The Night of the Virgin

(Photo credit: “Soccer Field” by Jose Ibarra.)

The following is an excerpt from the novel The Night of the Virgin by Elliott Turner, which follows the story of Manny Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant who tries to make it as a pro futbol player. Still a young man, Manny signed his first pro contract with the lower tier San Francisco Gales. Then things fell apart.

***

For six months, the banality of being a not-playing soccer player on a lower-division club ate away at Manny. He could go out with his roommates to bars and say he was a Gales player, but no pictures of him in a Gales uniform appeared on TV or the newspaper. The local press simply didn’t care. Nobody was a fan. Every two weeks, he collected a check printed on neat, watermarked paper and signed by the team’s office manager and CFO: Willem deGroot. The checks cleared, but Manny still felt cheated.

Once February arrived, things changed. He and two roommates joined a gym and jogged in the mornings before coaching at Gales youth soccer camps. Manny entered preseason in the best shape of his life and easily won every sprint drill that Coach Van Ongeval tossed his way. The coach played Manny as a wide striker; this meant he now normally faced defenders before receiving a pass. He had more time on the ball and his blind spots were no longer an issue.

As March neared, Manny grew excited about the season’s start. Two weeks before the opening game, he scored in a friendly. Manny had been offside and scored a tap-in when the other team’s keeper dropped the ball, but the goal blew wind into his sails. In that friendly, Manny wore the purple-and-navy blue Gales jersey for the first time. On the back of the shirt, his last name was above the number thirteen.

Manny impulsively bought ten Gales jerseys with his name and number. One paycheck flushed down the drain. Still, the hair on his arms and neck stood on end every time he thought about the fast approaching season and his first official game. He knew he was no lock to start, but his head spun circles at the possibility. He often wore his jersey and marveled at himself in the bathroom mirror. He even Skyped with his mom and siblings to show it off.

A week before the opening game, the team started practice with three versus three games on a small field but with big goals. Players on the sideline joked and stretched as the six players tussled for the ball. When Manny’s team entered the field, he never for a second considered pulling up his socks or putting on his shin guards. A few minutes into the game, he dribbled past one defender and the ball bounced unexpectedly after rolling over a clump of grass. Manny seized the chance to hit a hard shot on the half-volley; he slowed down, balanced himself and then whipped his leg with all his might. He was so focused on striking the ball cleanly that he never saw a defender sliding into his path from the side.

His shin snapped like a twig over the defender’s knee. The sound of the breaking of bone echoed like a gunshot.

***

Elliott has written for Paste, The Guardian, VICE Sports, Howler Mag & countless others. The Night of the Virgin is on sale now. You can add it on GoodReads and check out the book’s website. The author requests if you want a copy, you order it thru a local bookstore or library.

Tags from the story
Written By