8 Matching Annotations
  1. Feb 2023
    1. Conversation Hey, JB, I played a pickup game at the Rec today. At first, the older guys laughed and wouldn’t let me in unless I could hit from half-court . . . Of course, I did. All net. I wait for JB to say something, but he just smiles, his eyes all moony. I showed them guys how the Bells ball. I scored fourteen points. They told me I should try out for junior varsity next year ’cause I got hops . . . JB, are you listening? JB nods, his fingers tapping away on the computer, chatting probably with Miss Sweet Tea. I told the big guys about you, too. They said we could come back and run with them anytime. What do you think about that? HELLO—Earth to JB? Even though I know he hears me, the only thing JB is listening to is the sound of his heart bouncing on the court of love.

      Conversation Dad, this girl is making Jordan act weird. He’s here, but he’s not. He’s always smiling. His eyes get all spacey whenever she’s around, and sometimes when she’s not. He wears your cologne. He’s always texting her. He even wore loafers to school. Dad, you gotta do something. Dad does something. He laughs. Filthy, talking to your brother right now would be like pushing water uphill with a rake, son. This isn’t funny, Dad. Say something to him. Please. Filthy, if some girl done locked up JB, he’s going to jail. Now let’s go get some doughnuts.

      Basketball Rule #5 When you stop playing your game you’ve already lost.

      Showoff UP by sixteen with six seconds showing, JB smiles, then STRUTS side steps stutters Spins, and SI NKS a sick SLICK SLIDING SWeeeeeeeeeeT SEVEN-foot shot. What a showoff.

      Out of Control Are you kidding me? Come on. Ref, open your eyes. Ray Charles could have seen that kid walked. CALL THE TRAVELING VIOLATION! You guys are TERRIBLE! Mom wasn’t at the game tonight, which meant that all night Dad was free to yell at the officials, which he did.

      Mom calls me into the kitchen after we get home from beating St. Francis. Normally she wants me to sample the macaroni and cheese to make sure it’s cheesy enough, or the oven-baked fried chicken to make sure it’s not greasy and stuff, but today on the table is some gross-looking orange creamy dip with brown specks in it. A tray of pita-bread triangles is beside it. Maybe Mom is having one of her book club meetings. Sit down, she says. I sit as far away from the dip as possible. Maybe the chicken is in the oven. Where is your brother? she asks. Probably on the phone with that girl. She hands me a pita. No thanks, I say, then stand up to leave, but she gives me a look that tells me she’s not finished with me. Maybe the mac is in the oven. We’ve talked to you two about your grandfather, she says. He was a good man. I’m sorry you never got to meet him, Josh. Me too, he looked cool in his uniforms. That man was way past cool. Dad said he used to curse a lot and talk about the war. Mom’s laugh is short, then she’s serious again. I know we told you Grandpop died after a fall, but the truth is he fell because he had a stroke. He had a heart disease. Too many years of bad eating and not taking care of himself and so— What does this have to do with anything? I ask, even though I think I already know. Well, our family has a history of heart problems, she says, so we’re going to start eating better. Especially Dad. And we’re going to start tonight with some hummus and pita bread. FOR MY VICTORY DINNER? Josh, we’re going to try to lay off the fried foods and Golden Dragon. And when your dad takes you to the recreation center, no Pollard’s or Krispy Kreme afterward, understand? And I understand more than she thinks I do. But is hummus really the answer?

      35–18 is the final score of game six. A local reporter asks JB and I how we got so good. Dad screams from behind us, They learned from Da Man! The crowd of parents and students behind us laughs. On the way home Dad asks if we should stop at Pollard’s. I tell him I’m not hungry, plus I have a lot of homework, even though I skipped lunch today and finished my homework during halftime.

