He was small for a fullback but kept pressing the weights up every day, every day a little more in spite of the advice he was given for a specific training program—a regimen they called it—starting with only the bar in 7th grade (because he was such a scrawny kid) to now giant, meaty pieces of metal lifted easily with one hand and pushed out in reps with a spotter and sometimes without, because he would stay longer than the others whether he needed to or not, whether he had the strength or not, and he was a gentlemen on top of it, one girlfriend for all of high school and never cheated on her once, he wasn’t tall enough, all the scouts told him so, but that was ok because they couldn’t see how strong he was and what they couldn’t see: his heart pumping arterial and venial dilated with rage at being short but filled with fearless venom that he didn’t know where to put, because God and country first but people would disrespect the flag and take the Lord’s name in vain and it drove him crazy because he was trying to be a gentleman but all the reward he got was that his truck wouldn’t start and no matter how many times he pumped iron and turned in his assignments and went to church despite being so tired from practice all week, no matter how many times Nadine would tell him, “Relax baby, you’re so fine, you don’t need to do all this for me, you don’t need to do all this for anyone, you’re okay, I’m okay, we’re okay, I love you, but relax okay because you’re stressing me out,” and he would laugh and a bead of sweat would roll off his close-cropped hair and the guys on the team would get terrified when they heard that laugh because they knew he was about to fuck it up and get it going, it was a fourth-quarter laugh, a merciless laugh, why he went seven yards a carry and only got stronger as the game went on, he was just getting to where he started to feel ok and all the veins stood out as he broke another tackle, stiff armed another helpless motherfucker on the other team and everybody went apeshit and Coach Drew tried to make him take a rest on the sideline, “Fuck that shit, fuck that shit, I want it, I want it, I need it, baby,” and Coach Drew smiled and slapped him on the ass and sent him back in raging and snorting like a badgered bull because everybody knew they were fucked, whether they were the Jackals or Coyotes or Wildcats or Cougars they were all tenderloins to him, he would rip them apart and plow through them, 5’6” always underestimated, never would give him what he was due, so he would go and take it from them, “So help me Jesus this is for you, this for my Nadine, this for my Mom, this for that fat motherfucker down the street with a coexist sticker,” he put his hand through their shoulders, giant chunks of yardage as his opponents melted to the sticky grill and his teammates were bars sizzling and popping and cooking them on third and fourth down, “We aren’t kicking any gotdamned field goals, let him cook and shove it up their ass!” Coach Drew screaming when the other pussy-ass bitches took a timeout and so he did, he shoved it right up their ass, it didn’t even bother him about the Lord’s name being taken in vain so large were his veins in that moment and that’s what I always try to picture about him instead of the way his artery must have looked when the bar fell on his neck one day with no spotter, staying late like always and everybody else having to get home, pushing himself a little bit further until everybody else gave up and he could finally be at peace inside of his skull, I try to keep that memory of his fourth-quarter death stare in my mind instead, but always I am forced to see the meat of his neck oozing out through his veins on the bench, unable to get it off and unable to scream, and Coach Drew was never the same after he found him the next day, amazing how many scouts called after he died, where were all you motherfuckers when he wanted anybody to see that he was more than 5’6”, he was a bullet and a bullet train and nothing could stand in his way, it was a closed casket and I couldn’t bring myself to go to the service and blood makes the grass grow—grow, grass, grow! but I couldn’t bring myself to be near his mom or Nadine after that, all I heard in my mind for a year after it was that fourth-quarter laugh, when I knew everyone in the world was about to die I didn’t think it meant him too, but meat is like that: sometimes you don’t know it’s cooked until it’s already done.
Nathan Cover is a transplanted Texan currently living and working in the city of Chicago. He has two fur babies named Gus and Sheeba that keep him sane and entertained. His first published piece recently appeared in Hypertext Review.
Art by Steve Anwyll @oneloveasshole