The Basketball Court Oath
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Liberty"
Originally featured on 07-02-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

 

Mr. Andrews told his fourth period European History class that if it weren’t for the intense heat that summer in 1789, then there might not have been a French Revolution. His students all wore sports jackets, of course, and ties and the room was air conditioned and the school was expensive and they were all fifteen or sixteen and in that class were best friends Francois Gabriel and John Bailey. Mr. Andrews stroked the blond bristle on his face as he further explained from his podium that—sure, there had been mismanagement of government money, corruption as can be expected with any government, a very obvious unfairness in the taxation practices between the nobility and the average citizen—but…if that summer had simply been a bit milder, a bit less humid, then perhaps the peoples’ blood wouldn’t have reached a boil. Mr. Andrews then left his podium to wander a bit around the classroom and the material and to explain that most revolutions happen during the summer. He asked the sport-jacketed air-conditioned primarily upper-middle-classed class to think about how it is to work during a really hot summer. For it’s something about being downtrodden during the summer, about having that sticky sweat dripping down your face day after day—perhaps that and the boredom that goes along with being downtrodden—because what do the ruling classes really require of their downtrodden except that they remain downtrodden?—working their routinely unsatisfying yet physically taxing jobs and routinely paying their disproportionate taxes and routinely watching their loved ones wanting more and routinely not being able to provide it, as they routinely sweat into the shirts sticking to their chests under which their hearts beat progressively harder and more arrhythmic until the blood coursing from vein to vein gets hotter and thicker and then—snap!

 

***

 

John and Francois remained friends long after their four years attending high school together. John and Francois both went to separate but equally good colleges and studied different but equally challenging things and then eventually graduated and got equally shitty jobs due to the recession. They shot hoops after work, setting up trick plays and doing the commentary on their games of one-on-one. Often, they assigned prophetic value to shots before taking them.

“If I make this one,” asserted John at the three-point line, “then I’ll be hired by Synaptrac Industries to take over the vast responsibilities of being their ‘Computer Technician Level I’ and they’ll trust me deeply to make sure that all the computers at Synaptrac’s headquarters will be technically sound, including those of the levels II and III Technicians, which will, after a time, garner me their trust and I’ll soon join their ranks, maybe even skipping level II and going right to level III, which I’m sure gets an expense account to buy printer ink and shit, so then I’ll be able to misappropriate that money to get us season tickets. We’ll be right down there with Patrick Ewing, eye-to-eye with Ewing, and he’ll eventually start knowing us by sight. If I make this one, then we’ll know Patrick Ewing. You rooting for me yet?”

Francois shrugged. John shot.

“Fuck!” yelled John as the ball clanged off of the side of the rim. Francois grabbed the rebound and lined up at the foul line.

“If I make this one,” asserted Francois, “then that girl down at Island Pizza will look at me the next time we go in there, and she’ll be wearing that short red skirt that she wears when it’s hot — you know the one that gives everybody that goes in there the biggest hard on, yeah that one, and I’ll get my usual and then when I go to drop a couple of bucks in the tip jar, she’ll be bending over to wipe down the front of the ovens with that dirty ass rag they use and she’ll turn to me, still bending over and say ‘don’t bother tipping me, just save that money for when you take me out on Friday’ and then, guess what?, she’ll slap her own ass, right in front of everyone there. And I’ll take the couple of bucks back out of the tip jar and I’ll accidentally take a couple of bucks more out with it because, let’s face it, I need to take that girl somewhere cool, and then we’ll go out and eventually have sex in the back of the station wagon to the Sex Pistols and that sex will be so life-threateningly amazing that she’ll give both of us free Calzones for life on one condition, and you know what that one condition is, I’ll tell you, it’s that I marry her. And I’ll do it too, because you’re my friend and that money we’re gonna save on Calzones is gonna buy a lot of things for us. You rooting for me, buddy?”

John nodded. Francois shot.

“Swish! Free Calzones for life, starting Friday.”

 

***

 

John and Francois eventually found better jobs. They continued to hang out regularly after work, shooting hoops and grabbing Calzones. John got a job doing technical support over the phone, which he mostly hated, but kind of liked in that he was treated like a genius when he actually could help the person solve the problem over the phone. Francois found himself working as the assistant to the Assistant Editor in charge of Classified ads for the Daily News. Francois and John also had relative successes on the romantic front. John found himself at one point casually seeing three girls, which they both referred to from then on as the ‘Three-Peat of 2004.’ Francois eventually did ask out the girl from Island pizza, the one with tight red skirt, and they went out and she was a little crazy, as it turned out, but they did make out for a few minutes of the date. No sex to the Sex Pistols and by that point Francois had his own car instead of his dad’s station wagon. They made it to a total of 7 Knicks games during that season.

Around the same time, in the spring of 2005, John and Francois both found girlfriends. It happened slowly, but by the beginning of the summer of 2006, John and Francois hardly saw one another. Francois had moved in with his girlfriend, Marie, and John had retained his apartment, not too far from Francois and Marie’s place, but spent almost every night at his girlfriend, Annette’s, place. The two remained incredibly friendly on the phone and both managed to call the other with appropriate frequency, but the rhythm of their friendship was noticeably different to both of them. Marie and John didn’t get along according to Marie, although John had no ill will towards her until he heard that they ‘didn’t get along.’ John’s girlfriend had never met Francois and had no desire to, even though John got along well with her friends and family, she seemed entirely disinterested in meeting Francois. John told himself that she was just too busy keeping up with all her friends.

It just so happened that the summer of 2006 was a hot summer in New York. By June, the city had declared itself in the midst of a heat wave. It also just so happened that both Marie and Annette were out of town for Labor Day weekend. So the two seemed to call one another simultaneously on that Friday, as if answering a silent calling, and ended up shooting hoops for the first time in months. They went to their favorite court, grabbed Slurpees along the way, and by 5pm that evening they were firing up three pointers. But there weren’t any life-changing shots to be made. Not until John tried to send one up, and all he could think of to say was, “If I make this, maybe Annette will care about meeting you.”

Then he missed.

Then Francois grabbed the ball and said, “If I make this, maybe Marie will stop harassing me about getting married, given that I’m only 24.”

Then he missed.

It went on and on like that. All their shots aimed at inequities within their relationships. All misses.

Then, they made the oath.

“If we both make our next shots, then by Labor Day, we’ll both be single.”

John shot first. He shot from the center of the three-point line. The ball sailed from his hands, a rainbow of backspin cutting through humid air, and swished through the net.

Francois grabbed the rebound and headed to the same spot on the court. He spun the ball to himself, took a breath and then let it go.

The shot arced high through the air, long enough that John and Francois had time to look one another in the eye for a moment before turning to watch it fall.

When it finally fell, the ball’s gravity brought it down with such force that it made a loud snapping sound as it crashed through the net.

 

Read More By Doug Dean

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