      Too Good Lately, I’ve been feeling like everything in my life is going right: I beat JB in Madden. Our team is undefeated. I scored an A+ on the vocabulary test. Plus, Mom’s away at a conference, which means so is the Assistant Principal. I am a little worried, though, because, as Coach likes to say, you can get used to things going well, but you’re never prepared for something going wrong.

      I’m on Free Throw Number Twenty-Seven We take turns, switching every time we miss. JB has hit forty-one, the last twelve in a row. Filthy, keep up, man, keep up, he says. Dad laughs loud, and says, Filthy, your brother is putting on a free-throw clinic. You better— And suddenly he bowls over, a look of horror on his face, and starts coughing while clutching his chest, only no sound comes. I freeze. JB runs over to him. Dad, you okay? he asks. I still can’t move. There is a stream of sweat on Dad’s face. Maybe he’s overheating, I say. His mouth is curled up like a little tunnel. JB grabs the water hose, turns the faucet on full blast, and sprays Dad. Some of it goes in Dad’s mouth. Then I hear the sound of coughing, and Dad is no longer leaning against the car, now he’s moving toward the hose, and laughing. So is JB. Then Dad grabs the hose and sprays both of us. Now I’m laughing too, but only on the outside.

      He probably just got something stuck in his throat, JB says when I ask him if he thought Dad was sick and shouldn’t we tell Mom what happened. So, when the phone rings, it’s ironic that after saying hello, he throws the phone to me, because, even though his lips are moving, JB is speechless, like he’s got something stuck in his throat.

      i·ron·ic [AY-RON-IK] adjective Having a curious or humorous unexpected sequence of events marked by coincidence. As in: The fact that Vondie hates astronomy and his mom works for NASA is ironic. As in: It’s not ironic that Grandpop died in a hospital and Dad doesn’t like doctors. As in: Isn’t it ironic that showoff JB, with all his swagger, is too shy to talk to Miss Sweet Tea, so he gives me the phone?

      This Is Alexis—May I Please Speak to Jordan? Identical twins are no different from everyone else, except we look and sometimes sound exactly alike.

      Phone Conversation (I Sub for JB) Was that your brother? Yep, that was Josh. I’m JB. I know who you are, silly—I called you. Uh, right. You have any siblings, Alexis? Two sisters. I’m the youngest. And the prettiest. You haven’t seen them. I don’t need to. That’s sweet. Sweet as pomegranate. Okay, that was random. That’s me. Jordan, can I ask you something? Yep. Did you get my text? Uh, yeah. So, what’s your answer? Uh, my answer. I don’t know. Stop being silly, Jordan. I’m not. Then tell me your answer. Are y’all rich? I don’t know. Didn’t your dad play in the NBA? No, he played in Italy. But still, he made a lot of money, right? It’s not like we’re opulent. Who says “opulent”? I do. You never use big words like that at school . . . I have a reputation to uphold. Is he cool? Who? Your dad. Very. So, when are you gonna introduce me? Introduce you? To your parents. I’m waiting for the right moment. Which is when? Uh— So, am I your girlfriend or not? Uh, can you hold on for a second? Sure, she says. Cover the mouthpiece, JB mouths to me. I do, then whisper to him: She wants to know are you her boyfriend. And when are you gonna introduce her to Mom and Dad. What should I tell her, JB? Tell her yeah, I guess, I mean, I don’t know. I gotta pee, JB says, running out of the room, leaving me still in his shoes. Okay, I’m back, Alexis. So, what’s the verdict, Jordan? Do you want to be my girlfriend? Are you asking me to be your girl? Uh, I think so. You think so? Well, I have to go now. Yes. Yes, what? I like you. A lot. I like you, too . . . Precious. So, now I’m Precious? Everyone calls you JB. Then I guess it’s official. Text me later. Good night, Miss Sweet— What did you call me? Uh, good night, my sweetness. Good night, Precious. JB comes running out of the bathroom. What’d she say, Josh? Come on, tell me. She said she likes me a lot, I tell him. You mean she likes me a lot? he asks. Yeah . . . that’s what I meant.

