So for what it's worth, here is my second short story:
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?Langston Hughes
"You should see her play" had been whispered around and about Molly since she could remember. The words always seemed to choke at the air around her that she was trying to breathe. "You should see her play"--her teachers at recess, in early elementary. "You should see her play"-- her Pop to other grandparents during grandparent's day in the third grade. "You should see her play"-- her first junior high coach to the college coach at a camp she was attending. "You should see her play"--her older brother, to his friends, any chance he got.
"You should see her play" had become her father's slogan; Nick seemed to chew on it, his mouth full all the time. Of course, he was the one that had spent hours upon hours with her on the concrete pad in the backyard. She was just five years old, but as the sun hit the cement he would show her how to look in his eyes while she dribbled the basketball. He had given her a real ball, 28.5 ounces, not wanting to risk her skills being confused by a change later. The orange cylinder looked large in her kindergarten hands that were just learning how to use scissors and Elmer's. "Look up, Ace, look up. Keep your eyes on me. Good job, Molly!" The ball thudded rhythmically against the ground and the brown eyed girl smiled at her new skill.
The basketball may have looked large in Molly's delicate hands, but it never looked awkward. She knew how to handle it, how to maneuver her body and become one with it as she raced up the cement in her backyard. Eventually her dad decided to expand the slab's boundaries so that his little "Ace" would have the advantage of practicing on a "half court," and the the sun etched him with red marks the day he measured and painted three-point and free-throw lines.
By first grade it had become routine that after dinner Nick would help his wife, Kim, clear the dishes as Molly changed into her tennis shoes. By the time the dishwasher was humming, Molly was practicing her bounce passes and three-point stance. Kim would watch out the kitchen window as she scrubbed stubborn grease and smile her "this-is-just-as-we-always-pictured-it" smile.
* * *
Twelve hot summers have a way of eating away at concrete, but Molly didn't seem to mind the cracks that marked her practice court. She could now avoid them with so much ease while she dribbled, that someone watching wouldn't even know they were there. And at night one could look and see Molly's silhouette etched out, one lone light pole standing guard over her.
Molly had grown accustomed to whispers about her, the "you-should-see-her-play"s that were said over and over again had become normal. But she was beginning to get a sinking feeling. It started one day in her Social Studies class. She had always maintained excellent grades, had spent hours trying to master the quadratic formula, determined that it wouldn't bring her down, and even tutored others in her Spanish class. She was in the top ten in her grade, always hovered around a 4.0 GPA, and had been selected secretary of her school's chapter of National Honor Society. This would be an accomplishment for anyone, but for Molly it was even more impressive as she also lifted weights before school every morning, practiced until 5:30 or 6 every evening, and then again on her own in the grey hours of twilight on her concrete slab. Her hard work was what made the comment sting so much.
Handing in her quiz, Molly crinkled up her nose at Mr. Ginus and said, "I think I did alright, but the essay portion of number 7 was a bit tricky."
And Mr. Ginus, not meaning any harm but wielding a sword far more powerful than he knew, said, "Oh Molly- I'm sure you did fine. Besides, do you think I would ever fail you? I would have fifty people down my throat in a second if a grade I had given kept you off the court." He chuckled, a sort of phlegmy, middle aged chuckle and took her quiz in his hand.
And that was the only seed that was planted, but Molly's imagination watered it into a garden festering with doubts in her mind. Did others feel the same way? Had all of her accomplishments only been based on her need to be "kept on the court"? Had she fooled herself into believing she was anything other than the basketball player she had been conditioned to be?
That night Molly slunk under her covers and, massaging her tired feet, let out a sigh. That one sigh held more emotions and questions and wonderings than any sigh that had ever been sighed before. In the muddy light that crept through her drawn blinds, she could see the pile of envelopes on her desk. All of them held a ticket to her next big step; all of them offered her money and perks that only the best players could receive in college. A future that was nearly paid for, paved neatly with "free books" and a "personal trainer specifically for you." It was a future she had always anticipated, had always worked towards and longed for, but that night she hoped she was other things too.
* * *
The girl on the other team, a bright orange 10 on her jersey, didn't know she would be helping the star athlete sort through her questions. Number 10 didn't know that she would be causing things to surface that had never surfaced before when she laced her shoes that night. Assigned to guard Molly, number 10 knew her work was cut out for her and gulped in a lungful of air before tipoff. Molly grabbed the ball, everyone knew where she was headed, and number 10 knew how fast she was headed there. In the few seconds it took Molly to reach the basket, number 10 had planted herself in front of her, fully intending to take a charge. However, Daddy's Ace saw the block coming, and made a quick jab left before pivoting right. Number 10 tried to adjust, but wasn't quick enough and in an attempt to regain position stepped in Molly's path.
And all she could remember was the white, piercing pain and the gasps of the crowd.
