The Masters Review is proud to share the honorable mention in our debut Novel Excerpt Contest, “Red State” by Allie Torgan. In “Red State,” find Jill and Kat on a Friday night in Fall, 1989, deep in Texas. High school football. What could be more important? The historical present that drives Torgan’s prose in “Red State” grabs hold of you immediately and won’t let go. Jump in below.
We’ll learn next week that today Ashley was on day three of celery and rice cakes. That she took a laxative yesterday, a water pill today, and she passed four of five measurements this afternoon. Everything but thighs. Tonight, Ashley Thorson will dance but she will faint on the field mid-high-kick and paramedics will carry her off. She’ll be the first girl I know who is hospitalized for an eating disorder. Disordered eating we’ll call it one day. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
It’s in our blood like the Republican party and Jesus Christ. Football. It’s life here; plasma fueling veins, throbbing arteries, pounding hearts. You can feel the pulse in this flat Texas town tonight.
An away game; a Friday night. We advance like warriors.
Wildcats. Vikings. Cougars. Lions and Tigers and Bears oh my.
I’m 11, in the backseat of my dad’s Suburban heading west on I-20. My dad says it’s a straight shot for 40 miles and then we’ll see the lights, beacons from the interstate, they’ll lead us like prey to Tiger territory.
We’ll tailgate first. Kick-off’s at 7pm.
From my side of town, the “good” side, pink-cheeked families caravan in shoe-polished Suburbans, minivanned chariots. Kids are decked out in Wildcat hats, Wildcat shirts, Wildcat windbreakers. College-educated fathers with flasks, perfumed mothers, coolers rattling in the way-back.
Tony’s Pizzeria has changed their billboard. “Slice the Tigers.” Donna’s Christian Gifts has a banner up too. “Pray for the Wildcats.” Even the gas station got in on it. “Get Pumped Wildcats.”
Gas is 96 cents a gallon.
Ted Bundy is dead. George Bush Senior’s in charge. Two years ago, Baby Jessica fell in a well not so far from here. The Berlin Wall will come down next week, but tonight, there is no rest of the world. Just here, the road to glory. I-20.
Crush the Tigers. Whip them. Beat them.
“Slaughter the Tigers!!!” is written in shoe polish on the back window. My sister Wendy’s curly-cute handwriting is hard to read; a cursive bubble font with extra loopy g’s.
Still, my mom, more rah-rah, less murder, has said twice that she doesn’t want the word “slaughter” on our car. It’s “trashy,” she tells my dad.
“Let’s hope no one from PETA shows up.” That’s me. I’m the second youngest kid in the whole seventh grade and am holding my sister Wendy’s jean jacket in the backseat. She’s at the high school and will take the cheer bus to away games, we’re stopping there first to drop her jacket off.
My dad chuckles. He laughs at all of my jokes and my mom rolls her eyes, says “you two.” My dad turns up the Oak Ridge Boys. It’s ‘Elvira’ and when they get to the part with the bass singer he and I sing along.
Giddy up oom poppa omm poppa mow mow.
From the East Side, the “white trash” part, rednecks and bubbas take the onramp by Frank’s Liquor in jacked-up pickup trucks with naked lady decals and confederate flags, bumper stickers that say stuff like “I’d rather be Hunting” and “The Buck stops here.” The truck in front of us has pit bulls and teenagers in the bed. They are lit, frothing; meaty fists air pounding, shouting anti-Tiger vulgarities, slurs about the Tigers way worse than “slaughter.” They hurl empty beer cans on the highway.
My mom shakes her head.
My dad says, “Don’t mess with Texas.”