Jack Bootle

Matt can’t stop looking at the captain of the school football team. From his place on the subs bench, he can see him: face red, calves tight, grinding his studs into the pitch. Blood on his shins. It’s Tuesday, it’s Valentine’s Day, and the ground is frozen solid. When the captain falls, when all the boys fall, his legs, their legs are gashed open by serrated soil.

Twenty-two boys are grunting and yelping in the night, in the vicious air. Fuck. Fuck. Dickhead. Faggot. A cloud of steam is rising off them, like cattle in a winter field. Breath and body blur together beneath the floodlights.

The captain’s name is Dave.

It’s the semi-finals of the county cup and Matt’s team, Dave’s team, cannot afford to lose. But from his place on the subs bench, Matt can see that they are losing. He watches Dave’s face, he sees the dark hair plastered to the forehead, the blazing eyes. He hears him shout desperate orders to the midfielders.

They are losing.

Matt knows how things will play out after the game.

After the game, Dave will slap his teammates on the back. He’ll console them. He will not slap Matt on the back, Matt has sat on the subs bench all evening, he has not been bloodied and broken open by the frozen soil. He will not be consoled by Dave.

Then Dave will take a shower. He’ll soap the crusts of mud and sweat from his body. He’ll lather and work the creases and corners of his muscles, rinse hot water through the wounds on his legs and leave them to scab, and then he’ll go to his girlfriend’s house and he’ll fuck her. His girlfriend is thin and blonde. She’ll make retching noises to show she’s enjoying herself. She’ll let him fuck her, despite his team’s defeat in the semi-finals.

It’s Tuesday, it’s Valentine’s Day. Before he fucks her, he’ll give her flowers. He’ll probably give her roses.

Matt knows how things will play out after the game.

He will walk up to Dave in the boys’ changing room, just before he gets in the shower. He’ll push him in the chest and call him a dickhead. Fucking dickhead.

He’ll tell him it’s his fault they lost the game. He’ll use the word faggot. If Dave doesn’t punch him, he’ll strike first: he’ll jab him in the jaw, in the ribs. Then Dave will beat Matt to the ground. He’ll batter him into the tiles of the changing room floor, sit on his stomach and crush him with blows: to the chest, the mouth. Dave is bigger than Matt.

He has muscles and hard tendons where Matt does not. He will take him down, no question.

He’s the captain of the school football team.

After that, Matt will apologize and rinse blood out of his mouth. Then he’ll get dressed, and then he’ll catch the bus home. He’ll be alone.

He knows how things will play out.

It’s Tuesday, it’s Valentine’s Day, and Matt will creep upstairs to the bathroom. He’ll stand in front of the mirror and undo his sweat-stiffened shirt, button by button. He’ll look at his body. He’ll move his fingers across his nipples and up his neck, along his jaw, tracing the pattern of Dave’s bruises: blue-brown and bursting, blossoming like flowers across his naked, aching skin.

 
 
 


Jack Bootle​ lives in London, England. His work has appeared or is forthcoming from Found Press, Notes From The Underground, and fwriction : review. When he is not writing, he makes TV shows.