The two teens stand like men, legs planted, arms held out far from their sides, hands clenched into two sets of flaming fists, four weapons trembling in the soft light emitted from the open door of the locker room. A crowd has gathered, their friends, other players and people who had been leaving the game but were now lingering with some interest, their concession-stand cups of flat drinks held and occasionally sipped at while the padded warriors stalked out a circle in the middle of the rubber-necking.
The quarterback and an offensive lineman, one of the spectators says, a stick of a man wearing rimless purple-tinted glasses with hair longer than any woman in town. He bets it’s because the quarterback was sacked seven times in the shitty, horrible home game loss they had all just suffered through. The stick man is wrong, but most of the crowd nods at the hippie, the loss still fresh in their minds.
The lineman springs first, a shooting mass of shoulders and swinging arms as if the ball had just been snapped. The quarterback, smaller but agile, sidesteps and gives the lineman one clean shot from his powerful right arm, knuckles planting into the lineman’s tucked jaw. There is a crack of bone the crowd can’t hear above their own shouts and cheers, but the lineman feels it.
The burning that starts at the jawline and spreads like spilled liquid up the side of his head and across, dripping pain that settles into his forehead. He knows what a broken jawbone feels like and is aware he is in trouble. The quarterback hovers, collegiate throwing arm cocked, his features collected, the dark eyes on target, his lips pulled back, teeth bared.
The lineman waves the quarterback off from his knees, his grass-stained elbow pad slipping down to his wrist as he tosses his arm back and forth into the air. The crowd’s cheering becomes a buzz of hornets swarming the still fall night. Some start to walk away, already discussing the fight in boxing terms, knowledgeable critics safe in the anonymity outside the circle.
The quarterback yells out then, his rage manifest in a burst of visible breath from his throat to the darkening sky, steam from a lava-hot smoke stack. The lineman, confused, struggles to his feet. The defeated warrior is wobbling and touching his forehead and fingering his jaw for signs of swelling when the quarter pushes a cleated foot into the lineman’s knee. It buckles inward with a crunch like ice busting beneath the weight of a car tire and he drops onto his back, mouth open, a scream so intense and high it has yet to be born into sound.
The crowd responds by becoming funeral-parlor quiet. One lady and her husband hold tightly to one another’s arms. The lady finally hides her face into her husband’s coat, unable to look any longer at the lineman’s leg bent inward, the spreading blood stain soaking through the crumpled knee pad. Unlike her husband and all the others, she doesn’t see the quarterback spit on the lineman and walk away.