Pig Skins and Pork Chops
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Picnic"
Originally featured on 07-18-2007
As part of our series "Out of the Sandwich"

I juke left and then tear past Jamal. Three or four big strides and then turn and look for the ball. Aaron whips his arm at me and I run looking skyward. My feet bang on the uneven patches of hard dirt between grass but my head remains over my right shoulder looking at the ball.

I can feel Jamal at my heels.

Jamal can’t be more than four feet tall. I worry that my long legs will get tangled around his small body as they reach back at the end of each stride. I hear Rayonte yelling “Ball.”

The ball grows as it arcs through the air.

It’s ahead of me and I pump my legs harder to speed to where I think it’s going to land. Bigger and bigger until its like a watermelon about to crush me. It’s still a little ahead of me.

My arms stretch out and I leap and feel the ball slap my palms. But I’ve got it. My fingers are tensed around the hard leather.

“I’m gone now, Jamal.”

My voice sounds so high and childlike when I’m out of breath.

I turn for a second to see his face. I hear his breathing get louder. Sucking in more air so that he can chase me down like a rabid dog. He’s not beaten.

Being chased, I suddenly feel a rush rise up through my chest into my throat. This will be about who can run at full speed longer. He’s got youth, strong legs that run everyday — strong lungs that have never smoked. Maybe they have.

Gotta make it past the line and the chase will be over. I hear the echoes of Aaron cheering and Rayonte jeering. It’s like I’m running too fast for the sounds waves to make it into my ears. Only parts of them do.

In the corner of my eyes, I see the blue hard plastic garbage can getting closer. Its maybe twenty feet away. My eyes and mouth water. Then I feel the slap of his hands on my back.

I slow down my run to a trot and then stop. Hands on my knees, bent over, taking deep breaths.

“You ain’t gone, boy. You ain’t goin’ nowhere son.”

I laugh. Boy? Son? If I was a boy or young enough to be his son — about negative seven years old — he wouldn’t have caught me. He only caught me because he’s younger.

I’m no longer breathing hard.

“Yeah, well that’s first down Jamal. First and goal, right? Dad?” Aaron looks at me weird. “That’s where I’m goin’ next play.”

“Nope.” He’s resolute. Almost mad.

I trot back behind the spotted ball and huddle with Aaron. As Aaron moves his finger along his stomach to show my next route, I can overhear Rayonte inspiring Jamal. “Why’d you let him beat you? Come on man.”

We line up.

“Set…Hike!”

I run right at him. Backpeddling, he looks scared for a second that I’ll run him over. So I cut hard left and turn to find the ball a few feet from smashing into my face. My head jerks back and my hands clap around it. I cut hard back to my right towards the goal line. I hear echoes.

“Come on, Jamal, damn!”

“Nice catch! Run!”

The blue garbage can isn’t in my field of vision and I run until I hear Rayonte scream out. “Aww, damn!” and I know that I’ve scored.

I slow to a stop. Still facing the endzone. I raise my arms and drop the ball. I stand for a second — arms stretched towards the sky, head tilted back. I breathe it in.

I’m walking back and staring at Jamal. He’s staring back. He’s angry.

“That’s game right guys?” He’s still staring. He’s not sure if I’m talking shit or not.

“Hey good game, Jamal.” I offer my fist for him to pound and a sweaty smile.

He shakes his head. Then he squints.

“Come on, what!? You guys are done?” I nod.

Aaron slaps hands with Rayonte.

I hear Aaron’s voice.

“Hey you guys want to come hang at our BBQ for a minute? You want some soda?”

We’re all walking off the field. We move at the same pace.

“Yeah, come on Jamal. Come get a soda. You’re not mad, right?” He’s walking with his head down. And I can’t resist. “Just cause I scored on you.” He looks up at me.

“Man, I don’t want get a soda with you.”

Rayonte and Aaron are laughing about something and then Rayonte jogs over. Rayonte and Jamal begin to walk in their own direction having their own conversation.

I walk faster to catch up to Aaron.

Aaron is shorter than me and more muscular. He has longer blonde hair and his face is always calmly smiling or ready to calmly smile. He’s one of my best friends and my younger brother. It was his idea to play ball with those kids.

“That was fun, huh?” I say, a little out of breath.

He nods and smiles. And then after a few paces, “You overdid it with Jamal.”

“Come on?! That kid was trash talking me the whole time. He knows it’s not serious.”

Aaron looks at me as though I should understand something. I know the look. It’s not condescending but it can feel that way.

“You didn’t need to say that stuff about his uncle,” he says.

“What did I say?”

“I thought, ‘Would your uncle be impressed with that?’ was a lame thing to say,” he says.

“Oh, you mean, his uncle in the NFL, come on!”

