Brendan Gillen


I was the main event, the man you paid to see. I was oblivion, a crush of air, a brutal punch. In the open field I was fast as silk. You didn’t know you didn’t have me until I was already gone.

I made teammates throw knuckles on more than one occasion. Fans would laugh: Fools decked each other in the headgear. But we players understand. You smash your fist into someone’s helmet because deep down you want to hurt yourself, not the other man behind the midnight mask. Damage is less scary if you cut out the middleman.

The moment it all ended didn’t happen in slow motion like everyone says. That’s just a way to give it meaning. But there is no meaning. There is before. And there is after.

Before: third and six, man in motion, sixty thousand breathing fire. The ball is snapped like a starting gun and shoved into my gut and I am a cannon ball seeking casualties and the vast openness beyond.

After: I am on the ground. I try to stand, but I topple over because my left leg barely exists. I look around and my teammates are covering their eyes and the opposing safety is on all fours with orange leaking out his face mask and our center, a slab of a man, is blubbering, saying, “Ohgodohgodohgod” like it’s something to believe in. It’s when I look at my leg that I realize the resonant sound of a wishbone crack wasn’t the pop of a tackle but an emotionless law of physics. I black out just as the trainer drapes a towel over my leg like a corpse.

Now I sit for interviews and they ask me would I do it all again. The punishment. The violence. The smug look on their faces knows I will say no. That I would take it all back. Avoid the cane. Avoid the pain. That I will never let my boy play.

But I say, Yes. Of course I would do it again.

Your career ended in a nightmare, they say.

A nightmare is coming for all of us, I say. Doesn’t matter if it’s at the end of your career or at the end of your life or somewhere in between. But not many can say theirs came at the end of a dream come true.

My boy has the dream. Came up with it all on his own. I see the way he moves, his piston legs, lightning feet. He has my blood and the hunger to match. Someday his dream will come true. He will run the only way he knows how. Just watch.




Brendan Gillen is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. He is the recipient of the 2023 Wigleaf/Mythic Picnic Prize in Fiction and his work has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His stories appear in Wigleaf, Maudlin House, Taco Bell Quarterly, New Delta Review, X-R-A-Y and elsewhere. His first novel, STATIC, is forthcoming from Vine Leaves Press (July ’24). You can find him online at bgillen.com and on Twitter/IG @beegillen.