This is the second part of a short story about a young American Jewish woman, student at an elite college, who decides to play serious intramural football with the men. The real subject is Jews versus Greeks, from the Hellenistic era until now. If you haven’t read the first part, please do so.
Ohmigod . . .
He had to be at least six feet tall and outweighed her by at least forty pounds of muscle. His easy bearing as he stood, pretending to listen to the official babble, suggested experience and skill. His jersey number, 88, indicated that he was a pass receiver. Perhaps the Hacksters would use him for blocking; he was certainly big enough. More likely, she realized with a sickening ache, he would be in her face all day.
The coin was tossed. Somebody won. The referee arranged the captains to indicate that the Cyborgians would receive. He then invited the captains to shake hands and play clean as a matter of honor, especially because there weren’t enough officials to monitor everything. Number 88 stepped forward and offered his hand to Dana.
“Hi,” she replied calmly, realizing from the sound of his voice, not quite tenor, not quite baritone, that she’d encountered him somewhere before. His eyes were green. A thick forelock of blond hair protruded from his helmet. Oh, well, Dana shrugged as she shook a couple more hands and headed back to the sidelines. Maybe all that hair will get in his eyes and I’ll have a chance.
The Cyborgian offense took the field. Dana stood on the sidelines, fussed with her hair and watched her team run a dozen ungainly plays, then settle for a field goal. Three to zip, Cyborgians. Kickoff to Holloway. Time to go to work.
The first Hackster offensive series, Dana and Number 88 did nothing. There was no chatter, no body contact, not even eyes. He ran his routes with a casual precision that gave no hint of vulnerability. The Hacksters were running the ball, trying to establish their ground game and failing miserably. Their running back, a squat Number 40 called Real Estate, was ostentatiously berating his blockers for their failure to open up some running room. The Hacksters decided to punt.
The Cyborgians received, then held the ball for the next eight minutes, grinding and mincing out a touchdown. Ten to nothing. An easy game, so far. A simple game.
Dana took the field again. Number 88’s movements were sharper now, more earnest. Dana played off him a bit. The whistle blew on another failed Hackster running play. Real Estate threw his helmet on the ground and drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. Dana and 88 started walking back, for the first time together, while the referee marched off the penalty.
“So what do you think of old Portly?” 88 asked.
“Good course. Too big. I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“I sit in the rear. You don’t.”
For the first time since the coin toss, their eyes met.
“That explains it,” she said uneasily. “What’s your name?”
“Mullen. Hey, listen, Dana, we’re already down ten points and the ground game’s stalled . . .”
“Yeah,” she interrupted, “Real Estate doesn’t seem to be gaining much. Why do you call him that?”
“He’s a business major. Intends to buy the world. So he says. Look, I don’t want this game to get away. I’m going to score on the next play. OK with you?”
Mullen didn’t wait for an answer. He scored on the next play, a long, lazy pass that he leapt high to draw in, so high he seemed to stay up there forever. Then, it seemed to Dana, he was ten yards past her before he even came down. She didn’t bother to pursue. He cruised into the end zone, handed the ball to an official, then walked back toward her, head down. As he approached, he looked up and grinned.
“How you like me now, babe?”
“I’m not your babe.”
“I didn’t say you were. I said you were a babe, not my babe. Anyway,” the smile vanished, “I wasn’t on this team until a week ago.”
“Let’s just say that I came out of retirement to play you. See ya next series. Babe.”
Dana, shaken and shaking, took off her helmet and sat on the bench. Jack Delaney approached her.
“Easy, tigress,” he said with his usual discerning calm. “There’s no way you can handle him.”
“I’ll find a way.”
“Not on your own. Maybe we should double-team him.”
“That just opens it up for somebody else. I’ll find a way, Jack. Promise.”
“I know you’ll try. OK. We’ll stick with single coverage for now.”
Cheered by the touchdown, the Hackster defense stiffened. The quarter ended. Ten minutes later, the Cyborgians cadged another field goal. Thirteen to seven now. Still winning, but getting harder. Dana trotted onto the field with the defensive unit. The Hacksters broke their huddle and came to the line.
“Hey, Dana,” Mullen called as the Hackster quarterback crouched behind center. “What’s your major?”
Shut up, sphincter. Don’t distract me.
The ball was snapped. Dana, concentration ruined by his voice, began her backward movement an instant late. Mullen ran straight toward her, then juked right, then slowed. Dana kept up with him. The Hackster quarterback threw an incompletion on the other side of the field. As the whistle blew, Mullen stopped and whirled. Dana ran into him. Dana bounced off.
“Careful, babe. You might hurt yourself that way.”
“Call me babe one more time, I’ll stomp on your balls. Planning on scoring again?”
“Not for a while. Two TD’s off you too soon and Jack will double-team me. I prefer us one-on-one for now. Talk to me. What’s your major?”
“Political science. Pre-law.”
“So what are you doing in Portly’s course?”
“Had an elective. Heard he was interesting sometimes. What’s your major?”
“What do you do with a classics degree?”
“You live it. Next play will be a ten-yard sideline route. I’ll button-hook for the reception. Don’t try to intercept. Tackle me.”
“And if I try to intercept?”
“You won’t succeed. And I’ll have to drop the ball or score. Don’t want to do either just yet.”
The play developed as Mullen had predicted, but the pass was high. He leapt to bring it in, arms stretched skyward. Dana timed her hit. As his hands closed on the ball, she drove shoulder-first into his midsection. He gasped, inhaled loudly, then dropped the ball. They fell side by side.
