Despite the loss and the post-game obligations and the bus ride and even the turkey sandwich that had exceeded its sell-by date by a few days, Notre Dame’s football coach, Brian Kelly, found it easy to fall asleep. As his body’s systems entered their sleep-state and he drifted off, he retained for the first time in many months, the odd sensation of recognizing that he had started dreaming. Paqui, his wife, next to him, would have panicked at the anguished, despairing look on her slumbering husband’s face.
Early spring in Everett, Massachusetts, was always a difficult season. In one twenty-four hour period, you could expect rain, sun, sleet, and snow, just not necessarily in that order. In the dream, it was the same. Brian watched his Timberland’s carry him over the crushed clam shells lining the Mystic River promenade, small puddles of snow melt squishing from under the treads. To his left, the old river flowed to the sea and the mix of salt and industry filled his nostrils, the air carrying those smells cold enough to make him glad he wore his leather jacket and turtleneck.
He stopped at a row of riverfront shops. The first, Jack’s Fish Market, was a nondescript storefront of glass windows displaying the day’s catch on ice. The plate glass door opened and Kelly walked in. There was a smell, the smell of fresh fish, and a chill from the ice. Rows of flounders and pollock and buckets of scallops stared back at him. Behind the counter, a man clad in almost surgeon’s garb cut at a tuna. A tilefish caught Kelly’s eye.
“Sorry,” said the tilefish.
Kelly looked at it. Its eyes were clear and fresh, but devoid of life. They stared. Unmoving and cold. “What’d you say?”
The fish’s mouth opened and closed. “Sorry, BK.”
“What are you sorry for?” Kelly asked, his eyes darting from the fish to the man behind the counter, the man who continued carving steaks, separate from the conversation behind him.
The fish’s tail flopped sadly up and down. “I sold you a bill of goods, BK. I believed the hype and sold it on to you.”
Kelly’s stomach dropped. “You mean?”
“Yeah. Bait and switch.” The tilefish winked at him and the unnatural horror of that, combined with the awfulness of the joke made Kelly turn and run out the door, down the shell path, the river flowing next to him. A sea gull cried and a siren wailed. Footfalls crunched behind him. Someone was walking up on him.
Stephon Tuitt looked tired, the sweat from the game evaporating in steam clouds from his soaked t-shirt and shorts. The two walked in silence. Tuitt spoke first, “It’s not working, Coach.”
“I disagree, Stephon. We need to make some adjustments, but overall…”
“He’s not working, then, Coach.”
The crush of shells filled the silence. Then, Kelly spoke. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
But Stephon was gone without a word. It was colder now, the sun was setting and it was the sky was filling with cinematic swatches of purples and oranges.
In the room they shared, Paqui felt her husband’s body against her. He was hot, sweating, heaving. “Jesus Christ,” she muttered to herself. “It’s gonna be another long season.”