Editor’s Note: “Coach” is an excerpt from Katherine Hill’s novel, A Short Move.

His third season as coach of the Pee Wee Monacan Jets, Tim Williams started carrying a calendar.

“Well, Tim,” Cindy said when she saw it. “Guess you’re a grown up now.”

She was his ex, and had reason to doubt him, but about this, he was dead serious. He was thirty-two now, with responsibilities. He had to mold the characters of twenty young boys, her own son Mitch included, and he needed to see the weeks laid out in order, to make sure he did his job.

Mornings he worked at the college, the other family business, mowing lawns and carrying ladders, to cover the classes he took there at night. He was what they called a non-traditional student, the first man the little women’s college had ever made an exception to enroll, though in every other way, he was proud to say, he was thoroughly traditional. A homeowner, a surrogate father to Cindy’s kid, his promising nephew Mitch. He hadn’t gotten married yet, but that would come: everything in its time. For now, he was focused on being Coach.

Pee Wee was ages nine to twelve, those yeasty, carefree years before your nose was sharp enough to know you smelled. When Tim was that age, they’d been the Little Warriors, after the high school team, which everyone hated, though they’d worshipped the high school guys. Sometime while he was away there’d been a petty revolt, and now they were the Jets, for the NFL team. Also known as the Flyboys, which was different from “little,” because even men were often called boys, especially when they were doing something serious, like tagging cattle or dropping bombs.

Flyboys. Well. Their minds were flying anyway.

“This is common sense,” he told them in practice. “This is not rocket science.” They easily won their first two games. At the end of the second, Ricky Franklin did a front flip to score the final touchdown, sealing it, 28-0. Good form, bad decision. The boy needed guidance.

“Get over here,” Tim shouted after the game.

“What’s up, Coach?”

“Don’t be risking your neck like that. I need you to be smart.”

“Aw, I was just celebrating, Coach!”

“Celebrate after. Go to La Pizzeria with your friends or whatever the hell it is that you do.”

Ricky bounced on the balls of his feet, lit by the manliness of Tim’s casual hell. “I ain’t got time for La Pizzeria, Coach!” He danced away, laughing, and Tim tried to keep from laughing, too.

I ain’t got time was something Ricky often said when he was feeling bored or just plain defiant, and like almost everything else that came out of his mouth, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Tim had driven by his house, seen him loafing about with the assortment of kids and adults who came and went from his mom’s double-wide, drinking tasty desperations that were either made of sugar or made of alcohol, depending on if you were a kid or an adult. Kid had nothing but time, and no clue how to use it.

They were all idiots, nine- to twelve-year-olds, his nephew included, but the black kids seemed to give him the most trouble. They were the ones who fought. He wanted to treat every kid equal, but that was easier said than done. The truth was, by the time kids were ten and eleven, the world had already decided who was who. Tim had had a drunk dad. He’d been to Vietnam for fuck’s sake. He could understand why you might be angry. But you had to control yourself. You had to look around and notice it wasn’t much fun for anyone else either, yet everyone else was mostly making do. Really he was thinking of Ricky. Jason Booker was a good kid, quick. An obvious talent. He’d make it to college anyway. Ricky was the one who looked at the world like a plate of food he could only have if he stole it.


Tim was a believer in systems. His hero was Paul Brown, of the Cleveland Browns, the first to time his players in the forty-yard dash, to enforce team dinners and curfews the night before a game, to make his players actually write down their plays. This season, in tribute, he made his Flyboys do the same.

He was tough on them because he knew what they were like. He’d been an idiot himself when he was young, and he’d let it go too far. Summer of ’69, he and Robbie had joined up together, two brothers with low numbers and a hostile father at home. They were draft bait, no one would hire them, so they figured they may as well enlist, choose their own deployments, maybe in Europe or the palm-rimmed Caribbean. Why they thought they’d have this option was a mystery to him now, one of many in the world, and in his own being, that he’d been made aware of since. They were separated immediately, Robbie to Fort Jackson, Tim to Fort Dix, then shipped to Nam in different divisions, on different days even, seeing each other only once in the course of their twelve-month tours, when they were flown home together with PanAm stewardesses to attend their mother’s funeral.

That was hard. Even harder was when Robbie died. Tim got himself transferred to Germany after that, where he worked a meaningless desk until his tour was up. After his discharge, he couldn’t come home. Not when his dad was the only one left, and nastier than ever by the sound of it, Joe having split for who knew where. So Tim went to L.A., where he played semi-pro with a guy he knew from Da Nang. Between games, during which he felt, if not good, then at least all right, he did odd jobs, sat on the gritty beach, and hated himself for having no good reason to live.

