100. The Receiver

The football game didn’t go well. Half way through the first quarter a herd of bulls stampeded down the stadium tunnel and scattered on the field. The quarterback had just fallen back. The receiver was thinking, “I’m open.” He saw the ball in the air and as it was about to float slowly into his hands, a perfect pass, a perfect play, he smacked against the solid wall of an impassable bull. When he got up, he thought, “I haven’t seen anything stranger than this.”

At a bar in Manzanillo, a man told a woman, “Bulls interrupted a football game in Los Angeles. They just ran in, something like fifty big bulls, down he tunnel.”

The woman disagreed. She said, “I heard it was over one hundred bulls.”

Word got out in a Shanghai neighborhood as such happenings often go global. It was a girl this time who told her father as he came home from work.

“Bulls, bulls, bulls in the stadium,” she said.

He said, “In LA. Yes, I heard.”

At dinner he told her a story about the mountain deer, how one time his father’s father had been working a garden under the shadows of the mountain. His grandfather looked up at the sound of thunder but saw no clouds and in the sky above the shadows where he often watched the birds fly he saw hundreds of deer in a great herd as if they’d been called to war. They were more deer than he’d ever seen passing under the mountain, more deer in one place than he’d ever see again.

“What happened?” his daughter said.

“Well,” the father said, “he watched them go by. He watched how they raised a tremendous amount of dust. But then they passed and for a moment he watched and listened and when everything became very quiet and the birds started to sing again, he got back to work.”

The girl waited for something more profound, she listened for the magic that typically follows, and then it suddenly struck her and she laughed. Her father laughed. The mother, who came in with more food, laughed too.

Word had already travelled through Australia, New Zealand about the bulls in the stadium.

In Belfast, a police officer said, “What happened?” Two men were in a ditch with their car. Their foreheads were bloody from the accident but neither man would let go of a radio.

“It’s bulls,” one of the men said.

The other man said, “Bulls in a stadium in Los Angeles. We were listening to the game and the place was overrun by bulls.”

“Bulls?” the police officer said.

He slid down the ditch and asked the men for the radio. But they wouldn’t give up the radio. The police officer grabbed the men’s knuckles and all three of them tugged, looking like wrestlers, as each in his own way and each with his own strength fought for the radio.

Two hours after the interruption the bulls had been removed from the stadium. People with bags and small shovels cleared the field of debris. The concession stands saw increased sales. Officials called in people who knew how to handle bulls; they called in cattle trucks. The crowd and the players and the coaches waited.

But what neither the couple in Manzanillo, nor the family in Shanghai, nor the Irishmen knew was that when the game resumed with fewer people in the stadium, the receiver glanced down field every time he was thrown a pass. He would run, a bootleg maybe, make his motions, and as the ball approached, he would take his eyes off of it, glance over his shoulder, expecting a powerful blow. He remembered the impact. He remembered the hard impact of his body against the bull’s body as he reached high for the ball. In his mind, he felt the memory as an immovable and illuminated surface against his shoulder and ribs and hips. He would carry the memory of the collision for the rest of his life, and even when he forgot the bulls, as everyone else would, the memory of the bull’s impassability remained, like an extra skin or elastic organ, so that he always felt like he was in close contact with someone who wasn’t really there, sleeping beside an enormous but invisible membrane, or in conflict with an additional enemy on the field.

“You’re just a little slower these days,” the offensive couch said. “Not much but just enough.”

“Just enough for what?” the receiver said.

“You haven’t gained any more weight,” the coach told him, “but you’re just a little slower. And your reaction time. What’s happened to your reaction time?”

The receiver stared at the coach. He said, “I don’t know.”

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