This story is by Gregory Faraone and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Fuck – Peters just hit a three pointer. My heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach as the gym roars with sounds of excitement and frustration. The Golden Rams are now up by two points.
There’s twenty-three seconds to go, not even a full shot clock. Coach calls a time out – we have thirty seconds to regroup. The ref’s whistle reverberates in my ears. As I jog over to the bench, I know he’s going to draw up a play for me. Our eyes lock. His are flaring emphatically with the fire of a man who’s put too much emotional stock into his team. Mine are stoic and icy – the eyes of a man who refuses to shy away from big pressure moments. I’m the only option. As we huddle up, I notice that the ringing of the ref’s whistle in my head begins to morph into the sirens of a police cruiser.
I’ve made mistakes. Most of them were harmless. I’m still haunted by a few. A year ago, on a mid-March evening, I was just smoking pot with some buddies. One of them used to sell dope. We were smoking some Backwoods in his Suburban, and, well, they must’ve been watching him because all of a sudden, a rival gang rolled up on us and started shooting. The world of senseless violence that my mother couldn’t afford to keep from me.
It all happened so quickly. Flashes of light and bullets shattering the glass and ripping through the car doors. Blood flung from the bodies of those around me. I could see their eyes grow cold. Mouths gaped. Marijuana smoke flooded out of the car as if it were their souls pouring out. Fierce pain as a bullet drove into my left shoulder from the side – it’s a good thing I’m a righty. Just as quickly as it had started, their car skirted off into the night.
I was catatonic – so overcome with the gravity of the situation, that I couldn’t even squeal at the constant biting of the bullet caught in my shoulder blade. I sat there for what felt like an eternity – I know it was a long time because I was barely out of the car by the time the cops showed up – surrounded by bodies contorted and bloodied by the weapons of mangled morality. At some point before the cops arrived, I came to my senses enough to attempt to stanch the bleeding in my shoulder, but I still couldn’t muster up the courage to pull myself out of the car. Time stood still, and in that moment, I felt something that I wasn’t used to. I felt scared.
I thought to myself what if they’re still out there waiting for me? I felt more powerless than ever before, as I slipped into the dark recesses of my mind. The sirens, muffled in the distance, thrummed like a lullaby of sin and tragedy. It slowly rang louder and louder until the lights danced across the backdrop of the urban purgatory before me.
“Ok, Jeremy you got that?” coach says to me, staring into my eyes.
Returning to the moment in a state of bewilderment, I nod. The whistle rings again, declaring that it’s time to take the court.
I don’t know what the play is, but it doesn’t matter.
Derrick gets ready to inbound the ball, slapping it with his left hand putting our team in motion. The defense is tight and merciless, but I’m quicker than my defender. I burst open, coming off a screen, catching the bullet pass from Derrick at the top of the key. I hold it in the triple threat stance.
Seconds are shaving off the clock. A second defender comes to double me.
“Dead, dead, dead,” the second defender yells.
You don’t know what death is.
“Pass the ball,” shouts Rodney – an open teammate of mine.
I slip out in between them as the ball glides between my legs. I dish the ball out to Rodney in the corner. I know he’s considering taking the shot, but he can see that my eyes are demanding the ball back. He knows better than to cross me right now. Besides, there’s too much time left to give them another shot even if he does make it.
As Rodney heaves the ball back into my hands, my eyes drift up to the game-clock above the backboard. It reads fourteen seconds. I start to dangle the ball back and forth from right to left, shaking my defender more violently with each dribble back and forth. His ankles are jelly. I know it, and he knows it. But he won’t call for help. Pride runs deep. The rest of his team starts to lay off their man, so as to provide help defense for when I inevitably blow past him to the basket. They think I’m practical; that I’ll aim for overtime. But I’m not going to do that; this game isn’t going into overtime. I’m going to win it here and now.
There goes that internal clock in my head again. Sounding off with each second passing. It reminds me of the way my mom’s old grandfather clock sounded. She loved that thing. For the life of me, I could never figure out why. She used to always talk about how elegant it was. I always thought it was annoying. The constant ticking and tocking were unbearable. Maybe that’s why my father left. She never cried when he left. She cried last year when she had to pawn that clock, though. Medical bills don’t come cheap, and that hospital visit cost my family more than my mom’s clock – it cost me my scholarship. And still, the doctors said I was lucky.
If I was lucky, I wouldn’t have been born here.
If I was lucky, I wouldn’t have been in that car.
If I was lucky, I would still be going to UCLA next fall on a full scholarship to play ball.
But I’m not. I’m just good. And just good isn’t enough.
The screams of both coaches from the sidelines wage war in my head like my parents did back when they were still together. The fully packed gymnasium can’t possibly hold more than a couple hundred people, but it feels like Madison Square Garden.
The crowd counts down with the clock. I stutter forward laying my shoulder into the off-balance defender’s chest just gently enough to topple him onto his ass without the ref calling an offensive foul. And sure enough, he goes down. I step back and fire away, releasing the ball smoothly from just beyond the arc.
What’s done is done. We all have to live with our mistakes.
The buzzer roars as the ball soars through the air.
The crowd erupts into uncontrollable cheers.
A single tear slips from my eye and trickles down my cheek.