Marvin Shackelford

          The preacher in his black suit leans over my grandmother in her hospital bed and prays. He wrings his hands and asks for healing mercies and Thy will be done and intervention in a low but high-pitched whisper. He builds to the power and majesty of our Heavenly Father. He calls after the God that healed the lepers’ spots and spared the first-born Hebrew sons. He comes to a head shouting and keening for Jesus who made the lame to walk and the blind to see, who walked on water and raised Lazarus from the grave. Then he reaches out and slaps my grandmother on the forehead, once and then a second time a little harder. She rocks in the bed a little but isn’t awake to feel it, won’t wake again as best we can tell. She isn’t here. Thy will be done, the preacher says again. Across the bed his wife holds my mother up. She weeps on the older woman’s shoulder, nodding her head over and over in answer to a question I missed. The doctor behind us lets out a long breath, unperturbed and unfazed. I guess he’s seen it all. In a room across the hall a Braves game plays on TV; they’re playing at Cincinnati and trying to put it away, and I get up and leave before everyone else revives. This whole wing of the nursing home reeks of piss, and I don’t know how anyone stands it. Out in the street behind the parking lot some kids have dragged a basketball goal out onto the pavement. It’s not quite dark. They run and bounce and spring into and off each other, driving to the hoop shirtless and sweaty. Every so often a car passes and they stand not too carefully to the side. They eye the drivers like they’d do them harm. After a while they come across and ask for cigarettes, and I give them some. They argue over Curry and Lebron, who’s the best of all time, and I tell them Larry Bird once put up 47 with his off hand just because he was bored. They pish and posh and I promise Jordan was better still. They don’t believe. But everything fades with time. We walk out in the street and play a complicated game of HORSE. It takes on extra letters that don’t really spell anything. We shoot left-handed, angled oddly from the curb behind the backboard, from all the way across the street with cars passing in front of us. Spin the ball at the tip of our fingers, bounce once, release. Off glass. I search my way into the ritual of the game, where I and it become something else. We play and smoke into the long shadows. The sun disappears. Last one, I finally tell them. Shot in the dark. Nothing but luck. Whatever you can see. I line up my feet, bend my knees.

Marvin Shackelford (@worderfarmer) is author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies' Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, Juked and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.