after I last saw him – but before his wife got pregnant – it must mean that I have not seen Scott for at least four years. Now maybe he knocked up his girlfriend and then married her, but of course, I can’t ask that. Since his daughters are three, the math indicates he and I have not talked for at least three or four years.
My last memory of Scott is at the Vet. I had sold my season ticket to Scott’s brother Chris a season or two before, but Chris often went away on business conferences and allowed me to buy my seat back for the few home games played when he was out of town. I came up from Baltimore to see the Eagles play Dallas; I don’t remember who won or what the score was. But I remember sitting in between Scott and Jake – up in the 700 Level – when Dallas scored a rushing touchdown. Some clown behind us stood up and began cheering as he unzipped his jacket, revealing a throwback Tony Dorsett jersey. Everyone in our section started booing and throwing food at this Dallas fan, who smiled and smiled.
Jake was so drunk he could hardly stand, but he charged after this guy, climbing up over three rows of people. The sober Dallas fan shoved Jake away easily, but when Jake fell back into the arms of drunken Eagles fans, a cry went up, and the Tony Dorsett jersey was forcibly removed from the visiting fan’s back and ripped into many pieces before security arrived and threw out a dozen people.
Jake was not thrown out of the game.
Scott and I were able to get Jake up and away from the mayhem, and when security arrived, we were in the men’s room splashing water onto Jake’s face, trying to sober him up.
In my mind, this happened last year, maybe eleven months ago. But I know if I bring up this incident now as we are grilling in front of the Linc, I will be told that the memory occurred more than three or even four years ago, so I do not bring it up, even though I want to, because I know Jake’s and Scott’s responses will help me figure out what the rest of the world believes about time. And also, not knowing what the rest of the world believes happened between then and now is terrifying. It’s better not to think too much about this.
“Drink some beers,” Jake says to me. “Smile. It’s game day!”
So I start drinking, even though the little orange bottles that my pills come in have stickers forbidding me to drink alcohol.
After the fat guys in the tent are fed, we eat off paper plates, and then Scott, Jake, and I begin throwing the football around.
In the parking lot people are everywhere, not just tailgating, but roaming. Guys selling stolen or homemade T-shirts, moms parading around little girls in cheerleading outfits who will do a cheer if you donate a dollar to their local cheerleading booster club, crazy bums willing to tell you off-color jokes for free food and beer, strippers in short pants and satin jackets handing out free passes to the local gentlemen’s clubs, packs of little kids in pads and helmets collecting money for their peewee football teams, college kids handing out free samples of new sodas or sports drinks or candy or junk food, and of course the seventy thousand other drunken Eagles fans just like us. Basically, it’s a green football carnival.
By the time we decide to have a catch, I’ve had two or three beers, and I’d be willing to bet Jake and Scott have each had at least ten, so our passes are not all that accurate. We hit parked cars, knock over a few tables of food, beam one or two guys in the back, but no one cares, because we are Eagles fans in Eagles jerseys who are ready and willing to cheer on the Birds. Every so often, other men will jump in front of one of us and intercept a pass or two, but they always give back the ball with a laugh and a smile.
I like throwing the football with Jake and Scott because it makes me feel like a boy, and when I was a boy, I was the person Nikki fell in love with.
But then something bad happens.
Jake sees him first, points, and says, “Hey, look at the asshole.” I turn my head and see a big man in a Giants jersey, maybe forty yards away from our tent. He is wearing a red, white, and blue hard hat, and the worst part is that he has a little boy with him who is also wearing a Giants jersey. The guy walks over to a group of Eagles fans who give him a hard time at first but eventually hand him a beer.
Suddenly my brother is walking toward this Giants fan, so Scott and I follow. My brother starts chanting as he walks, “Ass – hole! Ass – hole! Ass – hole!” With every syllable, he throws his index finger at the hard hat. Scott is doing the same thing, and before I know it, we are surrounded by twenty or so men in Eagles jerseys who are also chanting and pointing. I have to admit it feels sort of thrilling to be part of this mob – united in our hatred of the opposing team’s fans.
When we reach the Giants fan, his friends – all Eagles fans – laugh, and their faces seem to say, “We told you this would happen.” But instead of acting remorseful, the Giants fan puts his hands up in the air, as if he has just performed a magic trick or something; he smiles widely and nods his head like he is enjoying being called an asshole. He even puts his hand to his ear, as if to say, “I can’t hear you.” The kid with him, who has the same pale skin coloring and flat nose – probably his son – looks terrified. The little guy’s jersey hangs down to his knees, and as the “ass – hole” chant intensifies, the kid holds on to his father’s leg and tries to hide behind the big man’s thigh.
