Thunder Football HelmetTitle: Hard Enough
Author: Albert Waitt
Category: Fiction
Wallace parked at the far end of the lot and sighed.  The coaches’ cars sat across the way next to the locker room, two pickups and three SUVs, all Timberline High ruby red.  Those bastards would be on his ass all day.  He was quarterback by default.  The two juniors who wanted it so bad were useless.  Eddie Montego whipped the ball all over the field in practice, but couldn’t remember the plays. And though Richardson ran the offense as if he were playing Madden, his passes fluttered and dropped like drunken pigeons.  What else could they do but start him, Jeff Wallace, the senior?
     He took the Altoid tin from his duffel on the passenger seat.  Without looking, he snapped it open and pulled out the joint.  On the field below, one of the maintenance crew trimmed the far end zone.  Wallace slid down in the seat and lit up.  As the smoke singed his throat he gazed at the tops of the pines lining the street in front of the school.  Phone wires ran across them like iron bars.  He’d studied that black-on-green before, in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen on Pond Street where they used to go after his Little League games.
     “You can stay in the car,” his father had said, opening the door so his brother and sister could go get cones.  “You didn’t get a hit.”
     “Neither did Danny.”
     “Danny’s not like you, and you know it.”
     “I tried.”
     “Apparently, not hard enough.” 

When the ball is snapped Wallace pivots and fakes to Johnson.  He scampers back and sets himself in the pocket.   The Mike linebacker has bitten, and Wallace waits for Regan to square into the open space in the middle of the field.  He breathes in, pats the ball, breathes out.  Palermo, on his blind side, utters a mongrel of grunt and moan; he’s losing his man.  Wallace steps forward and throws.  The ball sails.  Then the pain flashes through his back and he flies forward and down.  His face mask hits the turf.  The grass smells fresh and clean.  There is applause.
     Palermo grabs him by the shoulder pads and yanks him to his feet, asks if he is okay.  Regan is handing the ball to one of the officials.  Five steps onto the field, their coach screams at the referee about a roughing-the-passer penalty.  Jeff Wallace grins and shakes his head.  As long as he’s standing, they’ll let it go.  He’d be a fool to expect otherwise.

Albert Waitt’s short fiction has been published by Third Coast, The Beloit Fiction Journal, The Literary Review, and other journals. He is working on a novel. A graduate of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University, he currently teaches creative writing for the University of Phoenix.