Coming Home Tomorrow
It was Mitsui's first shot in three years, and it missed.
It wasn't a horrible shot or anything - it was centered, not off to the left or right, and it traced a pretty arc through the air - but it was just a little short, that's all, bouncing off the front of the rim and off the pavement and eventually back into his hands.
He dribbled the ball slowly, feeling the familiar roughness of its surface and liking it, even if it wasn't quite as he remembered it. The ball had been covered in dust when he had recovered it from his garage, and flat too. Tomorrow, he would find the air pump in the mess of the garage and get the ball back in shape.
Right now, he was trying to find the foul line so that he could shoot again.
But there was no foul line anymore. He had painted it on his driveway when he was thirteen with some kind of kiddy poster paint, so it was a miracle the line had lasted for as long as it had. He tried to remember when it had faded away, and realized he did not know. He had not been paying attention.
When he had been a gangster - not so long ago - he had tried not to look at the damned hoop in his driveway. In fact, he hadn't liked having a driveway at all. His friends had laughed when they first saw his house, called him a rich brat. Their homes barely had a roof, they said, never mind an American-style garage, driveway, hoop.
Well, Mitsui had shut them up with his fists and that had been that.
But look where he was now. Searching for a foul line that wasn't there, clutching a dusty ball and wishing he had on his basketball shoes and not his stupid black school shoes, cuts and bruises all over his body, dried tears and blood on his face...
Screw this, he said to himself, suddenly shooting the ball.
And as he watched it sail through the exact center of the hoop, he felt as if he had come home and realized the house wasn't his own.
It was because of the net, he decided clinically, or rather, the lack of it. His father had cut it down just a few days ago. The old man had been bugging Mitsui for weeks about what an eyesore that net was, grimy and tattered and barely hanging onto the rim. You don't need it anymore, cut it down, he had said.
Mitsui had shrugged. Cut it down yourself, he had replied.
But without a net, there was no such thing as "nothing but net." It was more like "nothing but air." Had his shot really gone in? The sound was missing, the clean slide of ball against silk that he had been accustomed to hearing, long ago. That shot just now had passed through the rim but the sound was...
He walked over to the ball and picked it up, slowly. He tried to brush some of the dust off of it, a useless effort, and pressed it lightly, feeling the slight give under his fingers that meant the ball was underinflated. He really needed to get that air pump. And some ball polish. And a new net.
Another shot. This time he aimed carefully, but the dust was all over his hands now and the ball slipped off the ends of his fingers, spinning off to the left and hitting rim and backboard and falling away from the goal.
It's going to get better, he told himself, picking the ball up again.
A crunch of gravel and the honking of a car horn made him look up. His parents were home, with the car, and they wanted him out of the driveway.
What would they think, he wondered, when they saw him holding a basketball?
He watched, without moving, as the car rolled to a stop in front of him. His father had not even opened the garage. Too shocked, perhaps, at what he was seeing.
But when the elder Mitsui got out of the car he was looking at the bandages on his son's face, not the ball in his hands. The first words out of the man's mouth: "You've been fighting again."
"Hello to you too, dad."
"I don't believe this," his father went on, voice rising audibly. "This is, what, the third time this month? I don't know what's the matter with you."
His mother touched her husband on the arm gently. She was looking at the basketball, her eyes wide.
"Hisashi, are you..."
"He's worthless," his father cut in. "All he ever does is disappoint us--"
And Mitsui threw the basketball, hard, at the garage door, barely missing his father's face. He could hear the wood reverberate as the ball rolled down the driveway; no one tried to pick it up. Turning away from his parents, he stalked toward the house.
"Fuck off," he told them over his shoulder.
They did not move or react for a moment. Scared of their own son.
Then, he heard his father's bitter voice.
Mitsui paused, feeling strangely short of breath.
"Hisashi," his mother said haltingly. "What happened?"
When Mitsui turned around, he only looked at her.
"I'll tell you all about it," he said, "tomorrow."
And as he slammed the door behind him, the only thing he could tell himself was It will get better.
This story was inspired by the scene in which Mitsui talks to one of his parents on the phone. He does not have a nice conversation.