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The Foreign Woman

I had saved for every game in the elimination tourney. Our team was now in the semifinals of the national junior championships. Then Coach demoted me to substitute goalie. He said Gunga would save for the final match. Coach himself broke the news to me, saying how it was a team decision; and Jubal, the team captain, looked me in the eye and nodded like a Judas.

So I dashed the gold team jersey to the floor and walked out of their clubhouse meeting. If that was how they wished to lose, okay! It was no shame to my face. They could keep their T-shirt and their number one goalkeeper spot. I always thought the shirt's gold color was too close to canary yellow anyhow.

I went over instead to the park bench where the girls passed after school. Since most of the fellows were off drilling at their military-style soccer, I met no company at the bench. But like a dispirited scout, I sat down anyhow to brood about unfairness and wait for Life to happen.

Coach and I have disagreeing views about soccer and how to win at it. He says winning is a team science, that if we plan well and execute effectively, then victory is inevitable. He thinks that soccer is a lively chess game and he talks a lot about drills and strategy. Sometimes I wish he'd get out my young life and arrange to get reincarnated as Hannibal, or Capablanca, or some such. For if Coach is right about soccer, then, like the Unknown Soldier, I'll get famous only by blind Chance. For I believe I am the goalie. I carry them. I save the team when it gets beaten. And by then, I'm alone.

The best words to describe goalkeeping are intuition, spontaneous reflex, and violence. Not style, not grace, and certainly not science. What you do when the goal is threatened is instinctive. Sure, you must have the strength, and the eye, and the quickness. But the goalie's essence is a dash of the desperate. The keeper protects by anyhow. The purpose is to repel attacks. The equipment is you. So you punch the ball, or jump and snatch it. You scramble and dive to nip it off nimble kicking feet. If the field is wet you welter and slide in the gore, and after securing the ball, spit out the mud you didn't swallow. When it is a nice day, you gain surer grip on the ball, but you still leave your top-skin on the dirt from scraping and bruising to grab the ball at all.

I maintain that 'keeping is violent. You can't learn it in a controlled practice session because you can't practice acting right in panic. You have to have that in you. You have to be one of a different kind.

So I never took their drills and theory sessions seriously. These affairs were pussycat friendly, everyone being careful to preserve themselves for the next real match. It was a waste of my time. My feelings were that we got to the semis because I was the best goalkeeper in the land. I don't think that anyone can score on me without a serious act of Providence. But disregarding the proof of only two goals on me in the thirteen preliminary games. The team decided that I was rude and uncooperative, and picked me as substitute goalie. Just goes to show that commonsense doesn't always make sense.

About ten minutes later, the Foreign Woman came by walking her mini-dog, and a rush of hot blood washed the team's treachery from my mind. I sat up straighter and gazed at the sweet fascination she was to us all. Twice every day she strolled with the dog, watching close as it created tiny brown caterpillars of ca-ca on the sidewalk's edge. The dog would nose-test these on every next jaunt, which made someone suggest it was checking if they were still dead. The dog itself was a puny joke. Too small to manage a bark, it yelped at every thing that moved nearby, except her. Yet any rat with a mature hunger would've been able to eat the forced-ripe perrito as appetizer. And still she persisted at walking around with the ridiculous creature every day. She was that foreign.

She was mother to no one we knew. Neither had she formed ties around here that made her less of a stranger to us. Sunshine or rain, no passing neighbor called out to her or dropped by. The folks who visited her came up from the city with the six o'clock sunsets. They came two by two in private cars, which they parked in formation on the graveled portion of the yard, between the fence and the sunrise side of the bungalow. Dressed in their proper calling suits and dresses, they settled on caned easy-chairs on the verandah - a horseshoe of neutral territory that buffered the cool belly of the house from the big empty yard in front of it. And there, neither inside or out, was where she entertained. Then she'd put on the hanging verandah bulb to combat the gloaming. Under the yellow artificial light, the wide-skirted bell of the white dresses she liked to wear became a pale gold. From the park bench across the street where we usually lounged, she made a pretty picture of radiant welcome.

The visits themselves followed a pattern: she placing her people politely apart from each other; then giving them drinks which they sipped as if suspicious while laughing and talking. But their laughter always seemed made to stay close about them. By the time it floated across the street to us, it was too light and hollow to sound merry. After about two hours, as if by some mysterious cue, they'd all get up. Then one by one, they kissed her cheek and left. Coach would've loved their precision.

