The first novel by Matthew McIntosh
[ Santos was a basketball star in high school. They went to finals and lost to Bellingham. He scored thirty-six points out of fifty. He walked on at the University but never got a chance to play. This was in the seventies. Anyway, he had a baby with a girl from his high school, Meg, who I met when Santos and I were parking cars in the nineties. I was just out of high school and Santos was getting up there. Meg was picking him up early in the morning after work when I met her. She was a nice lady, although I could tell she probably had other plans once upon a time. Santos was a fast worker, but he always had people yelling at him for moving their seats back. The man was tall. The man still is tall, I guess. We would work graveyard shift sometimes and lie out in the shuttle van. The shuttle van was to take people to the airport or to wherever they wanted to go or to take people from the airport to the hotel or the parking lot. We would lie there and talk about things we liked to eat, or would like to eat if we had the money and the know-how. One night we went to Denny’s when we were supposed to be training a new cashier who had come from Ethiopia and didn’t speak much English. It was three in the morning and we knew no one would be coming in. We took the van and the radio and we ordered Grand Slam breakfasts. Then something came in on the radio right in the middle of the restaurant. It was Derrick, our boss. Derrick was all right normally, but his wife had just gotten cancer which meant he wouldn’t be able to quit his job and go back to school like he wanted. He wanted his wife to support him while he got his medical degree. Now that wasn’t happening and he was in a terrible mood. He told us to get our asses back. The new cashier had already screwed up with a customer and had panicked. Derrick found him out back crying his eyes out, and mumbling things in his strange tongue. We jumped in the van and drove back quickly. Santos was driving and swerving at cars to make me laugh and he was smiling because he knew he’d never get fired—and that meant that nothing would happen to me either. Santos was pretty tight with Derrick. Well, it turned out the Ethiopian guy couldn’t work anymore. He was a wreck and no matter how much Derrick tried to explain that it was all right, that it was just his first day on the job and things like this happen, etc.—no matter how much Derrick talked to him, the guy only became more confused. Apparently a man had come out of the hotel while Santos and I were at Denny’s and had wanted his car to do some late night cruising, and the Ethiopian guy didn’t understand him. Plus he was just the cashier. So the guy went into the hotel and talked to the doorman, who said he didn’t know where Santos and I were, even though we’d told the Ethiopian guy that we were going to Denny’s and to call us on the radio if he needed anything—and the doorman called Derrick at home. Then Derrick came in and called us on the radio and told us to get our asses back. The Ethiopian guy was driving away all teary-eyed when we got back. I saw him once after that working at a movie theater downtown. He was tearing tickets. He seemed to be enjoying himself and he didn’t seem to recognize me, so I just said thank you and walked past. When Santos and I got back to the hotel, Derrick came storming out of the booth and he pounded on the door for Santos, who was driving, to open it. He flipped the switch and Derrick stormed onto the van. The gist was that Santos and me were fired on the spot and there wasn’t any changing things, no matter what Santos said to try to calm down Derrick, and no matter how he tried reminding him how long they’d known each other, and no matter how he tried reminding him that he had a daughter to support, and that I was still in high school and saving up for college, myself. Surely he could understand that, couldn’t he? said Santos. But apparently he couldn’t. Derrick told us to take off our valet jackets and I did and Santos said, You’re making a mistake, Derrick. Don’t make me look bad in front of the kid, he said, but he took his off too. We walked home because Santos didn’t want to wake up Meg. It was a long way and we bought 40’s and drank them on the road out of paper bags. I still had a long way to go, but pretty soon we were at Santos’s house and we stopped. I still had a long way to go. Santos looked at the dark house and said, What a piece of shit house. He was buzzed and so was I. What a piece of shit house, he said. Then he told me about the time he was in the finals against Bellingham, and he’d scored thirty-six points already, but they were still down by one with five seconds left. Santos’s team had the ball. The crowd was going crazy and Santos’s family was in the stands and there was Meg with the rest of her cheerleader friends all waving their pom-poms. It was very quiet in his head, Santos said. He didn’t hear any of that. He only heard it later in the locker room, and on the bus on the way home, and for a long time after that. He said he felt the aftershocks, but didn’t feel the earthquake. They inbounded the ball to Santos and he took it down the length of the floor, the clock counting down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. He told it like this: He gets to the top of the key and he plants both feet and springs up high—he gets the highest and best extension he’s ever had, right over the defender, who was seven feet tall and went to some college or other and ended up in the pros on some team or other; Santos lets the shot go and it arcs real pretty—all the pretty girls in the stands and all of Santos’s friends are watching, and Meg, too—and the ball comes down, pretty, perfect, right down the middle of the net—swish! The crowd goes crazy. People run out of the stands and hop up and down and someone breaks his foot trying to jump onto the floor to congratulate the team. Everyone is throwing their hats into the air, and the team mauls Santos and they collapse into a pile on the floor. For awhile no one notices the refs talking to each other under the basket. But soon they do. The refs talk it over and the crowd turns quiet and everybody’s watching the refs now, Santos being the last to see—he’s smiling and he’s got tears in his eyes and his teammates are peeling off of him one at a time, and they stand there looking at the refs, and Santos gets up and looks at the refs under the basket, too. The refs decide that Santos released the shot after the buzzer, so the basket was no good. Bellingham wins, they said. After he finished telling me this, he tapped his bottle on his forehead and he looked at his house and he hit me on the shoulder and told me I should apply at the place down the street. They pay more anyway.
continues . . . ]
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