Goooal!

A leg in a boot, soccer on the brain, a trout
on the line, and sixteen to the bone.

[by Pete Fromm]

RIDLEY STARED ACROSS THE SWELTERING ROOM at his shirtless son, glistening despite the roaring fan, his leg jerking as he twisted the controller, the broiling laptop across his knees and crutches propped against the recliner, the walking boot—sturdy Velcro straps, space-age plastic armor—encasing his right leg. Ridley remembered the nurse’s stoicism, that slight turn of the head from the mushroom reek as she’d cut open the cast, a whole month’s worth of sweat locked away in its cottony cesspool.

From the laptop, the game’s Cockney announcers hallooed a brilliant challenge, the crescendo of crowd noise drowning out even the fan. Ridley had been standing in the doorway for more than a minute, but Andy seemed to have no idea he was there, in the same house, on the same planet.

ANDY JERKED SUDDENLY UPRIGHT, both hands shooting into the air, palms up, as if he’d been fouled himself. “Ref!” He gaped dumbfounded at the screen, cried, “You could not have not seen that!” Exactly the kind of thing Ridley had worked so hard against since the first Pee-Wee soccer camps. But this year, with the World Cup, the pros flopping and whining and crying foul as if that was really all they were paid for, his effort had washed away like a breached dam.

“Andy,” he said again. “Andy!”

His son glanced up, hair pressed damp against his skull. “Did you see that?”

Ridley didn’t roll his eyes. Only shook his head, the laptop facing away from him.

“No way he touched the ball. A slide tackle from behind? Total PK!”

“Total,” Ridley said. But soccer never stopped, and Andy was gone, thumbs working the controller, tongue pinched in the corner of his mouth. In a moment his fist punched the sky and he shouted, “Gooooal!” along with the announcers. The world right again.

Ridley stood in the doorway till the game was over, FIFA 13 at least humane enough to speed up time.

Then he waited through the management phase, Andy the star forward, the coach, the manager, Manchester United a world force under his direction.

“I was thinking,” Ridley said.

“I just bought Ramos for twenty million,” Andy said.

Ridley nodded. “No doubt a bargain at twice the price. But I was thinking, maybe it’d be good for you to get out, to—”

Andy fixed him with a stare. “And what, run some ladders? Sprints? Wait, maybe some backpacking.”

THE STREET FRACTURE HAD KNOCKED HIM out of the spring league season, out of the playoffs, regionals. The only silver lining had been the World Cup, games to watch for the whole month of the cast, and now the boot. He could ride the exercise bike with the boot, and did, the whole upstairs reeking like a 16-year-old’s gym. The Ab Roller. The bench. The weights. Ridley didn’t doubt him when Andy insisted he’d come back in better shape than he’d gone down.

“I was thinking, with the Cup over, there’s really nothing to stay here for. Maybe we could—”

“Could what, Dad?”

“Go for a float. I’d guide. Do everything. All the lifting, the setup and teardown, the shuttle. You’d be like a client. Just cast and crank in the lunkers. No weight on the foot at all.”

Andy’s mouth dropped open, not quite in uncalled-foul-disbelief but in disbelief all the same. “It’s like a hundred degrees out there,” he said.

“It’s like two hundred up here. And it smells like you died a month ago.”

Andy raised an eyebrow, and, God help him, if he said one thing about I might as well have, Ridley wouldn’t be responsible for his actions.

“You used to like fishing,” Ridley said. “More than your brother.” Cal was off to college now, the surprise summer job in Colorado guiding, Christmas since they’d seen him.

“I was like six, Dad.”

Ridley nodded. And already two years of Micro-Strikers under his belt. Good Lord, who could have guessed where that would lead? “I know, but still.”

Andy stared, thumbs poised on the controller, the next match just waiting.

“You’ve got to get out of here, Andy. Get some light on your skin. Vitamin D.”

“I. Can’t. Do. Anything.”