This is the forty-sixth in a series of fifty-two weekly very short stories I’m posting. Today’s story honors March Madness. Thank you for reading.
Mick found a well-played game of basketball to be about the most profound and beautiful thing he knew in this life, but because he was nearsighted, slow, clumsy, easily winded, and five feet four inches tall, the only way for him to participate in the game in its fully realized and sublime form was to bet on the performance of professional teams. Only then did the degree of Mick’s personal investment in each moment of the game and in its outcome approach that of an actual player. This same degree of investment caused him to bet on the teams with which he felt a bond of similarity, and so he bet repeatedly on a certain Eastern Conference team that played with the most heart. Mick’s current indebtedness to his bookie was upward of two hundred times the amount of money he possessed or was likely to soon possess. One of the reasons he had moved—temporarily, he hoped—from his two-bedroom ranch home into the inexpensive motel room on the warped mattress of whose double bed he now lay staring at the ceiling, was not to hear his home phone ring when his bookie called, since Mick lived more vividly through his senses than through concepts. On this winter afternoon, the frigid air blew into Mick’s motel room under its unevenly hung door. As he wrapped the polyester blanket around his shoulders, his alarm clock rang, signaling the start of a game between his favorite team and their most formidable adversary. He turned on the TV to watch it and heard a sharp knock at the door. He sat on the foot of the bed for the tip-off, and just as the opposing team scored its first basket he heard a second, sharper knock. Mick went to the door, looked through the peephole. Standing outside in the cold was Yuri, an oversized employee of Mick’s bookie. Mick opened the door and invited him in. “The game just started.” Yuri glanced at the TV and frowned. “You shouldn’t be watching that.” “I’m not betting on it.” “I know you’re not. Do you have anything for me today?” “Seventy dollars.” “Seventy dollars is less than one percent of your debt. He needs at least ten percent.” “I don’t have it, Yuri.” Yuri frowned and looked again at the TV, where the game that had brought him together with Mick was being played with fury and grace. Mick said, “Sit and watch it with me for a bit.” Yuri shrugged, walked slowly to the only chair in the room, and lowered his significant bulk into it. Mick sat back down on the bed, and they watched the game they both loved. Mick said, “Have you ever played?” “Tried, but I’ve broken so many of my fingers that my ball handling is crude. I’m going to have to hurt you today.” A guard for Mick’s team threw a bounce pass to the other guard. A quick and long-armed forward for the other team intercepted it, dribbled the ball down to his team’s end of the court, and scored an easy layup. It had been a beautiful pass, if not in the execution then in the intention.