The old year slid into the new year with barely a whimper. Peckerwoods’ threw a party, but there was a certain something missing these days, so I didn’t even drop by. In fact, it was all I could do to keep going to the playoff games, but my sense of obligation overcame my growing hermit tendencies.
Being a wildcard team meant, barring a miracle, going on the road week after week until somebody finally knocked us off. At least first out of the gate we got the Division Champion with the worst record, the hated Dallas Cowboys. Yeah, I’ve heard that whole America’s Team bullshit, but hey guys, that was back in the Tom Landry—Roger Staubach era. This bunch of Yahoos isn’t anybody’s team, except for a gaggle of drunken Texans in bold blue face paint and oversized cowboy hats. You’d have thought they were some hot shit powerhouse instead of an also-ran who squeaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record out of a surprisingly bad division. Falcons were favored by a touchdown, but it wasn’t nearly that close.
After the game and the bottle of champagne that Ellie insisted on opening—“Once you make the playoffs, every win is something to celebrate! Go Falcons!”—Lucas asked if I’d take a walk out to his car with him. “Got a little something that just might solve your JD problem without offending those inflated humanitarian sensibilities of yours,” he said as he handed me a brown paper grocery bag. Inside was a gadget that sort of looked like a pistol, except on the business end where the hole should be there was a yellow rectangular affair instead.
“What the hell is that?”
I reached into the bag but Lucas stopped me with, “Don’t pull that out here in the parking lot! It’s a Taser,” he added, chuckling when I snatched my hand out like there was a snake in the bag. “The perfect equalizer for the mild-mannered reporter.”
“Is it legal?”
“Actually, it is. Besides that, the sheriff knows about it. Better yet, this one belongs to them. An extra that doesn’t show up on their books for some reason. Works better than the civilian version. I’d have bought you one but they cost several hundred bucks, so borrowing one seemed the way to go.”
Lucas gave me a short lesson on how to use it. It’s actually pretty simple: get close enough so you can’t miss, point at the bad guy, and pull the trigger. Avoid heavy clothing. Run away before he recovers.
“But here’s the thing, Rick. It won’t do you a damned bit of good if you run into JD and don’t have it. So you need to carry it with you pretty much all the time when you’re not in a crowd. I know that’s going to be a pain in the ass, and after awhile you’re going to get careless. But don’t.”
I thanked him profusely and promised him I wouldn’t.
“Yeah. You also promised that you weren’t going to get involved in the first place.”
I got a postcard from Sabrina on Saturday. No return address. Just a picture looking out from a mountainside through a grove of leafless trees with the message, “Wish you were here” and a smiley face in green ink. OK, unfair. You can’t write me if I can’t write you back.
I called her mother. “Hello, Mrs. Parker. This is Rick Whittaker. I’m a friend of Sabrina’s.”
“Hello, Rick. I know who you are.”
“Oh.” For some reason that hadn’t occurred to me, but I overcame my surprise and plowed on. “I got a postcard from Sabrina today but it didn’t have a return address. I wondered if you have an address where I could write back.”
“Don’t you think if she wanted you to write, she would have put her return address on the card?”
This conversation wasn’t going anything like what I had hoped. “Well, I suppose you’re right.”
“She went there to be alone and think things out. Oh, I guess you could sway things temporarily in your favor by writing long, heartfelt admissions of undying love and affection. She’s my daughter, and I’d love nothing better than for things to sway in your favor. But when JD shows back up, then what? I know it’s hard, but you just have to let her be for now.”
I thanked her with all the graciousness I could muster up, hung up, and went back into my cave.
The talking heads on ESPN all wondered if the Falcon’s high-powered offense could overcome the 49er’s league-best defense in front of a hostile home crowd. Most thought no. The odds makers agreed, putting Atlanta down as 10½-point underdogs. They were pretty much right—3 field goals were all the high-flying Falcon offense could muster. But two special teams plays—a blocked punt and a kickoff return—added fourteen, and an inspired defense somehow managed to hang on to a 23-21 lead with the ball on the 32 and 3 seconds left.
Ellie got down on her knees and starting praying out loud. “Oh Lord, I know I’ve not always been the person You want me to be. I’ve been known to drink on occasion, particularly when Thy favorite team, the Falcons, is playing. And when wide open receivers drop balls that hit them in the chest, I sometimes take Thy name in vain. But goddamn it all, if this field goal misses, there’s a fifty in it for you in the collection plate next Sunday. Amen.”
Fifty must have been bribe enough, because the field goal attempt hooked around the left upright, and the Falcons were going to the Conference Championship. “So where are you going to come up with $50, woman?” Lucas wanted to know.
“You’re going to give it to me willingly and lovingly after tonight. Yow!” Pop, went another cork, accompanied by her long scream.
Unfortunately, the Saints had won the day before, and were doubtless licking their chops at the prospect of playing a team they’d beaten twice during the season.
