Run the LineChloe N. Clark
All the football players Glory knows are dead but they’ll still show up for games. Her brother was the running back of the high school team and when the school bus bringing them home from an away game, two years before, hit a spot of black ice, the bus swerved and slid and lost control and the team must have shouted and then there was nothing. It must have been so cold in the water. She thinks about this more than she should, though less than she could.
Glory doesn’t really know much about the sport, though she always watched her brother’s games and still does. They called him Lightning Luke. He was so fast, so graceful that he could spin and swerve around the opposing team’s players as if they weren’t even there. If the bus had been Luke, then everyone would have survived.
His best friend was the quarterback, Tom. Tom was tall and off the field spoke so quietly that people had trouble hearing them. But Luke always heard him, would repeat what he said just a little louder so everyone could hear. He’d say, “oh, Tom, that’s an interesting point about how Hester acts like the ghost and the whole town is haunted,” and everyone in class would nod and understand that Tom had said something deep and thoughtful and Luke was just the conduit. Glory thinks they must have been sitting next to each other on the bus. That was something, even if it wasn’t much.
On Homecoming, everyone at the school knows the team will come back. It’s tradition. They don’t miss games, especially not big ones. The school hasn’t had to have tryouts in the years since the bus accident. Glory never gets to talk to her brother on game days, no one does. But, the other teams’ players still taunt them, try to get them to mess up. They’re never too cruel, though, they never bring up that all the boys are dead, will never come back, will never get hot cocoa after the game, never kiss someone just because they won. Instead, they say, you suck, your mama could play better.
Glory is now the same age as her older brother. It is the math of tragedies. He used to call her kiddo, would throw Beanie Babies at her when she wasn’t looking, would take her on drives with him at night to get ice cream. He’d say, “one day all of this will be yours” and point at the handmedown car from their parents.
On the night of the big game, she goes early to get a bleacher seat nearest to the field. She sits next to Cassie, the girlfriend of one of the defensive linemen. She hasn’t dated anyone since, says maybe when she’s in college because here it was like he was still around. The weather is sharp and cool, but not yet cold enough to shiver. Except when the team enters the field and the air temp always drops for a moment, and Glory can see her breath.
When she was little, she liked building snow forts and hiding inside them. She’d watch her breath melt the edges. Luke would peek in the doorway and throw cookies at her, pieces of candy, he’d ask her how her Arctic mission was going.
When the team enters the field, they look out at the stands, but never make eye contact with anyone. Glory is not sure if they do it on purpose or if it’s something else, if they are kept from it by some rule of the dead. She wonders if they see everybody, the whole town practically, bundled in warm coats, and ready to cheer for their team.
The game stretches through the night. Every touchdown is traded off with the opposing team. The crowd leans forward as one, every single body tensed. They are ready for victory.
A week or two before the accident, they drove for ice cream and Luke talked about college. He said, “do you think I’ll have to play football there, too?” Glory had been surprised hearing him, she’d always thought he’d loved the game. Lightning Luke. “You don’t have to do anything, I don’t think,” she’d said. She had imagined a life spinning out for her brother, maybe he’d be an artist or a cook or an engineer. Maybe he’d fly to space, or dive into the ocean to look for endangered octopuses. He’d smiled at her, “maybe I won’t, then.” As if it was as easy as that since she’d said it. As if he’d never had such a thought before.
On the field, Luke is running with the ball. He is dodging and dancing around the opposition. Glory wants to shout that he can drop it if he wants. But she never yells. She sometimes sits out in the cold until ice forms on her eyelashes. But she never yells.
It’s a touchdown and the crowd goes wild. They chant his name. Lightning Luke. Lightning Luke. He was seventeen. They’d all always be seventeen. Always be football uniforms and nicknames. Glory wants to explore the world for him, to eat every dish and touch every tree. She wants to come home every year and wait until the game where he looks at the crowd and sees her.
Lightning Luke. Lightning. Luke. She chants it, too. It might as well be a prayer.