After his last phone conference of the day, Gus stands up and straightens his papers. He nudges his Adrian Peterson bobble-head, creating the illusion of a nodding appreciation for another hard day of labor, and he sets out for the door.
“Later, Mitzy!” he quips, using the last bit of corporate structured happiness he can muster.
Mitzy, a temp from Boise, smiles a toothy smile, “Bye Gus! See you on Monday!”
Climbing into his Nissan Sentra, Gus lights a Marlboro Southern Cut and presses shuffle on the Talking Heads Spotify page. Another work week was over, another week older, closer to Valhalla and some semblance of peace.
By the time he weasels through traffic and reaches the front door of his one-bedroom apartment it’s dusk. Shouldering the door open, he’s greeted by Blue, his English Cocker Spaniel.
“Hey Blue-boy! Ahhh-pup-pup-pup. What’s for dinner pal-o? The usual?” Gus says with gusto.
Blue stares blankly, panting.
Despite the clutter in the kitchen, Gus, wearing his patented “Kiss the Eagle” apron, skillfully maneuvers his way around. He drops a pinch of pepper, a squirt of soy sauce, and some blackening seasoning into the boiling pot of rabbit soup. After a while, the timer pops off and he fills his bowl with a few hearty scoops and grabs an O’Doul’s from the fridge.
The old Eagle sets his meal down by his easy chair and peers through his extensive collection of taped Georgia Southern games. After a short deliberation, he decides on the 1990 national championship game against Nevada and tries to blow off the dust, only for a sharp whistle to come through his beak instead.
Blue sits up alarmed from the shrill sound and yelps in agnst.
“Sorry buddy! I… I forgot,” Gus says sheepishly. Instead, he uses the sleeve from his pajama top to wipe down the seams of the tape and pops it in. That’s when his eyes flash. He’s washed in nostalgia.
From the street, you can hear the synchronized chants from Gus aligned with the cadence of the cheerleaders coming through his surround-sound speakers.
“Ohhhhhh-oh! ONE MORE TIME!”, he yells with a crowd of 23,000 brothers in arms. Gus waves his arms wildy as he mimics his movements on the sidelines of that field nearly 30 years ago.
Three decades before the turmoil of another losing season. Three decades before he had to take on a second job after a series of pay cuts. Three decades before he had to talk down Freedom The Eagle from jumping from the water tower after the loss against New Hampshire.
But as the light from the screen reflects against his framed posters of heroes of Georgia Southern lore and shadows cast across a bust of Erk Russell’s face, Gus never takes his attention from the game. His silent problems stay muted. He is patient with the bad calls and sits checked in his chair because in this old dance, he knows the next move.
With every first down he comes alive, his unwavering focus broken only for a moment, and he acts out another bit from that day. With every touchdown he leaps up and into a chicken walk as he claps his hands over his head, looking like a young Mick Jagger at the Hollywood Bowl.
Scanning the crowd as the camera pans, he calls out the names of friends lost to time.
“Jack Wittles, you salty dog! Wonder where that guy is..” he tapers off.
“Sarah Rosen. Ha! Best SGA president this school has ever seen,” he rattles, fearless of any nighttime jogger or passerby that may be listening.
And as the score goes up for the good guys and he knows the taped memory is fading, he only grows more emphatic. Even still, he never once complains about the bad throws or the cheap hits, knowing it was all part of the cosmic process to win the title.
When the final buzzer sounds and he squawks with ecstasy, he lets the moment stay in the air for a while. He sits patiently with his beak ajar in a smile and the insects outside hum the GSU fight song when the audio from the tape cuts out from years of dust erosion.
The screen turns black, and yet he continues to sit with only the chorus of bugs as company.
Five or ten minutes pass before he finally stands to take his bowl to the sink and get Blue another blanket as he rests in the corner.
Hums of the outside continue to ring out soundly as creature-darkness takes over the halls as he turns the lights off behind him. Before long, Gus is sitting on the edge of his bed and picks a piece of lint off his pant leg, staring at it keenly, almost mournfully, before walking it over to the trash can. Relenting, he finally crawls into bed, but not before kissing his six title rings and hitting the last light.