During the good-byes she always stood at the top of the verandah steps, waving as each car taxied up her many yards of driveway before disappearing city-wards in a diminishing roar, the quiet they left behind to be filled with our speculations.

When they were gone, she'd set immediately to rearranging the chairs and clearing the tables. Then, when everything was back in line, she'd pull the cord and put out the hanging verandah light. With the light gone, sometimes you could see a brief after-image of her wide-skirted white dress: an indistinct bell, or an empty spirit playing at janitor, and closing up after a staged show. Then she disappeared into the big house, more of a mystery to us than ever, and puzzling a God's plans.

After a while, the euphoria from her passing died down, and my mind returned to the gloom of being a substitute, and out of the game. I decided to lie to my family and fans and say I was hurting and so could not play. That way, at least I could dress for the match and go suffer on the sidelines with some dignity.

Our opposition was to be a gang of roughies who had reached the semis by luck, and a scoring average of three goals per game. The luckiest player - about two goals a game - also happened to have been picked for the nation's Olympic team. There was no way Gunga could stop him. I was certain we would lose. My only consolation was the relish I'd know when they lost without me.

Come game day though, good looks and charm won it for me. Gunga had earned the nickname "Ladies Choice" because he liked being pretty. Handsomeness was more to him than Goaliness. Cleanliness was up there too. His football boots were always polished shiny. His goalie sweater was always pressed and neatly flapped over the waist of his clean white shorts. On regular game days, the number 'one' on his back was specially stitched in red satin on the gold: him, an everyday substitute.

So on this big day, the subdued "Good Lucks" from every well-wisher must've reminded him of something vital. Namely, that the opposing team out there was a rough-house gang of muscled talent. They beat you two ways; on your muscles and on the score-board. And it wasn't final scores bruising your face and hurting your body for days afterwards. So, one hour before the referee would blow the starting whistle, Gunga came down with l'agigite. Soon, he had used up all his strength forcing in the latrine. When he emerged, he could barely whisper that he "couldn't make it".

That's when they recalled the latest number one substitute.

With Gunga forcing me on them, the team welcomed me like Lazarus, fresh from revival. I hadn't shown up for practice in more than a week and the coach's doubt had infected them. Most of my teammates had given up: I could see it in their eyes. They anticipated defeat like it was printed on the calendar. They figured they'd make a shamefaced try and do their best to keep the score respectable. Everyone would ensure it wasn't his fault. They were sure that with me - the holey sieve - between the uprights, carrying through such a program would be easy. Captain Jubal kept his Judas eyes in every direction but mine.

Still though, there were one or two good fellows; the left wing, the inside right, the stopper. They remembered how well I could save and their one hope was that the others were wrong. To my mind, all these and those were their feelings.

As we took the field, I was just plain satisfied they couldn't do without me. Inside my haughty face I hid a glowing self-righteous grin. Always had this hunch that Gunga had no belly. Too much good looks to look after.

The game was a great one for me. That Saturday afternoon I was a human wall in front of the goal mouth. I made it a restricted area. The roughies tried their shots from all angles and from far and near. The Olympic upstart did his best with tricky, curving lobbers, and bulleting pile-drivers. He tried to dribble in and set up late passing combination attacks. But each time our team's defense got beaten, I was there. Like the Last Judgment, I ended his and all other chances. I pushed sure goals around the uprights and over the bar. I took great shots off their boot-tips by trapping kicking foot and ball. I slammed into setting feet cocked to shoot as if they were powder puffs. I was so good, everything was easy. It was as though the ball was mine, and I could take it when I wished.

Then with eight minutes to go, we scored on a penalty and the team became ten men very close to a miracle. They played Coach's dream: precise and total defense. It was desperate roughies' muscles against military execution by inspired chessmen playing like they had winged feet. The muscles never had a chance.

Long after the game, in the bars where they went to celebrate with cooling-down refreshment, the crowd was still shouting and enjoying again the hundred near-goals I had saved. Saves that had defied the odds and let the gamblers rake in winnings from their loyal bets.

But the truth is that I didn't recall much detail of the action. The save I remember as great was one in the second half. I pushed a shot around the upright by diving left after having started right. It felt as though I curved both ways at once - like a snake swimming a river. The forward's try came not from a feint - his was a natural awkward move. So it caught me and only talent let me touch that ball again. It would have, I know, scored on anyone else, minus none. For that moment I was the best goalkeeper in existence. But no one mentioned it among their high points. And I was listening hard. So to me it was like this: Yes, I had saved the match and was the hero -- until I missed a next practice. In the meantime, since I'd earned it, I went to enjoy the 'appreciation' fete at the clubhouse and to see what would come.

