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Control of the Bomb

by Willie Smith

Watch this middleaged beerbelly in his kitchen watching on tv a lady in her living room watching on tv the Rams play the Packers. Deep into the pocket the quarterback fades. Uncorks the bomb. The telephoto closeups on the spiraling pigskin.

Like a bad splice jumping a film gate, the ball pops outside the lady’s tv. She catches it in self-defense. This has never happened. All the tiny men on her tv are scrambling to find the ball.

She stares down at the inflated ovoid in her lap. Runs chipped-polish fingers over the rawhide stitching. You are not privy to her thoughts. She gets up off the sofa. Kneels in front of the tv. Pats her palm over the entire surface of the perfectly unbroken glass screen.

Filtered through the various electronics, you detect the announcer howl above the roar of the astonished crowd. He speculates on the historic precedent: the first ball in the annals of the game utterly to disappear.

The guy in his kitchen cracks a beer. Has the feeling he has seen this one before. A phone rings. You squelch the temptation to look around. The guy looks around — where’s the phone?

She shuffles in Mickey Mouse mules over to an end table. Picks up the phone. Presumably says hello? In the confusion, and with the remoteness, you can’t quite tell. Her eyes roll.

Receiver cupped to jowl, she peers through what the camera earlier showed to be her picture window. Her eyes saucer. She drops the phone. Grabs the ball from the shag carpet. Heaves it at the camera’s eye.

Soundlessly, without so much as a tinkle, the man in the kitchen now holds the ball. This is too weird. Heart racing, scared of he doesn’t know what, he kills the tv.

Puts the regulation Wilson on the drainboard. Finishes in one pull the Budweiser. Crumples and tosses the can under the sink into the trash. Trying to keep eyes off the ball, he notices nonetheless, out of the corner of his eye, a jagged fleck of pink nail polish stuck to a stitch.

The phone rings. He doesn’t look around.

He considers opening the fridge. Fishing out another Bud. The phone keeps ringing. He wonders if it isn’t time to reach into the cabinet above the stove; get down the Jim Beam. The phone doesn’t stop ringing.

For one crazy instant you verge on looking around.

As if he read your mind, he lunges over to the wall. Snares the phone. Shouts into the mouthpiece, “Yeah — what?”

On the other end... heavy breathing. Behind the breathing the same announcer continues to amaze over the football not yet turned up. Coaches and referees are gathered mid-field hotly debating how to rule on the pass that vanished.

You sense he wants to hang up. But that’s the last thing you want. You want to hear the game’s outcome. The twist is unique. In a trance of indecision, the Bud drinker lowers the receiver. Leaves it scratching, squawking — lying on its side on top of the table.

He gazes out the window above the sink. Every perspective in the room is visible to you. From ceiling, floor, walls, he is monitored. But only he can look outside. Something about incidence and reflection. Your ear strains toward the breathing phone that continues dimly to convey the invisible action.

Only every third or fourth word reaches. The Rams want to run the play again. The Packers want the down to count. The announcer isn’t sure himself, but he seems to be saying that he thinks the referees are arguing for the novelty of a free first down with a ten yard penalty attached. Something also about members of the crowd surging onto the field. Police crops up. The voice of a ref over a mike unintelligibles.

Possibly because a cloud swipes the sun, the kitchen darkens.

The shouting announcer can no longer be distinguished over the crowd frenzy. A siren keens. Another. More. A stampede of sirens.

Without looking away from the window, he cradles the ball. His teeth clench. The jaw quivers. You feel him strive to shield his intent from telepathic leaks. He ignores what he lusts to protect. Acts — like the history of all aggression (which is fundamentally all history) — spasmodically.

The window doesn’t break. Not that you hear. What football? you realize he thinks.

The ball bulges under your Dartmouth windbreaker. Giving you a beerbelly look that isn’t quite right. The cops have just discovered this on their monitor. Any minute they expect to see themselves mirrored in your sunglasses. The pager on your belt beeps.

Where are you? How can you ever hope to hide?

Copyright © 2006 by Willie Smith

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