Velma Becomes an Athlete

by Emily Capettini

First, she tries roller derby, watches her neighbor down the hall circle a track every Thursday night, the weave of her tights still thick on her skin hours after she unlaces her skates. Velma likes the speed and density of bodies, but not the way the ground rolls away beneath her.

Then, Velma tries soccer. Her sneakers slide on the spring-damp grass, mud layering on her forearms after each fall.

“You just don’t give up,” the team captain says, clapping her shoulder.

Velma swallows against the echoed meddling kids, asks, “Does that mean I’m on the team?”

They give her right forward, tell her where to buy shin guards, advise her to dump the flat-soled sneakers before their next scrimmage.

Her neighbor lends her an old pair of cleats. “Try these,” she says. “You can keep them; I don’t play anymore.”

The cleats are broken in for another foot, but Velma’s size. She laces them the way her neighbor tells her, feels the insole follow the arc of her foot. It’s familiar, an electric near-touch of her neighbor’s skin against hers. The neighbor watches Velma’s games, screams from the sidelines, smuggles her crappy beers after the game.

She plays hard, knocks down opponents twice her size, digs her fingers into the grass to haul herself back up when she falls. Velma isn’t much of a dribbler, and the team doesn’t want her quiet concentration anyway. When they go back for halftime, she holds her neighbor’s eye until the whistle blows.

Velma is running towards something for once.

Emily Capettini is the author of Thistle (2015), winner of Omnidawn’s 2013 Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Contest and assistant editor with Sundress Publications. Her fiction can be found in Permafrost, Menacing Hedge, and Monkeybicycle. Originally from Batavia, Illinois, Emily is now assistant professor of English at Indiana State University, where she teaches literature and creative writing. Find her online at