Two on Two

"Once upon a time, a long time ago, I rambled through thickets of brawny power forwards and quicksilver cocksure guards and rooted ancient centers..."

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I rambled through thickets of brawny power forwards and quicksilver cocksure guards and rooted ancient centers, trying to slide smoothly to the hoop, trying to find space in the crowd to get off my shot, trying to maneuver at high speed with the ball around corners and hips and sudden angry elbows, the elbows of 20 years of men in grade school high school college the park the playground the men’s league the noon league the summer league, men as high as the 7-foot center I met violently during a summer league game, men as able as the college and professional players I was hammered by in playgrounds, men as fierce as the fellow who once took off his sweats and laid his shot-gun down by his cap before he trotted onto the court.

I got hurt, everyone does eventually; I got hurt enough to quit; back pains then back surgery then more surgeries; it was quit or walk, now I walk.

Illustration by Stephen Knezovich

The game receded, fell away, a part of me sliding into the dark like a rocket stage no longer part of the mission. Now I am married and here come my children: my lovely dark thoughtful daughter and then three years later suddenly my squirming twin electric sons and now my daughter is 4 and my sons are 1 each and yesterday my daughter and I played two on two against my sons on the lovely burnished oak floor of our dining room, the boys who just learned to walk staggering across the floor like drunken sailors and falling at the slightest touch, my daughter loud lanky in her orange socks sliding from place to place without benefit of a dribble but there is no referee only me on my knees, dribbling behind my back and trick-dribbling through the plump legs of the boys, their diapers sagging, my daughter shrieking with glee, the boys confused and excited, and I am weeping weeping weeping, in love with my perfect magic children, with the feel of the bright-red plastic tiny ball spinning in my hands, my arms at home in the old motions, my head and shoulders snapping fakes on the boys, who laugh; I pick up a loose ball near the dining room table and shuffle so slowly so slowly on my knees toward the toy basket 8 feet away, a mile, 100 miles, my children brushing against my thighs and shoulders like dreams like birds; Joe staggers toward me, reaches for the ball, I wrap it around my back to my left hand, which picks up rapid dribble, Joe loses balance and grabs my hair, Lily slides by suddenly and cuts Joe cleanly away, he takes a couple of hairs with him as he and Lily disappear in a tangle of limbs and laughs, a terrific moving pick, I would stop to admire it but here comes big Liam, lumbering along toward the ball as alluring and bright as the sun; crossover dribble back to my right hand, Liam drops like a stone, he spins on his bottom to stay with the play, I palm ball, show-fake and lean into short fallaway from 4 feet away, ball hits rim of basket and bounces straight up in the air, Lily slides back into picture and grabs my right hand but I lean east and with the left hand catch and slam the ball into the basket all in one motion; and it bounces off a purple plastic duck and rolls away again under the table, and I lie there on the floor as Joe pulls on my sock and Lily sits on my chest and Liam ever so gently so meticulously so daintily takes off my glasses, and I am happier than I have ever been, ever and ever, amen.

About the Author

Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle (1957–2017) was the longtime editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland and the author of many books of essays and fiction, most notably the novels Mink River and Martin Marten.

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