      JB and I eat lunch together every day, taking bites of Mom’s tuna salad on wheat between arguments: Who’s the better dunker, Blake or LeBron? Which is superior, Nike or Converse? Only today I wait at our table in the back for twenty-five minutes, texting Vondie (home sick), eating a fruit cup (alone), before I see JB strut into the cafeteria with Miss Sweet Tea holding his precious hand.

      Boy walks into a room with a girl. They come over. He says, Hey, Filthy McNasty like he’s said forever, but it sounds different this time, and when he snickers, she does too, like it’s some inside joke, and my nickname, some dirty punch line.

      At practice Coach says we need to work on our mental game. If we think we can beat Independence Junior High— the defending champions, the number one seed, the only other undefeated team— then we will. But instead of drills and sprints, we sit on our butts, make weird sounds— Ohmmmmmmmm Ohmmmmmmmm— and meditate. Suddenly I get this vision of JB in a hospital. I quickly open my eyes, turn around, and see him looking dead at me like he’s just seen a ghost.

      Second-Person After practice, you walk home alone. This feels strange to you, because as long as you can remember there has always been a second person. On today’s long, hot mile, you bounce your basketball, but your mind is on something else. Not whether you will make the playoffs. Not homework. Not even what’s for dinner. You wonder what JB and his pink Reebok–wearing girlfriend are doing. You do not want to go to the library. But you go. Because your report on The Giver is due tomorrow. And JB has your copy. But he’s with her. Not here with you. Which is unfair. Because he doesn’t argue with you about who’s the greatest, Michael Jordan or Bill Russell, like he used to. Because JB will not eat lunch with you tomorrow or the next day, or next week. Because you are walking home by yourself and your brother owns the world.

      Third Wheel You walk into the library, glance over at the music section. You look through the magazines. You even sit at a desk and pretend to study. You ask the librarian where you can find The Giver. She says something odd: Did you find your friend? Then she points upstairs. On the second floor, you pass by the computers. Kids checking their Facebook. More kids in line waiting to check their Facebook. In the Biography section you see an old man reading The Tipping Point. You walk down the last aisle, Teen Fiction, and come to the reason you’re here. You remove the book from the shelf. And there, behind the last row of books, you find the “friend” the librarian was talking about. Only she’s not your friend and she’s kissing your brother.

      tip·ping point [TIH-PING POYNT] noun The point when an object shifts from one position into a new, entirely different one. As in: My dad says the tipping point of our country’s economy was housing gamblers and greedy bankers. As in: If we get one C on our report cards, I’m afraid Mom will reach her tipping point and that will be the end of basketball. As in: Today at the library, I went upstairs, walked down an aisle, pulled The Giver off the shelf, and found my tipping point.

      The main reason I can’t sleep is not because of the game tomorrow tonight, is not because the stubble on my head feels like bugs are break dancing on it, is not even because I’m worried about Dad. The main reason I can’t sleep tonight is because Jordan is on the phone with Miss Sweet Tea and between the giggling and the breathing he tells her how much she’s the apple of his eye and that he wants to peel her and get under her skin and give me a break. I’m still hungry and right about now I wish I had an apple of my own.

      Surprised I have it all planned out. When we walk to the game I will talk to JB man to man about how he’s spending way more time with Alexis than with me and Dad. Except when I hear the horn, I look outside my window and it’s raining and JB is jumping into a car with Miss Sweet Tea and her dad, ruining my plan.

      Conversation In the car I ask Dad if going to the doctor will kill him. He tells me he doesn’t trust doctors, that my grandfather did and look where it got him: six feet under at forty-five. But Mom says your dad was really sick, I tell him, and Dad just rolls his eyes, so I try something different. I tell him that just because your teammate gets fouled on a lay-up doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever drive to the lane again. He looks at me and laughs so loud, we almost don’t hear the flashing blues behind us.

