Friday, September 26, 2014
Jefferson Davis was in a fix.
It was towards the end of the fourth quarter already and the natives were getting restless. Bugs swarmed in the high and bright lights and the players' pads were soaked in Indian summer sweat.
Jeff saw Brenda Lee Underwood over by the south end bleachers, just above where they liked to drink beers and nip at each other most nights when football wasn't on.
That bitch was there with the prick with the Camaro from up north of county line and didn't she just love anything with pants on?
"Should've listened to Danny Joe Dean, the Highsteppers' bass player," he told himself, "when we was up at the Collection House and he said she wasn't worth the cheap dress she was burstin' out of."
Darnell Hampton was loping back to the huddle. He saw his mother standing in the north end, hands clenched in prayer, old before her time. There were others from the family and neighborhood standing frozen around her. Aunts and uncles come to see Darnell the Wonder Boy. He didn't need to look to know they'd all be praying, too. Or passed out already from the delirium of the Jaguars' pending defeat.
The football religion was strong on both sides of the tracks and both sides of the tracks were simmering in disappointment.
This was no homecoming crosstown rivalry. It was a little 'ol Catholic school you couldn't even find in the Arkansas state high school football rankings. And here were the Jaguars sputtering toward the final gun, ready to blow a shot at the perfect season in the first warm-up game.
Whitman High took a last time out. Coach called Jeff Davis to the sideline so he could draw up a play. As Jeff jogged in he scanned the bleachers and saw Danny Joe Dean giving him the finger.
Damn he loved that 'ol boy!
Coach whipped up Xs and Os that had a shotgun, a pulling guard, and a wildcat something or other. He sent Jeff back out to hunt with those words, but Jefferson Davis didn't hear a word of it. He just nodded and jogged to the huddle.
His left guard, Ralph Mazzanti looked like something come out of the meat grinder and Henderson, the right side tackle, was useless out of habit.
Jeff Davis looked at Darnell. "You hear that farm boy call you a nigger?"
Darnell looked out at the north bleachers again. The family was still praying for the Lawd to help Whitman High football win. They kept all the stories, the sad stories he had heard. Held them close and whispered them.
Uncle LeRoy was gone, because somebody had to get the chicken and ribs for after the game. That's when they would all rush back to the other side of the railroad tracks to eat and sing and be apart from everything else happening in town.
Darnell was always invited across the track on football Friday nights, but before the clock clanged twelve he was back in the low shacks, a speedy Brougham turned brown pumpkin again.
"Ain't nobody called me a nigger all night 'cause they know I will kick a lot of serious ass if that was the case."
"Like Hayl," Jeff spit. "Number 77 called you a fast country nigger."
Darnell looked into the Maria Regina huddle for a Number 77. "He's black you fool."
"So he's cool?" Jeff asked. "He can say it?"
"Mostly," Darnell practically whispered.
"It's true anyway," Mazzanti said. "The bit about bein' a fast country nigger."
"D'jou just call me a country nigger Ralph?"
"Um, not direct-like. Not like, 'You, Darnell Hampton, are one very fast country nigger as per my word, Ralph Mazzanti.' No. I was paraphrasing."
Jeff knew Ralph picked up "paraphrasing" in Miss Keating's English class, because she wore patch pocket pants and he was focused.
Henderson knew none of those boys cared if one was green and the other blue as long as they could get a miracle touchdown, so he put it out there. "Hayl Darnell, Jeff's just a little hot-and-bothered about Brenda Lee Underwood and her being with that ol' boy from Paragould."
"Henderson you are a useless piece of shit," Jeff Davis shot back.
"Maybe, but it don't change the veracity of what I said none."
Jeff knew Henderson picked up that word, "veracity," from their "principles of dairying" teacher, Doc Hotstetler. He looked over at the south bleachers again and saw Brenda Lee kiss her new beaux.
He'd like to get a gun and kill her straightaway after the game. He thought he'd do it. Get a pistol, shoot all her friends, too. End her world, that fuckin' bitch.
He was drifted back to that night in July down by the river when Tiffany James come up and told Jeff all about how sweet Brenda Lee was on him, and how she was over by the swimming hole with the rope hung on a tree.
"You know the place," she tilted her head at him and pulled on a beer. He almost didn't want to leave.
Jeff Davis went up river and he saw Brenda Lee hanging down from the rope, swinging, her cut-off blue jeans getting pulled up her butt like a hillbilly bikini and this about drove him wild. He watched her swoop out over the water and let loose, landing in the black oily splash. He licked his lips.
Then, like a kinda swamp rat, some guy's head popped up laughing. Brenda Lee squealed and made like she was trying to get out of his arms and that's when she saw him, Jeff, standing there.
"Why Jefferson Davis!" and Brenda Lee looked at him with a kind of challenge in her face, before she turned and kissed that 'ol boy that was in the river with her.
The ref came over. "Break it up," and blew the whistle, waving his right arm around like a whirlybird.
This was the moment. Jeff Davis had never given his troops the play, because he never heard it, and because of Tiffany James and that night down by the river. Same kind of night. Summer night. Bugs and gnats in the air, in your lungs.
He looked over at the bleachers. Again. Brenda Lee pulled herself out of a kiss with the Camaro kid and stared straight at him. Her face had the same challenge in it as that July night by the river. Her button nose pointing skyward.
And he was sparked. Hard. Not by the challenge of a Camaro, or a perfect season, but by the memory of that hillbilly bikini bottom.
Jefferson Davis turned to Darnell Hampton and looked at him across generations of black and whiteness and railroad track and said...
..."Go deep. I'll hit ya!"