Power Left – Brett Biebel
Best athlete we ever had, that Westhead kid. Wasn’t no bigger than you or me but all muscle and hit like napalm. Like cancer. Like he didn’t care who you were or if you might be armed. Four-year letterman at fullback and ended up walking on at Nebraska. Dressed all but one game for that ‘99 team won the Big XII, and that was the one at Texas. Learned their lesson too, I guess, because he was rostered for the rematch, and look how that turned out.
Somebody did an interview with him last week. I forget if it was public TV or ESPN or something else, but they showed parts of it on KMGH. The guy asked him, he said, You’re not planning to be at the reunion this Saturday, are you, and Westhead said he didn’t do that anymore. Knew he’d be the only one and couldn’t care less. So the interviewer, who I guess is a big deal in Kansas City or Chicago or some place, he asks why. Westhead just looks at him. Looks at him like he’s about to snap, or maybe like he’s plum sick of answering such a stupid question. Then he takes this deep breath and starts telling a story about staying in Lincoln for summer workouts, about lifting and running stairs and getting so hungry for Mulberry’s he gets in his car one night at 8 o’clock. It’s this Honda Civic his old man fixed up for him. No A/C and a cracked speaker, and even though it’s a couple hundred miles and humid as a hoop house, he ain’t stopping until he gets what he needs. So he drives. He gets to the one in North Platte and figures, fuck it, might as well keep going, and it’s a nice night. The stars are out. Semis are flying past him heading back east, but it feels like there’s no one else on his side of the freeway, no one else who owns this state like he does. He sings Springsteen to himself the whole way. He rolls down the window and feels moths smash against his forearms like tackling dummies, like practice squad safeties. It’s like 11:30 when he pulls up, and the place has the usual crowd of drifters and loonies. Maybe I was there, sitting in a corner booth and watching mosquitoes crawl up the window, I can’t remember. He says he thinks he ordered the “Heart Attack Platter,” which was new then and sounded dangerous. Maybe he was trying to kill himself, who knows? Maybe he’d already been hit one too many times and was tired of doing all the work for none of the credit. Maybe that’s why he was back here, and he says people nodded at him. Like, even the deadbeats who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about football, they just looked and somehow knew like this guy is special. This guy is something else. They’re standing around so reverential he has to autograph like six paper cups, one of which he says is so full of condensation that the ink runs and makes it look like he signed left-handed, before they finally let him out the door with his food. He wants to drive down to the river and eat it there, maybe toss the bag when he’s done and watch it float on back to Lincoln and into the Missouri and then the big river, the big American river, and toward Mexico and the Caribbean. Problem is he can’t get out of the parking lot. There’s a guy standing in front of his car holding the same red, white, and blue bag and just staring. He’s got a beard. Has to weigh 250 at least. Westhead says it’s clear the guy’s on something, and he tries to just walk past him and into his car, but the guy says, You got about a billion dead bugs on your windshield, buddy, before he makes it inside. Westhead doesn’t make eye contact. He says, Then he tells me for ten bucks he’ll read my future, like cast my horoscope from the spatter or something.
And, says the interviewer, What’d you do?
Westhead’s got this coy smile. He looks at the camera. There’s half a shiner under his left eye. He says, Alls I do is give him a twenty and tell him I know what’s coming. In fact, I can see it a whole lot better than him.
Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His work has appeared in Dewpoint, Hypertext, Arcturus, Rock & Sling, and elsewhere.