Game Day

First published in Morpo Review, Volume 5, Issue 4 on December 1st, 1998

You only see your son once a year. Always on the same day. It’s the only day she’ll let you. The day after Thanksgiving — “Game Day” in Nebraska. Huskers/Sooners. It’s a time-honored tradition. You grew up with this game. And if it was good enough for you, it was good enough for Jude. But, last year the “powers that be” threw a monkey-wrench, and created a new league with a bunch of Texas teams. The Big Twelve, they call it. Today’s game is against Colorado, not Oklahoma. You guess it’s okay since Oklahoma isn’t what they used to be under coach Barry Switzer. He doesn’t get much respect in Dallas, but he’d ruined a lot of holidays for you, and for the whole state really. Of course, Nebraska, despite the recent championships, isn’t what they used to be either. Tom Osborne is no Bob Devaney. Devaney never had the players pray, nor hold hands, that’s for sure.

Jude doesn’t look a thing like you. You wonder if he really is your son. And seriously, why’d you ever consent to that name? You wanted him to be named “Johnny.” Not after you, but for Johnny Rogers, the Heisman winning return-man who helped bring back-to-back National Championships home to Lincoln.

Lydia, your former old lady, pulls up out front in a new car. Some Jap thing. Figures. She’s done real well for herself. It’s good for Jude, but you grimace at the sight of her and her dark suits and long, fancy scarves. She waves to you, but stays in the car. Good for her, you don’t want to talk to her anyway. Jude gets out and looks around like he doesn’t want anyone to see him. Shit, no one he knows is gonna come down here in this ‘hood. It used to be nice back when Pops was at North High, but now it’s a ghetto. All black, except you and that freak up the street. You know that guy is up to something. Probably got body parts in the basement from the looks of him. Course, he might be saying the same about you. But how would he know? How would any of these people know what you’ve had to go through?

When you and Jude settle in for the game, your new wife, Elaine, brings turkey sandwiches into the den and places them on TV trays in front of you. Jude is courteous and says, “Thank you.”

“Can I bring you some Tang dear?” she asks him.

“OK,” he says, un-enthused.

“How about you honey? Do you want some Tang?”

What the hell does she think she’s doing? So Jude’s over. Does that mean you can’t have a beer? It’s Game Day, for Christ’s sake. “Bring me a beer,” you say with authority.

Jude asks you, “John, can I have one too?”

The kid’s only twelve. But, he’s never asked you for anything in his life. You keep waiting for him to ask you for all sorts of things, but he never does. He just sits there and watches the game and when it’s over his mother comes and takes him away. So you say, “Sure.” You yell down the hall toward Elaine, “Bring two.”

Elaine brings two cans of Bud into the den and sets them down on your tray. You pop yours, then hand one over to the kid. Elaine says, “John, what do you think you’re doing? Aren’t you in enough trouble?”

“I’m his father, and I say he can have a beer during the Nebraska game.”

Jude pops his open and adroitly guzzles it, draining it on one fell swoop. He burps and smiles then jumps straight up into the air, and yells, “Touchdown!”

Nebraska had intercepted and run it back for a score, but you did not see it because you were watching Jude. You look at Elaine and give her the “get out” signal. “This is a man’s thing,” you told her how many times before?

“John, what’s jail like?” Jude asks you.

“It’s no place you want to be. It’s the worst stink-hole on earth.”

“Why does Lydia send you there every weekend?”

“I wish I knew Jude. It’s about money I owe her.”

“You mean child support, for me?”

“Yeah, for you.”

“I don’t need it John. Lydia doesn’t either. She’s got plenty of boyfriends to buy her stuff. And I don’t need new stuff all the time. My friend from school — Jeremy — he has to have Air Jordan’s, but I don’t care about shoes.”

You wonder what he does care about. You don’t think he cares much for you. But he did say he didn’t want you to keep going to jail every weekend. Still, how could he care about you, when his mother pumps him full of her side of the story all the time? This one afternoon a year isn’t adequate for you to fight that kind of deep conditioning. You just want to get through the game.

But the Husker offense is struggling to put points on the board. Scott Frost, the quarterback involved in last year’s famous Lawrence Phillips incident, leaves a lot to be desired. And Osborne bugs you. You don’t know why. You don’t have to know. You’re not like those call-ins from the talk-shows who go on and on about how Osborne sold out for the rings he now wears. You could care less what the players do off the field.

Jude says, “I could call a better play than that. Hasn’t he heard of the pass?”

You say, “He’s a wuss,” even though you realize how important it is to establish the ground game.

Elaine pokes her head into the room and asks, “Can I bring you anything?”

Jude says, “Two more beers.”

Elaine says, “Hold on just a minute, young man.”

You cut her off with, “He said, ‘Two more beers.’ Are you deaf?”

