On the Saturday after that terrible Friday, a cougar dragged a carcass across the lawn. Feeling ripe for steep and senseless wagers, I went out and stood near the animal to see if it would kill me. Well it did not and in fact hardly looked over, so I took the last of the sock drawer cash down to the Cactus Lei and laid it with all my health and dignity 12-to-1 against Dallas.
But Nowitzki had been lagging of late, sagging of late, and it was always a good play (or never a bad one) to fade the aged white man on his home floor.
Plus Atlanta had this little point guard who could run around and make things happen. He didn’t know the plays and was sloppy, but he was productive in violent spurts. You could take him for the water boy gone parentless, rouge, until he set himself ablaze and reeled off fifteen to close a half. I’d seen both sides of it and knew both to be real, and possible. The amateur only considers what is probable.
I settled myself next to a pear-shaped pornographer, Dennis, as the game tipped-off.
The little point guard started flat, and lowly. He shot ropes and did not give chase. He reached and did not bend at the waist. He danced without purpose. Threw darts from the elbow. One time he staggered out of bounds and stared vacantly into the seats before a teammate returned him by the hand to play. He looked like cigarettes. Bone dry at the lips. His handle was loose and childlike. His nose ran and he closed his eyes during timeouts. He was suffering.
Meanwhile Nowitzki dealt as of old. The twine smoldered and the rims gave all. He shot bonafide pillows. Sent them in like fairy dust through contact. He slung one-handers to this sidekick, to that sidekick. Baseline. Pocket. Crosscourt. And just my luck, all the sidekicks were coming in hot too, laying the ball up onto those mother rims and clanging their broken jumpers right in there. Bang, bang, bang. Backboard. Front iron. Back iron. Bang. Their free throws looked dead in flight and came down as such—no surprise there.
Yet it all went in.
By mid-second their lead ballooned while the little point guard sat straight-legged, head slung back with a towel over his face. A few suits stood before him, blocking view. Others sidled over to have a look or a say. Was he dead? I drank and stared at the table. When I looked back he was gone. Removed.
“Dead?” I asked.
“Dead or dying,” Dennis said. He smelled good and hadn’t bothered me. I liked that in a stranger.
“Sad if true.”
“I bet it all on the kid.”
“Everybody knows,” he said. “Word is there’s no sense robbing you after this one. And see how they look at you? They’re all one foot in on Dallas. Catwalking. Fetishizing their poise and conservatism. They feel they cannot die.”
Then he began showing me pictures. Many nudes, but some paintings too—portraits and scenes.
“Right here. My girl painted this one of a white horse roaming Manhattan. See how they could give a shit? I mean you couldn’t pay one of these guys to look from his paper or phone at that thing. All heads always down. Same for the cars. They just go around him. How’s a white horse supposed to get on like that? Where will he go? What will he do? Can he be fulfilled?”
“It’s a metaphor for a go I had with a cougar this morning.”
“I doubt that. A cougar isn’t so dangerous to begin with.”
“Would your girl still paint it?”
Dennis belched quietly and tapped at his phone. Meanwhile the second half began without the little point guard, in his place one of those old shifty butterballs. Gentleman of the game. Half-alive body with a brain. Let them take, is the coaching around these old boys (generally one for each team). So I became hopeful. I knew the sentiment to be profitable, and in fact this scenario began to play out.
The soft belly took the ball around like it was terminal, laying it in featherly, giving it that knowing high arc, cradling, caressing, at times standing with it on his wide hip, idle, as if waiting for a train while the defense slept. He strolled. He bowled. And nobody cared. The commentators chatted of other things, minutiae, while Dallas seemed not to realize the score. We were in business, down only seven to close the third.
News of the little point guard’s death began to break. Not officially confirmed. Dennis looked to his phone.
“Okay, she’ll do it.”
“Don’t be. She’s desperate after that horse pic. Thinks it her best. That it’s all over now.”
The fourth quarter mirrored the third. The old boy on roam, even a man alone, diving on his own loose balls, rebounding his own misses, airing it out. The final horn sounded: Atlanta, Winner.
The greatest comeback in team history.
Though by then the tragedy of the little point guard was being absorbed by all. Players did not linger, fans left quickly and quietly as well, thinking of their own deaths. Only soft belly remained, alone at midcourt, arms raised triumphant, defiant, proud. He stayed awhile.
At home Bryn was standing, waiting.
I showed her the money order. The big win. She cried out, then drew within herself and became tearful.
“Will the kids forgive and respect us now?”
“No,” I said. “Not for this one. Though I feel their love must return of its own. Anyway. The real good news—”
“Is I’ve commissioned us a painting!”
“Our first original art?”
Then we were in each other’s arms kissing wildly. Madly.
Must all stories always be sad? It had been a good day.