He wanted to save these kids that kind of pain, scare the stupidity out of them, set goals for them, make them into men without anyone having to get killed. There were probably a lot of ways to go about this in the world, but he was a Virginia boy and a former receiver, and football was the way he knew best.

Fortunately, the kids took to it, craved it, even in practice gripping their collars with pride. They’d come up the hill from the elementary school y’alling and nuh-uhing, shepherded by a handful of overeager dads. The Warriors had zero tolerance for dads at practice, but these were children, they needed rides. As long as the dads respected his style, he didn’t mind if they watched. Practice always started with stretches and jogging so the boys could warm themselves up. Then they reviewed and ran their plays and coverages, each one in sequence until it was right. No wind sprints. No crushing leg-raises. No drills just to prove he was Coach. He knew who he was and so did they, and drills only wore players out.

Still, he liked to talk. He had his coachisms, his general coachiness. He appreciated a little theater, a little religion. “What’s going on in your head?” he liked to demand, tapping his knuckles on someone’s hat, never actually wanting an answer.

“Devote yourselves,” he also said.

And, “It’s all about the fundamentals.”

“It’s our year,” one of the dads said at Smokey’s after another Friday night victory for the Warriors. His own son would win again that weekend under Tim’s watchful eye, because Tim understood the fundamentals and knew how to plan for a game, but no one cared about that just now, not over beers on a Friday night.

“These Warriors are playing Texas-level,” said another dad.

“Fuck Texas,” Coach said. “I am so sick of Texas.”

The dads nodded studiously. “You been there?”

“Hell no, but it ain’t any better.” Tim clicked his jaw out and back. “California football. Florida football. Everyone says it. Well, you know what? This is Virginia football. And you know what else? It’s football.” He was starting to bore himself, but decided to put forth one final football just to bring the conversation to a close. “Football’s football,” he said, and everyone said, “Yup,” and “That’s true.”

There wasn’t a better way to spend your life, which was a fragile thing, he knew that now, than on a playing field in a warm Virginia September executing the perfect game plan. It was an orderly game, football, it progressed in an orderly fashion, and it was because of democracy that he was free to make his plans, his perfect dreams, a series of plays for kids in motion, which it would benefit the kids to learn, and make them feel a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment, at having actually executed the thing he had dreamed.

He told them as much when he gathered them for practice the following week, the Tuesday after their third consecutive win. Twenty boys, one Coach: the perfect ratio, forget insubordinate assistants. Jason was nodding, a serious little man with a Band-Aid on his finger. So were Jeff and Rusty and Ricky. Such a crew they were, those sixth graders, with their preponderance of J- and R- names. Caleb didn’t exactly fit the pattern, but he didn’t tend to fit anywhere, the fattest of the bunch, just barely made the Pee Wee weight limit, who if he had to be fat, figured he’d also be the fool. He was good at cracking jokes, at shaking his gut like a Slinky. The tallest was Rusty, the six-foot sixth grader, whose poor overgrown dome was so massive they had to borrow a helmet from the Warriors. He was the only Flyboy with a maroon hat in the season opener, and he was a starter, so he was out there all the time, abnormal, unmatching. The helmet was a muddy pine now, spray-painted under the shop teacher’s supervision, not quite the bright emerald of the rest of the team, but at least it was some kind of green.

Mitch’s name stood out, too, and so did Mitch himself, if Tim was being honest, though it was possible this thing he called honesty was just an expression of family pride. His nephew didn’t yet have the build, but he was fast and he had good hands, plus he was smart, and old for his grade. He had desire and self-awareness but not self-consciousness, and he worked hard but thankfully not too hard: the factors all added up. It was this promising mix that Tim was sure of, the right combination that people sought, if not for football, then for something else. Football wasn’t everything. But it was definitely on the road there.

“This one’s all about the blocking,” Tim told them, introducing a new short-yardage play. “This one’s all about the blocking. This one’s all about the blocking.”

Jason’s Band-Aided hand was up. His quarterback, a good kid, always raised his hand. “We gonna learn more passing plays, Coach?”

Tim held his mouth in its straight-line Coach formation but gave him the warm, smiling eyes. Authority you can trust. “Not this week, son. We’re a running team. We run the ball.”

“I just think I got the arm, is all.”