My brother transitions the crowd into a “Giants suck” chant, and more Eagles fans come to join in. We now are at least fifty strong. And this is when the little kid breaks into tears, sobbing. When we Eagles fans see that the kid is really upset, the mob chuckles and respectfully disperses.
Jake and Scott are laughing as we walk back to our tent, but I don’t feel so great. I wish we did not make that little kid cry. I know the Giants fan was stupid to wear a Giants jersey to an Eagles game, and it is really his own fault that his son was made to cry, but I also know that what we did was unkind, and this is the sort of behavior Nikki hates, what I am trying –
I feel his hands explode through my back, and I stumble forward and almost fall down. When I turn around, I see the big Giants fan. He is no longer wearing his hard hat; his son is not with him.
“You like making little kids cry?” he says to me.
I’m too shocked to speak. There were at least fifty men chanting, but he has singled out me. Why? I wasn’t even chanting. I wasn’t even pointing. I want to tell him this, but my mouth won’t work, so I just stand there shaking my head.
“If you don’t want a problem, don’t wear a Giants jersey to an Eagles game,” Scott says.
“It’s just bad parenting to bring your son down here dressed like that,” Jake adds.
The mob quickly forms again. A circle of green uniforms surrounds us now, and I think this Giants fan must be crazy. One of his friends has come to talk him down. The friend’s a small man with long hair and a mustache – and he’s wearing an Eagles shirt. “Come on, Steve. Let’s go. They didn’t mean anything. It was just a joke.”
“What the fuck is your problem?” Steve says, and then shoves me again, his hands exploding through my chest.
At this point the Eagles fans begin chanting, “Ass – hole! Ass – hole! Ass – hole!”
Steve is staring into my eyes, gritting his teeth so the tendons in his neck bulge like ropes. He also lifts weights. His arms look even bigger than mine, and he is taller than me by an inch or two.
I look to Jake for help, and I can see that he looks a little worried himself.
Jake steps in front of me, puts his hands up to suggest that he means no harm, but before he can say anything, the Giants fan grabs my brother’s Jerome Brown memorial jersey and throws Jake to the ground.
I see him hit the concrete – my brother’s hands skidding along the blacktop – and then blood is dripping from his fingers and Jake’s eyes look dazed and scared.
My brother is hurt.
My brother is hurt.
MY BROTHER IS HURT.
The bad feeling in my stomach rockets up through my chest and into my hands – and before I can stop myself, I’m moving forward like a Mack truck. I catch Steve’s cheek with a left, and then my right connects with the south side of his chin, lifting him off the ground. I watch him float through the air as if he were allowing his body to fall backward into a pool. His back hits the concrete, his feet and hands twitch once, and then he’s not moving, the crowd is silent, and I begin to feel so awful – so guilty.
Someone yells, “Call an ambulance!”
Another yells, “Tell ’em to bring a blue-and-red body bag!”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, because I find it hard to speak. “I’m so sorry.”
And then I am running again.
I weave through the crowds of people, across streets, around cars, and through horns blaring and cursing drivers screaming at me. I feel a bubbly feeling in my midsection, and then I am puking my guts out onto the sidewalk – eggs, sausage, beer – and so many people are yelling at me, calling me a drunk, saying that I’m an asshole; and then I’m running again as fast as I can, down the street away from the stadiums.
When I feel as though I am going to throw up again, I stop and realize I’m alone – no more Eagles fans anywhere. A chain-link fence, beyond it a warehouse that looks abandoned.
I vomit again.
On the sidewalk, outside of the puddle I am making, pieces of broken glass glint and sparkle in the sun.
I feel awful.
I realize that I have once again failed to be kind; that I lost control in a big way; that I seriously injured another person, and therefore I’m never going to get Nikki back now. Apart time is going to last forever because my wife is a pacifist who would never want me to hit anyone under any circumstance, and both God and Jesus were obviously rooting for me to turn the other cheek, so I know I really shouldn’t have hit that Giants fan, and now I’m crying again because I’m such a fucking waste – such a fucking non-person.
I walk another half block, my chest heaving wildly, and then I stop.
“Dear God,” I pray. “Please don’t send me back to the bad place. Please!”
I look up at the sky.
I see a cloud passing just under the sun.
The top is all electric white.
I remind myself.
Don’t give up, I think. Not just yet.
“Pat! Pat! Wait up!”
I look back toward the stadiums, and my brother is running toward me. Over the next minute or so, Jake gets bigger and bigger, and then he is right in front of me, bent over, huffing and puffing.
“I’m sorry,” I say. I’m so, so sorry.”
“For what?” Jake laughs, pulls out his cell phone, dials a number, and holds the small phone up to his ear.
