She stood, a solitary stalk, ball at her feet, bright-lit green field against a black fall sky. The breath between whistled-dead and play-resumed.
Half a field away, a pack of other players stared back at her even as they jockeyed in the box, twisted fistfuls of jersey. Waited for the kick to come.
She set her stance, a few paces back, and stood. They could wait.
Her hours previous spent self-conscious in the school day, a bulky bulb in cold soil. Around others, she arched, slumped shoulders curved over and caved in, shrank. Arms crossed around books to cover her breasts, new and awkward and obvious at eye-level to her classmates. Bell to bell, blood cells coursing through vessel halls, pooled classrooms, hour after hour. Geometry: right-angles, hypotenuses. History: Pyrrhus, attrition. Anatomy: the bones of the foot.
Baggy jeans and ponytail, sneakers and plain tee. Between first and second she spoke to a boy as he smoked by the gymnasium doors. Volleyed observations. He was short and comfortable, and she tugged at her own belt loops, her pockets, her shirt seams, kept tucking hair behind her ears, touching her face. May have stayed too long; awkward retreat.
And at lunch, seated alongside teammates who discussed lipstick and bangs, as in her mind she replayed the exchange with the boy, pulled at it until it lost its shape, a tangle of threads that no longer resembled stitched fabric. Realized that her fly had been down the whole time.
Calcaneus: heel. She leaned over cafeteria Bolognese, collarbones hovered above the edge of the tray.
Alone on the field, though.
Upright, transformed, hands inert, arms hung an afterthought. Eyes forward, chin-to-chest, she scowled scrutiny toward the horizon, ignored the mass of players, a blur of blue and white in the foreground of three sharp lines, their squared corners. Measured her distances: goal to ball, ball to body. Rocked up on her toes, posturing. Proximal, middle, distal phalanges.
From this vantage, she could see clear mere seconds into the future: rhythmic steps to a rooted plant-foot, leg arced, pendulum, cranked down, across, over, into and through. She could hear the coming solid thwock of seams against leather cleat (cuneiform, metatarsal). The ball’s trajectory, she knew, was predetermined: just a few feet farther than the spot where the 20 other players had set their stances, would crane their necks, eyes wide, to watch as it arched, skimmed heights of humid air. On the silent field, from 50 yards away, she could hear the upcoming wisp of the keeper’s gloved fingers miss, the arc dipped under crossbar, upper 90, line crossed, the rattled skim down the back of the net. And only then the ball would finally find the ground again.
All this she saw before it happened. The tower of a girl, standing alone in the middle of the field, stock-straight as limestone statuary casting starburst shadows, the crisscross worship of stadium lights. The strength in immensity. She strode toward the ball.