Tim chewed his teeth, sensing a teaching moment. He put his hands on his hips. “Now listen, I know you want to throw the ball. And I know the rest of you think you can catch it.” He could feel himself revving, his twang growing twangier and more truthful, his words piling up on each other, pleasurably and familiarly, forming a speech that sounded just like a speech, in the way a house was built to look just like a house, but with his own insight that was just now coming to him, ushered in with the words as he spoke them, and surrounding them all with a system of truth. “But there’s something you gotta understand,” he said. “That’s your future. Being a team that throws the ball is your future. I’m just trying to get you there. You’re gonna have to trust me on that one. And to get there, we gotta cover all the territory that comes before. You understand what I’m saying?” Some of them had begun to nod their heads, as was customary when Coach was talking. “This new formation? This isn’t Redskin ball. It’s not college ball. It’s not even Warrior ball. Those are all still in the future. This is Flyboy ball. This is now. This is a play run at Yale in 1900.”

He paused. He looked at them gravely, let the weight of the past sink in.



“That’s old.”

So they weren’t exactly converted, but they did line up on his whistle. They got to work positioning their feet, and angling their blocks to the left. And when Ricky Franklin jogged up at the water break and asked if they could practice something else, “Something more exciting,” Tim widened his eyes to act surprised. It was important to feign surprise when a kid dared make a request. That was part of establishing authority, make it scary to make a request.

“Blocking’s boring,” Ricky said.

“Thanks for your perspective.”

“It is though! I want to catch the ball!”

“Go on, son.”

“Instead I’m just giving his ass a push, running right. I barely get to move!”

“I’ll give your ass a push, son.”

It was clear Ricky wasn’t happy, but football practice wasn’t about being happy, and as usual there was nothing to do but drop it and get back to work. Ricky dropped it. He practiced his blocks. Tim coached. And when time was up, they clapped, barked “JETS,” and dispersed.

So he was genuinely surprised, Tim had to admit, when, after another Sunday win and then a long Monday shift at the college in which he’d been called in to deal with a flooded dormitory basement where the students stored their old rich-girl obsessions—cellos and camping tents that were so inviting to the now-drowned mice—he was genuinely surprised when he returned home to find his sixth graders, the Rs and the Js, Ricky and Rusty and Jason and Jeff, along with Caleb and even Mitch, in his drive beside a tangle of bikes.


“We was hoping to talk to you, Coach,” Jason said. The poorest of the bunch, but the quarterback, the undisputed leader.

“What’s up? Unsatisfied with the win?”

“No, sir. Well, yes sir. In a way. We was hoping”—he tilted his head toward the rest of them—“if you think it can work, to have a little more fun out there. Try some more long passes, open it up a little, give everybody a chance to move.” Tim looked at Ricky, who was nodding seriously. “Since we seem to be beating everybody so easy with the run.”

He’d been wrong to use the word unsatisfied. He saw that now. Tim frowned and continued to say nothing, because nothing Jason had said really warranted a lecture. The boys stood together with their hands in their pockets, a gesture new to them, a gesture demonstrated and suggested by the dads and other men, and they looked very much like a group, a team, some kind of warm and willing collective. He looked at them: Rusty’s pimply head, Caleb’s gut, Ricky’s mouth. Someone needed a shower. He looked at Mitch, his nephew.

“So…?” Jason finally asked.

“Who put y’all up to this?”

The question seemed to startle Jason, who wiped his palms on the legs of his jeans, his finger healed, the Band-Aid gone. “No one. Us. It was our idea.”

“Your idea?”


They had ideas. In those warm young bodies of theirs, sweating spontaneously in ways they didn’t understand, they were somehow cooking up ideas.

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Tim said.

“Okay, but like—”

“I said I’ll take it under advisement.” Repetition, he was finding, was not boring. Repetition was his friend.

There was some standing, and a waft of ripe manure smell so common to his part of the world, and after a time, the boys seemed to understand that this was the end of the conversation, and so as a unit they picked up their bikes and peddled off down the long gravel drive, having done what they came to do, and Tim went into his house and opened himself a beer, his intention being to forget.

But Tim could not forget. They had talked about him when he wasn’t around. He knew that, of course. Hoped for it, even. But they had talked about him and decided to band together.


“Mitch!” he called at the next practice when the boy appeared at the top of the field. His nephew jogged over.

“Yessir,” Mitch said. He was such a ragged lawn rake of a kid, not yet grown into his bones.

“How’re your boys doing?”

“All right, I guess. Ready to play,” he added, hopefully.

“They still talking about those long passes?”

