Open 2022 Open Stories -A. C. Lippert


By A. C. Lippert


Index Finger
Indoctrinate them young. That was my line of thinking.So, Lee Roy attended his first Oklahoma Sooner's football game when he was 3 years old. It was our first family vacation.Vcky’d wanted to go to Disney. She said seeing Lee Roy’s little face light up when he met the real Micky Mouse, Goofy, and all the rest would be actual magic. I thought the idea of dozens of life-sized cartoons shuffling around the park in the hot sun like they were lost in the desert was creepy. Who knew what was under that suit? Sweaty, smelly college kids? Could be a naked old man.In any case, Vicky fought me like a cat in the bathtub for a full week.


Our house became the Battle of Shiloh .Unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink so long that it stank like gory corpses. Lee Roy’s toys lay like booby traps in every room. And piles of laundry were abandoned in front of the TV like rubble of a cabin blown to bits by Union artillery. That was how our fights went. Arguing was strategic combat. And refusing household chores was attrition. It would be easy to think I’d win the battle of attrition every time, hands down. But it wasn’t so. Having the house look such a mess really bothered me. And no sex. A man might think he wears the pants in his family, but if Momma ain’t happy, he’ll be wearing those pants to bed. So, who really holds the power?


I couldn't’t understand Vicky’s stubbornness.Why couldn’t Vicky just let me pick the family vacation this one damn time? So I dropped to my knees and promised that we could go to Disney next year, and the year after that, or wherever the hell she wanted. I’d let her choose the vacation spot forever if we could just go to Norman this one time. Taking Lee Roy to a Sooners game meant everything. Over my dead body would he fall prey to Stanford’s cartoon pine tree, Clemson’s claw less tiger, or Oregon‘s flamboyant Nike crap.

Hell, we lived in SEC country.And it’d be easy for him to get swept away by the wrong crimson’s tide. My son would be an Oklahoma Sooners fan if I had to tattoo it on his heart. I mean, my god, he was named after two OU legends. How could he not be a diehard? Eventually, Vicki conceded, knowing full-well that she’d won the war.

Two months later we were there. Norman crawled with people. RVs and trucks crammed so close that I was surprised the doors would open, let alone find room for grills and tables and coolers and games and TVs in the parking lot. Everyone seemed to have a can of beer like the parking lot attendant was passing them out at the gate. Middle-aged men ripped off their shirts and slammed beer after beer with foam drooling from their lips like a rabid mutt. The entire world smelled like sizzling barbeque. A couple couples playing cornhole hollered like winning was life or death. I’d grown up in Weatherford and my dad used to bring me to Sooners games as a kid, but my mom moved me and my sister to Tennessee to live with Uncle Rex and Aunt Shirly after my daddied. This was my first time being back since I was about 12. My dad had been a Sooners fan through and through.

All his life. He watched every single game no matter what. And everyone knew that’s just how it was.One time, Mom tried to throw him a surprise party at a bowling alley and as soon as the clock struck 3 my dad disappeared across the road to The Blind Squirrel for the game. She really should have known better. But at least she tried. Eventually, the entire bowling party trudged across Baker St. in their clown shoes. He would’ve missed his own wedding for a Sooner’s game. Or funeral for that matter. His funeral was on a Saturday.

The hearse ran late so there was a big joke that my dad was late to his own funeral because there was a Sooner's game on. Those types of things were the only real memories of my dad I still carried. Cancer took him so quick, that sometimes I wondered if I ever had a real chance to know him.

Walking towards the stadium felt like getting caught in a current of whoopin’ and hollerin’ civil war soldiers. A lot of guys were shirtless with body paint splashed all over like blood. Skinny college girls floated around like ghosts of people who’d died in the shower or at the beach because they left something to the imagination, but not much. Sports bras and spandex. It was a good thing Vicky towed behind because I would’ve caught hell if she saw how low my jaw had dropped. So I made sure to keep my head straight and used the corners of my eyes.


I was about the same age as the students, but we were not peers .I had a full-time job selling insurance. I wore an OU golf polo and shuffled forward with my 3-year-old son trapped between my legs like a penguin. It was torture to walk that slow. But Lee Roy just had to have his way. Imagine that. A stubborn 3-year-old. If I tried to raise him up on my shoulders, Lee Roy would’ve screamed bloody murder. So I let him waddle ahead on his own. But the main difference between me and the drunk lot around us was that I was stone sober. The grass always looks greener in the next yard over. At the time, I would’ve rather been running around like a shirtless jackass, ready to burst at the rivets with beer. It was hard having real responsibilities at 22. Plus, Vicki didn’t drink. She was tough as a pine knot and knew how to crack the whip. This trip was about family time, not cutting loose. She was a good wife and an even better mother. I just wished I would’ve appreciated it more.

