White Lines on a Green Field by Catherynne M. Valente
For Seanan McGuire.
Let me tell you about the year Coyote took the Devils to the State Championship.
Coyote walked tall down the halls of West Centerville High and where he walked lunch money, copies of last semester’s math tests, and unlit joints blossomed in his footsteps. When he ran laps out on the field our lockers would fill up with Snickers bars, condoms, and ecstasy tabs in all the colors of Skittles. He was our QB, and he looked like an invitation to the greatest rave of all time. I mean, yeah, he had black hair and copper skin and muscles like a commercial for the life you’re never going to have. But it was the way he looked at you, with those dark eyes that knew the answer to every question a teacher could ask, but he wouldn’t give them the
When tryouts rolled around that fall, Coyote went out for everything. Cross-country, baseball, even lacrosse. But I think football appealed to his friendly nature, his need to have a pack around him, bright-eyed boys with six- pack abs and a seven minute mile and a gift for him every day. They didn’t even know why, but they brought them all the same. Playing cards, skateboards, vinyl records (Coyote had no truck with mp3s). The defensive line even baked cookies for their boy. Chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal walnut iced snickerdoodle, piling up on the bench like a king’s tribute. And oh, the girls brought flowers. Poor girls gave him dandelions and rich girls gave him roses and he kissed them all like they were each of them specifically the key to the fulfillment of all his dreams. Maybe they were. Coyote didn’t play favorites. He had enough for everyone.
By the time we went to State, all the cheerleaders were pregnant.
The Devils used to be a shitty team, no lie. Bottom of our division and even the coach was thinking he ought to get more serious about his geometry classes. Before Coyote transferred our booster club was the tight end’s Dad, Mr. Bollard, who painted his face Devil gold-and-red and wore big plastic light-up horns for every game. At Homecoming one year, the Devil’s Court had two princesses and a queen who were actually girls from the softball team filling in on a volunteer basis, because no one cared enough to vote. They all wore jeans and bet heavily on the East Centerville Knights, who won 34-3.
First game of his senior year, Coyote ran 82 yards for the first of 74 touchdowns that season. He passed and caught and ran like he was all eleven of them in one body. Nobody could catch him. Nobody even complained. He ran like he’d stolen that ball and the whole world was chasing him to get it back. Where’d he been all this time? The boys hoisted him up on their shoulders afterward, and Coyote just laughed and laughed. We all found our midterm papers under our pillows the next morning, finished and bibliographied, and damn if they weren’t the best essays we’d never written.
I’m not gonna lie. I lost my virginity to Coyote in the back of my blue pick-up out by the lake right before playoffs. He stroked my hair and kissed me like they kiss in the movies. Just the perfect kisses, no bonked noses, no knocking teeth. He tasted like stolen sunshine.
I think he liked that I knew the score, because after that Coyote made sure I was at all his games, even though I don’t care about sports. Nobody didn’t care about sports that year. Overnight the stands went from a ghost town to kids ride free day at the carnival. And when Coyote danced in the endzone he looked like everything you ever wanted. Every son, every boyfriend.
“Come on, Bunny,” he’d say. “I’ll score a touchdown for you.”
“You’ll score a touchdown either way.”
“I’ll point at you in the stands if you’re there. Everyone will know I love you.”
“Just make sure I’m sitting with Sarah Jane and Jessica and Ashley, too, so you don’t get in trouble.”
“That’s my Bunny, always looking out for me,” he’d laugh, and take me in his mouth like he’d die if he didn’t.
You could use birth control with Coyote. It wouldn’t matter much.
But he did point at me when he crossed that line, grinning and dancing and moving his hips like Elvis had just been copying his moves all along, and Sarah Jane and Jessica and Ashley got so excited they choked on their Cokes. They all knew about the others. I think they liked it that way—most of what mattered to Sarah Jane and Jessica and Ashley was Sarah Jane and Jessica and Ashley, and Coyote gave them permission to spend all their time together. Coyote gave us all permission, that was his thing.
I think the safety had that tattooed on his calf.
After we won four games in a row (after a decade of no love) things started to get really out of control. You couldn’t buy tickets. Mr. Bollard was in hog heaven—suddenly the boosters were every guy in town who was somebody, or used to be somebody, or who wanted to be somebody some impossible day in the future. We were gonna beat the Thunderbirds. They started saying it, right out in public. Six-time state champs, and no chance they wouldn’t be the team in our way this year like every year. But every year was behind us, and ahead was only our boy running like he’d got the whole of heaven at his back. Mr. Bollard got them new uniforms, new helmets, new goal posts—all the deepest red you ever saw. But nobody wore the light-up horns Mr. Bollard had rocked for years. They all wore little furry coyote ears, and who knows where they bought them, but they were everywhere one Friday, and every Friday after. When Coyote scored, everyone would howl like the moon had come out just for them. Some of the cheerleaders started wearing faux-fur tails, spinning them around by bumping and grinding on the sidelines, their corn-yellow skirts fluttering up to the heavens.
One time, after we stomped the Greenville Bulldogs 42-0, I saw Coyote under the stands, in that secret place the boards and steel poles and shadows and candy wrappers make. Mike Halloran (kicker, #14) and Justin Oster (wide receiver, #11) were down there too, helmets off, the filtered stadium lights turning their uniforms to pure gold. Coyote leaned against a pole, smoking a cigarette, shirt off—and what a thing that was to see.
“Come on, QB,” Justin whined. “I never hit a guy before. I got no beef here. And I never fucked Jessie, either, Mike, I was just mouthing off. She let me see her boob once in 9th grade and there wasn’t that much to see back then. I never had a drink except one time a beer and I never smoked ’cause my daddy got emphysema.” Coyote just grinned his friendly, hey-dude-no-worries grin.
“Never know unless you try,” he said, very reasonably. “It’ll make you feel good, I promise.”
Halloran got his punch in before he had to hear any more about what Justin Oster had never done and the two of them went
LaGrange almost ruined it all at Homecoming. The LaGrange Cowboys, and wasn’t their QB a picture, all wholesome white-blonde square-jaw aw-shucks muscle with an arm so perfect you’d have thought someone had mounted a rifle sight on it. #9 Bobby Zhao, of the 300 bench and the Miss Butter Festival 19whatever mother, the seven-restaurant-chain owning father (Dumpling King of the Southland!) and the surprising talent for soulful