Mitch looked at the end of the field, where the elusive long pass might drop. He waited a considerable length of time before answering, “I dunno,” as if hoping Tim and his question might grow impatient and disappear.

“Well, you let me know if they do, will you.” He clapped his nephew on the back and sent him along to stretch.

He had dreamed a perfect dream, and play by play, and win by win, the boys were making his dream a reality. Four consecutive wins now. Again and again, they had won. How could they not see the beauty of that? The rarity.

He ran them through their newest formation, watched as Ricky’s cheeks puffed with rancor when he gave his lineman a nudge, watched their heads come together in the huddle, Mitch’s hand on Jason’s back, Mitch patting Ricky’s crown.

Second half of practice, he made some adjustments.

“Mitch!” he called. “You’re under center.”

Jason stepped back from his crouch, a good kid, silent even in disappointment. He didn’t have to talk, because Ricky always would.

“That’s a QB run play, Coach!” Ricky said through his mask.

“Are you suggesting Mitch can’t run?”

“I’m just saying why would you take out Jason?”

“I don’t have time for these questions, son! Wilkins is QB. End of discussion.”

After practice, he watched them pick up cones, the blue afternoon zipping toward autumn, his brow buzzing toward a change-of-seasons headache. He would have to blow the whistle less. He’d have to run them with a little less whistle.

Mitch was the last to bring in his cones. One bendy, extra-tall stack, neatly done, orange rubber snout into orange rubber snout, just a slight puff in the middle where one had nosed in askew. Tim loved his nephew for this: careful, but not too careful, a boy built for systems with a little flair. The rest of the team was already halfway down the hill as he loaded them into the back of Tim’s truck.

“Uncle Tim,” Mitch said when he was through. “Coach. I’m not sure I should play QB.”

Tim grinned. “Sure you should, son. You’ve got the potential to play any position you want.”

“I mean, yeah, I know I’m good enough to do it. But it’s Jason’s job. Ain’t it?” He squinted in the sun, which gave him the impression of looking craftier, and more suspicious than he was. “I mean, if I can be anything, why can’t I be something that doesn’t already belong to somebody else?”

His innocent nephew. Tim placed a hand on his young head. “Some roles are better than others, and there’s only so many to go around.”

“But Jason’s good.”

Tim withdrew the hand to his hip. “Look, you won’t get anywhere turning down opportunities. Know that.”

It was because of Mitch that he even coached this team. Hell, it was basically because of Mitch that he’d stayed in Virginia, reclaimed the old house from squalor, got himself into school. If his no-show degenerate brother couldn’t make more than the occasional phone call, couldn’t suck it up and be a man for this boy, he himself sure as hell would.

“But if it makes you feel better,” Tim went on, “I’m planning on splitting the job between you. Trade-off. So both of you can learn. All right?”

His nephew opened his mouth, closed it.

“What’s that?”


“Come on, out with it.”

“It’s just.” He stroked the red clay with his toe. “I don’t know. Maybe you could just teach me at home. That way Jason can QB the Jets.”

“Damn it, Mitch, always the same conversation! Did you not hear me before about opportunities? Did you not hear that?”

“No,” Mitch said, backing away. “I heard it.”


They needed stories was what they needed. He paged through the football histories, hunting for tales of valor and loyalty: Johnny Unitas throwing a game-winning touchdown while blood gushed from his broken nose.

“Y’all just keep winning,” Cindy said the last time he paid her a visit. He had his books out and Mitch was with them in the kitchen, leaning over his shoulder, eating a Snickers.

“Don’t poison yourself now,” Tim told him, trying not to see the smears of chocolate at the corners of his mouth. “We gotta keep it up.”

“Go, fight, win,” Mitch said, through caramel, sounding just like his sarcastic mom.

Tim closed his book. “Are we going to the playoffs?”

“Yeah we are.”

“I can’t hear you. I said are we going to the playoffs?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” He mock-saluted. “You know Ricky eats like ten of these a day.”

“Let him, if that’s what he wants to do. Any kid can eat a Snickers.”

Mitch nodded, swallowed his final bite, and tossed the wrapper in the trash. They never quite fought—Mitch respected him too much for that—but occasionally these days, they came close. These days, it was a relief to Tim every time Mitch held himself in line. The kid was getting his own ideas. Who knew how long his deference would last.

“I know you don’t want to be just any kid,” Tim said.

“Nope. I wanna be the best. I want to keep winning.”


