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Fiction: The Goalie, Part 2

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(To Read Part One First, Click Here)

The game was Sunday so Saturday was their day for shopping and watching the sights. They walked thru town to the tune of cars honking their way along the street, youths hanging out the windows holding banners or flags of Japan or Argentina. Fans walked wearing their colors – It’s-a-boy blue and white for Argentina and the red rising-sun-on-white for Japan. Many wore the flags of their countries as capes. Faces were painted with the colors of their teams. At a sidewalk café a group of young boys crowded around a table that appeared to belong to some of the Argentine players.

But the energy was low-key. There was no hype a-la-Super Bowl. There were no banners across the street, planes skywriting or skydivers. There was no commercial American-style hoop-la. There was no abundance of souvenirs for sale as would be available in the US. Kurt and Kate wanted T-Shirts but could not find a place to buy them. They had to go to the Official World Cup Souvenir Shop in downtown Toulouse. Opportunity abounded and Kurt saw nothing but chances to make money.

“The Toulousians are not good capitalists,” he said.

The Official World Cup shop was very small, about the size of their bedroom back home. There were at least 30 customers in it at any given moment. The majority was Japanese. To navigate in the store Kurt needed to squeeze forward sideways and turn slowly and carefully so that he didn’t knock over display racks or customers. The owner was British and spoke perfect English. He did not speak any Japanese. He did not speak Spanish. He did speak VISA. He was running out of product on the shelves while two men were carrying in large boxes from the street to replenish his supply. It was only 11am. He would make a lot of money that day.

* * *

Saturday night they decided to go to a Japanese Bunto dance. They didn’t know what Bunto meant, but they liked dance and expected it would be fun. He had never given “dance” a second thought as something to go see until Kate had taken him to his first performance shortly after they first met. Now it was one of his favorite things to enjoy, one of the many things they enjoyed doing together.

“Why didn’t you get directions?” she accused him as their supposed 10 minute walk approached 30.

“I did. We should be there any minute. They told me it was a 10-minute walk. Why are you mad at me?”

“We do things so differently,” she responded. “I shouldn’t depend on you.”

“What would you have done different?”

“I would have started earlier.”

“Why? It was only supposed to take 10 minutes?”

She shook her head and said nothing more. She often needled him about having nothing in common and it always hurt him deeply because all around them he saw nothing but common denominators.

She continued walking with her mouth set in that tight, straight line that left no doubt in his mind that conversation was over and holding hands was out of the question.

bell-tower-of-saint-sermin

The dance was scheduled to begin at 9:30pm and it was 9:30 when they got there. Night had fallen fast like a switch had been tripped and the park was dark. Black, ornate wrought iron fencing spiked on top with sharp fleurs de lis every two feet guarded it. The effect was gothic horror. They spent another 20 minutes walking around the outside looking for an entrance and for evidence that a dance was indeed taking place there. They saw and heard nothing. At 9:55 they found a gate. The park appeared closed and although the gate was slightly open, there was a sign that said it was locked at 9pm.

That makes a lot of sense, thought Kurt.

Now what do they do? They were late, it was Kurt’s fault, and Kate was upset. Were they to enter, they could get locked inside. They strained their ears and heard nothing emanating from inside the park. No music, no audience. Nothing other than a poster taped to the iron gate that indicated a dance had been scheduled for this evening.

Decision time. If they didn’t go in, hell hath no fury like Kate angry with Kurt for causing them to miss the dance. Of course, she’s already angry … If they do go in and they wound up locked inside for the night – it was like the short story, The Lady Or The Tiger

Well, hell, thought Kurt, it’s a big park and if she’s gonna be mad I want room to run.

They went in. It was dark. It was quiet. It was lonely. They were the only ones here. They walked along a dark road caught between even darker brick buildings. They entered a footpath and walked deeper into black. He remembered stories about the muggers in Central Park. Do muggers go to the World Cup? Other than the English hooligans? She drew close to him and held his hand. He felt her warmth and loved her for it.