      Game Time: 6:00 p.m. At 5:28 p.m. a cop pulls us over because Dad has a broken taillight. At 5:30 the officer approaches our car and asks Dad for his driver’s license and registration. At 5:32 the team leaves the locker room and pregame warm-ups begin without me. At 5:34 Dad explains to the officer that his license is in his wallet, which is in his jacket at home. At 5:37 Dad says, Look, sir, my name is Chuck Bell, and I’m just trying to get my boy to his basketball game. At 5:47 while Coach leads the Wildcats in team prayer, I pray Dad won’t get arrested. At 5:48 the cop smiles after verifying Dad’s identity on Google, and says, You “Da Man”! At 5:50 Dad autographs a Krispy Kreme napkin for the officer and gets a warning for his broken taillight. At 6:01 we arrive at the game but on my sprint into the gym I slip and fall in the mud.

      This is my second year playing for the Reggie Lewis Wildcats and I’ve started every game until tonight, when Coach tells me to go get cleaned up then find a seat on the bench. When I try to tell him it wasn’t my fault, he doesn’t want to hear about sirens and broken taillights. Josh, better an hour too soon than a minute too late, he says, turning his attention back to JB and the guys on the court, all of whom are pointing and laughing at me.

      Basketball Rule #6 A great team has a good scorer with a teammate who’s on point and ready to assist.

      Josh’s Play-by-Play At the beginning of the second half we’re up twenty-three to twelve. I enter the game for the first time. I’m just happy to be back on the floor. When my brother and I are on the court together this team is unstoppable, unfadeable. And, yes, undefeated. JB brings the ball up the court. Passes the ball to Vondie. He shoots it back to JB. I call for the ball. JB finds me in the corner. I know y’all think it’s time for the pick-and-roll, but I got something else in mind. I get the ball on the left side. JB is setting the pick. Here it comes— I roll to his right. The double-team is on me, leaving JB free. He’s got his hands in the air, looking for the dish from me. Dad likes to say, When Jordan Bell is open you can take his three to the bank, cash it in, ’cause it’s all money. Tonight, I’m going for broke. I see JB’s still wide open. McDonald’s drive-thru open. But I got my own plans. The double-team is still on me like feathers on a bird. Ever seen an eagle soar? So high, so fly. Me and my wings are— and that’s when I remember: MY. WINGS. ARE. GONE. Coach Hawkins is out of his seat. Dad is on his feet, screaming. JB’s screaming. The crowd’s screaming, FILTHY, PASS THE BALL! The shot clock is at 5. I dribble out of the double-team. 4 Everything comes to a head. 3I see Jordan. 2 You want it that bad? HERE YA GO! 1 . . .

      Before Today, I walk into the gym covered in more dirt than a chimney. When JB screams FILTHY’S McNasty, the whole team laughs. Even Coach. Then I get benched for the entire first half. For being late. Today, I watch as we take a big lead, and JB makes four threes in a row. I hear the crowd cheer for JB, especially Dad and Mom. Then I see JB wink at Miss Sweet Tea after he hits a stupid free throw. Today, I finally get into the game at the start of the second half. JB sets a wicked pick for me just like Coach showed us in practice, And I get double-teamed on the roll just like we expect. Today, I watch JB get open and wave for me to pass. Instead I dribble, trying to get out of the trap, and watch as Coach and Dad scream for me to pass. Today, I plan on passing the ball to JB, but when I hear him say “FILTHY, give me the ball,” I dribble over to my brother and fire a pass so hard, it levels him, the blood from his nose still shooting long after the shotclock buzzer goes off.

  2. Nov 2022
    1. sportswriters used to talk about how Larry Bird could look at a newspaper photograph from any game he’d played as a Boston Celtic and recall where everyone else had been on the court at that moment, knowledge that informed his play every time he brought the ball forward.
  3. Aug 2022
  4. Apr 2021
  5. Aug 2020