Later, during the partying, Jubal and Turkey took me aside. From the moment I noticed them approaching, just their manner and I knew something was up. When I saw the white in Turk's face, I knew also that it was something good. Turk, the team's stopper, is a fellow over-blessed by Ma Nature. He has a big face with too many teeth that seem to be trying escape from his big, fat mouth. All this excess is topped off by large, round browns under bushy eyebrows.

At about six feet four, two hundred plus pounds, and nothing fat but lips, he is a solid stopper. It's as though they took an average seven footer and crammed him into a six-foot quota. We could've called him "Tremendous." Instead, we call him 'Turkey' because one Christmas a setting turkey-hen had chased him, howling in fright, from a girlfriend's backyard. When Turk had a secret, his face grew broad from the tension of keeping it in. If it was a happy secret he smiled his piano grandly. A sad one and he projected a massive, dark grimness. Turk was smiling this time.

Captain Jubal wasn't like that. He was a serious person, uncommonly good at deceit. Nothing that went into his head escaped without adjustment. And like the Red Indian's paleface who spoke with forked tongue, the adjustment always benefited Jubal. He is our striker. Our opposition always complain that he is a dirty player. Coach says he is effective.

One school term, Jubal was put next to me in science class. Soon I noticed that while appearing engrossed in his work, he was actually slant-eyeing my answers and copying everything I wrote down except my name. I tried to hide my work. But then he started drawing stick-figure pictures of the teacher's sex life. When I couldn't hold back anymore from studying the spectacle, he stole my answers just the same. It would've been okay if even once, he had asked to see. But he never did. And although we spent a whole term side by side in that class, we never became close. Yet he and the Turk were tight. Maybe they stayed close for compensation benefits.

Now sounding like the prodigal's welcome-home committee, they began talking around the edge of their intentions.

Turk, "Congrats, man! You did it sweet out there."

Jubal, "Even Gunga feeling champ now. He's talking as though his work-belly won the match."

Turk, "They say pictures be in the papers tomorrow. . ."

And so forth and so on.

Nothing seemed too good for me. It seemed they'd kiss the shit I stepped on. Then, after the warm-ups, in the hoarsest, lowest tones possible, they got down to the business. Jubal whispered, "Yu'know the big house near the southern end of the park?"

"Course I know it."

"Where the Foreign Woman lives?" Turk put in.

I looked at them patiently incredulous. Like everybody else who had eyes and sat on the bench, they had to know I knew. Anxious to get to the target of their silly questioning, I volunteered some sarcastic data. "Yeah, and I also watched her move in four truckloads of shrouded furniture, and a piano, and a dwarf dog, just like all you did."

They smiled smugly as I continued, "But since all your brains must've turned to soap water, you all won't remember also that we all saw her move in at the same time and how we all watch her every day from the same bench and same said way we all know the same about her. . ."

Here they spark-eyed each other and smiled like two of Macbeth's witches. That worked up my appetite. Although at the same time, I was truly impatient with their foolish playing around. I was thinking that if they didn't tell me soon, I'd say I didn't want to know at all and do without their gossip. But, just in time, they hedged nearer to the point.

Jubal asked, "You ever climb the cymite tree next to the hibiscus fence going 'round the house?"

Lips curling, I was barely civil. "Yes, Captain, when cymite house?"

Turk's grin was an ear to ear crescent as Jubal said, "Well, Goalkeeper, nowadays something else in season up that tree."

He spoke with such confident suggestiveness that immediately I knew it was true and illicit; and that I was hooked.

With their four eyes probing for my reaction, Jubal explained his discovery in cracking whispers. Every afternoon, the Foreign Woman lay down careless on her bed and took a nap. He described how the bedroom window was left wide open to welcome cooling breezes. And how--this part was whispered so low I had to ask "What?" and nearly lost out because he didn't want to repeat it--how the woman wore NOTHING to dream in. Not a nightie, not panties, just the breeze, if any.

Although intrigued, I had been preparing myself to be stone-faced about whatever they told me. But this news was too overwhelming for control. It stimulated an immediate, ticklish, tightening in my crotch, and I betrayed myself.

"Eh? True? You must be making joke, man." I said, even as their certain faces told me that this was no hoax; that this was too true talk!

Then Jubal made the formal invitation, "Come see for yourself tomorrow."

