Author : Patrick Hueller
The footage is grainy, and getting grainier with each viewing. But Peter Nevins doesn’t notice. To him, what’s on screen is crystal clear. The TV isn’t flickering; the colors aren’t blurry.
There the soccer field is, looking just as it did exactly thirty-seven years ago. The grass remains as green as ever, as chewed up from two weeks of competition.
There the other players are, frantic, scrambling, converging.
There the clock is—not technically on the screen—it was extra time, and they didn’t put extra time on the TV back in the ’80s—but it’s ticking away in his head just the same: “9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . .”
There the goalie is, striding, slipping.
And there Peter’s younger self is, among the other players but slightly ahead of them, surprised to find the ball at his feet, the net unoccupied.
“Calm down,” Peter tells his younger self. “You have time.”
But his younger self doesn’t listen.
He rushes the shot. A wide open net, but he sends the ball high and wide.
There’s the sound of the other shot, the other kind of shot, and there’s Peter crumpling onto the field.
There’s the blood, blooming on his jersey.
He was lucky, everyone had said.
An inch or two to his right, they said, and bye bye heart.
They’d called the shooter a fanatic, a lunatic, a soccer-watching sociopath.
And in his head, Peter has always known they were right. He should forget about that guy, just as they advised him. Forget about the whole day.
One bad day doesn’t define a person, they’d said—let alone one bad moment.
In his head he knew they were absolutely, unequivocally right.
As for his almost-bullet-ridden heart, though . . . well, it won’t let him forget.
For thirty-seven years, he and his heart have spent the anniversary of that day pleading with the footage.
Relax, they’ve implored his younger self. Slow down.
You have plenty of time, they’ve insisted. The net’s wide open.
Go in, they’ve begged the ball. Please. This time please go in.
That’s what he’s doing now. Pleading. Supplicating. He’s on his knees, straining his eyes at the TV, beseeching the ball to find the net.
But it won’t.
No matter how many times he rewinds and re-watches, no matter how many years pass, the tape shows the same missed shots. One misses the net; the other misses his heart.
The same thing, over and over.
And yet he keeps going. Keeps rewinding. Keeps re-watching.
Again and again.
Each time, he’s sure the next viewing will be different.
After all, he’s done it before: thirty-seven years ago to the day, he wished for something so strenuously that he made it happen.
He wished to die.
As he watched the ball soar into the stands, he told himself that his life might as well be over, that someone might as well end it right there and then.
And, okay, this desire didn’t exactly come true, but it was pretty close. One or two inches, to be exact.
So maybe, just maybe, he can once again alter the course of events through the sheer force of his will.
He rewinds, re-watches.
He watches the ball leave his younger self’s foot and he entreats the forces that be for a different outcome.
Please. Please. PLEASE.
And it works.
After thirty-seven years and thousands upon thousands of viewings, the forces that be actually cooperate.
Instead of soaring, the ball merely rolls.
Honestly, Peter can’t believe how long it’s taking for the ball to cross the goal line.
Long enough for him to realize that he’s no longer a young man. He’s standing there, on the field—he’s somehow been transported from his living room back to this stadium—but he hasn’t regained any of his former leg strength. He’s still an old man, stiff and arthritic.
Which explains why the ball is rolling so slowly.
And why it comes to a rest right in front of the goal line.
He watches in horror as the goalie scrambles to his feet and scoops the ball up before Peter’s teammates can get to it.
He hears the referees’ end-of-game whistles.
And he shuffles, just in time, one or two inches to his right.