They saw a group of about 15 people standing silently on a path by a footbridge. There was a dim light and they appeared to be crowding around one of their group who was taking off their clothes. Now this interested Kurt.

It felt like a private party so she kept walking. Kurt followed. Darn.

They had canvassed the park and that group of people was all there was.

They went back. It was the dance. The “dancer” was now disrobed save for a loincloth like a Sumo wrestler might wear. Their head was shaved; their skin was pasted white. The musculature of the legs and torso was that of a man. The breasts, what there were of them, were not. The dancer moved as slow as fog in a bowl or not at all. She posed, held her straining muscles in tension as a bodybuilder might in competition. They watched for 20 minutes as she slowly mounted a rock, contorted her body as in great anguish. As she moved the audience leaned with her.

This was obviously an interactive dance. Kate and he interacted. “Do you want to stay?” she asked.

“Not really.” He took her hand in his and led the way.

“Good thing we didn’t get there earlier,” he said.

“Why?”

“She wouldn’t have been naked yet.”

“How do you know it was a she?”

“Good point.”

He wasn’t sure who was first but it started as an explosive “pfftt!” as they approached the gate and then, like a balloon that had been blown too tight, it erupted into eye-tearing laughter. They couldn’t stop.

Outside the gate, she said, “I’m sorry I was mean.”

“It’s okay.” It meant a lot to him when she said that. It made the coldness disappear.

It can get better, he thought. It was just a matter of hanging in there and trying. Very trying.

Then they kissed and, arms around each other, stepped off into a night that was still young and now, maybe, promised much.

* * *

The game on Sunday was at 2:30pm. Their plan was to sleep in, have a late breakfast inclusive of an omelet and then catch the bus to the stadium so that they got there one hour before the game. That would allow them enough time to do what they did best: get lost.

Breakfast was heaven. They ate at the Atlanta Bar & Grill, an American restaurant. It offered a Sunday brunch, all you can eat – waffles or pancakes with maple syrup, omelets, baby back ribs, Southern Fried Chicken, Cajun rice, ALL I CAN EAT AND I HAVEN’T HAD ANY OF THIS IN FOREVER! YES OH YES! He had four heaping platefuls. He wanted more. There was a god. He would be back.

The bus ride to the stadium was free, courtesy of Toulouse – another missed opportunity to make a buck. They were the last to board; the last that could possibly fit on board, and they stood crammed on the steps of the bus where the door caressed his ass. Fun was in the air and it was time to party.

20 minutes later the bus let them off at the entry road to the stadium. There were several hundred people milling about outside – some pleading, others holding signs, all asking someone to sell them a ticket. They learned at the restaurant this morning that the going price among the Japanese for their tickets was $2000 each! They could sell theirs for $4000. They were tempted but the opportunity for these two Americans to attend a World Cup in France was too special to pass up. Now who’s the lousy capitalist? They pushed their way thru the crowd and passed thru the first phalanx of guards.

From the road it was another 15-minute walk before they actually got to the stadium. They stopped along the way and let two sidewalk artists paint their faces. Their left cheeks sported the baby blue and white flag of Argentina, the other the rising sun red and white of Japan. We bad.

touloose-football-stadium-wide

The stream of people flowing with them was constant and restrained. They at least expected the (hot-blooded?) Argentineans to be noisier. Was this the Japanese influence? He was used to American tailgate parties with loud drunks, and yelling, enthusiastic fans. Where were the hooligans that riot at these games? This is too civilized.

When they arrived at the stadium, they discovered rows of souvenir stands and street vendors selling sodas. When they entered the gate, the guards frisked them. One searched Kurt’s backpack and beamed him a big smile as he removed and then, like a hunter displaying his catch, held up Kurt’s bottle of Muga ’94 Reserva for his colleagues to see.

“Non, non,” he shook his head and waved his finger sideways at Kurt for emphasis. He placed the wine in the trashcan next to him – along with Kurt’s gourmet fantasy of sipping wine and nibbling cheese while watching the World Cup.

“MUGA!” thought Kurt, “You can’t take my MUGA.” He persuaded the guard to allow him to check it in with the office so that he could pick it up after the game. Some things were worth fighting for.

