David Stevenson rang the doorbell and waited impatiently. He hoped his best friend, Zeke Evans, would be the one to answer. David’s hands were in the pockets of his jeans and he was whistling by the time he heard and saw the knob turning on the front door.
Mrs. Evans cracked the door open slightly, peeked out, then undid the chain and swung the door wide open.
“Hi,” David said, trying not to look or sound too disappointed. “Can Zeke come out?”
Mrs. Evans adjusted the yellow-and-blue polka-dot scarf on her head. “Hello, David. Now you know Zeke can’t come out. Summer school and summer homework. It’s the price you pay when you ignore your classwork all year and bring home lousy grades.”
“But if he can’t come out and practice, he’ll never be good enough to make the squad.”
“I just want him good enough to graduate from middle school.”
David sighed. “Can’t he just come out for a little while? If he doesn’t, he’ll never get to be a Neymar or a Messi or a Clint Dempsey or a Tim Howard.”
“I’d rather he dreamed about being a Sir Isaac Newton or an Immanuel Kant or a Leonardo da Vinci or a Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,” she said.
David frowned. “Who do they play for?”
Mrs. Evans pursed her lips. She brought her hands up to the frames of her glasses to make them fit more snuggly behind her ears. Then she asked, “Why would I even let Zeke get involved with a sport where you don’t even know what to call it? Some say soccer. Some say football. Now which is it?”
“Foot-ker! You’re getting me even more confused. Let’s start from the beginning. Doesn’t Peyton Manning play football?”
“He plays quarterback.”
“So how is the game you play also called football? I don’t understand.”
“His is American football,” David snorted. In his attempt to get Zeke to come out and play, he hadn’t bargained on running into a brick wall like this. But if he was going to have to go through this travail, he figured he’d better get his money’s worth. “I have a reason Zeke definitely has to come out.”
Mrs. Evans stared blankly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my yoga and my yogurt.”
As the door was being closed in his face, David said desperately, “If he doesn’t come out today he might come down with Geraformat’s Illness.”
“Hush now!” shrieked Mrs. Evans, reopening the door. “Gera-who?”
“Geraformat’s Disease. It’s um—ummm, it’s–“
“Speak up, boy, don’t play on my mind. And I thought you first called it Geraformat’s Illness. Then next time it was Geraformat’s Disease. Geraformat’s Illness, Geraformat’s Disease. Which is it?”
“Oh, it’s disease.”
“You’d better step inside and explain this to me in greater detail.”
David eased inside the house as the tall, thin lady wearing a sky-blue blouse and blue jeans closed the door behind him. He followed her into the spacious living room and she motioned for him to sit on the sofa next to the black leather lounge chair she had chosen for herself. She muted the volume on the 50-inch TV screen, where she had been watching a yoga instruction program.
“Now explain yourself,” she demanded, grabbing her orange yogurt from the tabletop and scooping a spoonful from the plastic container.
“Geraformat’s Illness,” David muttered. “I mean Geraformat’s Disease. It’s, um, it’s something real awful we learned about in school this past year. It strikes kids who don’t get the proper amount of sunshine and exercise and such. Strikes real quick, like lightning. It hits kids who should be out playing but are being driven back and forth to summer school and then studying up in their rooms all day. They don’t get enough sun, so it strikes them. But it’s not contagious or anything. And grown-ups are immune to it and everything, so you wouldn’t have to worry about catching it, even if you just sat here watching TV and eating that gooey stuff all day and didn’t get any exercise. You see, also, girls and women can’t get Geraformat’s Ill–Disease. Only men and boys can. No, men can’t, ’cause like I said, grown-ups can’t. But boys like Zeke can. That’s why he should be outside right now playing soccer. Sunlight and exercise. That’ll keep him from catching it.”
“Mercy!” Mrs. Evans declared, almost gagging on her yogurt. “Why haven’t I heard of this awesome illness before? And my once being a nurse, you would have thought I’d be even more likely to have heard of it. Wouldn’t you?”