The Palace on the Prairie was just as I remembered. But better .Watching the Sooner Schooner glide across the field behind galloping horses while listening to The Pride of Oklahoma was real magic. I had bought a new camera before the trip so we could take pictures galore. I wanted there to be plenty of evidence that Lee Roy could point to. He would hardly be able to refuse being a Sooner’s fan when he got older. We snapped picture after picture. Lee Roy had a blast. Until the crowd really got riled up in the 3rd quarter, by that time Lee Roy was getting tired and cranky and he spazzed out until the game was over. Vickie took him so I could focus on the game. But she stared daggers at me the whole time .I thought of my dad lots and kept blinking back tears.


Boomer! Heel Sooner! It was a warm October day. The leaves shined bright gold like King Midas had climbed every tree in the world. Who said alchemy wasn’t real? Nature sure knew how to manage it. A framed picture of 3-year-old Lee Roy sitting on my shoulders at his first football game hung on the living room wall between the open windows. I was revved up for The Red River Shootout. Oklahoma vs. Texas was the biggest rivalry of all. Vicky brought out a platter of her famous nachos from the kitchen and set them on the coffee table. I shoveled a chip into my mouth and chomped, but holy shit those chips were blazing. Hot as campfire coals. I grabbed up my Pepsi and slurped. Vicki’d warned me the nachos were just out of the oven. But getting at them when they were fresh and gooey and steamy was worth a couple toasted taste buds.

“Lee Roy! Come out! Come out! Wherever you are! Game’s starting.” I called out once the Pepsi finally doused the fire in my mouth. He was in his room reading Treasure Island.

For an 8-year-old, he loved thrills. He inhaled any story about adventuring and pirating and exploring and mountain climbing. And he loved camping and being outdoors. He would’ve lived in a tent if he had half-a-chance. Oklahoma and Texas were lining up for kick off.

“You’ll miss kick off, bud! Better hurry!” I called down the hallway.
“Hang on. Let me finish this chapter,” Lee Roy said.

“No time.” I heard him grumble and snap the book shut. I needed Lee Roy. He watched every OU game with me. It was almost mandatory. I’d watched the first game of the season without him because he had a boy scouts camping trip, and it hadn’t been the same. I still watched the game, but didn’t have my buddy with me. And secretly, I thought Lee Roy was good luck. I had had the option to go on the camping trip, but decided not to. I worked hard all week and I’d wanted a day to myself. Was that a crime? And I didn’t really like sleeping on the hard ground, in a tent, in the dark, in the middle of the woods, with no toilets. But I should’ve gone.

“Fine. I’m ready,” Lee Roy called.

Show time. I puffed out my chest and ground my voice down into a deep rasp. I scrambled around the living room to push the coffee table aside and pull off the couch cushions and arrange them in the middle of the floor.

“Introducing, the talk of the country, a shoo-in to win the Heisman trophy and the Doak Walker Award, your Oklahoma Sooners half-back, standing 3’ 9,” and weighing in at a nimble 50 pounds. He’s quicker than lightning and hits harder than hammers. Number 28. Lee Roy ‘the bobcat’Gleason.”

Lee Roy bolted through his bedroom door and bounded down the hallway. He wore a Sooners jersey and tucked a football under his arm. He ran straight for the arm of the couch. At the point of contact, he spun and pin balled into the middle of the living room, dove into the air while stretching the ball out for the end zone. He landed on the cushions.

“Touchdown!” I said, raising my arms. He looked like a young A. P. He’d be a football star yet. He would’ve played tackle football this year, but he barely missed the age cut off.

Vicki hadn’t wanted him to. Normally, I let Vicki have her way because she was a strong-willed woman and what is good for the goose is good for the gander. But this was a hill I was ready to die on. A month earlier had been rough. We did most of our fighting at night because Lee Roy could be so sensitive. He was like an emotional support hound. If he knew we were snarling,

Lee Roy would rush into our room and get between us and beg us to stop. Even if it was just about who moved the car keys. Vicki was scared because Lee Roy was a shrimp for his age.

“He’ll end up hurt. Or in a wheelchair. And it’ll be your fault. Do you want that?” Vicki said in a hushed snarled. “You can’t live out your childhood fantasies through him.”

That stung. But I knew Lee Roy’d never get hurt playing football. How could he, if the other kids couldn’t catch him?

