by David O’Boyle (Copyright Fall 2021) Transient Visitors Teaser Tale #5.
An army of empty beers blocked Arro’s view of the game. Beckett, Arro’s friend since preschool, must have been busy in the second half. Only the Emperor himself could drain that many imperial IPAs in so short a time and still sit up straight.
Perhaps he had some help. More people were over since Arro drifted off. This was typical for the later, out-of-market, afternoon games. Most of the crew did their own thing for the earlier local game. Since the majority of them still lived with their parents, and Saturday nights could make Sunday mornings and early Sunday afternoons a little groggy, watching that game with family made more sense than arriving too early at the castle.
The castle was their nickname for the Emperor’s apartment.
Arro had the privilege of living in the castle. Unbeknownst to other subjects, he did so on discounted rent from the crown. While he was forever thankful for the Emperor’s kind gesture, the quasi-charitable living arrangement that the gesture formed made it hard for Arro to complain about anything. And on days like these, when Arro’s sleep was disturbed by newcomers trying to steal their share of couch cushion, voicing a grievance or two could come in handy.
A strange play occurred on screen. The second he saw it, he looked at the Emperor and smiled.
“Vintage Arro,” the Emperor said, reading his friend’s mind. Back in high school Arro had made a nearly identical play. Some would say it was that play that made him famous.
“Not anymore,” muttered another friend lining up whiskey shots to dull the pain of a bad betting day.
On the other end of the couch, the girl of the group, half-comatose, chomping on edibles, added, “Arro’d have a heart attack before finishing a fly route now.”
Though these were typical digs amongst friends, they hit Arro with unforeseeable sting. The feeling compelled him to leave the castle for some air.
When he announced the plan to his friends, the Emperor threw him some cash, indicating that he needed his IPAs and his Doritos replenished. “Be back before the Sunday night game. Get something for yourself too,” the Emperor ordered.
Arro shook his head, agreeing to carry out the decree. Everyone found that funny, as if he had a choice in the matter. The only choice he did have, due to the fact that the Sunday night game was 90 minutes away, was whether he wanted to take a detour to the convenience store. Arro, desiring a visit to his high school football field, grabbed his keys and went to take advantage of his free time.
Even from afar the gridiron looked worn down, eroded by the cleats of student-athletes. Arro sighed as he stepped between the lines, fearing that daylight had passed on both the field and his playing days. That thought was a real punch in the gut. Speaking of gut, he grabbed his belly with both hands and viewed it with disgust. It was true what they said, he was not what he used to be. At the moment, the Arro was an empty quiver, a shell of his former self.
But I’m still young enough. I can return to old form. My mind’s there, I just need my body back in shape.
With a mountain climber’s precision, Arro stepped up to the line of scrimmage. A gentle nod from an imaginary line judge assured him of proper positioning. A gentle nod from his imagined quarterback in the other direction, assured him of the proper play call.
A lengthy snap count followed…then boom.
The Arro was off.
Shot from a bow, as they used to say.
The first few routes were flats, comebacks and curls- the short stuff. Mid-range slants between the hashmarks and outs to the sideline that he stretched to the first down marker came next. Finally fresh, Arro got set for a fly route. This route, more than all the others, brought him closest to the endzone, and to the past, when he was not just Arro, he was the Arro.
30, 20, 10-yard line. Arro sprinted down the field faster than anticipated, evading defenders of yesteryear that seemed to raise from the ground like ghosts at a cemetery. So invigorated by his performance, he high-stepped into the endzone. Once he arrived, he somersaulted over the goal line, landed on his back, and stared at the sky, more content than he’d been in ages.
Maybe I’m not done. Maybe I can still be the Arro. Times weren’t like they used to be. Some people playing in the NFL are my age, even older. It’d be a comeback for the ages!
Before doing any of that though, Arro needed to find his keys, which fell out of his pocket sometime during the fly route. Arro thought about finding keys in a field like this in earlier times, when night was dark, when light pollution didn’t make everything day, when the world knew color beyond shades of gray.
But it wasn’t earlier times. Arro had his phone. At the press of a button the phone connected with his keys and made them light up and beep in the grass. He found them stuck in grass on the 15-yard line, chirping like birds did, when birds were around.
Back at the castle, the dip bowls were licked clean and the pizza boxes held empty bottles instead of pizza. Everyone was in the same place as before, just drunker, higher and fuller. Arro, with provision from the convenience store in hand, was greeted like a merchant on the Silk Road.
“Need a seat? I can move over,” the Emperor said to Arro.
“Nah I’m off to bed,” Arro said, placing the items on the last bit of empty coffee table space.
“Why so soon? It’s only the third quarter?” someone said.
“I’m up early tomorrow,” Arro said, remembering now to grab his treat from the table that he bought with the Emperor’s cash, and his blessing.
“Call in late and live a little. You’ve been at that company for how many years?” the Emperor asked, winding up to throw Arro a beer.
“40 years next year,” Arro said with a combination of pride and shame, while also declining the offer.
“Solid tenure,” someone else said.
“What is it to collect social security again?” the Emperor asked.
“Another 40 years,” Arro said, walking out of the room with his treat in hand.
“What a tool,” someone else said in response to his leaving, loud enough so Arro could hear.
The Emperor shrugged. Then he said, “I guess football isn’t as important to people who never played.”
“I played,” Arro yelled defensively from down the hall. His treat, already in his mouth, garbled his words.
“You played flag,” the Emperor yelled back. “Go lay down.”