FICTION: The Soccer Game

That night the sex hadn’t been great, but six years into their relationship she had learned not to read this as one of the horsemen of relationship doom. They were both tired after returning from their friend’s house in Puerto Madero to watch the Boca vs. River game. Since the game didn’t end up happening, they all wound up drinking too much Fernet and telling the same stories, the ones their group of friends relapsed into when gatherings stretched for too long.

She stared at him after he fell asleep. She still considered him a very handsome man, with the sweetest teeth on earth. She tried waking him to tell him so—a sudden burst of romanticism got into her—but he only opened his eyes and in a wave of sleepwalking said “we have to buy milk” and fell back asleep.

She took note of this in their shared grocery list on her cellphone and fell back asleep too.

The following week people at the office could only talk about two things: the terrible workload that would come in and the canceled game from last weekend (a classic they called them, the matches between the two main rival teams.) Since she was part of the group that didn’t really care about soccer this was actually ideal. She could concentrate on her task of consolidating Latin American catalogs and almost no one would distract her with boring soccer conversation.

The only person she talked to during those days was the Chief Back-End Tech Director who was creating the sites she needed. She liked him. He was an uncomplicated, brilliant man. And so far in her time at this office was the only man she had never heard make a gross or offensive statement. She took tally of those things. They worked well together because they understood each other. They had between them the sort of flirtation constructed between two people who know that, in reality, nothing will ever happen. A thin spider web between two trees that sometimes shines dazzlingly, but goes unnoticed most of the time.

One night they go to the farewell party of her boyfriend’s best friend. He is moving to Morocco due to a raise and relocation his company provided. She is not entirely sure what it is this man does, and she even suspects that besides her boyfriend, no one else at the party does. She has been living in Argentina for a few years and was pleasantly absorbed by her boyfriend’s group of friends. But since they were mostly men, few times, almost never, has she seen them hold sincere conversations about their lives and the decisions they’ve made that shaped them.

It is obvious that her boyfriend is sad. This friend has been with him through some of his most difficult moments; and although she doubts he would ever say it with so many words, having this friend around is a fundamental piece in his happiness and emotional well being. Nevertheless, when she hands him a glass of wine and sweetly asks if he’s all right, he just answers: “Tsk, what kind of question is that?” She knows him well enough to know there is no point in continuing the prodding, so she just tells him about her week at work. How everyone is just waiting for the next match date.

They really don’t want to go back to Puerto Madero, so they take advantage of that tacit home rotation that is an agreement among their friends. They invite everyone over the next weekend to watch the rescheduling of the game. The two of them spend a dreamy afternoon picking cheeses, wines and olives to treat friends who in their younger years were content with bags of chips and lukewarm Cokes. At one point he starts telling her about a new job possibility that, although it would mean a drastic career change, he found very interesting because it reminded him of what he imagined he wanted to be when he was a child. She was caught off-guard by this sudden heartfelt confession, but hung on to every one of his words. But suddenly an exceptional Brie crossed their path and he, ashamed as if someone had suddenly opened the public bathroom door on him, cut his story short and pivoted to cheese-talk.

That weekend the game didn’t happen either. Apparently there were issues with the fans and the weather. The guests were upset, but held under control thanks to the large amounts of wine and cheese. Actually, she thinks, it’s almost funny this weird saga the cancelled games are brewing up. The energy in the group of friends is different, there was some conversation about the friend in Morocco, but the highlight of the evening was when the women in the group complained about how now days men don’´t really like fucking. The men jumped up in indignation “We are not machines!” they’d say, “sometimes we are distracted, or tired, sometimes we try, but it’s overwhelming and can’t finish. We can’t just cum because we are there. Sometimes we don’t know what is happening.”

There is an after-hours work meeting, which actually meant: party on the foreign client ́s dime. In an unusual decision from the finance department, the company makes reservations at a place that around one in the morning turns from sit-down dinner to a full-blown disco. Men and women hold nervous conversations between them. Suddenly everyone is fourteen years-old again and find it difficult to interact with the opposite sex. Many of the guys leave early; they have plans to watch the game the next day and they want to be well rested to finally watch the conclusion to the much-awaited game.