“Lee Roy wants to play. He brought it up. It was his idea.”

“Of course, he wants to play,” Vicki whispered angrily. “All his friends are going to play. And he doesn’t know any better. Even if he did play, I’d bet he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t have the right temperament for it.”

There was a knock on the locked bedroom door.

“He’s playing. And that’s final. They only need one parent’s signature,” I said right before unlocking the bedroom door to let Lee Roy in. And just like that, I knew that was the end of it.

Rage steamed off Vicki the next couple of days. But she slowly cooled down and never fought me on it again. Vicki peeked around the kitchen doorway and saw Lee Roy buried in the pile of couch cushions on the living room floor. He got up and did his weird noodle-arm touchdown dance.

“Lee Roy, Lee Roy, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, no one can,” Vicki cheered. I looked at Vicki with a loving, knowing smile. Next year he’d be ready. Ass Cheek
Lee Roy and I drove to the video store on a Saturday afternoon. The windows were down, and the warm September air strained through my fingers. Lee Roy’d just told me that he didn’t want to play football anymore because he didn’t like practicing so much.

“You can’t quit now pal, you’ve already played three games. You’re almost halfway through the season.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to.”

“I thought you liked playing football.”

“I like the games, but I don’t like playing every day. There isn’t time to earn my boy scout badges.”

“Well, you can’t quit now. You’ll have to tough it out for the rest of the season. If you quit, who will score all the touchdowns? Your team needs you. And when the season is over, we can work on boy scout stuff, every day. I’ll help.”


“I swear,” I said and let out a deep breath.

The next game was 45 minutes away in Rogersville. We were stuffed shoulder to shoulder in the bleachers with the rest of the Moulton Grizzly Bear parents. Vicki and I each had a Styrofoam cup of coffee from concessions. And I had a box of the saltiest popcorn on earth. It was so salty that I could barely stomach it. My chest was a bit more puffed out than normal at these games. Lee Roy was the team’s stud by a mile. Everyone knew it. Even Vicki was warming up to the idea of Lee Roy playing football after seeing how great he was and that he hadn’t gotten hurt, not even a minor muscle pull. It was funny because at home, everything was Boy Scout this and camping that, but once that pigskin was cradled in his arms, he became meaner than a beaver caught in a bear trap. He was like a man on fire trying to get to a water trough in the endzone.

Our Moulton Grizzly Bears were 3-0 and Lee Roy was the lead running back. And at this age, the quarterback’s arm wasn’t strong enough to throw more than fifteen yards, so most of the play calls were rushes.

Warm-ups were over and Rogersville won the coin toss and chose to receive. And who the hell ever heard of a football team named the Ostriches anyway? Rogersville got two quick first downs.But then their drive stalled like a Dodge truck, and they punted. Our offense ran onto the field and huddled. Lee Roy was number 22. He was easy to pick out because he was the littlest thing on the field. He had the smallest sized shoulder pads and helmet and they still bounced and shifted a little when Lee Roy really got running. I was surprised that he could see with all that happening.

I stood up and shouted like the proudest dad in the world, “Give ‘em hell boys. Glory’s just 60 yards away!”

The first play was a run to the outside. Our quarterback Trent pitched the ball back as Lee Royran towards the far sideline. Lee Roy raced the line backer and corner towards the outside and beat them. Lee Roy turned up-field and gained 13 yards before the safety knocked him out. One play. First down. Easy-peasy. If we could keep this up, the Ostriches would have their heads buried in the sand in no time.

“That’s right boys!” I hollered. I didn’t know if Lee Roy could hear me. But I hoped the coaches could. I wanted them to keep feeding my boy. “Just like that. Run it down their throats. We’ll have 6 points in no time!”

Each team broke their huddles and lined up for the next play. Our cheerleaders in their little navy and gold skirts and tank tops chantedon the sidelines.

“Come on Grizzlies. Scratch ‘em up. Scratch ‘em up. Roar. Roar. Roar.”

Trent shouted hike. But the mouth guard muffled the words, so it sounded like dike each time a play started, which raised a snicker from the less mature parents. Mikey snapped the ball. Trent turned and held it out for Lee Roy. It was a clean exchange. Rogersville brought an all-out blitz through the middle and broke the offensive line down like a dam giving way, like it wasn’t even there. Lee Roy seemed to spot a hole to squeak through and cut right. He covered the ball with both arms just like I had taught him. I started to yell,thinking that Lee Roy would break through and dash for a score. Lee Roy bent forward, helmet down, to burrow through when a mongrel defensive lineman appeared out of nowhere. He bent low and opened his arms to meet Lee Roy.The crack was so loud that it could’ve been a rifle shot. It sounded like two rams headbutting. Or a car collision.

