A short story by Remontz
Rory stared a long while. Just watching the old man’s chest rise and fall. The heart monitor providing a metronome for deep thought; The hospital TV adding background noise. Rory touchedhis grandfather’s hand the hand.
“Flora?!?!” The elder sprang awake calling for his long gone love.
“Nah Gramps…” Rory answered. “It’s me. I just got in from up state.”
Tracy sucked his teeth, “Wha…wha, your Dad ain’t have you drive down for this did he?”
Rory caught the pity in his throat and didn’t allow it to show in his tone, “Yeah, you know how he is. Be over exaggerating…right?”
“Yeah…that boy’ll call the whole army in here, f’ya don’t watch it.”
They laughed out loud together.
Rory pulled a chair closer to the bedside and took a seat.
“Hand me that glass there will ya.”
“Boy if you don’t put that nasty juice down ‘n reach me the water….”
“A’ight, A’ight…chill…”, Rory chuckled. “You got it.”
Tracy took a long sip, “How the season going?”.
Rory couldn’t help but notice his Grandfather’s shaking hands and deteriorating condition. It took him using both hands to tilt the cup of water into his mouth. He cleared his throat once more before answering, “Uh…well…practice is good—“
“Practice?!?!” Tracy cut him off, “You on the pine?”
“The pine?! What??” Rory laughed, “Nah, we just ain’t playing…can’t with the, y’know…stuff going on…”
“Man, lemme tell ya something…”, Tracy wet his lips loudly.
“Floor is yours…”
Tracy shot his grandson a side eye, “Don’t ya cut me off now…”
Rory made a zipper motion across his lips and bowed in respect, a smirk across his face. He was relieved and happy to see the old man in such high spirits.
“…same thing happened to us ‘fore…”
“Aight…Aight…before you even go down this road. Ain’t nun like this ever happened Gramps…” Rory protested with the permanent smile still stuck to his lower face.
“You gon let me tell my story or what?!”, Tracy countered.
“You got it, you got it.”
“Now….this cat…’Fly-T’ we called him. Used to could jump out the gym with cement shoes on, f’he wanted. Lemme tell ya. Thi—“
“You already tellin me…”, Deep down Rory loved to get a playful rise from his Grandfather.
Tracy shot another look, “You gon let me talk man?!”
“My bad, my bad, go head Gramps.” Rory apologized for interrupting.
“So this is round sixty-t’ree Fly done messed roun—“ Tracy’s story was halted abruptly by a fit of violent coughing.
Before he could challenge the idea of his grandfather playing ball in sixty-three when the old man hadn’t even been born until seventy-six, the coughing bout had started. Rory sprang out of the chair as if he had any idea how to help.
Tracy drank lightly from the shaking glass, waving for Rory to sit back down. “Yeah…yeah…oh Yams…”. Tracy waited. Thinking. “That cat man…”
“Aye you good?” Rory beckoned, “Need a nurse or sum’n in here?”
“Boy! I look like I need a nurse?!”
They laughed together once more, before another round of coughs broke in. This one less abrasive. Tracy gulped down the rest of the glass.
“Fill dat up fah me…”
Tracy smacked his teeth, “The sink boy!”
Rory sprang up and towards the small bathroom, “You drinking sink water my guy??” Rory pressed. “Ima bring you some bottles up later on. Aight?”
“Yeah, yeah….just give me the glass.” Tracy spoke horsely. He liked his throat with another gulp before continuing, “…so this man Fly mess around got the whole team throwing up an squirting down at the same time! ‘N we gotta game to play, mind ya!”
Rory laughed hard, holding his side so that it didn’t split from over joyousness. “Throwing up and squirting down!!!!” He mimicked.
“Like that one, huh?” Tracy chuckled.
“So what y’all do?”
“Shoot. We played. Boys was running of the court to the bathroom, guys was throwing up in trash cans….Coach ran outta time outs in the first quarter!”
Rory was bursting.
“It was 62 – 4, by time coach finally forfeit.” Tracy mockingly waved his arms over his shaking head, then threw his hands open in a ‘that’s enough, we quit’-motion.
Rory couldn’t contain himself, he practically rolled out of the chair, in tears.
“Aye that team was sum’n else. Boy’I’tel’ya.” Tracy laughed at himself. “You got time hear bout a game?”
