Thursday, September 23, 2010


Headlights go dark upon impact with the barrier. Wrenching metal twists and snaps, scraping an expensive paint job, one designed to stand out in traffic. But there are no witnesses here. There might have been a squeal of tires and the reverberating hum of anti-lock brakes... except there was no hint of regret; no thought of reversing a decision, until the Ascari A10 was already airborne.


Kyle's running full-speed in what will be his final professional game. He has no idea that his leg will momentarily twist violently, shredding both cruciate, both collateral, and his patellar ligaments in his left knee. He's already internationally famous in the football world. And the YouTube replay of a leg heading one direction while a body heads another will make him an Internet sensation.

He's flanking the the opposing striker, dutifully engaged in a battle for position as an attacking midfielder sets up what would otherwise be a breakaway. But Kyle's challenge fails. And since a fellow defender had been drawn hopelessly out of position, he finds himself alone on his side of the field. Another fellow defender rushes towards the goal, but he's too far away. It is the attacking midfielder that Kyle fails to see who charges him, freeing the opposing striker to fire a shot into the goal.

It bounces safely off the crossbar and into the hands of Kyle's goalkeeper while the attacking midfielder, unable to change his momentum, knocks Kyle to the ground while Kyle's left cleat is planted firmly in the grass.

The goal is saved and the red card awarded. But Kyle cannot get up. He hasn't screamed this loud since his brother was killed.


As if some futile cosmic joke, the Ascari's brake lights engage in mid-air as the top of a Jeffrey Pine snaps, throwing needles to the ground like confetti in a welcome-home parade.


In the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Kyle gradually accepts that his playing career is over. His agent, unwilling to let a friend and client worry about the future, quickly obtains an assistant coaching position for Kyle in America's nascent Major League Soccer organization. Kyle remains understandably upset over his situation, but he appreciates the gesture. He's been a football mentor since his high school days, often volunteering to coach in local youth leagues, and many agree - the press benevolently included - that the switch will fit him like a glove.

It is only two weeks into his physical therapy that Kyle receives his second injury of the year. A childhood friend has committed suicide. The news is hard to accept and, upon acceptance, even harder to bear. Though Kyle never mentions exactly why, those closest to him accurately surmise that Kyle somehow blames himself... just like, years before, he blamed himself for the death of his brother.

His agent tries unsuccessfully to convince Kyle to remain in therapy; to forgo the funeral. Not out of disrespect for the dead - quite the opposite, in fact. Kyle's agent seems to know what seeing a friend, lying dead in a casket, will do to the former football superstar. Particularly this friend. Whose picture - known only to Kyle's teammates, coaches, and his agent - lovingly adorns Kyle's locker. The agent realizes that he never knew the girl's name until the funeral notice arrived. And even before he told Kyle, he knew the notice was of the girl in the photograph.


Another tree shifts the trajectory of the sports car, initiating a spin that is only stopped by yet another tree. Bark and pine needles fire their way through shattering safely glass and transmission axle begins to cut through foliage. A deploying airbag mercifully deflects the end of a branch away from the driver's face, resulting in only a burning cut on right cheek.


Kyle lost his virginity to Elise in high school, even though he had been dating someone else at the time. He was 18; Elise was 17. It happened in a guest bedroom at a friend's Valentine's Day party. Kyle knew Elise and his brother were practically an item, but he justified it in that neither Elise nor his brother ever came out and said it. Kyle was - is, really - also in love with Elise. Both were drunk, and he makes no excuses for taking advantage of the situation. He asked her several times if it was okay. She only responded by opening her legs to him or squeezing them around him. When he felt unable to resist his lust for her any longer, he unzipped his trousers, flipped her dress, and entered her body. Though completely drunk, it is his most powerful - and favorite - memory.