* * * *
The week drug on and on, as if the hours were dipped in molasses. I burned up all the piñon pine I had, sitting and thinking out by the chiminea, made a trip for more, and burned half of that too. Two empty gin bottles were lined up on the counter, with another well on its way to joining them. I gave in and called the TV satellite company, then canceled again before they came out. I wore a path out walking the wheel, and when that hadn’t been enough, attempted three trips out to the island despite a week-long spell of foul weather. Made it twice; on the third trip a hard wind out of the north whipped up a nasty line of three-foot swells that drove me back to shelter.
By now I was easily able to walk either wheel while holding the golden-haired woman in my thoughts. Sometimes I asked for advice; about half the time she gave me some. But after awhile, I realized that she was only telling me things that I already knew. So either she was just another personification of my own twisted imagination, or I pretty much already knew the answers to what I was asking. But you know, it didn’t matter. We did what we did, and time plodded along, as time is wont to do.
The one thing I didn’t do is call Chai. That’s why you’re such a mess, Mr. Lust scolded. But fortunately, we’ve been saving that goodbye fuck for an emergency. I’d say this qualifies.
I allowed myself the hope that Sabrina would make it home for the Conference Championship. After all, she would’ve been gone three weeks by then. I didn’t have any idea how much time she would be able to be absent, but three weeks seemed like a really long time to be away from your job and kids. Wanda wasn’t concerned, however. “That new girl June is doing OK. We’ve really needed somebody else for a while, so when Sabrina gets home it’ll all be good. Until then, we’re all just praying for her. You too, I hope.”
I assured her I was. Didn’t seem like a fib; what I was doing definitely qualified as prayer, if you happened to be a pagan.
My daily trip to the mailbox was a low point, between dreading that I’d get a letter from Sabrina and the news would be bad and dreading that I wouldn’t get any news at all. On the Friday before the game, a real live letter was sitting there in the box.
I built a wheel out here at the cabin, just like the one in your back yard. I can’t tell you how much it has helped. The only problem is, instead of thinking about myself while I’m walking it, I find that I’m often thinking about you instead. Can’t tell if that’s good or not (just kidding).
Haven’t really gotten the resolution that I’d hoped for, but at least I have some degree of peace. I guess that’s better than nothing.
I pick up a paper every week when I go into town for groceries. See that the Peckerwoods’ gang has managed to keep the Falcons in it. Can’t hardly stand it that you’re partying without me, but maybe I’ll be home for the Superbowl.
ps: Hope you didn’t get rid of your voodoo lady prematurely.
Folded inside the letter was a picture of Sabrina standing inside a sacred wheel that looked like a twin of mine. She was bundled up, and the snapshot quality wasn’t good enough that I could tell anything about her expression.
Love, Sabrina. A serious escalation from “fondly, Rick.” Wonder how long it took her to decide to write those words? The better part of three weeks, I supposed.
* * * *
Most of all, I dreaded the game. Well, probably not most of all, but most immediate of all. I started to call Lucas and see if I could just stay home on Sunday. But I already knew the answer. 80% of the work I’d done toward not being an outsider would be lost, and I’d have to start over again with a more skeptical citizenry.
I didn’t dread in vain; it was as bad as I’d feared. What is it about those guys that turns the Falcons into such pigeons? We were down by 17 at halftime, and only a questionable holding call with the Saints on our three yard, second and goal, kept it from being even worse. June was working our table, and nice as she was, her cheery “Can I get y’all anything else?” got more irritating every time she stopped by.
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I ordered desert for everyone—it worked last time, I was desperate enough to try it again—before muttering to Lucas and Ellie, “I’ve got to get out of here for awhile. You guys cover for me.”
I slipped out and walked down to where Sabrina and I had kissed, sat up against an oak tree, and meditated. Fortunately the drizzle had stopped, and after awhile I didn’t notice the cold anymore.
Some time later—when you’re doing it right, you have no idea how much time has passed—the golden-haired woman made an appearance.
“So what is it that you want, Rick?”
“I have no fucking idea. Sabrina to realize what an asshole JD is, fall out of love, and come home. Drew Brees to break his throwing hand. George to come walking through the door wondering if anybody has missed him. Peace in the Middle East. Something to change. Anything. I feel like I’m stuck and going nowhere, and this unending waiting around is frustrating the shit out of me.”
“My, such language. If you don’t know what you want, how do you expect to get it?”
“That’s the trouble. I want a lot of things, and I don’t know how to get any of them.”
“Perhaps your trouble is that you don’t fully understand what it is that you’re asking.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Nimue. I’m not in the mood for it.”
She laughed so cruelly that for a moment I thought I had to be imagining it. Well, duh. Of course I was imagining it. My subconscious was preparing me for an ugly surprise.
I just didn’t know how ugly. Dessert had once again worked its magic. I walked back into Peckerwood’s just as Matty Ice completed a 17-yard TD pass as time expired to cap an amazing comeback and put the Falcons in the Superbowl. Which was going to be played . . . on Imbolc.