"Is the vicey-est thing I ever seen." Turk added with awe-shaken head.

Turk and Jubal continued supplying details of their experience, not only as further enticement, but just to say it and show off. I missed most of what they said though. My imagination had transported me out of hearing, to that vaguer place where fantasies promised to come true.

It seemed that the woman's retreat had at last been breached, and in a most promising way, too. This after she had so made the bungalow her private country, a place outside of us. But she had never really escaped the territory of our imaginations and remained exotic and enchanting to us. She was our own fleshed-out mysterious lady. We saw her actions as totally different; of a woman who had 'experience'. When she promenaded her toy dog past our bench, her presence took our talk away. From the sudden quiet, our eyes'd walk on with her, studying close for later discussions.

Among the boys, there were some who could mimic her straight-backed, hip-swaying stride. And everyone's dreams pictured her face, with wisps of loose black hair behind her ear, and the beauty mark on her left cheek-bone, and her favorite diamond-shaped earrings. But all our models were mannequin-mute and humorless. For she never smiled, nor cast a warm eye upon us. Still, out of our meager knowledge we yearned unreachably for her; a fantasy each of us employed for private-most sessions. I know I did.

One thing was certain as sunset. There was no way I would refuse the invitation. The idea of her lying there naked was transformed into instant varied erotica. She became everything I had never dared to hope for in sex. She even lost her dream status. Now she was the stuff that made dreams warm.

After a while, I realized that Turk and Jubal had left me. So taken by the promise of the sleeping woman, I hadn't noticed. I did not really mind. It allowed me to stay rapt in my anticipation. Some happy, half-drunk reveler passed by and put a bottle of cold beer in my hand. "Man, you could save better than the reservoir!" he praised.

I barely smiled. Sex was on my mind. And matters of sex don't fit with funny.

Although, for diplomatic reasons, I had intended to visit next afternoon's practice, this was now absolutely out of the question. So next day, I revived a barely remembered left hamstring strain and painfully limped it into the clubhouse making it obvious I could hardly walk, far less jump about between goalposts. Of course Coach excused wounded-soldier me. Then he resumed his sarcastic fretting about how, with Jubal and Turkey also injured, it'd be really easy to make up two balanced teams and run practice plays for the upcoming trophy finals.

His gripe held a hidden message for me: that the Turk and Jubal were already there. And as I dropped my limp and shot off, it made me think that of the whole team, I alone had been chosen to be in on the secret viewing. Then I figured they must've been on my side all along and understood when I said a goalie had his practice inside him. But these good thoughts of them were fleeting. My mind was with the rendezvous.

I squinted up into the umbrella of the branching treetop and as my eyes adjusted to the inside darkness of the brown and green foliage, I realized that Jubal and Turkey were not alone. I made out more than two pairs of legs hanging in the tree's southern hemisphere - nearest to the house. Leaving my sneakers at the bole, I began shinnying up the ten feet or so of tree-trunk.

As I moved up, several instructions were hissed down cautioning me to make sure and keep the trunk between the window and my tardy backsides. Then, from farther up in the crown, I heard other hisses being hissed to the initial hissers suggesting they pin up their blasted flappers. From this volume of conversation, I realized that there was a small crowd on hand, at least enough to require tiered seating. When I'd hauled myself up and squatted on some convenient branches, I first realized the full extent of the tree's over-population problem. There were at least ten people up there! I was shocked. I had thought I was part of a smaller secret. But now it looked like a full-scale group conspiracy.

My excitement calmed a little. I had expected to relax and concentrate on this sexual adventure so as not to miss minute but essential details; the meat for future fantasies. To my thinking, such a situation demanded some basic privacy. One couldn't get really personally intimate with a bunch of hot boys dangling around from every branch. Briefly I considered going home; but only very briefly. Common sense told me that this time I'd lose out from sticking to principles. Further, throughout my dismay, my balls had remained tense with encouraging curiosity. So, like everyone else, I braided away some branches to form a leafy, tunneled view to the open bedroom window. I made ready to see.

Nothing was happening over there. Through the open window, a slight breeze listlessly tortured thin half-curtains into twisted, elongate shapes. The bed was right there in middle view. There was nothing on it but a sheet. My instant look of skepticism searched out Jubal on his perch. His eyes were awaiting me, supercilious with experience. The look commanded: "Wait!" So, I waited. Nothing else to do.

