Give and Go
by Laura Adamczyk
The problem was that the man was too tall. Or the woman too short. He didn’t want to lord over her. She didn’t want to be so far away from his mouth. She wasn’t the kind of woman to wait, to pine, to wish and hope and pray to someday maybe be kissed. If she wanted to kiss, she was probably kissing. The man knew this about her, appreciated that directness. And so on their walks, and on this walk in particular, a basketball tucked beneath his arm, her striped athletic socks pulled up to her knees, he found himself slouching, while she pulled herself up as tight and tall as ever, her large breasts pushed out forward, as though guns ready to be fired. What more could she do? Ask him to stop so she could get some height from a cement planter? Hook her foot in a fence? He, sensing her frustration, sometimes wondered if it wouldn’t be best to just get it over with and pick her up. She was heavier than most short girls he knew—the elastic of her sports bra pushing out the excess flesh of her body—but he was stronger than he looked and wouldn’t mind the strain. Lately, though, he had the thought that he might not like women (or men) for any kissing whatsoever, a feeling that left him slack and weighted. Like today, all their walks took place in the middle of the afternoon, the summer heat drawing sweat from their necks, no time at all for two people to smash their faces together anyway.
When they made the turn towards the outdoor court, the pair saw them warming up. The group was running drills and shooting layups, doing a little give and go. This was the man’s favorite part: walking slower, hanging back to see his friends exposed as they were in their mesh basketball shorts and shoes, their nasty old t-shirts with the sleeves cut off. In five years, they would be too old. One had already gotten his ankle good and twisted a few months ago, and nobody could make it the full hour anymore without having to sub out. But there they were, clumsy and groping, calling out to each other in the waning hours of the summer afternoon, tossing up bricks, letting their voices get nice and loud.
After stretching, they divided themselves into threes, the tall man and the short woman on the same team. She gave hard, ugly passes to the man, who converted them into layups, at turns graceful, at others scrappy and ragged. If he missed, he’d scramble and elbow to his own rebound and go up again. Those not guarding him held back on the perimeter, slowly retreating, watching him push the ball up and over the lip of the rim with an ease they no longer knew.
The woman was guarding the dirty-blond wisecracker on the other team. He was scrawny, but beneath his faded grey t-shirt was the promise of a drinking man’s belly, pale skin, and a swirl of dark, wiry hair. She pushed her torso into his and threw her arms into the open spaces his limbs made.
“Hey, hey,” he said, “you’re going to have to buy me dinner first.” It wasn’t the only time he’d made this joke with her. He stepped back, smiling, and still dribbling, said, “Lil G, I can’t help but notice how you always seem to guard me.”
They called her Lil G. Even the tall man, too, found himself saying it, though no one had ever before called her the name. The others encouraged her, overencouraged her it sometimes seemed, though only in hindsight did the man wonder, Too much? He did not want her to think their encouragement was false, which would be worse, he decided, than no encouragement at all. Whereas she, in the moment of play, always thought, Oh, God, please stop, wondering why every unmade shot was met with clapping, with That’s okay, Lil G, keep taking those. Keep trying.
Body checking the wisecracker, she lunged for and got her hands on the ball, dribbling up to half court.
“Alright, alright, that’s a foul, little lady.”
“You fouled me.”
She stopped dribbling and tucked the ball into her hip. “I did not foul you. If you want me to foul you, I can show you what that looks like.”
“Whoa-ho,” he said, putting up his hands, “If you want to get close, all you have to do is ask.”
“Give me a break.”
“Come on, Lil G, everybody saw it.”
She looked past him to the others. “Any of you see anything?”
“Well…” the big guy in the headband said, looking down.
She raised her eyebrows at the tall man.
“It looked like a foul,” he shrugged, “but I couldn’t see that well.”
“Fine, whatever.” She shoved the ball into the wisecracker’s stomach. “I’m just going to get it back anyway,” she said smiling.
He bent down low and started dribbling, and she crouched down there with him. He passed the ball off to the big guy in the headband, who backed himself towards the hoop. His soft backside bounced off the tall man’s bony pelvis, once, twice, three times. The tall man had the feeling that, because of the physical similarities and differences between them, that this pushing back and forth, one against the other, could go on indefinitely, that neither of them would ever grind the other down. He could smell the sweat of the big guy and the sweat of himself, but mostly it was cut grass and flowers hanging their heads in the heat, and some other wet scent that he could not name as either earth or flesh. He felt warm and surrounded. The big guy, getting nowhere, tossed the ball back out to the wisecracker, but the woman jumped for it, her hand tipping the ball to half court. She and the wisecracker scrambled and then fell upon the ball, the cement of the court peeling skin from their elbows and knees. They pushed and pulled with the ball between their hands, she finally wrenching it free and, from the ground, throwing it out to no one in particular. The tall man jumped forward to receive it and then, turning, seeing an opening in the lane, charged ahead past his friends, who he loved, but who were not as fast as he was. He dug down low and then springing up into the air, he stretched out his body as long as he could against that sea of pale, loose arms. There was a strain and pulse in him, his arms circling and jerking, which made it seem like he wanted to go in several directions at once but couldn’t decide which. He took the ball in both hands, drifted up to the basket, and, pushing the ball through the hoop, hung onto the rim for what seemed like a very long time.
He came down hard, so hard that pins and tingles jetted up from his feet through his legs, and the muscles in his jaw and ears clenched tight. And yet he felt joy, such big joy in him, as a single, beautiful line pointing in any one confident direction, that he wanted to cry out in gratitude for being given what he’d been given, for doing what he’d done, which he knew, despite the adrenaline and life coursing through his body, would never be repeated again.
“Fuck, yeah,” he breathed. “Fuck.” He watched the ball roll off into the grass behind the hoop, where it came to a slow, but certain stop. He turned in order to find the others, to open his body up to them, but his friends, their arms and mouths slack, were facing toward half court. There the woman and the wisecracker were still down on the ground, fighting over something. The tall man took a step forward.
Straining against each other’s skin, their sweaty arms grappling, torsos squirming, the two of them wrestled each other’s sticky shirts over the other’s head, before shoving their faces together.
“Holy crap,” headband said.
“It’s about time,” said the bald one.
The tall man stood behind the rest of them. The pins and tingles returned, moving around with so much ecstasy in his limbs that he couldn’t make them do what he wanted them to, which was get him so much closer. He wanted to get as close as he could, to see if the energy there might pass into him, that they might all share it, but he stayed back, watching his friends watch their friends do what they needed to do. The man on the ground scrunched his face into the woman’s neck. The woman on the ground pursed her lips and exhaled, as though in pain, as though blowing out a candle. The sound the two of them were making reached their friends’ ears before the breeze disappeared it in the brown leaves swirling in the open court, while the sun, noiselessly tucking itself into the horizon, put a sharp golden light on all of their beautiful bodies.
Laura Adamczyk lives in Illinois. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, PANK, Sou’wester, and other fine journals.