“Yeah. Yeah! I love hearing bout your games man!”
“Okay. Look, this first time I ever played with these cats, right…We’re joking, carrying round in the locker room and Coach burst in on us ready to slam us around. He’s yelling about execution this and execution that. ” Tracy paused to cough and laugh at the nostalgia. “…Rory listen. When I say I don’t know a single play…”
Rory roared with laughter at his grandpa.
“Boy that ball tip off…I just go with it…I let loose. Free as a uncaged bird. None of those guys could stop me. It was like I had all the answers. Pass. Woosh!” Tracy motioned like he was darting a no-look pass to his right. “Cross up, beating presses easy. Nothing they could do…I put up fifty-nine points that game.” he coughed, “Nothing they could do to stop me..,”
“Man. That’s wild, and you were just playing, huh?” Rory smiled.
“Yep…just let the game come to ya…” Tracy said, “Say look, there’s something I want you do fah me…”
Rory sat up, “Anything, you know that. What’s up?”
“Flora put all my hoop stuff up in the attic…I gotta pair of shoes I want you to have. My Dad gave em to me right after my freshman year at Tech.” Tracy took another sip of water.
“Aight, bet!” Rory responded, “What kinda shoes are they?”
“Well they’re real special…”
They were quiet for a long second.
“When ya gotta go back to school?”
“Well, really I don’t…” Rory began to explain, “We still on lockdown, every class online.”
“Online…huh…” Tracy nodded.
“Well you got time then…”
“Time for what?”
“This a long story so hold ya tongue…”
Rory chuckled, “Aight.”
Tracy began, “So they’re up 89 – 82, we were on the ropes, under dogs hoping for some hope. Coach throws Moe in, he could shoot like nobody’s—“
“Gramps, Gramps. I heard this, you tell me this story every time I see you,” Rory smiles, “this the game you got hurt, making that drive some dude took your legs out and it ruined the comeback.”
“Yeah…Yeah…you heard that part of it.” Tracy coughed, “I ain’t neva told nobody what happened next…Aye get up n go shut that door. Don’t cut me off ag’n.”
“Yessir.” Rory obeyed. He knew the difference between a serious tone and a playful one. Even though they sounded at the same octave coming from Tracy.
“Now listen…”, Tracy began:
“As I come to, this Docs talking bout concussion ‘n that. I’m like yeah. Okay. Never minding all that, y’know. I’m just wanting to know when I can get back on the court. So I end up having fractured my eye bone right here. My nose….yeah….I make that face when I think about it too. You shoulda saw me then. Ugly as ever.” They laughed. “So…so….my Ma comes by. Pop had been long gone by time I was in school, y’know that. Well she hands me these shoes. Say they used to be my Pops. I don’t want em.”
They shared another laugh.
“She said to me then, no matter what a man I become, don’t ever forget the man that brought you into this world. His mistakes don’t need to change nothing bout having respect and love for em, even at a distance. My ma…she was always a smart woman. Strong. Long story, short, I took the shoes. Took em on back to campus wit me when they finally let me leave the hospital. They’d told me to take it easy, not to—“
“You hooped in em, didn’ya?”
“Oh! You know it!”
Tracy continued, “Man I woke up that next morning had to be bout 4, 5…i was beating the sun up. Threw those sneakers in my bag and struck out for the gym…..
Tracy juggled his keys until the one for the gym lock popped out from the bundle. The warm, stale, A/C-less hardwood gym air swam into his nostrils as he entered. He loved the sound of his ball bouncing in an empty gym as he strolled towards the bench, taking a seat. He sat and dribbled underneath, between and in front of his legs; a routine pattern practiced and perfected since middle school. He threw the ball towards the opposite bleachers in frustration at costing his team the tournament game. Well he hadn’t caused himself to lose consciousness, but his unavailability was frustrating nonetheless.
The bag fell to the floor with a thump, weighed down by books and the old shoes his mother had gifted him on behalf of Gale. He refused to acknowledge Gale as Dad at this point. The wound was still too fresh.
“Let’s see if I can break these in for you Gale…” he said to himself as he pulled the canvas shoes out of the backpack.
He slid his right foot into the sneaker; laced it tightly. Pulling the strings with all his frustration.
He left foot was next; as soon as his foot touched the sole of the shoe he heard someone call out, “Aye!!”. He jumped up knocking the wooden bench-chair down with a clammer.
