Page 3 of 5
"What does she look like?" asked Yuri. "Like, green?"
"Nobody knows," said Zarwan. "She won't come out of the house. And part of the deal is, never try to go in, it'll make her mad, and then you might ruin it for everybody else. She's been making Alphi Chis better at sports for like a hundred fifty years. It's passed down from senior to sophomore, like what we're doing now."
"How do I know if it's working?" asked Yuri.
"When you no longer play like a vagina roving around the field," said Zarwan, "that will indicate that it's working."
That Saturday, there was a Rugby game against the University of Connecticut. Twice, Yuri cut across the field to make a tackle that was not even within his area of responsibility. He dove through the air like a cat, pinning down the biggest Connecticut fronts, sauntering away with his head down, ready for more. After the game his teammates grabbed his neck in the crooks of their elbows and scratched his head. Coach held up his arm at the barbeque and called him Most Improved. He made eye contact with a girl in yellow shorts.
The next week, Zarwan took him back to the witch's house, and they ran and mopped their sweat with rags, and squeezed the rags into the birdbath. The birds drank the sweat, and the arm in the silk gown came out of the balcony and lowered a pie in the big wicker basket. The leaves had deepened in color through the hills, turning orange and crimson. But the circle of green around the house was still the green of summer, dewy and buzzing with flies.
After the next game, Yuri made out with the girl in the yellow shorts, and a week later he lost his virginity to her. He lied, saying he had been with six girls. He liked to have sex, but there was something about it that disappointed him. He had wanted it to feel like being pulled into a hidden place by a slender arm. Like running into the dark, or being dragged into the dark.
And Rugby—it had once seemed to Yuri that the other team was an extraordinary machine that wanted to rip you apart with coordinated gears, and that this forced you to become swallowed into your own machine, a gear among gears, a weapon in the hand of a god, and that this was the essence of the game. Of all great games. But now, without his fear, Rugby was a series of tasks. He wrapped up men larger than himself without any rumination whatsoever, and because it was easy he stopped caring whether or not he won. What was the point of a sport, if it didn't terrify you? He became bored. He wanted to be scared again.
He began to hate the witch. Why wouldn't she come out and discuss the process by which she endowed the bird pies with power? Why wouldn't she show her face, let them in the house? Did she ever give any thought to the integrity of the great game of Rugby, which Yuri now thought of as his lost love, forever ruined? Did she understand that by making Zarwan so powerful she had compelled him to seek Zarwan's help? She was a monster, a temptress, she was murdering him.
The next week he went with Zarwan to her house, as usual. It was colder now. The trees of Amherst had lost most of their leaves, and yet the circle of green around the witch's house remained. Whenever brown shriveled leaves blew onto the summer lawn, the little black birds took them in their beaks and returned them to the forest floor.