“He tipped a pass and you caught it. He’s a kid. You don’t need to make fun of his uncle-“

“-I wasn’t making fun of his uncle-“

“-fine. Well him, then.”

“It was just trash talk. He shouldn’t bring that up then. Like I should be impressed cause he says his uncles’-”

“-Hey it was fun, anyway. Let’s see if those pork sandwiches are ready.”

We’re walking back towards our family barbeque. I jog forward and Aaron sails a perfect spiral at me. It’s exactly where I like it too. Right above my right ribs. I feel it bounce between my bicep and ribs and when I try to squeeze in on it, it’s not there. I bend and pick up the ball.

Dad is manning the grill as we approach. His thick back turned to us; clouds of steam seem to be rising from his head.

“You boys have fun teaching those kids?” he says without turning.

“Yeah,” I say. Aaron opens the cooler and grabs a beer.

Mom’s sitting in the same chair she sits in at every barbeque. One of the metal framed lawn chairs with tightly woven plastic straps stretched over it. The straps are black and white. She’s wearing the same skirt and sleeveless blouse, too. Her barbeque clothes.

“You guys have fun?” she says and then smiles. Aaron nods and smiles back.

I walk over and stand by Dad at the grill while Aaron takes a seat at Mom’s feet.

I pick up a plate and Dad begins tonging glazed pork chops onto it. I look at his face while he does it.

The scar runs from his left eye to the center of his top lip. It’s jagged. He almost lost that eye. Other than the scar he looks like any other fifty year old Irish German man. He’s got a wide face compared to Uncle Dietrich, but it goes with his thick neck and head. I wonder if I’ll bring home any scars.

“Hey Aaron, Can you grab me one?” A beer sounds good after all the running.

“Enjoy them while you can, boy.” Dad’s laugh is a mix between a chuckle and a gargle. “You’re not going to get beers in Basic.”

I walk over from the grill with a plate of steaming pork. I put it on the little wooden folding table, another tradition, also sitting next to mom. She looks up at me.

“I’m proud of you,” she says, “You’ll do just fine.”

“This’ll be the last one of these with all four of us for a while,” Aaron says. “Pork looks good, Dad.”

“Yep. Family recipe. Passed down three generations. Just like the service.” Dad says looking at Aaron. Aaron looks at the ground.

“So, Aaron.”

“Yeah, Dad.”

“Are you going to let your brother have all the fun over there?”

“All the fun?” Aaron says.

“Wouldn’t you like the chance to save your brother’s life?” Dad says. He grins but I know he’s serious.

They look at each other. This time Aaron doesn’t look at the ground. I don’t want this.

“I don’t need Aaron to watch over me, Dad.” I look at Aaron when I say it and nod. “He has a job to do over here.”

“I know. Teaching young gangsters Math, so they know how to count their money.” My mother and I speak together.

“That’s not right.” She says ‘George’ and I say ‘Dad.’

When I hear the Rayonte’s voice, I flinch. I can feel Jamal behind me.

“Hey Aaron.” Rayonte and Jamal are standing a few feet away. “You two want to play again?”

Aaron stands up. “Hey guys. No, we’re about to eat.” I watch Dad while Aaron speaks. “Are you and Jamal hungry?” Dad’s face tightens. His scar looks bigger.

“Yeah. Jamal you must be hungry. You played a lot better than I could do when I was your age,” I say. I wait. I can feel my Dad looking at me. “In fact, you played well enough to deserve the biggest pork chop, in my opinion.”

I walk over to the little table and fork it onto a plate. I walk to the cooler and grab a soda. It’s dripping onto my leg and I walk towards Jamal and stretch out my hands.

Without looking, I know my father is staring at me because he thinks that he deserves the biggest pork chop. I know that Aaron is staring at me because he’s proud of me. I wish the reasons for their stares were reversed.

Jamal takes the plate.

“You guys played alright too,” Jamal says.

“What about you, Rayonte?” Aaron says. “Are you hungry?”

Jamal and I look at each other.

 

***

 

 

I juke right and Rayonte’s arms are all over me. I hear Aaron counting.

“One-one thousand. Two one-thousand. Ball!”

I turn and look fast enough to see Jamal throw the pass. It’s almost perfect. I run and leap, arms outstretched. I feel it in my fingers. But I watch it get free. I exhale.

Rayonte is below my arms. He slides on his knees. He hugs the ball to his chest.

I hear Aaron. “Nice I-N-T Rayonte!!”

I tag him and he spots the ball.

I turn and watch Jamal trot towards me.

“Hey, nice pass, Jamal. Sorry I couldn’t bring it down. My fault,” I say.

“It’s alright. We’ll get ‘em the next drive,” he says.

“You know it, Jamal. We got this.”

Read More By Doug Dean

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