Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: My Little Town

This week, Flash Fiction Friday invites you to write about your hometown. I don't know how close I came, but here's my story, "My Little Town" (Note: As with everything I write, this is a melange of truth and falsehood. While all these people really exist (the men, anyway), the events depicted herein never happened.)

The court was at the end of a strip of long, pure blacktop- new and fresh and almost soft. We weren't allowed to be there- it was absolutely private property, the edge of a parking lot that belonged to a rapidly shrinking tech firm that expanded to our small town a half decade ago in the mistaken belief that trees grow to the sky. Their security guards had evolved into a live and let live attitude towards our presence on their property- they pretended they didn't see us, and we pretended we didn't see them.

The six of us were friends, but we were friends in the sense that men are friends, which is to say, not really. We didn't talk about anything other than sports and music, teased each other gently, and walked back into our lives alone. Whether townie, like Tom, Chuck, or Jeff and his brother Dave, or technology boom transplants like my brother and I, we came back to our little town, gathered at the basketball court above the highway, and said the things we couldn't say.

The town was here before any of us- it sent troops to the Battle of Concord during the Revolutionary War. The town was becoming congested, the highway and the new millionaires filling the treelined streets and antique shops and good suburban schools with transplants like my family, heading west to ruin other suburbs after their own are overrun. It is attached to major highways, but you can turn off of them and be in heavily wooded sections where there are no signs because all the natives know where everything is.

We gathered after a series of phone calls, cars pulling up one by one as jobs let out or parents returned home to watch younger siblings. Some brought bottled water or Gatorade, and the older ones, Tom, Jeff and I, strapped on knee braces to protect our already aging bodies. The first arrivals shoot by themselves, arcing jump shots and driving layups to get cool muscles accustomed to the night's exertions.

Basketball is something to do, something for those of us who aren't popular enough to go to parties or date. It beat driving down the same streets, listening to the Eagles or Led Zeppelin, wishing you were brave enough to call a girl. We weren't daring enough to get in any real trouble- no drugs, no violence, very little sex, just young men without purpose, gathering in the twilight, waiting for our real lives to begin.

Some nights we could actually get ten people, actual real life five on five games, but that night it was just the core six, Tom and Chuck pulling in last, the rest of us still lazily shooting. They joined our merry band, warming up quickly, then dividing sides. We didn't need shirts and skins, knowing each other well enough. The game was half court, scoring team keeps possession, gentleman's agreement on fouls.

It started well, both teams tossing in a few long shots, before settling into a battle of attrition. We had been playing all summer, to the point where you knew who wanted to take the shot at the elbow, versus who would try to get by you for a layup. You knew who couldn't dribble to their left, and you knew who would bite on a spin move or a back door cut. We had all played basketball for our town's team, but this reflected more of a lack of interest than any special ability.

The game struggled upwards, as the traffic home from other suburbs died away and it got harder to see. The highway was less a murmur now than a sudden rush and rumble when an eighteen wheeler headed for New Hampshire roared by. At 19-18, fatigue began to affect both sides, shots that usually go in rimming out, layups skittering away instead of dropping through. We made ourselves play on, the game becoming a test of toughness- we would finish no matter how long it took.

I had caught the ball, Tom defending me eagerly. With his height advantage, I would usually pass off when he guarded me, and accordingly, my brother curled and gained a step on his defender, giving him a clear path to the basket and a score that would put us one point away from victory. I felt Tom lag, knowing he saw the gap and was trying to fill it, and took advantage. I sold the bounce pass, getting Tom and my brother's lagging defender to converge, and went up instead, draining a jump shot for a 20-18 advantage. Pumping my fist, I went back behind the three point line to set up for the hopefully final possession.

Suddenly I noticed Stacy. I had heard about Tom and Stacy, seeing them leave the grocery store as I went into it, or seeing them in a movie theater lobby. It wasn't a big deal, and not that unusual, but it was like seeing a dead deer at the side of the road- an inappropriateness violation. She wasn't beautiful by any standards, kind of mousy with an overbite, but, as I was sure he would point out, she was better than the nonexistent girlfriends any of us had.

