Authors: Maria Padian
“Don’t you want some sauce, dear?” she asked. “And salad? I made nice Caesar salad for all you boys.” Mrs. Turcotte calls us all
. Like a real old-time
He smiled, shook his head, and kept walking, but Ismail spoke up.
“There is … pork?” he asked Mrs. Turcotte, gesturing toward the sauce.
She looked surprised.
“Oh, goodness, no. I use beef. You know, hamburg?”
Ismail nodded and, as he spooned Bolognese over his pasta, called out something to Double M. The guy returned, held out his plate, and let Ismail pour sauce atop the spaghetti.
“They don’t eat pork,” Mike said quietly behind me. I turned.
“Mom usually mixes some sausage into her sauce, but Coach told her it’s against their religion. I mean, it was no big deal for Mom. At least it’s not nuts.”
“That’s true,” I agreed, remembering middle school and Nut Kid. He was this guy on our soccer team who had a severe nut allergy. I remember once bumping into him and his dad at the ice cream place in town, where they brought their own scoop so as not to get even the smallest trace of nut oil in the kid’s cone. His mom used to show up at practices with Wet Ones and make us wipe our hands as well as all the soccer balls. She even got the coach to make the players from other teams do it before games.
Made you nervous. Like, you were always half expecting the kid to swell up and stop breathing.
“You know those signs we have in the cafeteria?” Mike continued. “Like, the one that says
?” I shrugged. I knew the cards he was talking about. Colorful, printed with phonetic
spelling that we’d all come to recognize as Somali words, near the hot food on the lunch line. I’d figured it listed the food, sort of the way I taped little pieces of paper with Spanish vocab words around the house. Like
taped to my dad’s favorite chair …
“Means ‘pig meat,’ ” Mike said. “Totally
“What?” I said.
“Forbidden,” he said knowingly, moving ahead for a turn at the sauce. Yeah. Time spent with Somali culture whiz Liz Painchaud at Civil Rights Club meetings was definitely rubbing off on Mike.
As Saeed and I sat together on the low couch, watching the Ping-Pong ball whiz from side to side, we heard something behind us, near the stairs leading into the basement. A scratching noise, followed by shouts. Saeed turned his head, then jumped up.
Mike’s golden retriever, Sandy, ran into the room. She was beyond delighted to find so many boys in her house, and that big tail of hers swung madly back and forth. Hair flew off her with every swing. Sandy is a real shedder.
Every Somali guy took cover. They ran—not like they were scared, but more like they were grossed out. As if Sandy were coated in vomit and shit, or had some seriously contagious disease. To make things worse, she thought the guys who were running were trying to play with her, so she followed them. Within seconds, they were dodging and Sandy was chasing. Not good in a crowded space.
“Hey! Who let the dog in here?” I heard Mike yell. “Hold her!” I happened to be nearest, so I grabbed her collar. She had this lolling dog smile on her face, complete with big drippy tongue.
Mike took her from me and pulled-led her from the basement
and up the stairs. Double M, Saeed, Ibrahim, and Ismail stood well away, watching warily as Mike hauled her off.
“Sorry,” Mike said as he passed them. “I thought we’d left her in my sister’s room. I’ll put her outside.” Pete LeBourdais and a few of the other guys were giving each other confused looks, but they didn’t say anything.
When the dog was gone, I went over to Saeed and Co.
“You guys okay?” I asked.
“You know, Sandy’s a good dog. She’s not vicious or anything.”
Double M shook his head in disagreement.
good,” he told me.
“No,” Saeed said in agreement.
“We don’t touch dogs,” Ismail added.
“You don’t touch dogs,” I repeated. I wasn’t sure I’d heard them right. But they didn’t correct me. “Why don’t you touch dogs?”
touch a dry dog, but you can never touch a wet dog or let a dog wet you. If you do touch a dog, you have to wash seven times. Or give money to seven orphans. Or feed a poor person seven days. All together, you know? Feed them seven days together.”
“Wait. If Sandy over there had come up and licked one of you guys, you’d have had to find an orphan and give him money for seven days?”
“Probably wash seven times would be easier,” Ibrahim said.
“Why? What’s up with dogs?” I asked him. This was blowing my mind.