“John, he’s only twelve.”

During the commercial, you get up and find Elaine in the other room. “Don’t back-talk me in front of my boy,” you say.

Elaine chokes back a laugh and says, “Your boy? You see him once a year. And how do you know this isn’t some kind of trick? Huh?”

“What trick?” you ask.

“If that kid’s drunk when his mother gets here, you might be put away for more than weekends. Honey, I’m worried.”

“He’s not gonna get drunk Elaine. We’re just having some beers during the ball game.”

“John, he’s twelve years old.”

“So? When I was twelve I ….”

“You what?”

“Nothing. Elaine, look, just stay out of this. This isn’t your business.”

“The hell it isn’t. You’re my man. You are my business.”

Jude yells from the den, “Colorado just scored a touchdown.”

The last thing you need today is a tight game. Aren’t you upset enough already? You go to the kitchen and retrieve two more beers. Whiskey is what you need, but Elaine won’t let you have it in the house. You have to go down to Sal’s for a real drink.

Elaine says, “No one can tell you a damn thing.” That’s what Jude’s mother used to say. God damn them. Why do they do this? All you want is to watch the game with your boy, but no, they have to go and get smart. Well fuck that. You’re not going down this path today. It’s a holiday and you’re free. You’re home and will do what you want.

“Shut your fucking lip,” you say.

“Like hell! I’m not going to stand here and take that.”

You’re still standing there, but inside you’ve left the room. Your other personality is standing in. And he ain’t gonna take any shit. Not from some woman who doesn’t know when to shut up. No way. He’s gonna take care of business. He’s not gonna let you get trampled like before. Steamrolled. Sent to jail every fucking Saturday morning at 6:30 A.M.

Your other personality, now fully surfaced, smacks her. She goes flying into the air and lands on the range, where a pot of water boils. Time slows. You see a hundred faces of Elaine as she gathers herself. You never hit her before. You hit Jude’s mother pretty regular, but not Elaine. Elaine’s a psycho. If you hit her, you better finish the job, because you’d never be safe again.

She grabs the handle of the spilled pot and belts you across the face with it. You’re stunned pretty good. Then she comes at you with a butcher knife. She lunges, but you turn away at the last second. Her momentum carries her forward and she lands in a heap on the floor. You pounce on her and get the knife away. Then you bash her head into the tile floor until she loses consciousness. You take her to the bedroom and hand-cuff her to the bed-post.

“Jesus John, what happened to your face? And where’ve you been? Colorado scored again,” says Jude as you sit down in the Lazy Boy recliner.

“I uh, I burned myself on the turkey, trying to re-heat it.”

“Oh.”

You hand Jude his second beer. “Got any girl friends yet?”

“Nope.”

Brent Musberger’s voice and general lack of ability to call a game of this magnitude is starting to piss you off. What does some eastern asshole know about football? He sure as shit doesn’t know about Nebraska football. To Jude you say, “Just as well, they’re all bitches.”

Jude looks at you like you’re from Mars. He says, “I like girls John. And I love Lydia.”

“Sure you do. That’s natural,” you say.

“Where’s Elaine?” he probes.

“Oh, she’s taking a nap. Don’t worry about her?”

At half-time you get up and put an ice bag on your face. You look in on Elaine. She’s still out. The phone rings. Shit. You get it on the second ring. It’s Jude’s mother. She wants to talk to him. You tell him to pick up in the den, that it’s for him. Then the blood curdling scream comes, “Help me!”

Jude drops the receiver. He’s petrified. He just stands there while the voice on the phone implores from the floor, “What’s the matter? Jude? What’s the matter baby?”

You pick up the phone and say into it, “Everything’s fine. Jude will call you right back.” You hang it up, then disconnect the phone from the wall.

“I want to go home,” Jude cries.

“Helllllllllllllllllllp.”

“Jude, everything’s cool. Elaine and I are having a fight is all. I’m going to go in and talk to her. You just sit down and I’ll be back in no time.”

“I wanna go home John. I don’t care what you do. You can’t keep me here.”

You say, “It’s fine Jude, really. Relax. Elaine’s pissed, but this stuff happens when you get married. Now, I’m going to go talk to her and work things out, so you just sit down and watch the game.”

He obeys.

You go to the bedroom. Elaine is gyrating every which way in attempt to free herself from the head-board. But it’s made from steel and isn’t about to break. “Best stop your strugglin’ girl, it’s only gonna make things worse,” you say.

In the den, Jude plugs the phone back into the jack and dials 911.

“You let me go, you filthy rotten son-of-a-bitch,” Elaine implores.

“I don’t think so honey.”

