“Umm, I’m not sure.”
“There’s a helluva difference, ya know.”
“But neither one is good.”
“No, neither one is good but it would be nice to know which one he’s got.”
“Ya know it’s more logical that he’s got a tumor because you usually have tremors plural and not just one.”
“If he said he had a tumor wouldn’t he have mentioned what kind? Like maybe’s got a benign tumor and so there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Of course I’m worrying, he’s our father for crissakes.”
“We could just call him and ask.”
Skivvy didn’t even know how he got his nickname let alone what it meant. He was born Lucius Cosgrove but everyone had called him Skivvy for as long as he could remember and he didn’t even have an origin story for his moniker. His big brother would know, but Lester…well, Lester was no longer among the living as mom would say wistfully. Dad would maybe know too but he was long gone. Took off right after Skivvy’s sister Lila was born when Skivvy was just three. Mom claimed not to know where the nickname came from which was maybe true but just as likely a result of her scattershot brain that might remember the smallest detail from 30 years ago but forget a big event from yesterday. Mom’s name was Lori and dad’s was Larry. Them being both L’s they decided to give their children names beginning with L. There was also a Lloyd that died stillborn a year or so before Skivvy (nee Lucius) was born. So mom had had one child dead at birth and another hit by a train likely on account of being drunk as a skunk, oh and one husband who run off who knows where. Mom was a tough old bird even if she couldn’t remember half the stuff that should be in her brain. She’d worked right along at the department store after dad left supporting Skivvy and Lila with a little help from Lester. And when Lester got whacked practically across the state line by that train, well sir she didn’t stop for a second then either. Not her style.
Skivvy was 17 and it was his senior year of high school and here he was the star of the Brookfield Cougars who were figuring on being challengers for league this year. Skivvy was, in the words of Coach Crocker, “one skinny sunvabitch,” but he was as elusive as hell and fast as all get out — again as expressed by Coach Crocker. Skivvy ran back punts and kick offs and played halfback and even slotted out as a wide receiver at times. He was also a decent defensive back but had a tendency to always go for interceptions instead of playing it safe. Everyone on the team loved Skivvy because he was the most joyful person you ever met with an infectious enthusiasm that made Cougar practices more fun than your typical football training session. Skivvy had a high pitched voice with which he hollered encouragement non stop. “Dad gum it,” Coach Crocker would say, “don’t that voice of yours ever wear out?” Skivvy would always reply: “not so far coach, when it does I’ll give ya a holler.” That made everyone laugh. Academically Skivvy was a solid B student. Girls liked Skivvy. He was funny, kinda cute and best of all a football star. But Skivvy was dreadfully shy around girls, always blushing bright red when they flirted.
“Dad this is Randy. How are you?”
“I’m doin’ good, boy. How’s about you?”
“Well Lester said you had either a tremor or tumor but wasn’t sure which, so I was curious to know just exactly what the story is.”
“Oh I see. Uh huh. Well it is a tumor.”
“Kind of in my abdomen. The doctor figures on taking a look and probably removing it later in the week.”
“Can they wait that long?”
“Its just a few days. I’m in no immediate danger.”
“Well..what..what do they think —“
“They’re not sure. It may not even be a tumor. There’s a lump for sure. No use worrying about it. Worrying won’t do any good.”
“Well you seem pretty calm about the whole thing.’
“No sense in being otherwise son. No sense at all.”
The first day of school was always a pain to Skivvy. There was finding your classrooms and hearing new teachers give their opening day spiels or old teachers give new spiels. There was sizing up classmates seeing if anyone was new in school and how other students had grown in different ways or looked the same. Skivvy may have been shy with girls but that didn’t keep him from eyeballing them to see whose tits had grown and whose legs had tanned and whose acne had cleared and who was new to the school. It was a lot to take in plus there were all the new books and class papers and general confusion especially among the freshmen running around acting like idiots.
Course Skivvy had been around school for a week already for football practice, the season would start in a few weeks. Skivvy was determined to buckle down from the get go so that he didn’t fall behind and have to scramble to make grades at the end of the first marking period. This was always easier said then done because football took up a lot of time and mental energy and he still needed to help mom around the house and try to keep Lila squared away. Mom was always saying that “Lila can be a handful at times.” Now she was one of those annoying freshman so it would be easier for Skivvy to look after her although more of a pain what with her infringing on his territory.
The first few weeks of school and football practices flew by and Skivvy was feeling good about everything. He’d even broken the ice with a girl. Gina Voletti was his lab partner in science and one of the cutest girls in the school and always been friendly to Skivvy and was smart and nice and had no other boyfriend. Skivvy managed to talk to her about other stuff besides chemistry and she even walked with him to their next class which they had together which was history although they didn’t sit near each other because Mr. Blackster the teacher had them sit alphabetically and she was a V and Skivvy was a C, damn it. But they eventually exchanged phone numbers and went on a date to a movie although it was a double date with Windy Glenn and Mattie Merson. Mattie was the fullback on the team and one of Skivvy’s best friends.