“It’s in the Koran.” He headed back to the Ping-Pong table and retrieved his paddle. Double M followed.
Saeed watched me. Waited. His eyes didn’t reveal anything, but they waited for my reaction.
“So, no dogs and no pork,” I said.
“No,” he repeated. “Is
. You know?” he asked me. That word again, that Mike used.
“Yeah, I’m starting to,” I replied. He was still watching me. This was important.
It was also a pretty easy call. I mean, whatev. Locking up the dog and leaving out the pork was way easier than wiping all the balls and scrubbing everyone’s hands before every practice and game.
“It’s all good, man,” I told him. “No worries.” I put my hand on his shoulder briefly, then headed to the corner of the room, where it was time for me to kick somebody off Halo.
About halfway into our game the next day against Alice Whittier High School, it was pretty clear that life as we knew it, meaning soccer life, had ended.
Here’s the fact: we had never, ever, not even when my uncle played for Chamberlain, beat Whittier. They weren’t a club soccer powerhouse like Maquoit, but they’d won states a bunch of times, twice in the past decade. They groomed kids early over there, starting with a rec league full of five-year-olds and ending with a varsity team that’d been coached by the same guy for centuries. His players loved him and would burst a lung chasing down balls if he asked them to.
Which explained something. I mean, Coach Gerardi is the man, and he really knows soccer. But our guys slowed down when it hurt. I’ll admit it: we had a desire disconnect going that didn’t seem to plague teams like Whittier, despite Coach yelling from the sidelines, “How bad do you want it?”
So when the scoreboard read Chamberlain 3, Whittier 2 at halftime? Like I said, something had changed. It
For one thing, Coach had switched the lineup. With Jake and Roger suspended, Saeed and Ibrahim started as center strikers. Mike Turcotte remained at wing, but at midfield, Ismail and Double M flanked me. Coach moved the other two senior middies, Henry Blaisdell and Jonnie Shea, to defense, and the two defensive players they replaced earned front-row bench seats.
Sucked for them.
On the drive to Whittier they were pretty quiet, their faces expressionless, as the bus bounced along the pothole-patched sections of road. They were good players, guys who had worked hard to stay fit, always showed up to practice on time.
But maybe Coach was looking for guys who’d burst a lung. And at halftime, you couldn’t argue with the score.
When the horn sounded and we all retreated to the bench, I pulled a fleece blanket from my bag. Whittier’s fields are near the coast, and even on warm days inland it gets chilly there. That day was cool for September, and a fog had rolled in. It seeped between the trees, drifted over the soccer pitch like a giant phantom, and wrapped wetly around us. Wet cold is the worst.
Saeed trotted up alongside me. He had scored two of our goals, and I put my hand up to slap his.
His hand was like ice. Even though we’d all been running and sweating, as soon as we stopped that damp cold hit him. You could understand why: the guy didn’t have any meat on his bones.
“Dude, you’re freezing,” I said, as if he didn’t know. He nodded, laughing between gritted teeth. I used to do that: tense up against the cold. Then this friend of my grandma’s, one from her Franco-lady pack, told me to relax. Told me if I just added a layer or two and didn’t exhaust my muscles by trying to fight the cold, I would
actually warm up faster. It’s counterintuitive, to let your body go limp when confronted with cold.
she’d said—“that works.” In French class, where they teach us Parisian French, not the Canadian French Grandma grew up with, you would say it
Almost like two different languages, that’s how different the accents are. It was mid-February, the mercury negative something, and I’d driven over to the Tim Horton’s where Grandma was meeting her ladies for their Saturday morning coffee. I was helping her take her car to the auto shop, and when I came inside to find them clustered around two tables they’d pushed together, all with their identical beauty shop–teased hairdos, I was shaking with cold. That’s when they laughed and told me to relax.
I didn’t have the heart to give Saeed the
advice just then. Mike had told me all the new kids were having a hard time getting used to the cold. One guy had even tried smearing Vaseline all over his arms and legs to stay warm. I watched as Saeed hopped from foot to foot and pulled a team windbreaker from his pack. They were crappy plastic jackets, more like Ziploc bags. The letters on the back that read
were peeling off most of them.