“Juuuuuuuuuuuuuude,” she yells. You put a sock in her mouth, then go to the den to check on Jude. He is ready for the third quarter to start. The phone, you notice, is still disconnected. “I think we’re about to come to terms. I’ll be right back to watch the rest of the game. OK Jude?”

“Yeah, but I don’t like the look of things. The Huskers should be way ahead in this game, but they keep letting the Buffs hang in.”

“Typical Osborne,” you say.

In the bedroom, you watch Elaine squirm. You might as well go ahead and give her the punishment she deserves. She’s been a real bitch, throwing the pan at you, and all, not to mention the knife.

She struggles, but what’s the point, you think. She ain’t goin’ nowhere. She kicks at you like a wild horse before it’s broken. You’ve been out to the ranch a time or two and you figure you’ve got a saddle for this here little problem.

You enter her ass, with no lubricant.

Jude peers in the door and says, “Holy shit.”

“Hey, get out of here,” you yell. You make a deposit, then leave her and go back to the den. Jude’s sitting there all balled up. He’s got his arms wrapped around his knees and he rocks there in the cradle of his own making.

“Hey, what’s a matter?” you ask.

“Nothing,” he squeaks.

“Listen, about what you saw … Elaine’s kind of kinky. She likes me to hand-cuff her, and stuff.”

“And stuff?” the kid asks.

“Yeah, stuff. Don’t pay it any mind.”

Then three solid knocks on the door. You eye Jude suspiciously. “Did you call your mother? You little prick. I’ll get you for this.”

Jude cries and manages to say, “I didn’t call no one.”

“You better be telling the truth or so help me…”

You peek out the window. A beige sedan. Shit. More knocks and a loud voice, “Mr. Hardman, this is the Omaha police. Open up. We want to talk to you.”

“What do you want?”

“Sir, we just want to come in for a minute and see that everything is all right. Open the door, sir.”

Who do they think they’re foolin’, calling me, “Sir?” You open the door and two detectives, one of them rather agitated, stare back at you. You say, “Who called you?”

The agitated one is a big man and he puts his bear sized paw on the door and forcibly enters your domicile. Your space. It isn’t the weekend yet. No. You are free on Friday and by god, you’re gonna defend what’s yours. “Hey, you can’t come bustin’ in here. Where’s your warrant?”

The other one says, “We don’t need a warrant Mr. Hardman. You’re already a ward of the court and we had two calls indicating a disturbance here. Unless you want to go down to the station and…”

“What do you want?” you say.

“Like to have a look around is all.”

“Go ahead.”

The cops find Jude glued to the 27 inch Sony. The agitated one joins him, and asks, “What’s the score?”

Jude says, “17 to 12 us.”

The cop says, “These close games give me heart-burn.”

His partner finds Elaine still cuffed and gagged. He says, “Newt, better get over here.”

Elaine is naked on the bottom and the cops are fascinated by it. You figure fast, go in there and throw the sheet up over her, then begin fiddling for the hand-cuff keys you keep in the night-stand. You let her loose and she flips over and pulls the sock from her mouth and lunges full-force like a cat, but the big cop grabs her and puts a stop to it. “He raped me!” Elaine screams.

You say, “Now honey, don’t start that again.” Then to the cops, “Fellas, this is my wife. Been married for years.”

The cops look at each other knowingly. Elaine says to them, “Before you even start to think, you go in there and ask Jude. He saw.” The big cop lets go of Elaine’s arm and just that quick she is on you, and before they get her off she bites into your burned cheek and takes a chunk, which she spits out onto the bed. The big cop gets Elaine back and says, “You’re a feisty one.”

The other cop looks at you close and says, “That’s going to require stitches.”

You say, “Nah, no medical. It’ll patch.”

Outside the house a car screeches to a halt and footsteps go clap clap clap on the pavement. Lydia bursts into the house and yells, “Jude! Jude where are you?” She finds him and smothers him with her body, as if to protect him, and shelter him from the cruel world. “Are you okay, baby? Did he hurt you?”

“No.”

“Don’t be afraid, baby. Mommy’s here.”

“I’m not,” says Jude.

The big cop brings Elaine into the room with Jude and Lydia. “And who are you?” he asks Lydia.

“I am his mother. I’m the one who called you. That man in there is sick. Twisted. Violent. A freaking menace. We’re out of here. Let’s go Jude.”

“Mom, are you crazy? We can’t leave now. The game’s on the line.”

Elaine, in shock, mumbles, “He raped me. The piece of shit I’m married to, raped me. Can anyone hear me?”

“Jude I don’t care if the world’s coming to an end. We are out of here. The world can end in West Omaha.” That did not move him, so she says, “Jesus Christ Jude, we’ll listen to it on the radio in the car.” Lydia pulls him up by the arms and drags him from the house.

“Hey, Jerry get in here,” the big cop says to his partner. “There’s only two minutes left in the fourth.”

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