flashquake Nonfiction
First Place

Field Alchemy
by Gail Louise Chagall


Here is sorcery she wouldn't witness if she hadn't had children — sitting in a sylvan, bermed park in a drizzle, resting in a generous folding chair under an umbrella, watching teenage boys kick a white leather ball.

It's a quiet rain, amplifying instead of muffling the occasional mourning dove or cardinal, and the players' shouts: Support! Man on! Go wide!

The clouds are low and stubborn, not about to budge. They blunt the summer light so the garish orange jerseys soften to a warm pumpkin, the opponents' red socks darken to cherry, the field becomes vermilion, every color flaunting its better self.

Field Alchemy by Gail Louise Chagall.  Image of a soccer ball and an umbrella against a cloudy sky.

Her wide umbrella is a shield, not so much from the gentle curtain of mist as a wall against other spectators: other kids' incessantly friendly parents, her own folks' relentless need for affection, attention, interaction, affirmation. It's more than she can give.

She hides inside her thin cupola like it's a force field; she wields it like armor. She huddles in the favored company of her own thoughts. She watches the rough grace of the game's choreography. She's pleased when her own son, the lean one making up for a brawn shortfall with smarts, is Johnny-on-the-spot. She claims credit no more than she takes blame for his mischief or failures.

When they collide, when they tumble on the slick pelt of lawn, the boys make horsey, huffing sounds. They are panting steeds, wet with foamy sweat. They are warriors, gladiators, their bodies their weapons: elbows become lances, shoulders bludgeons. Their cleats sprout spurs. Secretly she sees it — their transformation — from below her black magic parasol, this alchemy in a green bowl of grass beyond a lacy veil of rain.



Copyright 2002 by the Gail Louise Chagall

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