“How you like me now, babe?” she asked.
“I like you a lot,” he said, rising quickly and extending his hand to help her up. “Nice lick, babe. That hurt.”
“Stop calling me babe.”
“OK. How about goddess?”
Dana glared, then laughed. “You’re incorrigible.”
“True. I’m rarely corriged. But I do know something about goddesses.”
“How to spot one. Who’s your goddess, goddess?”
“Asherah,” Dana answered quickly, wondering what, if anything, she knew about Asherah.
“Don’t you pay attention in class?” she asked, happy to be feeling a bit more equal. “Portly explained it.”
“Oh, yeah. The Hebrew goddess from the Old Testament. Yahweh’s consort, until the Israelites decided he didn’t need one, or they didn’t want him to have one, or some such whatever. But you can’t keep a good goddess down. She reappears in Judaism as the Sabbath Queen and in Christianity as the Virgin Mary.”
“Portly said that?”
“No. I did. Portly said that Asherah had started out as the consort of the Canaanite sky god, El. Later, she took up with the war and fertility god Ba’al. The Israelites ditched her so they could pretend that El wasn’t part of the fusion of gods that created Yahweh. You’re not confusing my occasional rear-of-the-classroom participation with old Portly’s wisdom, are you?”
“What else did you say?”
“That you can’t keep a good goddess down. Especially on your Sabbath. See ya. Goddess.”
They returned to their teams. The Hacksters ground game began to work. Real Estate now picked up four or five yards per carry. The Cyborgian secondary drew in to help the linebackers. Gang tackling was now the only way to stop him. Dana played closer to the line, hoping that the piles wouldn’t come her way. Mullen got open on play after play, but the Hacksters kept giving Real Estate the ball. As the final minute of the first half wore down, she caught Mullen looking her way often.
Four seconds left, with the Hacksters on the Cyborgian thirty-four yard line, Jack Delaney summoned the defensive huddle.
“Look, they’re out of field goal range and Real Estate can’t pick up all that yardage on one play. He’s too slow. They have to go long to 88. Dana can’t handle him alone. I’m not sure even two guys can. So we’re gonna gamble. Safety blitz. Let’s go.”
Dana froze within. The teams lined up. The play began. The lines collided. Dana moved toward the blur of violence, felt impact, felt ground, felt weight atop her, then a punch and a hiss.
“Any time, Jew bitch. Come visit any time.”
Real Estate got off her, then kicked her in the back of the helmet. Hard. A loud whistle blew. Dazed, she looked up as a yellow flag dropped near her head, its yellow the color of her vision. Men of both teams were dragging Real Estate away.
Time had expired. But the half cannot end on a penalty. The referee assessed the Hacksters fifteen yards for a personal foul, then turned to Delaney, expecting the Cyborgian captain to refuse the penalty and end the half.
Mullen moved between Jack and the official and said to Jack, “Accept the penalty.”
What for? Give you clowns another chance to score on us?”
“No, Jack. Just accept the penalty.”
They stared at each other for a few seconds, until Jack understood what was being offered. He nodded.
The official spotted the ball. The two teams huddled. Dana, still shaky, felt dread immure her as she realized that the Hacksters might try a Hail Mary.
They broke their huddles. The lines took their three-point stance and the Hacksters quarterback moved behind center, with Real Estate behind him. Then, from his split end position, far from the line, Mullen called clearly,
“The play will be a hand-off to Number 40, tackle-right. Widow-Maker on Number 40. This play. Now.”
No one moved except Real Estate, who jerked up in terror and looked around, then stepped oddly back and forth, enraged. The official might have thrown a flag for illegal motion and whistled the play dead. He chose not to. The Hackster quarterback called the play, took the snap, then turned to hand off to Real Estate. The opposing lines stood up and waited for Real Estate to take the ball and head toward them. For this one play, they were united against him, ready to punish beyond anything the officials might assess.
Real Estate did not move forward. He did not take the ball. The Hacksters quarterback held it out to him for a full five seconds, then took a knee to end the half. The teams retired to their locker rooms. When they returned to the field, Real Estate was not among them.
“Don’t call me goddess,” Dana said as they walked back from their first play.
“Fits better than babe. Or Sabbath Queen, for that matter. The Virgin Mary, I do not think applies.”
“You really are incorrigible.”
“Your grasp of the obvious is commendable. I thought this was your day of rest.”
“I’m resting. Where’s Real Estate?”
“Said he had a test to study for.”
“Why did you do that?”
“He earned it.”
“What would have happened if he’d taken the hand-off?”
“Whatever happened, he would have earned that, too. Didn’t you listen to old Portly when he talked about that Roman adage?”
“What Roman adage?”
“Of all our laws, some are written and some are not. The Jews said it, too. Of course, they had a lot more laws to not write down than the Romans or the Greeks. But once they got started, seems they couldn’t stop. I hear they’re still at it. What say, Jewish goddess?”
Dana glared. “What’s with this Jewish? Real Estate I can figure. Not you.”
Mullen smiled. “You’re pre-law. Jews know from laws. Do they not?”
“I wouldn’t know and couldn’t care.”
“Didn’t mean to offend. Sorry.”
“Forgiven. One jerk today is enough. Mullen . . . want to study together for Portly’s midterm?”
“We already are.”
To be continued. Tomorrow, Part 3