"If you're lucky you'll be able to walk without help in about a year." The doctor said it like he was reading what was on the menu. "I've only ever seen someone injury their back like this and survive two other times. You're pretty fortunate, kiddo."
Molly looked around the hospital room: her jersey that she had put on with anticipation and pride just hours before had now been cut off and was in a plastic bag on the counter. With her neck in a brace, just as a precaution, it was tough for her to get a good look at everything around her, but she could see her parents huddled in the corner, creases of worry etched in their brows.
She drifted back to sleep, her pain medications still doing their work.
* * *
A year of rehab had sucked Molly's time, but not her spirits. She was determined that her years of hard work and her physical strength would get her the report she hoped for. But as the doctor checked her over, she saw the light drain out of his eyes and she knew it was over; she knew she would never be on the court again.
The letters on her desk hadn't been touched in months, but now the phone calls had to be made, and Molly asked the same question that was posed to her by Langston Hughes in her English class, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
She tried to think of a future without basketball, and she couldn't. Was this future painted by her parents, coaches, grandparents, brother…? They all loved her deeply, this Molly never questioned, but they all put so much stock in her successes. After a tournament when she was only eight years old her brother put his arm around his little sister and said, "Dad took one look at my shooting form when I was seven and decided then he would start working with you when you could walk. He knew I was a lost cause, but you became his golden child. Thank you for giving him that." In one of her pre-game snacks her mom had packed was a napkin on which she had written, "Mol, thanks for such a fun ride! I was never fast enough, but through you've I've gotten to win some big games! Keep it up, Sweetie!" And after she was named All-State for a second year in a row her dad had nudged her out the door saying, "Come on Ace, we can't be happy with just two All-State selections when there are four to be had! I haven't worked this hard to see you peter out your last two years of high school. I'll rebound for ya…"
She had always known what her future would be. The question marks were minor details: the where, the how much. When Molly was little she never said, "I want to be a ballerina! I want to be a Mommy! I want to be a trash truck driver!" like most little girls had shouted at one time or another. In her tiny voice, before she knew how to say her s's, she would shriek, "I'm gonna be a bathketball player thomeday!"
As she threw the covers off, Molly realized that dream had come true; the payoff for all her hours, all her bruises, all her failures, all her blisters had happened. And in the same breath, she realized it was over.
Molly hobbled out of her room as she slipped on one of her dad's old jackets from the hall closet. The jacket hung over her, but her strong arms were still noticeable beneath its worn material. She slipped into the backyard, the night's odor falling thick on her pajamas. The locusts' songs seemed deafening as she made her way to the freethrow line. The once jet black stripe was now faded to a muddy gray as Molly laid her 5'11" frame across it.
As she lay in the darkness, she tried to clear her head of everything that had every been told her or said of her. As her heart beat against the cooling concrete, she tried to think for herself; she tried to see her future. But she kept coming back. She didn't know who she was without a ball in her hand. She didn't know what a day would be like if she didn't sweat a little, or shoot a little. And laying on that cracked and aging slab, Molly realized that she would need to learn who she was again-- and she realized that others were going to have to learn to love a different Molly.
For the past year she had felt like a ghost, ambling around in places that used to fit her. Molly didn't know what she wanted to "be" anymore, and she didn't know if others would love her or be proud of her like they were before her injury.
In the hazy lights of the night, Molly pulled her body over to the all-weather chest that sat at the corner of the court. She began digging through the years of stuff it held: deflated balls, sweatbands crunchy with year-old sweat, and shoes. She always had put her shoes in the chest at the end of each season, and as she picked through them she glanced at the heels on each pair. There, in silver Sharpie each year, she had written a Bible verse. She read it now, squinting to make out the words in the dusk: "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid." She sorted through each pair and lined them up-- size 6, size 7, size 7.5, all the way up to her size 9.5 from last season-- and each bore Psalm 118:6.
Molly glanced back in the chest and saw some sidewalk-chalk her niece had left last summer. She settled on a blue piece and the sky colored powder rubbed off on her forefingers as she grabbed it. She inched her way back to the center of her court, her movements slow and methodical. It took her nearly an hour, and four pieces of chalk, but when she was finished Molly limped back to the chest. It took an enormous amount of strength, but she pulled herself up so she could stand atop its lid. Her pajamas were coated in colored dust and as she brushed a piece of her dark hair out of her eyes she smudged yellow on her brow.
She looked down at the concrete her dad had lovingly poured and painted nearly thirteen years ago. Her letters where slanted in places where the cement was chipped or cracked, and the second line seemed to be marching up a hill before drooping again at the end. However, despite its imperfections the message was clear to Molly. She knew her days playing basketball were over. She knew she had to start dreaming new dreams for herself. She knew others would have to learn to love her in different ways. But that night, as she stood atop the chest in her chalk-covered pjs, her 5'11" frame slumped from her injury, she read the words she had just written: "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid."
And Molly began dreaming of the new things people would one day whisper about her.