A short story (1656 words) published November 2011 in EdgePiece. This is what I intend as the canonical version. EdgePiece introduced a few typos in the version they posted, at least one of which made it into the audio adaptation.
by Majnun Ben-David
The women playing basketball aren’t very good -- not that I’d be any better -- and only once do I see the ball arc through the sagging hoop. Oddly it takes no talent for sport to tell whether a shot is destined to go in, as with each there comes a point where you instinctively know one way or the other. Not that I care; I’m comfortable here on the bleachers staring into the sun and making my eyes hurt, listening to the slap of the ball on the pavement and the curses the women yell at each other in English and Spanish and mixes of both.
I remember when I went to a basketball game my sophomore year of college and my seat number was called out at halftime to try a shot to win a semester’s worth of pizza. I stayed in my seat, thinking maybe they’d have to call another number, but my roommate, mistaking my horror for surprise, pulled me up and I stumbled down to the court. Maybe five times before I had handled a basketball, and the hoop looked impossibly distant. Even focusing on the basket was hard for me, as I kept thinking about how all the many many people in the stands were going to be laughing at my pathetic lack of coordination. The announcer finished and gestured for me to proceed. Not wanting to be out there in front of everyone any longer than I had to, I immediately hurled the ball towards the basket. All I really remember now is how, as I watched the ball in the air, I began to realize that it might -- no, that it would -- go in, which it did. After, I just stood there as the noise washed over me, trying to hold on to the visceral feeling of, in the space of a few seconds, judging a thing impossible, then probable, then certain.
The guards are calling us in from the yard now and as we pass the security station the woman searches us, like some overworked pentecostal preacher laying hands on the multitudes. I am in prison, and will be for another month yet. Those words still sound strange to me. Until I came here I had never known anyone who had been to prison, or if I did I wasn’t aware of it. As a child I remember being curious one summer about jail because I had somehow gotten the idea that being a prisoner was a voluntary thing, a career choice like being a doctor or a firefighter. Even as an adult I could never really picture what it would be like to be incarcerated. Whenever I saw a story in the newspaper about a woman being sent to prison, I would stop reading for a second and try to imagine what that would be like, and all that ever came to mind was blank white. Unknowingly I had almost gotten it right, except it is really a cement grey blank.
You might then assume I was surprised when a judge, who I think looked like my grandfather I know only from old photographs, sentenced me to five months in prison. I wasn’t surprised at all; I had known for some time it was going to happen that way and I just sighed, with relief more than anything, but my lawyer put his hand on my shoulder to steady me anyway, which was the only time he ever touched me.
When I say I am bored and sometimes a little frightened here I do not mean that I lack something to do or that I am afraid of getting hurt. I mean that I saw my future in a hotel room almost a year ago and turned my life into a book whose story I already know. The story started, I suppose, with one of the few real surprises in my life. It was an August afternoon and I was sitting by the pool at my co-worker Lori’s house when I realized that Jacob had fallen for me. Yes, by that time we had gone out to dinner, and even had one quick kiss at my door that made me feel like I was back in high school again, but the moment when he looked at me as he stepped out of the pool was something altogether different, like the difference between watching a movie of someone sky-diving and actually jumping out of an airplane yourself.
The sweet days followed, and even now I think of them much as I do the long vacations of my childhood, as unvarnished, unironic joy. I had assumed that someone I found right would have at most only a casual interest in me, as if it were a law of physics that the amount of desire in the universe should be held constant, and as mine increased his must diminish. So it was with a sense that a fundamental tenet of being had been set aside just for my personal benefit that I moved in with Jacob. We adjusted to life together, learned where our sharp corners were and filed them down, shaped ourselves to one another so that while lying in bed in the morning or smoking out on the porch in the dusk we would lose track of our individual selves in contented silence.
If I could fence in my memories I would lay barbed wire down right after one of those evenings on the porch. What we did and said that evening I have no idea. You never remember the time just before, the day before the day you learn your father is dead, the night before the night you lose your virginity. I do remember washing dishes the next night, and looking over at him sitting in the living room with his glass of wine, his head tilted back on our faded green couch as he stared at the ceiling, and realizing then that I was losing him. Whether he would actually leave me I was not sure for Jacob periodically stilled my shaking faith, like one morning after breakfast when he suddenly hugged me tight, saying nothing, and for a long while after he let go I could still feel the creases his jacket had imprinted on my face.
Not too long after that I saw that I had lost him. The phone rang one night and he got up quickly and I saw it in the way he moved, even though it was just a man trying to get us to change our long distance phone company. When he told me that he was going out of town on business the next week, I was nauseous, my body in distress at knowing he would not be alone. I tried to hide that realization from myself, to pretend it wasn’t true, because it made the good memories, the good things, hurt as it hurts to look at your childhood room as you leave it behind when you move away. But such knowledge is inescapable, so while you may forget it for a moment as you change the coffee filter or turn on your computer at work, it always comes back, and quickly.
That week I saw the vultures circling, and while they sometimes winged out of sight it was never for very long. I got home from taking him to the airport and then, when I could stand it no longer, decided to go after him. It was as an outsider to myself that I heard my voice reserve a room at his hotel and make the flight arrangements, and I didn’t really feel I was in me again until I was checking in at the hotel and getting his room number from the clerk. Even then I had to take a slow walk around the lobby breathing that conditioned hotel air before I felt I was in me, in real life.
I know that when I was in the lobby I had no idea what I was going to do or where it would lead. Nor did I as I rode the elevator to his floor, breathing deeply and slowly. It was only as I was walking down the hall, moving faster and faster until I was running up to his door and pounding on it, that I realized I maybe intended more than just discovery, and it wasn’t until he opened the door a crack and I pushed it hard back into him that I knew I was there for retribution. As he backed away and I saw her in the bed, I thought of violence and I knew then that even though I am a woman of little strength I would shove him through the sliding glass door and onto the balcony. And I knew, and hated myself for knowing, that I would spring upon her still cringing in the bed and pull roughly at her breasts yelling is this what you want? and clench her bare crotch hard with my fingers yelling is this what you want? is this what you want?
I stare out the window of my cell as the orange orb of the sun slides behind the prison wall. The basketballs are scattered about in the yard below me, each perfectly still now, their shadows like deceptive landmarks flagging a haphazard course to nowhere. Motionless they hold no interest for me. Instead I focus on the wisps of light glancing off the top of the wall, the rays colliding with the pane of window glass to produce darts of light flashing along random angles.
During those moments in the hotel I had the serenity of an actress who knows her lines stone cold. Now when I try to imagine what is beyond these walls I can picture only blank white. I lose hold of the narrative of my life and fear for where it may fall.
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