A look around made it clear that the other fellows had been here before. They held their places comfortably like patient fishermen awaiting the whim of the sea. They sat in the ease of favorite positions; vantage points of crooks and forks and fat, twisting branches. Some boys leaned back on the hard bark, holding murmuring conversations with each other. Occasionally, they cast glances at the target; but these were calm and easy checks from eyes that had leveled into their mood.

In a sudden confusion, I was made strangely shy by their seasoned manner. Covertly, shifting my shoulders against my branch, I tried to borrow their familiar airs. But even the gentle rustle of the breezed leaves, and the faintly rank smell of our sweaty bodies seemed to accentuate the illicit atmosphere about us.

Then, glancing around, I caught sight of Turk's big face. His round eyes, a-shine with exultation at our intrigue, met mine briefly. His look contained me with comfort and I relaxed. And very smoothly, I found myself daydreaming around the Foreign Woman.

I still knew a certain mental unease. I wasn't comfortable as a peeper; a common maccoe violating the woman's sleep. But I reasoned, if she was showing, someone had to look. And the power of this idea - of her displaying her baring her crude nature to us - strongly aroused me. She had to appreciate that it was a vulgar way to behave. Yet she surrendered to the perverse weakness, and this confession made her common just like me. Familiar. For I also had these urges to lewdness, though I had never dared to reach low enough and set them free. Yet here she was doing just so with a bravado I couldn't muster.

And perched waiting there in my reverie, I nearly missed the entrance of the woman.

First off, I was disappointed. She had on clothes; a long shirt with its buttons unfastened, and as she moved and turned, it shifted about. The movements exposed some stripe-like marks high up on her left haunch. These intrusions of shirt and lesions tarnished my preformed image of flawless femaleness wearing only clean smells. Then she crouched on the bed's edge, and facing the light of the window, pulled up her foot to pick at her toenails.

Instantly she had compensated and surpassed all my expectations.

Unbelieving, I studied her. My eyes focused on the dark, hairy crotch before darting glances at other revelations of private flesh. But the mystery of the darkness commanded my yo-yoing gaze. Too soon, she stood up and walked to another part of the room. There she bent over to arrange a pillow. Then she went and closely searched the mirror for some fault of her face; with every personal move she made showing more forbidden secrets.

It was magical how she being so casual about herself could create a wild horse in my pants. It was rearing and bounding, seeking freedom and attention. I gave the animal a rough, relaxing push. In truth, a rude caress to ease its straining for a tad; a promise that I would soon take up its demands. But I couldn't look away yet. For finally she had laid down and was stretching mightily. Now, the curving of her body made the long shirt fall away. Then at last, she was in full view; totally relaxed, just out of actual reach.

Like a chorused "Amen", a collective sigh intruded on my concentration and made me look about. Everyone was at it; masturbating by one method or another. No coyness. It was a matter-of-fact orgy of individual sex. Fully concerned with the business at hand, uncaring of their fellows' presence, some were roughly jerking, others gently squeezing. All were rigid in their pleasure.

Someone above me had climaxed, sending his splattered to slide a leafy passage down to earth. Thrilling, but still spying like some unsure novice, I searched their faces close and found the privacy I sought in the strange intimacy we shared. All bound up together in this thing, by free choice we were being like a small religion, or a family. Everyone here, akin with me, was compacted to the occasion. So with confidence new-born of this assurance, I reached and freed my bulging tension. I entered the common fantasy.

Hanging there in the bushy crown with the others, spent and feeling like a bead pierced and threaded on a necklace, I looked around shyly at these companions I would never forget. I felt a relief that they were mostly still intent on our vision. Then I noticed Jubal watching me and smiling.

Scornful and leering as he shouldn't have been. I pulled my eyes down and away. For suddenly, like a rat in front a boa constrictor, I felt little and cornered and controlled.

Now the pungent, earthy smell of fresh semen became a shameful reminder of my passion and I felt a piercing urge to be away. Eyes to myself, I quietly climbed down to my sneakers. The descent seemed to take forever. It was like easing out of a church before the end of service; anxious not to disturb but personally tired of the ritual. And knowing that thinking eyes are watching.

I started home feeling queasy and dissatisfied. The Foreign Woman had not played with herself as Jubal had suggested. She had not done lewd things as I had hoped. She was just a woman who, warm and sleepy, was taking a nap naked. I was certain she didn't know we were there and I felt a shyness at having misused her ignorance.

Yet as I walked away, I couldn't keep thoughts on the Foreign Woman I'd just about abused. Instead, all I could see in my mind's eye was Jubal's amused smirk, corralling me.

© Kelvin Christopher James