6 February 2021
Soccer tournaments, especially those indoor types that are always so crowded and loud, are an ideal scenario for people-watching. Historically, I would have said the best people-watching happens in airports; and I do believe this to be true. There was a time, once, when the people-watching in the airport in Las Vegas left me dumbfounded. However, there are few planes to be caught just now during the pandemic, and we are lucky enough that Mandan Soccer Club’s Blizzard Cup was not canceled. We should be so grateful to live in North Dakota during these times, so that our children can still live relatively normal-ish lives.
Boy-oh-my, Mandan Soccer Club’s Blizzard Cup was as crowded and boisterous an occasion this February as it was last February, in spite of the pandemic! As before, the stands were full, the halls were full, the small entryway lounge – was full – with kids of all sizes in color-coded jerseys and their parents in tow.
Earlier today, we plunked ourselves down in this lounge area at one of the blue rubber-glazed wire mesh picnic tables. Keira and I ate our first “tacos in a bag” and Grant had a Costco muffin (that he immediately recognized from our time in Madrid). In the noise, I was happy. In the noise, given enough noise, given the totality of the noise, I could drown out all noise. So I worked. I finished revising a student essay while across from me, Grant moaned about the crowd and feeling claustrophobic. He had a bit of a point, but the moment reminded me, just a touch, of the sea shuttle to Utila. It was only bad if you focus on the claustrophobia (or in that case, seasickness); in relaxing and moving with the chaos – being one with the chaos – tranquility was attainable.
There is something to be said for this, as it seems my best reading happens amidst cacophony.
This evening, Keira decided to stay in the hotel alone while I shuttled Grant to his final game of the night – at 7:30. Therefore, absent a live human companion, I escorted a dead one: Wilkie Collins. Having arrived a full 30-minutes prior to the commencement of the game, I anxiously anticipated finding a bare spot on the bleachers, rolling up my puffy down coat, placing it underneath my bottom, and settling myself in for a few moments of fellowship with Collins and his mysterious yet promising Woman in White.
As I entered the room and wandered across the front of the bleachers searching for a space wide enough to accommodate mine arse (careful not to block anyone’s view too interminably), a swath of silver bench at the middle caught my attention. Of course, getting to it would require hurdling the first row of benching, and this meant much opportunity for missing grace – or dis-grace – or embarrassment; however, I was equal to the challenge, knowing that my reward would be well worth the possibility of bruising my pride. Besides, who did I know here at this event? Why worry about being the fool?
In all actuality, I knew quite a few at the event; it is simply that I had not gone out of my way to become over-familiar with any of them, as they were all locals. Halfway through my gaping lunge over the first bleacher bench, my brain decided it wasn’t sure whether or not it was going to stop at bench two. In fact, my feet began to continue another shuffle and lunge toward the top bench: bench three. But my brain revolted, my body percussed, my feet spun and lurched, and I fell hard on my ass on bench two. My eyes darted around me at the other spectators. Yes; of course they all saw. Meh.
As my next step was to shrug off my jacket (which would then become my seat cushion), I dropped my orange leather clutch and copy of The Woman in White onto bench one before me to liberate my hands. The clutch’s metal chain handle tinkled and clanged audibly, but not loudly, on the metal seat – immediately capturing the attention of the radiant, blonde, three-year-old seated with her father just to my left on bench one. She turned, hazy blue-grey eyes wide, to stare at me: what was that noise?
I noted her interest (and her sparkly gold wool-lined boots) while I rolled and placed my jacket beneath me. With her in the corner of my eye, I snagged my book and then pulled up my clutch, opened the zipper, and carefully withdrew a black pen – for active, engaged reading. This done, the clutch’s chain rattled back down onto bench one. Her attention, now that she knew what had created the magical noise, was wholly engaged: she touched the chain gently, with awe. She lifted the chain hesitantly, then boldly grabbed the clutch, turned, and showed her dad.
“Sawyer, no. This is not yours. You need to give it back,” he scolded calmly but sternly. He looked back to me, and I smiled; I did not mind. Sawyer reluctantly returned the clutch to its place on bench one. Having done so, she turned to her father, rummaged for a moment, and then returned to me with a mermaid. It was not a doll; no, it had no hard head or body. It was a rag – maybe you could call it a rag doll. In our family we would call it a blankie. It was a dirty, tattered blankie shaped like a mermaid, with golden hair and a green tail that shone with iridescence here and there on its scales.