“What must that feel like?” Cindy asked, after Mitch had wandered out of the room. “To never lose?” She offered the question like a piece of nature, one of those pine cones she collected that had no purpose but was somehow worth contemplating. Tim was grateful to still have her friendship after all the drama they put each other through.

“Good,” he said. “It feels good.”

She gave him one of her looks, and he felt a pang that he’d accomplished just about everything except being a husband to her. She had never really been his type—too strong-willed, and too emotional, loving him hungrily, but also shutting him out, especially when it came to Mitch. But he’d only noticed that after they’d rushed into romance, around the same time he noticed she still carried a torch for Joe. Even so he knew he hadn’t given her his best effort; that was his biggest regret.

It was his biggest regret about Vietnam, too. When he’d shipped out, he’d harbored a vague hope for greatness, but by the time he arrived, even before Robbie died, the mood had soured. It was a hopeless war, and a boring war, and so why try, why be a hero? He ended up in the rear, fixing trucks, and only did what he had to do. In hindsight, he’d lost whole years of his life to that attitude, the great undertow of not trying hard.

His little brother was losing them still. They’d gotten together his first Christmas in California and at that point it had been a few years, both of them having severed all ties with their dad, which made it a challenge to track each other down. Joe had hitchhiked all the way from Houston and he was a wreck. He’d missed Robbie’s funeral because no one knew where he was, and now, more than a year later, his surviving brother exemption secured, he was still bawling about it, convulsing on Tim’s shoulder before they’d even said hello. The kid looked totaled, greasy hair to his shoulders, bags like an old man’s, practically purple, under his eyes, all kinds of buttons missing from his shirt. He said he was sorry many times. He told Tim about Cindy and Mitch.

“A one-year-old son?” Tim couldn’t believe his ears. “What’re you doing out here?”

“I don’t know. Getting something out of my system, I guess.” Joe slumped in the booth, ready for nothing. He didn’t even have an address. “I’m gonna go back there. I want to meet him.”

He didn’t though. He got hammered that night, tried to steal a motorcycle outside the bar while Tim was in the head—You die on it, you buy it, read the sign over the unisex toilet—and it was only by some miracle that Tim overtook him, halfway down the road, and managed to pry him off and roll the bike back to where Joe had found it. He spent the rest of the night chasing and physically restraining his brother, eventually hauling him back to his apartment where he force-fed him whiskey, just to get him to pass out and be still. In the morning, Joe was gone, and so was the rest of Tim’s booze, plus the hundred dollars he had saved in a coffee tin.

Joe called again a few months later, having relocated, not to Virginia, but to Santa Fe, apologizing, saying things were different. Again, they met up, this time on Joe’s turf, but things were not different, they could not have been more the same: Joe blubbering in a bar, the picture of weakness, getting drunk, then getting violent, punching a man he’d introduced as a friend. Tim got punched in the scuffle that ensued, by whose fist he wasn’t even sure, but whoever’s it was he was one hundred percent sure it was all his brother’s fault.

Same thing the next time, more or less, and then the next time, and at a certain point you had to acknowledge that these weren’t flukes, they were the pattern. As kids they’d invented the Monacan Maniac, a lurching, irrational monster who took over the bodies of innocent boys, a figure that, in hindsight, probably had something to do with their dad. They took turns playing and slaying him, depending on their mood, and somehow this Maniac was exactly what Joe had become. He did not know how to drink and he did not know how to live and he didn’t know the first damn thing about being a decent man.

More than a decade later, Joe claimed to be clean, but still, he hadn’t been there for the kid. He lived in Montana instead, a shirker, and the one sorry time he made an effort completely fit the pattern of destruction. It was after the old man had died, in that hectic year when Tim had come back to deal with the house, and fallen in love, somehow, with Cindy, and decided he might as well stay, and Cindy, in all her well-intentioned intensity, had basically forced Joe to show his face, belatedly high on the idea of family. He’d shown up at last, he’d played with the kid, and then there’d been another fight, right there in Cindy’s little kitchen, in front of her parents and Mitch. Tim couldn’t even recall who started it, because fighting with Joe was no longer a decision, just the language the two brothers spoke. What a catastrophe, what a mistake everything to do with Joe had been.

Except for Mitch, of course. Now, having salvaged his family house, if not his family, Tim didn’t want any more mistakes, especially when it came to Mitch, who he could hardly believe had not been ruined, and who Tim would see to it now was not. He just had to keep at it: his third season coaching, his second-to-last semester of college. If he kept at it, if word got around, maybe the Warriors would even hire him up.


