Once the games begin, they go on for hours, everyone yelling and cheering, people smoking and drinking, players fighting, the rhythmic thump of hip-hop knocking through the dark
prairie night. The winners stay on the court, so we wait a long
time to get a game, and once we’re on, the play is fierce—but
we stay on. Bruce is thick in the chest and strong. Though a few
inches shorter than me, he can take two dribbles and hammer
the ball through the iron. Randy is tall and quick. He looks all
elbows and knees but spins like the wind. His long hair flying,
he slips through swaths of streetlight and rolls the ball o= the
backboard and in. It doesn’t take long before whoever’s playing
defense on me starts sagging back to help out on Randy, who
usually scores anyway. Near the end of our fourth or fifth game,
Randy slices into the key and leaps and, somehow, kicks the ball
back out to me. I bobble it but am so wide open it doesn’t matter:
I have all the time in the world. I dribble and aim, shoot. It’s a
three-pointer. I hit it. My first bucket of the night. Randy brushes
back his long black hair, points at me and lifts his chin, says I
shoot like an Indian.
I leave the Little Big Horn the next day, drive home. Bruce
and I write a few more letters, but we lose touch. I don’t really
mind. I’ve seen now how things can change, how distance and
di=erence may remake us. I study as hard as I always have,
and in my senior year I apply for every scholarship I can find
and even get quite a few of them. I lie in the tall grass back of
the house, susurrus of cottonwood leaves above me, the pages
of a novel my sky.
And I think of that single shot. I almost held onto it, waited
until Randy was open again and passed the ball back to him. If it
had been Bruce that passed it to me, I might have done just that.
But it wasn’t. And I didn’t. I shot it. I see the ball arcing above us,
turning and turning, and at its zenith disappearing for a moment
in the high prairie dark before dropping again into the light.
If there had been a flood, a true flood, the dark and frothing waters slewing across the plain, our house would certainly have
sheared from its moorings, drifted like a drunk, and sunk.
The foundation was bad. There was a great long crack in the
stone and cement of the south wall of the basement. When a summer storm thundered through, or when a chinook wind came whistling up from the south and the snow melted in a matter of hours,
water sieved from that crack. The plaster came away in chunks
then, and the water came even quicker, muddier. My brother and I
swept the water to the sump pump in the corner, shoveled out the
mud. More than once, the pump burned out trying to keep pace
with the rain. Then, until we could get to town to get the right part,
the whole basement would fill and stink, and mosquitoes would
breed. Beyond the sodden books and ruined rug and shorted-out
freezer — those hundreds of pounds of bloody, stinking, worm-rank
meat — we knew the house itself might not hold. The south foundation wall might buckle, causing the house above to sway and lean.
So one summer I dug a trench around the perimeter, some
three feet down, and dumped in bag after bag of powdered bentonite, which hardens when water hits it, and then packed dirt