Iowa Writes

MARY VERMILLION
Excerpt from the opening pages of Murder By Mascot


My face hurt from fake-smiling through the game's first half. The source of this pain came from the seating arrangement in Section A, Row 5 of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. My ex, Anne, had the aisle seat—which I didn't mind, given her legginess. What I did mind was her new partner, Orchid, who wedged herself in between us and made it nearly impossible for us to talk. She bumped my right side every time she turned to whisper in Anne's ear or to grab a handful of their organic popcorn. Things were no better on my left where I was saving an empty seat for Neale, my long-distance girlfriend. She was supposed to meet us for dinner before the game, but still hadn't shown.

Our mascot, Herky, paced the court's perimeter, his huge plastic hawk's head bobbing atop a tall, spindly body. His beaky grin looked every bit as stiff as mine felt, but that didn't stop the hordes of children who wanted to high-five him or hug him. He flapped his arms—or wings—as we scored, and Orchid clapped along.

My face hurt from fake-smiling through the game's first half. The source of this pain came from the seating arrangement in Section A, Row 5 of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. My ex, Anne, had the aisle seat—which I didn't mind, given her legginess. What I did mind was her new partner, Orchid, who wedged herself in between us and made it nearly impossible for us to talk. She bumped my right side every time she turned to whisper in Anne's ear or to grab a handful of their organic popcorn. Things were no better on my left where I was saving an empty seat for Neale, my long-distance girlfriend. She was supposed to meet us for dinner before the game, but still hadn't shown.

Our mascot, Herky, paced the court's perimeter, his huge plastic hawk's head bobbing atop a tall, spindly body. His beaky grin looked every bit as stiff as mine felt, but that didn't stop the hordes of children who wanted to high-five him or hug him. He flapped his arms—or wings—as we scored, and Orchid clapped along.

Narrowly dodging her elbow, I adjusted my glasses and checked the scoreboard: Iowa Hawkeyes 45, Missouri Tigers 41.

"We should be way ahead by now," Orchid grumbled.

"It's the first game," Anne said. "We're just rusty."

At least that's what I thought she said.

"We don't have much depth." Orchid nodded toward the bench, which was directly in front of us. Orchid's season tickets are much better than mine, as are her luck and her job. She is the program director at the alternative radio station where I work. In other words, my boss and my constant reminder that life isn't fair.

She jabbed me in the arm—on purpose this time. "I wonder what's keeping your girlfriend," she asked. Her eyes were the same color as her steely buzz cut and vulva-shaped pewter earrings.

I shrugged and summoned another fake grin before grabbing my cell phone and punching in my own number. If my housemate Vince answered, I'd inquire about his Persian, Norma Desmond. That was our code for get me outta here. Alas, Vince did not answer, so I left a message for Norma and turned my attention to the game.

Coach Bridget Stokes waved a clipboard in the air and yelled at her team to play defense. Technically speaking, Bridget was not the coach. She was Carol Oliver's most experienced assistant and therefore in charge while Coach Carol visited her dying brother in Pennsylvania.

Our standout point guard, Win Ramsey, dribbled the ball downcourt and heaved it to our only freshman starter. She squared her feet to the basket and nailed the three.

"Jessie March," Orchid said. "She's gonna be good. Check out that jump shot."

What I noticed about the freshman was that she was the only player with auburn hair. For the most part, that's how I keep track of the players—their 'dos. Granted, it's not foolproof given all the faux-blond ponytails.

"The rookie is family," Orchid said. "Elaine saw her at the Alley Cat with our shortstop."

For Orchid, no women's sporting event is complete unless she determines which players are lesbians. Me, I have better things to do than ponder the sexual orientations of nineteen-year-olds.

After the Tigers scored an easy two, our center, Kate Timmens, set a nice pick for Varenka White, who drove to the hoop and got hacked by the Tiger center. It was the fourth foul on their top scorer, so the crowd erupted, hushing only when Varenka stepped to the free-throw line.

After she sank the front end of her one-and-one, there was no triumphant riff from the pep band. Except for some scattered applause, the arena was freakishly quiet.

Anne gasped, her eyes fixed on the other side of the arena. I followed her gaze past the players lined up at the key for Varenka's second shot. There, sprawled in the front row—right across the court from our women's bench—was the infamous hoopster, Dave DeVoster. With his disconcertingly blond hair, the star forward looked like a Nordic model for Abercrombie and Fitch. His outstretched legs grazed the out-of-bounds line as he laughed with two guys who looked like linebackers.

Why shouldn't he laugh? Not only had the senior forward just avoided jail, but he had also gained an extra year of eligibility when the university granted him a red-shirt season and the remainder of his scholarship. This, after being charged with raping one of its female athletes.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MARY VERMILLION

Iowa native Mary Vermillion pens mystery novels and teaches English at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids. Her first novel, Death by Discount—a finalist for two Lambda awards—portrays Wal-Mart's impact on small towns. Her second novel, Murder by Mascot, features Hawkeye basketball.

Mary Vermillion's website

This page was first displayed
on April 02, 2006

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