The fifth win was a beauty. Jason kicked his first field goal and returned a pick for six. Everyone worked together to clear a lane for Mitch’s twenty-yard touchdown run in the second half. Even Ricky was happy. He did a back flip as the clock ran out and Tim didn’t chastise him. He’d heard it said that the pain of losing was far more intense than the joy of winning ever was. But whoever said that could not have lost much, not in the listless way he had before football saved his life. To Tim, winning had never not felt intense. It relocated him every time. He felt amazed with the world, its comedy, its colors. He’d stand there and watch the Flyboys smiling elfishly, swinging their emerald helmets over the grass like the pendulums of eternal clocks. Winning was intense in the way that living was. It was a job he loved, the cure itself.


Next practice, it all fell apart. Twenty pre-adolescent noses, twenty foreheads, twenty haircuts. Twenty boys in practice gear, their helmets on the grass.

“We ain’t playing,” Jason said. It was the Wednesday before the last game of the year. “We ain’t gonna practice unless you let us throw the ball.”

“This is our chance to go undefeated,” Tim shouted back. It killed him how young they were. How young, and how wrong. They’d been born into a better world, on this point everyone agreed, but it was clear to Tim that this was actually a problem. Might even ruin them if he didn’t intervene. “Come on, now,” he shouted, “where are your heads?”

They merely looked at him, defiant, overconfident from their wins.

“This Sunday at three o’clock,” he tried again, “you’ve got a shot at the playoffs. The four best teams in the state. Don’t you want that?”

“Not if it ain’t no fun,” Caleb said.

Didn’t they understand he was trying to save them? Look at his father, look at Joe. When you stopped caring about succeeding, that was when you started to die.

“You’re lucky I’m the coach,” he said. “You think you can go to high school and pull this shit? You think they put up with this in college? Hell, no.”

“Let us throw it!” Ricky said. “Let Jason throw me the ball!”

Mitch still hadn’t spoken, and here Tim had his chance.

“Mitch!” he called. “Get over here.”

His nephew flinched, and Tim took that opportunity to look at him hard, to look his message right into the boy’s spiraling soul. These fools are lost, is what that message said. Only one you can save is yourself. Mitch, for his part, did not flinch again. He looked at his comrades, then at the dads in the bleachers, then back again at Tim. Then the fatherless boy who had no one in the stands came forward to stand by his uncle. His helmet he left behind, on the grass with his team.

 “Are we going to the playoffs?” Tim prompted him, hoping to God he wouldn’t fail him now.

Mitch squinted. There were murmurs from the team.

“Yes, sir,” his nephew finally said.

“I can’t hear you. I said, are we going to the playoffs?”

“Yes, sir!

“Damn right, we are. And will you tell these boys how we’re getting there?”

“Win Sunday, Coach.” Mitch’s face was as hard as a book.

“What’s that?”


“And how’re we gonna win, son? How have we always won?”

He was very close to Mitch now, his lip almost brushing his nephew’s cheek in his intense need to make these boys into men.

“What’s our game? How do Flyboys fly?”

Mitch’s eyes settled on his uncle’s and a sober knowledge filled his face. It was almost as though he had been there that day in California before Tim was Coach, and the lawyer had called, and told him that he, Timothy Williams, had been designated next of kin. His father had been found. He’d been near the sofa. That was all they would say, so he knew it had been much worse. He pictured the old man as he’d last seen him at Robbie’s funeral, his skin stretched tight over bloated cheeks and chest and belly, his arms the same arms he’d thrown with, his legs the same legs that were always driving to town for beer. In the end, his father had been found to be his father. At long last, there’d be no more mistakes. But no corrections either.

There on the practice field, Mitch’s twelve-year-old eyes seemed to know all this. Like a calendar, he had it all worked out.

What he said was, “We run the ball, Coach.” Then he paused and added, “We always win when we run.”

That was the thing about saving yourself. Realistically, you probably couldn’t do it until you recognized all else was lost, until you understood that in the end, there’s nothing good that comes of fun. Tim almost wept. He and his nephew, the sole survivors. They saw the same limits, the same cruelties, the same victory awaiting them on Sunday at three p.m.

Katherine Hill

Katherine is the author of two novels, The Violet Hour (2013) and A Short Move (2020). With Sarah Chihaya, Merve Emre, and Jill Richards, she is also co-author of The Ferrante Letters: An Experiment in Collective Criticism (2020). Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The Common, The Guardian, The Nation, and n+1. She teaches creative writing and literature at Adelphi University.

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