“I’m afraid the tumor is a cancerous and you should know up front that its probably at a fairly advanced stage.’
“That’s odd because I don’t feel so bad at all. A little more tired than usual and there’s some pain there but not like I’m dying.’
“Well now you’re not dying. Let’s just get you in the operating room as soon as possible and make sure we don’t face that type of situation anytime soon. Although I have to add that there’s no guarantee that the operation will stem the spread of cancer. But we’re going to do our best. I’ve scheduled Dr. Larkin to do your operation and he’s the best.”
“When will it be?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. So what I’m going to need you to do is go home for a bit, take care of whatever you have to do and then be back here as soon as you can. Certainly by 7:00 tonight.”
“Wow. Tonight, eh. Well you're the doctor. I’m going to have to prepare my wife and sons for this. I should call my sister too. But I’ll sure be here by 7:00 tonight.”
“If, as you suggest, you’re going to tell family about this I urge you not to alarm them but also prepare them for the fact that we’re dealing with cancer here.”
“It’ll be kind of tricky not to alarm folks at the same time I’m telling them that I’m going in for a cancer operation.”
“Yes, its not an easy thing to do. I should also add that the operation itself is, well its routine in some respects but there are inherit risks involved and there’s no guarantee of surviving it.”
“What chance do I have of surviving it?”
“Oh in your condition, good as it is, I’d say better than 60%.”
It was mid October and Skivvy finally had a minute to himself. He was home from practice, he was caught up with school work — finally — and there was nothing to do before bedtime which was two hours off. Skivvy couldn’t remember the last time he had a free minute let alone 120 of them. He stretched out on top of his bed and thought about how fast the school year was flying by. Two months gone already. Half the football team’s game had been played and they were undefeated. It was the first time Brookfield had been unbeaten this late in a season. Ever. Plus he’d gone from longing for Gina from afar to talking with her to dating to going steady. His grades were nothing to brag about but they weren’t bad either. Skivvy thought that he was on top of the world and it made him a little bit nervous. In fact, the more he thought about his good fortune the more anxious and uncomfortable he got. Skivvy had never felt this way before. He was unsteady, his hands were trembling, his heart was beating too fast and beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. Skivvy was downright scared. Like he was panicking. Everything became super fast especially his heart which was pound pound pounding. Skivvy jumped from the bed ran downstairs, he found mom in the kitchen washing dishes. She looked up startled and could immediately tell something wrong.
“I’m scared, Mom.”
“What’s the matter?’
“I don’t know. Everything was great and then all of sudden for no reason I was just completely scared and my heart raced and…”
Skivvy’s mom gave her son a hug and held on to him. He started to cry. Skivvy continued to sob for a few minutes and when he finally stopped was overcome by a sense of calm and well-being. He had a few more panic attacks over the next month. Always when alone and they would continue until he found either his mom or Gina or was able to get in a crowded area. Once at home his mom was out shopping so he went into his sister’s room and talked to her until it stopped. Skivvy saw the family doctor who told him not to worry and gave him some pills to take if an attack got really bad.
The end of the football season was in late November. Skivvy had spent more and more time with Gina. With the rather significant exception of the panic attacks, everything in his life was just great. And even the attacks had died down being less frequent and less severe.
The final game of the season couldn’t have been set up more perfectly. They were playing their arch rivals, The Canterbury High School Eagles, who they hadn’t beaten in four years. No current Brookfield student had experienced a victory in the rivalry that dated back to the beginning of the century, almost 50 years. On top of that this year’s game would determine the conference championship. Brookfield was still unbeaten and Canterbury was 8-1 having only lost a non conference game to an out-of-state powerhouse.
Brookfield was to host the game. The school was festooned with ribbons, posters, streamers and signs all displaying the school colors and mascot and slogans. All anyone seemed to talk about was the game. The local community was always excited about Brookfield games but nothing compared to the pomp and pageantry for the Canterbury game and nothing before compared to the special excitement for this season’s title deciding tilt.
“The operation is scheduled for 8:00 am."
"We'll be praying for you dad."
"You go ahead if you want but you know I don't think it does any good."
"Lucius, don't start that now, the boys are worried sick and if Lester wants to pray, don't discourage him. I'm sure Randy will pray for you too."
"Mom, I'm with dad on this but I'll be sending good thoughts."
"Son, I don't even know what that means. How do you send a thought?"
"Lucius honey just stop, let the boys try and do you some good the only way they know how."