Their seats were great. They were at mid-field almost at ground level. They were right above the stairwell so that no one could sit in front of them. They were in the corporate section of the stands. Japanese, a few Argentines, and a whole bunch of cameras surrounded them. The stadium itself was a smaller version of some of America’s finest football stadiums. The field was open to the sky but there was a roof over all the seats. The seats were packed and the team colors alternated throughout the audience like a patchwork quilt. There was a Japanese section to their right that had a cheerleader who led them in song throughout the game. No one did the WAVE.

The game was not a blowout. While Argentina showed itself to be a smooth, finessed team, Japan played with a heart worthy of the World Cup. When Argentina had the ball they moved it down the field, passing side to side, moving the ball like a sidewinder down a garden path, like Kate when she had her mind set on a goal. Precise, accurate passes, always aware of the entire field. Japan, on the other hand, passed accurately, played with great athletic skill, but focused only on the ball and its immediate area. It was Japan’s hustle and their goalie that made the difference in this game. He was awesome. He blocked at least 6 sure goals. Japan had no offense, had difficulty penetrating, and never got a clean shot at the goal. But the goalie had kept them in it all the way.

japan-head-block

The most memorable point of the game came in the final minute. Japan was down, 1-0, and needed to score. They were monopolizing the ball at their goal side of the field. The right forward kicked from the corner, a beautiful centering shot to the center forward who kicked to the goal. The shot was blocked by the Argentine goalie. It fell to the ground and bounced once, 3 feet off the ground. A Japanese player hurtled himself at the ball, hit it with his head, body completely in the air, parallel to the ground. The ball glanced off his temple, hit the goalpost, and bounced out. No goal. Game end. It was an incredible finish. It had been an incredible effort.

* * *

After the game they were sitting at a sidewalk café, watching the fans go by. Life is Good, thought Kurt. I’m glad we came. He noted the smile on Kate’s face. She’s happy, too.

On the sidewalk in front of them a group of young Argentine fans hooted and hollered at a Japanese man still draped in his country’s flag. He smiled at them and they walked over and shook his hand. There was no animosity here. Japan may have lost but they had played a game they were proud of.

Kurt reached across their table and held Kate’s hand. “I love you, Kate,” he said. She locked eyes with him, seemed to search forever for something she couldn’t quite see. Finally, she squeezed his hand and said, nothing.

“We’ll see you in 2002”, said the man from the Rising Sun to the young Argentineans. Then he turned, squared his shoulders, and began his long road home.

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8 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Randy – Ohio said:

    I think what you are doing is great! So much of the news and media is negative and focuses on all the bad happening in the world, and there is a definite need in our society for a little up-lifting. Sharing stories of hope, inspiration, and triumph over trials is a great cause for which to fight.

    I read both of the fictional articles about the World Cup, those were quite interesting. I was hoping for a more concrete ending, but I can appreciate the power of implying and interpretation.

  • Aki -- Barcelona said:

    Truth be told, this was one of the first articles I browsed to, since I have unrelenting passions for both football and fiction-writing. The Japan National team jersey in the thumbnail did nothing but fuel my curiosity, naturally. I remember this World Cup.

    I’d like to note first that I liked some of Mr. Johnson’s literary images. “Night had fallen fast like a switch had been tripped…” nicely conveys the dismay and dark atmosphere to follow. Any nationalistic pride aside, I liked when he wrote of the Argentinians as “a smooth, finessed team,” and that the Japan side “played with a heart worthy of the World Cup.” Nice choice of words.

    That said, with all respect to Mr. Johnson, the piece as a whole did not convey any residue whatsoever of a real “winner.” As an article on a site called Winners Within Us, I felt that the characters did not live up (in fact, my opinion is that they did not live at all, literarily) to the title on my browser window. The Argentine team won 1-0, but that is only a score, and he does not delve into the characteristics of the win enough. Did the Japanese player who didn’t score a game-tying goal, who lost in the match, win? Each character, including the couple on vacation, the prostitutes, the two fans exchanging a snippet of World Cup magic at the end, had no triumph, no manifestation of overcoming any obstacles, though I will admit that the content mood that the piece ends could be somewhat comforting. The goalie does, in fact, place himself in the closest category of winners, but Mr. Johnson sadly grants just five sentences to his valiant efforts: “He was awesome.” Really?

