Corner Flag

Sacrifice the body; win the game! 

Jason Beech brings us a  story that echos through so many of our childhoods. 

Corner Flag by Jason Beech

I arrive at the footy field early, like I always do, setting out the warm-up cones, making sure dog-shit won’t ruin the memory of a perfectly timed slide-tackle, and giving myself time to contemplate the team-talk. I’m slow doing all three. An un-muffled motorbike assaults my ears – at eight in the morning – and last night’s email from a parent gurgles my stomach juices.

Billy, the boys are playing all wrong, Jeff tells me. They should send the ball to big Trev every time.

We’ve played seven games: won two, lost four and drawn one.

I wrote back telling him the boys are young, and that eight year olds should learn the game, developing now for intense competition later. We dominate games, I tell him, falling only to the big lad up front all the other teams use incessantly.

Aha, he writes back, my point exactly. The boys need to win. Confidence breeds development.

It hurts that I consider his point. I know my lot will destroy all these teams when they get older. He has other parents on his side. The loud ones. And I know Jeff is just biding his time, waiting for that moment when he can tell them all about my past – that time he saw me glass an obnoxious prick in the face. The one who grabbed my girlfriend’s arse all night in The Crown pub. I knew I should have let Melanie handle it. She’d already slapped him across the chops, leaving her mark of rejection. The man-child wanted the last word, so he honked her boobs to his sound effect. Melanie, bless her, kneed him hard enough in the balls, surely, to prevent reproduction, but his lack of respect for her slap had me reaching for a glass. I shoved that thing rim-first into his face and watched the red waterfall.

Nobody talked. The pub has that kind of punter. Jeff saw it all and kept his own counsel, waiting for a slip-up.

The grey clouds which hang around Sheffield like the dull bloke at a party, pushes my mood further down. I wave the corner flags as if that could disperse them. As I plant one, the motorbike which soundtracks my thoughts turns the corner from behind the railings dividing the field from the footpath, and halts. The rider faces me and turns on his headlight, full beam. I turn my face away from the retina-slash, mouthing obscenities.

I’m the adult here, stay cool. No need for violence. Working with these kids, my son George, has kept me calm for the last year. I fear losing this team might cause a relapse. I’m on probation with Melanie. I never hit her, I couldn’t. But she said she already sees me in George and she couldn’t stomach him replicating the things I’ve done in the past.

The biker looks about fifteen, full of life, consumed by arrogance, carrying himself like he never had his arse spanked by either parent – if you could call them that.

The rev makes me flinch. Nobody should hear such a thing at this time in the morning. A few curtains flutter, but windows stay clamped shut like their owners’ mouths. The kid knows his place. It’s at the top of this estate’s tree. I almost chomp my tongue next. He accelerates onto the field and spins a spiral in the centre. Riding off, he looks over his shoulder. I can see his eyes challenge me through the slit of his helmet.

I head towards the middle like a trainee teacher, clueless about how to handle this. It’s no use, he’s gone. Fine. I go to the corner diagonal from the last flag I planted. The kid has ruined my equilibrium – I’m taking the long route here. As I stick the second flag in harder than necessary in Sheffield’s perma-slushed soil, the thrummm of the Yamaha rattles my bones. I turn. He’s already in the centre-circle, creating trenches ready for the First World War. I can see my boys twisting ankles more than a magic sponge could handle.

I calmly pace towards him. Maybe a little cheeky banter can placate him. He stops his dirt-spins and faces me, flashing his beams. My arm moves across my eyes to stop blindness. He revs as I open my mouth, silencing me. Coincidence. I open my mouth again, but another engine explosion acts as a gobstopper. Arsehole.

“Look, could you please …”

He revs and speeds past me, the backdraft telling me how close he came to sending me sprawling. I swivel and I can feel the pulse in my hands as I grip the two remaining corner flags tight. The rider spirals a couple more times, faces me again, and flashes another taunting beam. His engine growls, his back wheel spins a rut in the earth like a bull kicking the ground. He soars forwards, daring me to hold my ground. As he approaches, my right hand grips harder and I lift the pole, spike pointing ahead. I’m looking at the wheel spokes. I don’t care how old he is, I’m going to make him fly.

He gets closer and I throw, just as I look up at his smug face.

I aimed for the wheels … I aimed for the wheels.

But, that look up … I hit him in the neck, the spike jutting out the other end of his throat.

I look around, stunned. I see my boys. I see Jeff.

I see my team slipping away from me, like the blood – and the life – of this biker.

And I know which is worse.

Jason Beech is from Steel City, Sheffield, in England, but now lives with his wife and daughter in New Jersey. As a kid, he once stole a mushroom from a corner shop, and the owner’s dog followed him all the way home, making him walk about a mile’s diversion from where he lived to shake the damn thing off. Otherwise, he’s a law-abiding citizen who loves crime fiction