Fall of the Star High School Running Back


Joy J. Henry  is writing a series of connected short stories to accompany songs by The Mountain Goats. Have a listen:

The Mountain Goats- Fall of the Star High School Running Back

eye & dropper I woke up in the hospital, my hands shackled to the bed. An officer in a black DEA jacket was reading a wrinkled People magazine. I tried to close my eyes quickly, so he wouldn’t see I was awake. Too late.

“Where’d you get it, Donahue,” he said. He was being a bastard, not looking up at me from the pages.

“Exactly how happy are Brad and Angelina about their new baby?”

“Don’t be cute with me, son.”

“Reginald Park,” I said, remembering what Barb had told me. If you ever get caught, you bought this shit in Reginald Park.


I spent the time before my trial in Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center. This center had recently been toured by a foreign diplomat, as part of a program of cultural exchange.

“But where’s the prison for white kids?” he’d said after the tour.

My cell mate was a fifteen year old who went by Rocko. He had somehow gotten his hands on a cat o’ nine tails, had been charged with assault with a deadly weapon. He had OCD, would remake his bed five times every morning. “Cock-a-doodle-do, Irishman,” he’d taken to saying in my ear to wake me up.

I wasn’t sleeping well, was having strange dreams about my mother. I would look over and her legs would be amputated at the upper thigh, two stubs. She just smiled, beaming at me and laughing. “But why?” I’d argue, my eyes growing wide.

In reality I talked to her several times a day, collect. I could hear my step dad hacking in the background, counting the phone bill in his head.

“William,” she said, “I’m sending you a care package.” It was seven hours from Jackson county to Inglis. “We just came back from the bank. They say we can refinance the house again.”

“Mom, don’t do that.”

“We’re gonna get the best shark of a lawyer we can find.”

“Eh, they’re all sharks, mom.”

Mom still kept pictures of me in my football uniform on top of the entertainment center. Cynthia always snickered at them when she came over. Cynthia was the type of girl who would’ve openly laughed in my face, before my knee turned to jelly and I had to have my ACL replaced.

The night I’d gotten caught began like many nights, sitting in lawn chairs in Cynthia’s garage. Now that my football career was over, I enjoyed smoking cigarettes, the fumes curling up in my lungs. We didn’t have any paper, so we took turns dropping the acid from a medicine bottle into the whites of each other’s eyes.

“Where do flies go in the winter?” Cynthia asked. She was obsessed with 19th century joke books.

“I dunno,” I said.

“To the glass foundry to be turned into bluebottles!”

“You are so funny,” I said, smiling, coming up behind her and kissing her earlobe, the hairline beneath her dyed-black ponytail, her collarbone. Inside the house we could hear the rat-a-tat of gun fire from the Xbox, where her mom was playing video games. This is all she’d been doing since Cynthia’s older brother, Brad, had wrapped his truck around a tree and died in the hospital, a year ago.

We got on my new Japanese bike, chrome spokes paid for with drops of acid to friends from other little bottles. The road was beginning to quiver and iridesce. We would go to a party where I’d put a few drops on a piece of paper for a handsome young plainclothes policeman.

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