    Aside from the issues I have with this piece’s lack of purpose and meaning,I also found many details to be forced and with a bit of unsure ignorance. The historical background of the city was nice, but after reading it, it sounded like a photocopied tourist’s booklet. The couple’s relationship is too cinematic and immature to be believable. And, I’m sorry, but for Kurt and Kate to “not know much about soccer” and to “root for Japan because they liked sushi”
    sounds entirely childish conceptually and doesn’t work as an effective tool to bring the reader into their world. All in all, Mr. Johnson’s “The Goalie” was, in his own words, “gothic horror.”

  • Kristen said:

    Honestly, not impressive. The concept was good, but the execution and grammar were lacking. The give and take between the two main characters felt a like the author was attempting to emulate Hemmingway’s “Hills like White Elephants”, but the execution was all wrong. Adding to my disappointment the spelling and grammar mistakes made it very difficult for me to suspend my disbelief and become engrossed in the story.

  • Shania -- Louisiana said:

    Wow, so I read the article “Fiction: Goalie Pt. 1 &2″. I completely loved it. I thought it was amazing. Actually, I almost didn’t understand the title. I probably still don’t truly know the reasoning behind it, but I believed it to show the similie between the goalie and the man. Just as the goalie didn’t give up and kept everything together, so is the man doing in the relationship with his wife. I thought it had a great use of details and kept the reader interested entirely. I did not like the way it ended. It keeps you in suspense, as to know what happens next. I hope there is a part three to this. It is a great article, with a very capturing title.

    Thank you,

    Narcisse

  • Shania n -- Louisiana said:

    Wow, I completely loved it. I thought it was amazing. Actually, I almost didn’t understand the title. I probably still don’t truly know the reasoning behind it, but I believed it to show the similie between the goalie and the man. Just as the goalie didn’t give up and kept everything together, so is the man doing in the relationship with his wife. I thought it had a great use of details and kept the reader interested entirely. I did not like the way it ended. It keeps you in suspense, as to know what happens next. I hope there is a part three to this. It is a great article, with a very capturing title.

    Thank you,

    Shania

  • Tyler said:

    I thought the ending part of the story was very good. I think it all came together well and I finally got the title of the story lol. I think maybe the only part of the title that confused people was the “new World Cup fiction” but obviously that helps make it relevant.

  • Liz Summers said:

    I disagree with John Daley about the title being wrong. It is spot on. There are goalies in every aspect of our lives — the masks that are lies we tell, the secrets we keep, the goal line stand we take for the dreams we defend against all comers. Goalies are a life force that exist in more than sports and horror. Maybe John needs to quit limiting himself to thrillers and Steven King novels, although I dearly love the latter.

    The Japanese goalie is so obviously a metaphor for Kurt. Both stand alone, fighting all odds, giving their all to save the most important thing in their lives at the time. Both lose the game this day, only to hope forward to the next World Cup. Katie may have said nothing in response to Kurth’s “I love you”, but at the end of the story Kurt is still alive and they are holding hands. Is he the Goalie or what?

    I admire Reggie’s snapshot style. We only know about Kurt and Katie now, there is no ending, but we feel his pain, his longing. This story is long and could easily be the first chapter of a novel. Would Katie really kill him or is she just a patient lass? Only the next chapter will tell.

  • John Daley said:

    First off, the title is wrong. It would fit if the story was about sports, maybe even horror. (In Friday The 13th the killer wears a hockey goalie’s mask) It doesn’t fit a love story at all.
    Secondly, I think it is a little bit too long. The pace is pretty slow, too. That maybe the case with love stories though. I have not really reviewed many.

    Reggie does have talent. He just needs to work on it, refine it.

    John Daley
    National Book Reviewer
    WWP Worldwide

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