Lee Roy crumpled backwards. The lineman fell on top of him like an avalanche. The lineman got up and stared down at Lee Roy, who stayed on the ground, arms twitching. Coaches from both sidelines sprinted out. The referees looked scared and clueless.They blew their whistles and cleared the other players away from my rag doll son. I stood on the bleachers and jittered in place. Vicki flew down the steps and ran to Lee Roy’s side. I stood there. Lee Roy’d be fine. This happened all the time. Wind knocked out of him or something. He was just a little shook up. But my feet started moving when Coach Smalls screamed “somebody call 9-1-1!” Then, I knew this was bad news.

No one told us nothing. Lee Roy’d broken his neck for sure by the way the paramedics treated him. But they gave us nothing. One way or the other. His brain might have been leaking out his ears and they wouldn’t have told us. They just got him strapped to a board and his head viced and peeled away. Vicki rode in the ambulance. But there wasn’t room for me.

Surgery was the same. It took hours with no god damn updates. Waiting. Pacing. Shaking. Crying. Barfing. Lee Roy was like that fucking Shrewlinger’s cat and his own family was just expected to patiently wait until the box was ready to open.

Lee Roy lay with his head propped on a pillow. No movement. He was hooked up to all sorts of breathing masks, monitors, tubes, and other junk I couldn’t name. He looked like some creature from a black and white movie that doctors had pieced together. A machine beeped to track Lee Roy’s heartbeat. It sounded like a smoke detector with a dying battery. The only movement was Lee Roy’s lazy chest and the tears itching down my cheeks. I was the only soul in the room. The doctors and nurses had left to “give us some time together.” Their tone was rotten with hopelessness. In the waiting room, Vicki’d been hysterical and couldn’t control herself. She’d thrown a chair and punched me in the eye and hollered at every single person she saw, even other people in the waiting room that were waiting for someone in surgery. Nurses eventually corralled and poked her with a sedative. Now she had her own hospital room like she thought that’d bring her closer to Lee Roy.

Lee Roy was unconscious, but his eyes were wide open. It didn’t look natural. I thought about reaching out and closing them, but I hoped that somehow his eyes being open was a good sign, that it meant something. But actually, it made things worse. Deep down I knew. I’d seen the look in Lee Roy’s eyes a barrel-full of times while deer hunting. After shooting a whitetail, it’d flood with adrenaline and rush off. I’d track the blood trail until it stopped and fell over to die. I’d walked up on a hundred deer like this, and they always had a scared, faraway look in their eye. They knew. They weren’t ready, but the end was coming. Lee Roy may have been unconscious, but his eyes held the same look.

The casket felt heavy. Like regret. I’d never liked graveyards. A chilly breeze pushed against me like Lee Roy used to. We’d play a game where he would jump out from around a corner and try to tackle me. He tried his darndest, but I it was like mouse trying to push over an elephant. Over the last week, I’Ave found that memories are like the cords bunched up behind the television set. They get tangled so tight they’re impossible to separate.You can’t sort through them like pictures and pick out the best and throw away the ones with the blurry focus or closed eyes or ugly smiles. They’re forever jumbled with the others. And you damn sure can’t cut people out of them.

The preacher wore all black and stood at the head of the grave, above the casket. Vicki sat in the chairs aside the casket with her folks. I stood on the opposite side with everyone else. I’d slept in my car since the hospital. I wore a rumpled black suit that I found at Goodwill. Going home was out of the question.
The preacher said his prayers. I didn’t listen. I thought about how there’d be no more touchdowns. No more fun. No more smiles. No more family. 9 years. 10 months. 80 years too short. And I had no idea what to do. I thought about finding that fat fucking Ostrich lineman’s house and chaining the doors shut and setting it ablaze at 3 in the morning. But it seemed like too much work. I considered putting on a rope necklace. I thought about taking the quick way down an elevator shaft.

Vicki’s black dress made her look paler than a full moon. She looked at me across the casket and I knew exactly what she was thinking. And I hoped that she knew I was thinking the exact same thing.


A. C. Lippert is from Grand Ledge, Michigan and now lives in Lansing. He holds a Master's degree from the University of Louisville and attended his undergraduate studies at Central Michigan University. His fiction has appeared in places like Tales to Terrify, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Loud Zoo, The Meadow, and Conceit Magazine.


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