“I found him,” Jake says into the phone. “Yeah, tell him.”
Jake hands me the phone. I put it up to my ear.
“Is this Rocky Balboa?”
I recognize the voice as Scott’s.
“Listen, the asshole you knocked out – well, he woke up and is super pissed. Better not come back to the tent.”
“Is he okay?” I ask.
“You should be more worried about yourself.”
“We played dumb when the cops showed up, and no one was able to identify you or your brother – but ever since five-o left, the big guy’s been searching the parking lot, looking for you. Whatever you do, don’t come back here, because this Giants fan’s hellbent on revenge.”
I hand the phone back to Jake, feeling somewhat relieved to know I did not seriously hurt Steve, but also feeling numb – because I lost control again. Plus, I’m a little afraid of the Giants fan.
“So, are we going home now?” I ask Jake when he finishes talking to Scott.
“Home? Are you kiddin’ me?” he says, and we start walking back toward the Linc.
When I don’t say anything for a long time, my brother asks if I’m okay.
I’m not okay, but I don’t say so.
“Listen, that asshole attacked you and threw me to the ground. You only defended your family,” Jake says. “You should be proud. You were the hero.”
Even though I was defending my brother, even though I did not seriously hurt the Giants fan, I don’t feel proud at all. I feel guilty. I should be locked up again in the bad place. I feel as though Dr. Timbers was right about me – that I don’t belong in the real world, because I am uncontrollable and dangerous. But of course I do not say this to Jake, mostly because he has never been locked up and doesn’t understand what it feels like to lose control, and he only wants to watch the football game now, and none of this means anything to him, because he has never been married and he has never lost someone like Nikki and he is not trying to improve his life at all, because he doesn’t ever feel the war that goes on in my chest every single fucking day – the chemical explosions that light up my skull like the Fourth of July and the awful needs and impulses and …
Outside the Linc, masses form thick lines, and with hundreds of other fans, we wait to be frisked. I don’t remember being frisked at the Vet. I wonder when it became necessary to frisk people at NFL games, but I do not ask Jake, because he is now singing “Fly, Eagles, Fly” with hundreds of other drunken Eagles fans.
After we are frisked, we climb the steps and have our tickets scanned, and then we are inside of Lincoln Financial Field. People everywhere – it’s like a hive full of green bees, and the buzz is deafening. We often have to turn sideways just to squeeze between people as we walk the concourse to get to our section. I follow Jake, worrying about getting separated, because I would be lost for sure.
We hit the men’s room, and Jake gets everyone inside to sing the Eagles fight song again. The lines for the urinals are long, and I am amazed that no one pees in the sinks, because at the Vet – at least up in the 700 Level – all sinks were used as extra urinals.
When we finally get to our seats, we are in the end zone, only twenty or so rows up from the field.
“How did you get such good tickets?” I ask Jake.
“I know a guy,” he replies, and smiles proudly.
Scott is already seated, and he congratulates me on my fight, saying, “You knocked that fucking Giants fan out cold!” which makes me feel awful again.
Jake and Scott high-five just about everyone in the section, and as the other fans call Scott and my brother by name, it becomes obvious that they are quite popular here.
When the beer man comes around, Scott buys us a round, and I am amazed to find a cup holder in the seat in front of me. You would never see such a luxury item at the Vet.
Just before the Eagles’ players are announced, clips from the Rocky movies are shown on the huge screens at each end of the field – Rocky running by the old Navy Yard, Rocky punching sides of beef in the meat locker, Rocky running up the steps of the art museum – and Jake and Scott keep saying, “That’s you. That’s you,” until I worry that someone will hear them, understand that I just fought the Giants fan in the parking lot, and tell the police to take me back to the bad place.
When the Eagles’ starting lineup is announced, fireworks explode and cheerleaders kick and everyone is standing and Jake keeps on pounding my back with his hand and strangers are high-fiving me, and suddenly I stop thinking about my fight in the parking lot. I begin to think about my dad watching the game in our family room – my mother serving him buffalo wings and pizza and beers, hoping the Eagles win just so her husband will be in a good mood for a week. I again wonder if my dad will start talking to me at night if the Eagles pull out a victory today, and suddenly it’s kickoff and I am cheering as if my life depends on the outcome of the game.
The Giants score first, but the Eagles answer with a touchdown of their own, after which the whole stadium sings the fight song – punctuated by the Eagles chant – with deafening pride.
Late in the first quarter, Hank Baskett gets his first catch of his NFL career – a twenty-five-yarder. Everyone in our section high-fives me and pats me on the back because I am wearing my official Hank Baskett jersey, and I smile at my brother because he gave me such a great present.