David gulped and searched for words. “Uh, it’s been a real mysterious thing all along,” he replied. “They just pinned down a name for it three months ago. I hardly would have heard of it myself if it weren’t for school and all. It was named after the person who invented it, I mean discovered it. A Mr. Gerry, a Doctor Gerry Geraformat from Glasgow, England. I mean Glasgow, Scotland. Likely you wouldn’t have heard of Geraformat’s Ill–Disease back in the olden days when you were in school, ’cause they hadn’t thought of it way back in those times. They hadn’t named it or anything. Even when you were a nurse they hadn’t named it. Not till George Glasgow, I mean George Geraformat, found out about it, ’cause his son stayed inside studying all the time and never got out to play soccer and things.”
Mrs. Evans rubbed her chin with her thumb and index finger. “Was that Gerry Geraformat or George Geraformat?”
“Gerry Geraformat. Did I say George? I meant that it’s Gerry George Geraformat. Sometimes he goes by his middle name and all.”
“This Geraformat’s Disease, this Geraformat’s Illness, it isn’t fatal, now is it, Mr. Stevenson?”
“Unh-uh, not usually. But why chance it, when all you have to do is let Zeke out to play soccer? Playing soccer is a good way to get sunshine and exercise at the same time.”
“How many days in a row would a boy have to miss sunshine and exercise before this Geraformat’s doozy would kick in?”
“It could happen in just one day,” David replied.
Mrs. Evans raised her eyebrows. “One day?”
“Yes, ma’am. If it’s the wrong day. And today just could be the wrong day, if you don’t let Zeke outside.”
“What about all the cloudy and overcast and rainy days, and the snowy days in winter? Those must be awfully dangerous days for a growing boy, if they could catch this disease in just one day.”
David’s throat felt like he had just eaten a whole jar of peanut butter without washing it down.
“What happens when a storm front lingers for a few days and the sun can’t break through?” she asked, removing her glasses and glaring at David with steely, piercing eyes. “Those must be awfully sick times for a young boy, mustn’t they?”
David gave a faint, unimpressive nod, and slouched in his seat on the couch.
Mrs. Evans sprang out of the lounge chair. “I’d better look up this Geraformat situation on the Internet. If I’m going to protect my son, I need to know more about it.”
“But, but you won’t find it on the Internet,” David said sheepishly. “It’s only been named for around three months, remember?”
Mrs. Evans stopped in her tracks. “This isn’t like the old printed medical guides and journals and manuals. The Internet stays right up-to-date, to this very minute.”
“You see, um, Geraformat’s Disease has a real fancy medical name that only doctors know about. Likely you wouldn’t be able to find it unless you knew that name. It’s ten syllables long.”
“But we can look it up by the symptoms, now can’t we? For starters, I’ll just search for boys’ diseases, lack of sunshine and lack of exercise, and see what comes up.”
She paraded over to her laptop while David sulked. She signed on and did some searches. “Here it is!” she exclaimed.
David almost fell off the couch. “You found it!”
“Miracles of miracles. Now I can read all about it.”
Now he did get off the couch, to shuffle over to the desk across the room where the laptop was located. He glanced over her shoulder.
Mrs. Evans looked him in the eye. “Is there something you need to tell me?”
“I guess,” he drawled. “The jig is up. You see, there never was a Geraformat’s Disease. I made it all up. It’s just that, it’s just that I have soccer fever. And so does Zeke.”
“I see,” Mrs. Evans said haughtily. “I never would have guessed. After deceiving me, is there anything you can say now to restore my trust in you?”
“Well, you’re really pretty, especially when you’re not wearing those glasses.”
Mrs. Evans shook her head and broke out laughing. “Believe it or not, I have soccer fever too. It is one of the few team sports played throughout the world. Soccer has roots everywhere, from Iceland to the jungles of South Asia, from Eskimo territory to Central Africa. So when they say World Cup, they really do mean it. And it probably should be called football, since the foot is actually employed more than anything else. I say, go U.S.A. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Julian Green, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski. Bet you didn’t think I could recite that many, did you?”
David shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I can hardly name that many U.S. players myself.”
Mrs. Evans stood and walked to the base of the stairs. “Zeke,” she called upstairs. “Come on down here. And bring your soccer ball with you.”