Sawyer lifted the mermaid up for me to see, and my eyes lifted to meet the mermaid: “Ooooh, look it’s a beautiful mermaid!” I gleamed at Sawyer. She smiled, content to share her treasure the way I had shared mine.
Amicably, we enjoyed our space together silently for a few moments, Sawyer watching me, and I reading my book. Within a moment or two, my eyes encountered a word my brain could not recollect: I needed my dictionary. From my clattery clutch I withdrew my phone – an entirely new and unanticipated treasure for Sawyer – I should have guessed. My phone has a case filled with pink glitter. This glitter shifts and moves in liquid when you tilt the phone around: Sawyer was engrossed.
As I pulled my phone in front of my nose to use my dictionary, Sawyer’s hand involuntarily came up to touch the back of the phone – the glitter. So, I twisted the case in front of her to let the glitter fall in the other direction. Then, I twisted it again. Sawyer was mesmerized; she did not even realize when her hands took the phone from mine. Sawyer sat on bench one, facing me, turning the phone and watching the glitter. Turning the phone, pressing the button, and looking at my cover photo. Turning the phone and watching the glitter. Sawyer was maybe only half-aware as she turned her body toward Daddy to show him the phone…because Sawyer was in a dream-state.
Sawyer’s Daddy was not cross, “Oooh look how pretty that is. But you really need to give it back, Sawyer.” Sawyer dropped the phone; her Daddy’s eyes bulged.
Again, he looked to me: “It’s really OK,” I confirmed, “She can’t break it.”
So, Sawyer enjoyed the phone until her attention was drawn elsewhere. The phone was left on bench one next to Daddy’s thigh until he noticed it there – then, he turned and handed it back to me: “Just have to wait until it’s been forgotten!” He laughed. I laughed and thanked him, then looked up my word in the dictionary and placed the phone face-down on top of the clutch before me.
Minutes passed. Hours passed. Ages and epochs passed as I spent time with Wilkie, the room about me a blur of activity unheeded.
Until Sawyer came to me, proffering her right pointer finger – upside down – showing, sharing.
“What is it? Did you get an owie?” I asked.
Sawyer replied mutely by giving me her finger to inspect, up close. Just on the finger pad, just above the first crease, lay a golden hexagonal piece of glitter – nearly identical in size and shape to those in my phone case.
“Sawyer! Look at that! It is so much like the glitter in my phone!” I pointed to the phone on the clutch laying before me on bench one. Sawyer’s eyes lit up and she clambered over to the phone, placing her finger and its golden glitter next to the phone with its pink glitter. She turned her finger onto the phone and tried to press her golden glitter into the space containing the pink glitter. It would not go; it did not belong.
“Did you see your shoes, Sawyer? This glitter looks like the ones on your shoes!” I pointed this time to her boots, and she looked down. She picked up one foot and placed it onto bench one. She touched the glitter on her boots. A match. Sawyer smiled at her boot. Sawyer smiled at me. I smiled at Sawyer.
For ten more minutes, Sawyer and I sat in quiet contented company; I read my book, and she watched me read. After this, the end-of-game buzzer bayed, and the room reassembled itself about us as we resurfaced from our noisy silent shared space – suddenly distinguishing themselves from the overall din, some kids cheered their victory, some kids howled or moped their loss. Sawyer’s Daddy stood and took Sawyer’s hand. With her other hand, Sawyer snatched up her precious mermaid, and her eyes shot one last cordial glance at me.
As Grant’s team took their place on the court, Sawyer and her Daddy walked off, to the right, and out of the arena.
I’m not so sure I’ll ever forget Sawyer. I’ve never had such an agreeable companion at a soccer tournament. I’ll always haul along a Wilkie Collins but never begrudge when someone new breaks through.
Gretchen and I have speculated about my little girl Sawyer: is the name naïve and ironic, or were her parents aware of the name’s literary legacy? If the first option, perhaps her parents simply considered it posh to give a girl a boy’s name – et quel dommage. If this second option, and the allusion is intentional, then perhaps that intent is canny, witty, wise, and hopeful. Because what could be better than a female Sawyer? Her eyes, her inquisitiveness – they both well suited a female Sawyer.
In any case, her parents’ intent may not matter, as long as she lives some truth to her Sawyer-hood. Quel petit trésor!