Among the people who decided to stay and keep drinking and dancing were her and the developer. She was slightly worried that the non-office surrounding would somehow erode their usual chemistry. As if their flirting were a necessary component of the work-day, but a ridiculous thing if exposed to outside weather. It doesn’t. That is why when he unpretentiously, but with firm determination asked her if she’d like to go to his place afterwards she says yes without thinking about it twice. There was something in the softness of his actions that caused her an electric curiosity.

She is slightly confused and concerned for herself, but not so much for the situation itself. The developer was sweet and tender, was a good kisser (how disappointing it would have been if she had risked a nice office-friendship for someone who was a lousy kisser), they both handled themselves forward without thinking much about previous sentimental circumstances. And yet, when everything was going so well, nothing happened. After several minutes of them both doing their best effort, they gave up. He apologized earnestly, he found it a complete lack of respect towards her for him to have her make so many decisions in one night and not being able to give her anything in return. He looked exhausted.

Everyone in the city looked exhausted. The subway filled with men returning from the bars where they had gathered to watch the third failed attempt at the Boca vs. River match. They moved their hands around, arguing with an invisible debater. Their eyes nestled deep within inch-long bags under their eyes. No man seemed to be able to hold the gaze of any woman.

Suddenly her boyfriend could only talk about official soccer regulations. The subtle differences between the Conmebol and FIFA. How long, realistically speaking, could this very important game be postponed? She realized they had not slept together in weeks, but when she tried caressing her way towards him, he pushed her away with more useless facts about official stadium dimensions. She was tired. He was tired.

A strange phenomenon starts spreading across the news: all around Argentina men dropping dead due to cardiac arrests. The hospitals are baffled, cardiologists are confused. Recommendations flood the streets: less red meats, rest, avoid stress. The best friend of her father-in-law dies. A lawyer that was very close to the family. All the men look exhausted, sad, but any time a conversation veers towards this subject they deflect by talking about the new date for the match. Her friends with boyfriends text her asking if her boyfriend is also being weird. Her friends with boyfriends and lovers text her in despair, they won’t let themselves be touched they say, they don’t want to fuck but they don’t want to talk about it either. Her lesbian friends laugh through it all, it’s their fault for depositing so much faith in such an unstable member. At her office the developer apparently decided to take a week off from work. At her house she can feel the open wound of the lack of sex, but her boyfriend doesn’t seem remotely interested in dressing it.

All the newscasts promise that tonight will be the night it happens. The game will be held at a foreign stadium, closed doors, no spectators, no fans and few cameras. The pent up energy of furious and loving fans closes around this game like a lead blanket. Her boyfriend, unexpectedly, makes no plans to watch the game. Almost in a whisper he confesses: he is tired, he can no longer give his heart to an institution that respects him so little. Halfway through what would be the second half of the game—they aren’t watching it—he gently comes towards her. He caresses her neck and knees. She feels slight pangs of guilt, but most of all she is curious about this sudden change of attitude. So she lets him. The sex isn’t spectacular, but at least is happening. What she does notice in him is his deep concentration, she’s never seen him so focused. He is completely in this moment, had she not known better she would have thought this is the first time he is having sex. He comes with a deep sigh. Afterwards, he remains aghast in her arms, like someone who comes to a realization, like someone who has a secret shame lifted from them. And he starts crying, he babbles about how much he misses his best friend, about the friend of his father who died, about how much he hates his job, about all the things he is afraid he’ll never accomplish. At that very moment the alarms of every car in Buenos Aires go off and some fire hydrants around the city explode turning the asphalt black as night.

Bogotá, 2020

Daniela Serrano is an editor, writer, and translator. She has worked in publishing in Colombia and Boston, and has previously written about books and literature, among other places, for Pank MagazineBustleElectric LitThe Millions, and the Ploughshares blog. This is her first published short story.

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