Our feet smack the ground, skin to cement. Plang. The ball hits the driveway – a sharp sound. Plang, plang.
“Check” Theo says – he passes to me, signaling the beginning of play.
I pass back. “Check.”
The trash talking begins. He dribbles to the outside moving closer to the street. Plang.
“You’re so fat.” Plang. “You make Hungry Man look like Lean Cuisine.”
He’s driving toward the basket; I reach my arm up at the last moment. The ball elegantly leaves his fingertips. Swoosh. 1-0 Theo.
We always played before dinner, around 5 p.m. when it was not so hot and the black asphalt had cooled from the summer sun. Our feet could tolerate it and we went barefoot, calloused and dirty. We have the same feet, thick skinned under the heel and ball, similarity under the toes.
We were growing further and further apart, Theo and me. Experiencing a natural divergence of sibling lives, one going left and the other right at the end of the driveway. But we could always return to the game and the consistency of the unchanging rules that governed our basketball match-ups: each basket worth one point, play goes to 11, must win by two. All of the things that showed our emerging differences—my Vogue magazines and mascara, his new computer and video game console—were inside our rooms, under beds, or on desks, not outside on the driveway. Not on our home court.
Theo gathers up the ball quickly as it rolls toward the street. We check back and forth. He dribbles left and I go left, knees bent and arms out wide. Defensive stance, just like Dad taught us. He fakes. I fall for it and jump a split second too soon. As I land he takes the shot, a perfect arc from the outside. The ball sails through the air, cutting an orange path across the dusky, blue-gray sky. It lingers for an instant, rolling around the edge of the rim, and in that moment time seems to slow as we watch and wait for the climax. It drops in. I fall to my knees and cover my face—all drama. Theo does a little victory dance, some jerky movements of knees and elbows.
Neither one of us was particularly good at basketball. But the hoop was there and the game required minimal equipment. Dad played basketball in high school, a real jock, and he, not so secretly, hoped that Theo or I would follow in his footsteps. He had the two of us shooting in the driveway the minute our hands grew large enough to handle a regulation size ball. I tried out for the middle school basketball team each year for three years and was cut every time. Theo went on to play varsity volleyball instead. The only place we were interested in playing hoops was in the driveway.
“Check.” I adjust the strap on my red tank top, pushing it back as it slips down my shoulder.
Ready position. The cool dusk breeze blows a little stronger now and ruffles the hair in my ponytail, tickling my neck. I feel everything sharply, my senses tingling and body alert as I try to anticipate Theo’s next move. He goes sharply to the right, dribbling quickly. Plang. Plang. Plang. As he makes to put the ball up, I am with him, blocking. He glances left and right—stuck. Then he looks at the hoop, questioning: Could I make it from here? I grin wickedly. My mind has already jumped ahead. I could slap the ball from his hands, steal it, dribble quickly to clear it past half court, go up the ri –
“Hey, Thalia! You’re so fat the Jolly Green Giant took one look at you and retired!”
I’m in stitches, doubled over with laughter. He takes the shot. Swoosh. Winner. 11-8 Theo.
That’s how we played: sloppily, out of bounds, bruises—fouls to the shoulders and arms—following the ball into the street like our parents told us not to, trash talking things we never meant. The dusk rang out with the sound of the ball striking the asphalt and backboard, with the occasional holler of success or whine of defeat. Everything else is forgotten. The early evening seemed as though it could stretch out forever, eternity lived in dusk-light, pre-dinner basketball games.
Thalia Bardell is a near graduate of Emerson College. Her work has also appeared in the online literary magazine Write From Wrong.