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Kicking the Football

You meet up with Lucy around a quarter past ten, on one of the benches beside the football field.
"Charlie Brown," she hails you, in that Lucy voice, all authority and confidence.
"How are you, Lucy?" you ask her, folding her in a tight embrace.
She shrugs, "All right, I guess."
The truth is things have been hard for you both recently. They've been hard for everyone in the strip. It's been nearly two decades now since Charles Shultz died and Peanuts stopped running in the newspapers. Though you all still look like the same round-headed, poorly-detailed children you've always been, you are in fact sixty-seven years old now.
You're all starting to feel your own mortality. Gradually, you know, the strip reruns will stop appearing in the papers. Gradually the books and collections that feature you will go out of print. Gradually people will start to forget you, and you'll all begin the slow process of fading away.
A lot of the characters are having a hard time with this. At Lucy's psychiatric booth, business is booming. But the whole prospect of an ending doesn't really phase you. You're carrying on pretty much as before. You're hanging out with the gang, you're feeding Snoopy, you're attending school and hoping that maybe one of these days you'll actually understand what it is the teacher is saying. It's not a wildly exciting life, but it's good enough for you. You are, in general, if not ecstatically happy, at least moderately content. And you've realized over the years just how rare and precious that is.
So you shoot the breeze with Lucy. You exchange information about different members of the gang, and you talk about her business, and Snoopy's latest rejection letter from the publisher, and a little bit about the dwindling comic market, and how you both feel about that, but overall it's just a really pleasant afternoon. An incredibly nice time catching up with an old and very dear friend.
There's a football sitting next to her. It's been sitting there the whole time, leaning against her legs, white laces pointed towards the monochrome blue sky. She notices you glancing at it, and smiles.
"What are you thinking, Charlie Brown?" She asks with just a touch of cheek. You shrug. She takes the football in one hand and holds it up, looks at you, eyebrows raised. "What do you say? One more time, for old times sake?"
Many people in the strip, okay, everyone in the strip, has asked you multiple times why you keep doing this. "You know she's just going to lift the football up and you'll fall flat on your back," they say. "Why even bother?"
The thing they don't understand, the thing Lucy does not understand, the thing maybe no one, not even those stalwart everyday readers of Peanuts understand is that for you it is not about whether or not you actually kick the football. It has never been about whether or not you actually kick the football.
The truth is, there's this feeling you get when you are running across the field, this frisson of energy that builds inside you. In that moment, even though you know that it's almost certain that Lucy will remove the football, the sense of possibility bubbles up inside you until you feel you could burst with the excitement. And yes, it hurts a bit when Lucy removes the ball and leaves you sprawled on the ground. And yes, there's a sense of disappointment to it as well, a sense of being betrayed, and let down. But it's worth it in the end.
Because in the end, it doesn't really matter whether Lucy lifts the football up or not. What matters is that you are someone who will run full-force towards the football and try to kick it, on the off chance that this time you'll launch it, despite every disappointment you've had in the past. This is what makes you Charlie Brown. This is the type of person you are, they type of person you always want to be.
So you go through the whole routine. Lucy kneels on the uniformly green grass. She holds the ball firmly, upright on the absurdly flat ground. She looks at you, nods, smiles, and gives just the faintest of shrugs. You stare at the ball. You hold that image in your mind, envision your foot connecting with it, envision the ball soaring high above the field. You crouch down a bit, nod to Lucy and then you are off, tearing across the grass, flying, running towards that football with everything you've got.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 12th, 2018

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