The game is all Eagles after that, and at the start of the fourth quarter the Eagles are up 24 – 7. Jake and Scott are so happy, and I am beginning to imagine the conversation I am going to have with my father when I get home – how proud he will be of my yelling whenever Eli Manning was trying to call a play.
But then the Giants score seventeen unanswered points in the fourth quarter, and the Philadelphia fans are shocked.
In overtime, Plaxico Burress goes up and over Sheldon Brown in the end zone, and the Giants leave Philadelphia with a win.
It is awful to watch.
Outside of the Linc, Scott says, “Better not come back to the tent. That asshole will be there waiting, for sure.”
So we say goodbye to Scott and follow the masses to the subway entrance.
Jake has tokens. We go through the turnstiles, descend underground, and push our way onto an already packed subway car. People yell, “No room!” but Jake mashes his body in between the other bodies and then pulls me in too. My brother’s chest is against my back; strangers are smashed against my arms. The doors finally close, and my nose is almost touching the glass window.
The smell of beer resurfacing through everyone’s sweat glands is pungent.
I don’t like being this close to so many strangers, but I don’t say anything, and soon we are at City Hall.
After we exit the train, we spin another turnstile, climb up into center city, and begin walking down Market Street, past the old department stores and the new hotels and The Gallery.
“You wanna see my apartment?” Jake asks when we get to the Eighth and Market PATCO stop, which is where I can hop a train over the Ben Franklin Bridge to Collingswood.
I do want to see Jake’s apartment, but I am tired and anxious to get home so I can do a little lifting before bed. I ask if I might see it some other time.
“Sure,” he says. “It’s good to have you back, brother. You were a true Eagles fan today.”
“Tell Dad the Birds will bounce back next week against San Fran.”
I nod again.
My brother surprises me by giving me a two-armed hug and saying, “I love you, bro. Thanks for getting my back in the parking lot.”
I tell him that I love him too, and then he is walking down Market Street singing “Fly, Eagles, Fly” at the top of his lungs.
I descend underground, insert the five my mother gave me into the change machine, buy a ticket, stick it into the turnstile, descend more stairs, hit the waiting platform, and begin to think about that little kid in the Giants jersey. How hard did he cry when he realized his father had been knocked out? Did the kid even get to see the game? A few other men in Eagles jerseys are sitting on the chrome benches. Each nods sympathetically at me when they see my Hank Baskett jersey. One man at the far end of the platform yells, “Goddamn fucking Birds!” and then kicks a metal trash can. Another man standing next to me shakes his head and whispers, “Goddamn fucking Birds.”
When the train comes, I choose to stand just inside the doors, and as the train slides across the dusk sky, over the Delaware River, across the Ben Franklin Bridge, I look at the city skyline, and – again – I start to think about that kid crying. I feel so awful when I think about that little kid.
I get off the train at Collingswood, walk across the open-air platform and down the steps, stick my card into the turnstile machine, and then jog home.
My mother is sitting in the family room, sipping tea. “How’s Dad?” I ask.
She shakes her head and points at the TV.
The screen is cracked so that it looks like a spiderweb. “What happened?”
“Your father smashed the screen with the reading lamp.”
“Because the Eagles lost?”
“No, actually. He did it when the Giants tied the game at the end of the fourth quarter. Your father had to watch the Eagles blow the game on the bedroom television,” Mom says. “How’s your brother?”
“Fine,” I say. “Where’s Dad?”
“In his office.”
“I’m sorry your team lost,” Mom says, just to be nice, I know.
“It’s okay,” I answer, and then go down into the basement, where I lift weights for hours and try to forget about that little Giants fan crying, but I still can’t get the kid out of my mind.
For whatever reason I fall asleep on the rug that covers part of the basement floor. In my dreams the fight happens again and again, only instead of the Giants fan bringing a kid to the game, the Giants fan brings Nikki, and she too is wearing a Giants jersey. Every time I knock the big guy out, Nikki pushes through the crowd, cradles Steve’s head in her hands, kisses his forehead, and then looks up at me.
Just before I run away, she says, “You’re an animal, Pat. And I will never love you again.”
I cry through my dreams and try not to hit the Giants fan every time the memory flashes through my mind, but I can’t control my dream self any more than I could control my awake self after seeing the blood on Jake’s hands.
I wake up to the sound of the basement door being closed, and I see the light streaming in through the small windows over the washer and dryer. I walk up the steps, and I cannot believe the sports pages are there.
I am very upset about the dream I had, but I realize it was only a dream, and despite everything that has happened, my father is still leaving me the sports pages after one of the worst Eagles losses in history.
So I take a deep breath. I allow myself to feel hopeful again and start my exercise routine.
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