"I'm sorry Gina, sorry boys. You send your thoughts and do your prayers, I appreciate it."
"So how you feeling?"
"Not bad really. No worse than when I had that bad flu two years ago. Be glad when this is over and get back home. Sure don't want to kick the bucket just as football season is starting."
"That's not funny, Lucius."
Skivvy thought it was perfect football weather. The temperature was in the upper 40s, there was a slight breeze and a few clouds in the sky but no threat of rain. He rode to the school with Mattie who'd just gotten his driver's license last month. Owing to their nerves neither of the boys talked a lot but both were clearly excited. Even though it was two hours before kick off some people were already walking to the game. Skivvy and Mattie felt mighty important seeing how all these people were coming to see them play. The Canterbury game was always on the last Saturday in November, unlike all the other games which were after school on Fridays.
As the team warmed up the stands slowly began to fill. The local paper had estimated that over 3,000 people would be at the game, the most anyone could remember at a Brookfield sports event. Skivvy's mom and Lila and Gina were already perched in the top row of the 50 yard line giving them a good view of the whole field and putting them in one of the few areas where there was a back rest.
Canterbury was a bigger team. They were notorious for a strong defense, having shutout four opponents and keeping all but one under ten points. It would be a big challenge for the Cougar offense in general and Skivvy in particular.
The stands were packed by the time of the noon kick off. Skivvy had never heard such loud cheers. They grew louder when Canterbury kicked off and louder yet when Skivvy fielded the kick off at his own goal line and dashed through the first group of defenders and zig and zagged by the rest on his way to a 100 yard touchdown. Brookfield made the extra point amid the pandemonium in the crowd and led 7-0 after only 12 seconds. Skivvy had never felt such a surge of excitement as did when he raced past midfield and realized there was no one between him and the goal line. Maybe this wouldn't be the close game everyone anticipated and the Cougars would win in a rout, he thought.
But such dreams were not to be. Canterbury's defense held for the rest of the half and just before half time they managed to drive to within the Cougar ten yard line before settling for a field goal that made the score 7-3. Both teams had short drives in the third quarter but neither got within scoring range. Finally in the middle of the 4th quarter Canterbury mounted another successful march and seemed poised for a touchdown when they had a first down on the Brookfield 11 yard line with just minutes to play. But on first down they tried to pass for a touchdown and Skivvy intercepted in the end zone. It seemed sure he would be the hero. Skivvy danced off the field jubilant feeling sure that the game was all but over.
Two plays later Skivvy was back on offense and ran a sweep around end. He dove for the first down but an Eagle defender stripped the ball. It was Skivvy's first fumble of the season and Canterbury recovered just inside the Cougar 30. With the momentum having shifted again, Canterbury quickly drove for a touchdown and with less than a minute left in the season they had a 10-7 lead. Brookfield hadn't scored since the opening kick off and the chances of driving the length of the field against a defense they hadn't scored on all day seemed remote.
The crowd, excepting the contingent from Canterbury, was disconsolate and deathly quiet. The team itself dragged back onto the field and after an incompletion and two sacks of the quarterback, all seemed lost. There was only time for one more play and the Cougars were 87 yards away from the goal line. Quarterback Zeke Liddle dropped back to pass and was immediately pursued by Eagle linemen. About to be tackled again he flung the ball blindly downfield. Zeke's arm was hit as he threw and the ball wobbled in the air, floating towards the ground just past the line of scrimmage. Skivvy caught the ball just inches off the turf and turned up field. A few Eagle defenders had stopped thinking the ball had hit the ground. This gave Skivvy a chance to zip past them. He ran toward the right sideline and picked up a few blockers. Still he was about to be forced out of bounds when he whirled back and headed in the opposite direction. Again some Eagle defenders had stopped this time thinking that Skivvy had gone out of bounds. The momentary delay was all he needed. Skivvy raced up the middle where only one defender awaited him. Skivvy faked left then right leaving the last defender grasping for air. Skivvy ran and ran and ran with the entire Canterbury defense in pursuit and the awakened crowd roaring him on. No one was going to catch Skivvy. Realizing a miracle victory was about to be won he veritably flew toward the goal line. Touchdown. Canterbury's four year dominance over the Cougars was over and Brookfield was league champions for the first time ever. Skivvy kneeled in the end zone with the sound of happy bedlam all around him and teammates rushing to hoist him on their shoulders. He knew this was the happiest moment of his life and likely would be his greatest memory.
"Dad had a good life, I just can't believe it's over."
"Would have been 70 next month. I always thought he'd live forever."
"We're going to have to look after mom, ya now."
"I'm heading over there tonight."
"She's doing okay, all things considered."
"Geez, they'd been together since high school. She'll really need our love and support."
"Dad would have wanted us to be there for her."
"He was a great guy."