“Who’s there?!?!” The gym should be empty this early. Not even Moe came in this early to put shots up. “Coach?! You in there?” He yelled towards the coaches office. He waited a time for an answer. “Whatever…”.
Then it happened. He slid his foot fully into the shoe and the entire world around him shifted. He looked up and found himself in the middle of a locker room. There were a few lanky men playing snapping towels right in front of his chair.
“Aye man!!” The one with the bigger afro yelped out, pointing sternly at the other, after taking a strong smack to his thigh.
There was a groovy, dream-like song playing to the amusement of a group of four other men farther away. The three were exchanging dance tips to the timid fourth, who stood between them not dancing, just combing back his blonde hair with a shaky hand. He was unsuccessfully trying to mimick their played out two-step routine.
“Aye Gale c’mere man!” One of the dancers called out towards Tracy’s direction.
Tracy looked to his left and realized he was sitting beside a giant of a man. He had to be at least seven foot, and as wide as a castle. The mountainous brute was snoring with his head awkwardly leaned into the locker at his back.
“Man, c’mon. You know Squatch ain’t wakin up!” The gentleman called again.
Tracy placed a hand to his chest as if to say “me?”. Clearly this was a dream.
“Yeah man…” the lanky dancer started towards Tracy, drawing out the ‘a’ and ‘n’ of ‘man’ when he said it. “This cat ain’t got no rhythm.” He grabbed Tracy’s arm. “Show em sum’n smooth like…” he started to swing his feet out erratically before bouncing back up straight, right on beat.
“Wha…..”, Tracy finally spoke, confused as the strange individual pulled him out of his seat. “What is this?”
“Aye Jug what’s this man?!” The stranger called over his shoulder towards the group he’d left.
“Orlon’s man!! It’s the Orlon’s!” Responded one of the other dancers. “Watsu sum’n. I’on know wat they sayin. It jam tho.”
“Yeah Gale, c’mon man!” Said the man tugging at Tracy’s arm.
“Look I don’t know what none of thi—“ Tracy started.
“Cut that dang nonsense off!!!” Came a loud bark from behind them.
The record scratched and stopped immediate to the hoarse voice’s command. Everyone froze. Everyone except Tracy who turned towards the door to see a short and stubby, suit coat wearing, Afro-pick in hair having, musk smelling, middle-aged, obvious-short-tempered man enter the locker room.
“Hey….uh…what’s going on he—“, Tracy tried to ask.
“Listen up ladies!!” The short man cut him off, pressing a strong finger into Tracy’s chest.
Tracy assumed the disrespectful finger was suppose to demand respect but instead he was triggered to react. He’d had enough of this nonsensical dream. This short stuff was about to receive all the frustration of his injury.
Having noticed the refusal to be pushed back the suited man replied in a low threat, “Gale…you sit your ass down or you’re off this team.”
Tracy smacked his hand away. “What team?!?!”
Before the stubby man got a full grip on his neck the other members of the locker room pulled Tracy away from the altercation.
“Not like that!”
“He’s just tired of losing!!!”
They all protested. Chanting on his behalf for lenience.
After several strong words between the two of them, Tracy finally allows the short man to speak to the rest of the team. Somehow the man’s face looks relieved as he expresses concern about some playbook and their need for execution against a better team.
“Wait…Gramps…”, Rory broke in, “That makes no sense…”
“I’m tellin ya how it happened…”, Tracy laughed. “I went back. With the shoes…I ha—“. Tracy began to cough. And cough. It wasn’t stopping like before. He bent over, coiling his hand up to his face, as if a hand up would make a difference when lung cancer has him doubled over.
Rory in a panic presses the emergency assistance button on the hospital TV remote.
As they rush in, doing everything humanly possible to save Tracy’s life, he says to Rory, “…Drop sixty…”
It took three months after his grandfather’s death before Rory was prepared, but he finally went to his Grandmother Flora’s house and pulled the shoes out of the attic. They were dusty. Smelled of dust even. He slapped them together a few times before before plunging his right foot inside and knotting the strings. Not a hesitation later, knowing ‘what he thought’ to expect he pulled the left shoe on:
Rory looked up to his left and saw that the scoreboard read 89 – 82…..
Copyright © 2020 Kacy Gilbert (Writing as Remontz)
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