Tom was walking towards Stacy, who had pulled her car, a forest green Dodge, right up to the court. I had been waiting for the ball to be passed out to me, but now we were all watching Tom, walking away from us, towards her small face and simultaneously thin and pudgy frame. I could see the curve of a pot belly under a Def Leppard t shirt, pointing right at Tom like a gun. He came up to her and bent his head down as they talked.

"I have to go, guys," was all Tom said, his voice thin and high. He moved to get into the Dodge's passenger side. We all felt frozen for a second- a move that should have brought catcalls, Tom's abandoning us for a girl, brought a stunned silence. I had asked everyone about coming to my house after the game (and a much needed shower) to watch Monty Python movies and eat popcorn, my parents being in Manchester for a weekend of square dancing. I was sure Tom, a recent no show, would have gone in for that, but I took his noncommittal answer as the "no" that it clearly was.

I loved Tom- we all loved Tom, in the way we could. He had a wicked sense of humor, was brilliant and wise and could expound on Buddhism and the Higgs boson in the same paragraph. I thought he was settling for Stacy, but never said so, and I felt Tom's loss, suddenly, even as he rode away in Stacy's car. I had the unmistakable impression he was gone, even as we could still follow her brake lights as they disappeared around the corner into the woods.

"I guess you guys win," Jeff, the captain of the other team suggested.

Nobody agreed.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: Hotel Illness

The IndieInk Writing Challenge comes from Leslie, and asks me to write about a bikini, an annoying boss, and a fake illness. My challenge goes to Ixy, who I am asking to tell us about being five.

Alexa woke up with nausea already boiling in her gut. It was Monday, which explained part of it. She had begun to really hate her job, which was part of it, too. But this morning, staring at the mute red numbers on her cheap alarm clock, Alexa knew she couldn't face it. Her Monday clothes hung on her armoire, the shadow of her skirt, blouse, and jacket lingering there like a bad smell.

Her job was to make Charles look good. To have the information he needed for him, to do the calculations that made him look brilliant. To look good in a suit, to listen to his rants when things aren't going well, to be seen and not heard. Alexa went to college and worked hard, and she has wound up as a well dressed number cruncher. "Be glad you have a job," Stacy said, and the numbers of her college friends who posted about unemployed spouses or selves seemed to climb every week. It was constant stress- whatever she provided, it wasn't what he needed, or it was too slow, or it wasn't accurate enough.

Alexa knew that was true, but she still felt sick. The idea took hold at the bottom of her brain, and suddenly it was all she thought of. Call in sick. Why not? She knew the big meeting wasn't until Wednesday, and she had plenty of time to use. Temperatures in the upper 80s today, the first really warm day of the spring, combined with no real loss to her absence? A day away from ringing phones, conflicting demands, and unwanted eyes on her as she walked away from his desk.

The idea becomes irresistible the more she thinks about it. A day by the river, sunning herself, reading and watching people? Why not indeed. Alexa dialed into Charles' office, the number that she would usually answer. She reached into her drawer for her black bikini, already picturing the warm sun on her bare legs. She would have to go in tomorrow, but she was already relishing the hours of freedom. She waited for the voice mail to pick up.

"Hello?" Charles usually wasn't in for an hour after she got there. He sounded sleepless, almost manic.

"Ch-Ch-Charles? I didn't think you'd be in yet."

"Well, I haven't been home yet. Something's happened."

Alexa's blood froze. "What? What's happened? Why didn't you call me?"

"I can't say just yet," Charles said.

"I can be there in an hour," Alexa said quickly, her stomach now churning full force.

"No, no. There's not much you can do, right now. What were you calling for?"

Alexa swallowed hard. "I don't feel...I wasn't feeling...,"

"You're sick? No problem, hon. Take the day off. I'll talk to you tomorrow." He hung up quickly. Alexa stared at her phone, the screen reminding her that the call had ended. Her stomach tightened in a spasm. Now, she thought, I do feel sick.