Saeed wore his all the time. I’d seen him with it around school. Around town. I wondered if he owned another coat.
“You need to sit in the bus?” I asked him. “They can turn the heat on for you so you don’t get all hypothermic.” He frowned.
Right. Hypothermic. How about you just say “cold,” Tom?
“Is okay. No bus.”
“It’s all right to admit it. Maine isn’t Africa.” He nodded, but stayed put.
“I know! Is so
here!” He shifted his feet from side to side. I got up and slipped the fleece blanket over his shoulders. At first he made like he wouldn’t take it, but I stepped away.
“Thank you,” he said.
Down the length of the bench the guys were huffing, chugging water. Steam rose off hot backs. Except for two: the bumped defenders. They’d played maybe a couple of minutes, total, and did fine while they were out there. But Coach pulled them as soon as the other guys were rested.
One of them happened to glance up, and our eyes met.
It was like getting hit by Sasquatch all over again, because I was so surprised I forgot to breathe for a second.
He was furious. Which you’d expect, and I didn’t blame him. I’d have felt the same way. Except … it was like his anger was aimed at
. Which was totally unfair, because everyone knows Coach doesn’t consult with any of us about his lineups. But there he was, staring at me like he’d deck me if he could. Then Saeed, wrapped in my blanket and still shuffling against the cold, bumped into me, and I got it.
But what was I supposed to do? Sit there and watch the guy freeze to death?
The whistle blew and we headed back out. I felt someone at my elbow: Mike Turcotte. He gestured with his head across the field to a group of guys standing at the corner of the Whittier bleachers. They wore matching black and red.
“That’s Alex Rhodes,” Mike said. “They got here partway through the first half.”
Another sign that things weren’t the way they used to be. Maquoit always beat us, and usually beat Whittier, so in the old world
Alex and the Assholes wouldn’t have bothered standing around in the cold watching this game. They’d scout somebody like Bangor, a team they usually come up against late in the postseason.
“Let’s make it worth their while,” I said to Mike. “Keep feeding Saeed and Ibrahim, even if it gets crowded in there. They’ll make something happen.” Mike nodded, then ran to his position. I looked to see where the ref was, to see if I had time to say something to Saeed.
Not that it would have mattered. First off, the guy didn’t need motivation to play any harder. Not hard as in physicality—they don’t play that way; it’s all finesse—but in terms of effort. He already gave 110 percent. Second, I didn’t have enough time and he didn’t have enough vocabulary for me to explain who Alex Rhodes was and why Tom Bouchard had so much invested in looking good in front of him.
Hell, I’m not sure
even had the vocabulary to explain.
The whistle sounded, and right off you could see that Whittier’s coach had made good use of halftime: they gained possession immediately, easily. They took off down the sideline, their man elbowing Double M and knocking him to the ground when he challenged their run.
No call. Nothing, and it clearly deserved a yellow card. I heard shouts from our bench, and in my peripheral vision I saw every Chamberlain player on his feet, shouting. Double M rolled, jumped up, and pursued the Whittier guy, but he was too far ahead to catch. Damn. Less than thirty seconds into it, and they were looking to tie us up.
Henry Blaisdell, in his new and unfamiliar position at defense, challenged. “Back me up, back me up!” he screamed at Jonnie
Shea, because if the Whittier guy maneuvered around him, it would be an open shot to the goal. Jonnie raced behind Henry and put himself in front of the goal. I ran back, tracking the Whittier striker who was trying to get open for the pass.
Then Henry fell. Spectacularly. Stupidly. There was nothing in his way and no one near him, but for some reason his legs went out from under him and he was eating grass. I couldn’t see them, but to the left and just behind me I heard the Maquoit guys lose it. Their hilarity was unstoppable. This totally made standing outside in the cold worth it. This would be one to share at the rager later that night: those losers from Chamberlain tripping over their own feet.
Is this what you want, God?
It’s bad enough we lose to these douchebags every time—and, yeah, I know
probably isn’t a word you often get tossed your way; sorry—but couldn’t we for once not look like complete horses’ asses in front of them? They get freakin’ everything, you know? Couldn’t we at least get a little respect? Once?