The 8 man lies on his back with coaches and players gathered around. The scrum half says stay down. The coach laughs in relief when the 8 man gives him the thumbs up and cracks a joke. What do you call kids born in a whorehouse? Brothel sprouts. It's a common joke. Someone helps the 8 man to the sidelines.
"You'll be out for a month they say. And no drinking for 24 hours."
Terrible, he thinks. The idea of abstaining from drink for a while is a bit of a slap, like a counter-ruck after a tackle. (The 8 man relates everything in life through rugby metaphors.) He tries to remember if he's been taking the medication prescribed for his low grade depression. He's nearly certain that he's paid the electric and water bills.
The last time the 8 man sees his kid: downtown. She is 19. The white masonry of buildings rise, the sidewalks are paved with red brick, and the tracks for the light rail run up and down the road. His kid pauses a moment in the dimming light of dusk, before heading down Lexington and then the intersection is empty.
His team mates support him with pats on the shoulders and the back of his head.
The kid develops a topsyturvy religion based on an inverted reincarnation scheme. When you die, you become your favorite animal. (The kid is going to be a kitten.) What happens after the kitten dies, then you become a plant, and then a thing. These scissors (presented as evidence). They’re a slave.
The 8 man stands on the sidelines holding an ice pack to the back of his head. He thinks he's lucid, even though he's confused about now and before and later. His team is ahead by 2 points as the game winds to a close, but the other team has possession and is moving the ball down the field. Their fly half, tall and lanky, gets the ball and drop kicks it from 30 meters out. Dammit, the 8 man thinks as the ball hurtles through the uprights, that's a beautiful kick.
Each night the kid asks him if he will brush her teeth for her. She claims that she doesn't know how to brush her teeth. The kid puts toothpaste on the toothbrush and then waves the toothbrush around until the lump of toothpaste, perched precariously on her brush, falls off. Two years pass, and she still hasn’t brushed her teeth.
At the ER, the 8 man gets everything scanned and properly checked out. No headache. No nausea. No blurry vision. He is a tough guy with a hard head, apparently. It's all good, but even so, the attending physician advises no practice and games for a month. And walking is OK, but not running. Sloshes the brain around too much. Also, he musn't think too hard.
He looks for weaknesses in the opponents defense and runs hard through a gap, hit low, but the tackler doesn't wrap. The 8 man spins and skitters across the try line, then runs behind the goal posts and centers the ball.
The 8 man laments the fact that he did not take a piss between those two fucks, especially since the first did occur in a washroom. But hindsight is 20/20, and on the second go-around, there's enough residual sperm from the first go in that pre-cum foreplay fluid that he ends up with the kid and married for awhile.
The 8 man thinks he's had a vasectomy; he doesn't want children, but the result of that semi-casual fuck in the washroom raises a question. 1 in 1000 is the answer. There's enough sperm struggling through that post-operative semen spurt that he ends up with the kid and married for awhile.
Too far away to make a leaping tackle, the 8 man still chases. Another teammate is able to haul the runner down, and the 8 man is there to poach the ball, stealing back control, if only for a moment.
When she is 9, his kid loves to hear him read "Call of the Wild". It's their favorite story. They laugh at Mercedes, who screams at every little thing, right up until the moment when her imbecile brothers lead them to their demise, falling through the thin ice, at which point she actually has something to scream about. But Buck, the dog, lingers on.
The 8 man sails down the field in ungainly grace, a tattered rag, worn out, running a hard line, and it's all good, this ballet of blood and broken hands, black eyes and lacerations, that chip away at the narrow slice of time that’s left, until just short of the try line; the back of his head slams into the ground, and the ball is out.