So there you stand in that same low-ceiling locker-lined hallway where you memorized your combination and where balloons, one time, came tumbling from atop your textbooks when the sequence came to mind, dialed 14 instead of 4. Then you shuffled off to class, you popped a balloon on the ceiling, you think you forgot your gym shorts.
This passing period you remain, holding that corner-bent edge-creased photograph with two steady combination (un)locking fingers. Hammel stands there beside you. You can see her hands waving fast and sure through the air, illustrating her story one more time. But your eyes are fixed. She is your periphery.
The girl, she said, was Jaycee – the sister she’s been telling you about. The one she had accidentally killed in the driveway, under beams of sunlight, clouds of breathpuffs, between the dribbles, when the basketball hit the asphalt from Hammel’s dominant hand, then the backboard, the rim, and rolled, vibrating, into the street as Jaycee collapsed under her. Hammel had pummeled her younger sister on a drive to the basket, she said, the girl hit her head on the pavement but recovered without much more than a headache, she said.
That drive became the last that Hammel would know, against her defending sister, her one-on-one, her teammate, roommate, heart-to-heart, sidekick, counterpart. Jaycee died that night, she said. Complications from a concussion led to internal bleeding. A blood clot in the brain, she said. Once, the story changed and it was a ruptured brain aneurysm, but most times Jaycee died from a clot – a clot that traced her cause of death back to basketball in the driveway. And that makes it Hammel’s fault, she said.
The gloss of the photograph deflects the hallway fluorescents into your eyes as you match your pupils with the pair photographed. You hold in your hands a girl – looking much like a young Hammel herself – sitting cross-legged and half-grinning on the line in the pavement when the sidewalk and the asphalt meet. She holds a dripping ice bag on her head with one hand, the other hangs casually across her thigh to touch the edge of her crew cut adidas sock.
You look over at Hammel, her dark hair, caramel highlights, pulled back in a tight mess of a bun. She’s in full view for you now, coming into focus from your periphery. In the picture, Hammel’s ponytail is falling out, isn’t it? Pieces are falling in front of her face, some strands are soaked dark from dripping trails of ice bag melt.
Even deeper in the photo, you squint at those same green eyes set dark in long lashes, creased by grooves of olive skin that tell you stories. These eyes tell and tell a story of one girl. A long story of a dead girl on a driveway court under a basket. It was an accident, she said. I miss her, she said. And I still always feel so bad about it.