The Penalty

The tops of the finely cut grass blades rustle in the stiff breeze. A chill wind, approaching from the north, tops the girded steel roof, rises over the sheets of rusted metal and plummets to the pitch below, cooling the players as they wait. Shouts ring out from the poorly covered player's benches. With a thrashing glee the opposing coach jumps from his plastic and vinyl chair, coated with the names and slogans of long forgotten sponsors, to scream in feigned fury over the injustice meted out to his player.

Between the posts a lonely figure stands, arms swaying back and forth, his back to the baying crowd. Reaching with his left hand, he pulls the Velcro adjustment band on his right mitt from its moorings. Looking to the left for his water bottle, he slow attaches the band, pushing the strap back into place.

The keeper steps to the edge of the net, reaches down and retrieves his water bottle. The referee approaches, points his finger along the length of the touch line, indicating that the keeper is to stay on the line until the ball is struck. The keeper doesn't look up, only nods in agreement, a universally understood motion. He throws his water bottle into the side netting, steps to the line, claps his hands together twice and glances to the sky. Then he moves his eyes in front, staring at a ball placed on a small marker in the grass twelve yards from where he stands.

Behind the ball, three yards in the rear, is a lone figure. He looks to the right, pushing his head-band up into the long hair it keeps from his eyes. He steps forward, places two hands on the wet sides of the ball and adjusts its position, slightly forward, sitting up in the grass. He looks up, toward the net, sees the keeper in position between the posts, notes the slight creep to the right. The keeper begins to hop in place, slow jumps waiving his arms above his head, eyes focused on the ball.

The referee looks at the player behind the ball, raises his hand containing the whistle in the air, pointing to it with the other hand. The referee scans the line for player encroachment, begins to walk backwards, out of the path of the ball. He looks to the keeper and to the shooter, raises his whistle hand to his mouth and lets forth a short burst of air. The sound of the whistle bounces off the stands, piercing the descended silence.

A bead of sweat runs down the side of the shooter's face despite the cold wind. He plants his right foot beside the ball, takes three deliberate steps backwards. He looks up to see the keeper settle into his stance, readying for the shot.

The shooter begins his approach. His first step is strong, but the second seems to stutter. The keeper tenses and pushes off with his right foot, choosing to dive to his left. The arc of the keeper's motion traces a rough parabola, directly towards the left post. The shooter resumes his normal motion, takes his third step, glances up and smiles. He passes the ball gently along the ground, directly into the middle of the goal.