He left her there by herself when they finished. She passed out after faking her orgasm and though he tucked her under the blankets, he failed to lock the door behind him. She was raped by a teammate while Kyle was off having sex with his girlfriend. He's never forgiven himself. For leaving her there. For being with another girl. For betraying his brother. And for not killing the rapist, though he tried.

To this day, he knows why Elise ran to Keith and not Kyle after the incident, even though Keith had not come to the party. She must have known where Kyle was and what he was doing. She must have figured that Keith loved her more than Kyle did. Kyle's since refused to determine for himself if that was the case or not. But he did love her. Still does.

She moved away shortly after the rape. Kyle never saw her again. He wanted to, of course, and was planning on doing so. But Keith's death changed everything. And Kyle couldn't live with any more guilt.


The chassis' forward progress is halted by a sturdy trunk and the car begins to slide straight down. A branch bends but does not break, flinging the Ascari into a rolling descent. Seat-belt burns a mark into neck as wooden hands begin tearing apart carbon-fiber and leather.


Kyle remembers the calming nature of the Sierra Nevadas. The crisp mountain air, the moon's reflection on mountain lake. He's tried everything to outrun his ghosts - both of them - but nothing's seemed to work. The winding highways through the mountain range offer brief solace. He drives dangerously and it's making him focus.

At least for a while.

He can smell the brakes heating up. He can feel the transmission struggling through constant downshifting. He can see the red-line on the tachometer. He can hear his brother. He can hear the lover he always wanted. And he wants to join them.

A guilty conscious makes for a poor passenger. Kyle is well-aware of this, having lived with one for years. He decides to finally let it drive.

There is no hint of regret; no thought of reversing a decision. Until the sensation of flight reminds him of what it means to be alive.


Kate Hanley said...

have we met Elise, Kyle and Keith before? I feel like we have in another story or there was a similar triangle. I like how your stories jump from perspective to perspective. It would interesting to hear Elise's side. By the way, loved the dream you posted earlier. Dreams fascinate me and I tend to have a lot of weird ones.

Alan Burnett said...

The second paragraph is strangely reminiscent of the Manchester United player Valencia's injury a couple of weeks ago. Must be a coincidence because I know you don't recognise any other kind of "football" than the sort you play over there.

Julie said...

conscience ... guilty conscience ...

To my reading, this is the better of the three that you have submitted in this round. The structure is the main point for me: it is complex, yet you maintain control of the direction with all the interweaving.

Now, I hope there is not an element of autobiog in this, because I have to tell you that, although your narrator says otherwise, Kyle has NO idea what love really is. Elise was raped twice that night. Correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot recall the reader being told how Keith died. This is his 'favorite and most powerful memory' leads me to think that Kyle is not in contact with the inner person.

Yet another example of yearning romanticism from an amateur American writer. You seem to yearn for heroes and them make them fall from a great height. I wonder why this is?

Jeff, I would love to read a piece by you that is not told by a narrator. Can you give me a link, please?

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

This is really solid piece, Jeff, and very nicely back-woven into You're Beautiful tale. I bet a couple of things here surprised even you as you wrote them (the teammate).

PattiKen said...

I found the shifts between the drive and the past to work really well. But I did have a little trouble with the story-to-story continuity.

I'm still chuckling over Julie's next to last paragraph.

Tom said...

awesome follow-up. I like the character studies a lot--and repeat my earlier assumption/comment

x said...

As with Amanda's I like the little textures you add...the pine needle confetti, for instance. The structure is complex but not hard to follow. The fact that this moment with Elise is a favorite memory does not make me feel sorry for him in the end.

Amanda said...

wow - x and i were struck by the same things - the pine needle confetti just stayed with me throughout - and that image of the ascari airbound the whole way nicely sailing over and above the intrigue of kyle, elise and keith. just went back and love the fact that you start with 'headlights go dark upon impact'.

Not For Jellyfish said...

Is there a "like" button here?

Tess Kincaid said... buckled my seatbelt at the end. A Jeffrey pine, eh?

Kris said...


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