Macho Starr is the first-string defensive end on the football team. His head is shaved and shaped like an avocado. He eats three Cheesy Gorditas from Taco Bell every afternoon before practice and somehow keeps from barfing all over the line of scrimmage.
After practice, mom beats three raw eggs and serves them to Macho, chilled. He chills out.
In all his seventeen years, Macho has never considered his identity in an existential fashion. There’s no need. There’s school, mom, eggs, and later, a job in a nearby mine. The size of his biceps promises a high-level position. Mom’s eggs will carry him to this certain future.
All of the objects surrounding Macho have shrunk over the past few years. The kitchen table pushes against his knees. Even the mountains seem smaller. But his voice hasn’t grown in tandem; Macho speaks softly and finds it difficult to say the right thing at the right time.
The football field lights up two hours before The Big Game. The team takes the field and warms up. The cheerleaders anticipate this half-hour block of stretching, each guy all padded up, opening their legs wide. They begin to perspire under the heat of the field’s jumbo lights.
Cindy the cheerleader works at the balloon store in town (BALLOON CELEBRATION TIME). Macho likes her, and so he visits the store every weekend and buys balloons for his mom. His mom thinks it a silly quirk. Macho has an interest in balloons!
The family man that Macho considers himself to one day be won’t sit in an armchair all night long. His future house will be made of brick like his mom’s, but he’ll score a chimney. There will be balloons at the front door on every holiday.
“Macho. Come,” his coach summons. Macho waddles onto the field.
The first half of the game ends 0-0 and Cindy blows Macho a kiss as the team disappears into the locker room.
“This is your night… It’s about pride… Show them what you’re made of… Steel!… Steal their hearts…Take back the night!”
Macho imagines Coach Jenkins to have similar traits as his late father, but he will never allow these traits to materialize. Coach ushers the boys back onto the field, slapping their asses all the live long day.
The Foothill Friars win by one field goal. Russ the quarterback makes a quick victory-related speech (VICTORY IS OURS GENTLEMEN) and invites the team over to kick a keg.
Russ knows he’ll get lucky lucky lucky tonight. He puts a quilt over the bed of his truck and sprays it with Febreeze.
Russ sees Cindy get into Macho’s car and grimaces. Macho catches this facial expression and wonders if Russ has smelled something funny.
Russ’ mom turns on a string of lights in the backyard, holding at bay the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains.
Macho watches the party goings-on from a distance. He always thought that his preference for silence would be his defining superhero trait. Like, everyone would think he was quiet and oblivious until they saw him stop traffic and carry a sheep across the freeway, or stand up and defend a pimply kid in the cafeteria.
Russ has always felt threatened by Macho’s silence. He took it as proof of Macho’s kindness, a trait that Russ didn’t find useful. Russ is the clear MVP of the party, holding up all the girls for their keg stand.
Cindy, across the yard from Macho, chats with some girlfriends. They consider their levels of drunkenness. Cindy lists how many beers she’s finished while her friends pretend to listen.
The girls begin to test their motor skills. They walk on an imaginary tight rope and the guys sneer and laugh from the other side of the yard. Macho smiles at their performance without criticism.
One of the girls tumbles from the tight rope and body checks a girl named Jacqueline. Jacqueline, with her brain still privy to the sneers, thinks the physical contact purposeful.
A fight escalates and becomes spectacle. The guys cheer. Macho does not prefer this second act.
Jacqueline rips out her opponent’s earring, and before Macho realizes that his body is moving, he has thrown Jacqueline over his shoulder. Macho carries Jacqueline into the kitchen. She catches her breath, grabs an orange from the kitchen table, and rejoins the party.
Macho feels deep remorse about his actions from an invisible source, but there’s pride too. He focuses on the pride and reenters the backyard. He finds Cindy and places his hand on the small of her back.
Russ puts his hand on Macho’s shoulder. “That was pretty fucked up of you, dude.”
The invisible source of remorse becomes visible. Of course Russ wanted the girl fight to reach its natural end.
To Russ, Macho’s effort that night was evidence of a primal flaw. He should’ve let the girls have at it. Russ is the captain after all. He’s there to set the tone. He’s there to instill a code of behavior to his pack.
“I wanna show you something real fast, man.”
Macho follows Russ outside of the enclosure of the backyard. Darkness envelops him. A few paces from the yard stands a tree, and next to the tree, a few more burly football players.
Russ explains in so few words that Macho messed up. He went one way when the rest of the team went another.
“It’s like a wave, man. When the stadium does the wave everybody’s gotta do it. There isn’t one dude going the other way. And if there is, he probably gets beat up.”
Macho gets beat up under the tree. He struggles during the first few punches to the ribs and then resolves himself to the pain. His bros finish up and head back to the party.
To Macho’s surprise, he feels content lying there in his own blood and sweat, listening to the soft murmur of the party in the distance. Russ was marking his territory. Nothing would change. And he knew that Cindy would let him touch her back again.
Macho stares at the thick matter of the mountains above him and waits for the throbbing of his bruised body to settle.
Drawing by Coralie Harmache
Caroline Hayes is a writer living in L.A. and a 2013 graduate from NYU’s Comparative Literature department. Her poetry has appeared in Potluck Magazine and she is currently working as a writer’s assistant in L.A.