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"The South Dakota Kid" by Burke De Boer

CW: ableist slur

He came to town as a first round pick, expected to only be making a minor league pit stop before getting called up by the Flyers. Then, suddenly, three years passed and he was a third-year Sacramento Railroader.

On this night he was in some dumpy motel up north. The Roaders had gone up by The Most Dangerous Lead in Hockey, two goals to nil. Call it superstition or call it statistics, the lead was surrendered. The Yakima Maniacs won 4-2.

Some men have gone out of their way to inform me that this isn’t actually the Most Dangerous Lead. I don’t give a shit. When our little alternative press paper grew to have a sports page, I was promoted to its editor (read: burdened with its responsibility). I used to write about music, man.

For our ritual postgame facetime, I called him in his dumpy motel. He answered wearing sunglasses. A piece of paper was folded in front of him as a name plaque, THE SOUTH DAKOTA KID scribbled in Sharpie.

“What went wrong tonight?” I humored him.

“We played like shit, Yakima eats shit, we never had a chance.”

“Coming up, Saturday night you play the Olympia Senators. What’s gotta change going forward?”

“Let me tell ya, we’re about to go all Julius Caesar on some Senators, baby.”

“Is that on the record?”


“Caesar was killed by the Senators. Not the other way around.”

He sighed and took off his sunglasses.

As it happened, he would neither attempt nor risk assassination. When the team bus left from Yakima he wasn’t on it. He was traded in the night.

This time a phone call. No cameras. Everything off the record.

A blunt of indica had rendered me utterly In Da Couch. I could hear my voice deepen every time I spoke between the puffs as I tried to follow his mania.

“What the fuck! Portland? Fuckin’ what! I don’t know anything about Portland!”

“I heard it’s weird,” I offered.

“Right. Right, and we have to keep it that way.”

He said we, so I asked, “What does this mean for us?”

“Dude, I’m fuckin’- - - I gotta - - They’re gonna call me, to set it up or whatever. Probably gotta get off the phone soon, right, you know, to - - Fuck! I used to be good at hockey, y’know? I was always the best, growing up. School, college. Now I’m the one holding everyone back. How do you deal with it?”


“Maybe this is a good move. Maybe they’re affiliated with some booty buttcheeks team like the Coyotes, maybe I’ll get promoted easier. Do you know who they’re with?”

“They don’t have an affiliate.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re unaffiliated. There’s no promotion out of Portland.”

He didn’t say anything.

I had to say something.

“So, earlier?” Smoke wafted out of nostril and mouth. “I’m gonna assume you meant the indefinite ‘you.’ When you asked about holding everyone back. Not the personal you, as in me.”

“Sabrina, don’t act like I’m not retarded.”

Don’t say that.

“I am though!”

“Don’t use the r-word.”

“Can we not talk about words right now? Whether they’re - - indefinitive or whatever?”

Should I point out again this habit, this intrinsic entitlement, how he thinks he can get away with saying anything because he’s “just sayin’?” “I don’t think, I just talk.” As if that’s a defense! Will he ever hear how he’s a product of the pillars he was placed on in some flyover backwater because of prepubescent talents for a game…

I lost my train of thought and returned to him mid-lament. “What can I even do now! I’ve been sentenced to hockey purgatory.”

“Puckatory,” I offered.

“Fuck,” he agreed.

I took another drag. I couldn’t tell if I could hear him smoking too or if I was just hearing myself.

“One thing,” I started, then coughed. “One thing you gotta admit.” I coughed more. “One thing you gotta admit! You’re still playing hockey. That’s nice. At least your dreams have a minor league. A lot of careers don’t have that. There isn’t a minor league for chemists or lawyers or, uh… Spies?”

“If you think there aren’t minor league lawyers, you should meet my divorce attorney.”

We laughed. I’d met him when he was twenty-two, half a year in with the Roaders, four years younger than me, and in the middle of a divorce. He said getting married young was the small town way. I said I was born and raised in Sacto so I wouldn’t know about small towns. I was a product of the 916. I hated the Lakers, and would forever, and loved the Kings and the Roaders and sagebrush and skyscrapers, and would forever as well. My great-grandfather had been a construction worker and wa buried in the wet cement of Folsom Dam. He said it was weird to tell him that on a first date, and we’d fucked ever since.

I defined our relationship so flippantly because commitment comes to me as a terror unlike any other, but by the time of the Yakima game we’d been together longer than his marriage had lasted.

I stabbed out the blunt.

There was silence on the line.

“I don’t know what this means for us,” he said finally.

And because the concept of purgatory always makes me think of Waiting For Godot I said, “There’s nothing to be done.” Which I guess is how we broke up.

Burke De Boer is an Oregon-grown, Texas-based writer and botanist. His western novel "In Sheep's Clothing" is available from Third Eye Sockeye Press.


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