The Love of the Game – Anthony Palumbo

Jackson throws his backpack onto an empty couch. Every morning, Jackson’s mother is sitting on the couch, covered in stains from her spilled drinks, holding her bottle of Jack Daniels. Each morning the same confrontation occurs. His mother, drunk, yells, “Jackson! Where y’think y’r goin, boy?!”

“To school, Mom.”

Jackson then proceeds silently out the door.

Jackson’s mother was never home after he got back from school. He never really knew where she was, he just assumed she was out. Buying more whiskey or actually going to work at the job of the week she found.  She wasn’t why he wanted to come home so badly in this afternoon.

Jackson passed the couch on the way to the kitchen to get a quick snack before he went out.  He reached into the pantry and grabbed a pack of Oreos. They were a rare treat at his house, and when they were there, he was always too late. On a normal day, Jackson always got home after his brothers, meaning there were none left.  But today was special. Not only was he there in time to get the Oreos all for himself, but it was Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Jackson’s school got out early, and he got extra time in the evenings.  On Wednesdays, he and his buddy Dean would head down to the park for pickup basketball.  Wednesdays were the highlight of his week: he could never go a second of the day without thinking about the game later. In the game, Jackson’s mind was free, it was the only way he knew how to forget what waited for him at home.

After Jackson got something to eat, he and Dean would meet in front of the building.  Jackson lived on the second floor, Dean lived on the eighth, which meant Jackson would always be there first.  Jackson usually used the time to practice some of his moves, that he had been working on for the week’s game. Then Dean came down and they walked to the park.

The park was two blocks away, but the boys ran as fast as they could, those two blocks, letting out some excitement, finally let to be free.

As Jackson walked up to the slab of concrete, his pupils dilated, and he started to breathe from someplace deeper, less shallow, than when he was anyplace else. This court was his sanctum, his safe haven from all the madness.  The court was full with the usual crowd, friends from his high school and the boys down the block. The game was always the school boys versus the neighborhood boys.

When it was Jackson’s turn to go in, he couldn’t help feeling unstoppable. When the ball got in his hand, everything else slowed down and the world became this quiet, private place in his head. In it, existed only the orange sphere under his fingers and the court before him. Cross over, then between the legs, then into a two-handed dunk. He was one of the best, he could take on any opponent that came to him.  But it wasn’t just a game. It was his love for the game that helped him get away.

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