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HOOPS / Frank Reardon



We called Sean McCann, "Hoops," after John Cusack's character in 'One Crazy Summer.'


It was the early morning of July 6th and I had to take a piss. I hopped off the pull-out sofa in the living room, Ginny was still asleep, as were the rest of my friends in various parts of the ski condo we rented for the long holiday weekend.


Hoops was sitting in a chair at the dining room table. His head rested on top of his folded arms. The air tasted cold; mountain wind passed through the first floor of the condo and darted through my Black Crowes T-shirt and scrapped my skin. I slapped Hoops on the back on my way to the pisser and said, "wake up!" It was our last morning there. We had to leave the condo by noon.


In the tiny bathroom adjacent from the carpeted stairs that led to a loft, I took the longest piss of my life. After a weekend full of Molly, numerous beers, weed, and whatever else my friends had stashed in their pockets and overnight bags, I stood in front of toilet for a good five minutes. It felt like something didn't seem right with the clean, cold, mountain air after I slapped Hoops on the back. It smelled terrible, of what I didn't know. Maybe I was too much of a coward to admit what I thought. I ignored my head and finished up.


I opened the door a crack; everyone was still asleep. I peeked through and stared at Hoops. I convinced myself that he was still asleep. After all, he was known to fall asleep with his head down on tables. I tried my hardest to think of what I smelled when I walked by him, but I couldn't quite admit it to myself, maybe I didn't know, or maybe I didn't want to know. My jumping thoughts collided with my desire to understand.


His neck was pale, rigid. I could see the vertebrae popping out from skin. I was a good ten feet from him, but I felt the coldness wrap around my thoughts. The icy bathroom picked me up and I floated off then turned inward and tunneled into the dense apple core of my brain. Everything I wanted to say, and feel was heathen to my soul. It was all around me, and if I just chose to speak, I might've found the words to admit the truth to myself, both then and today.


Behind the door, my feet inched closer to him. I wanted to know I was safe before I walked out of the bathroom. I wanted to know if the next twenty years of my life would be spent in the therapy buildings of the world. I needed someone, anyone, to tell me that it would be okay for me to leave the bathroom. No one was coming. 'Fuck it,' I finally said.


They were the longest steps I had ever taken. I looked over at the pull-out and Ginny was

still asleep. Her black dyed hair was caught up in a messy bundle on a pillow. Her upper arm wrapped in a black shirt, flopped out over the comforter. I felt the best thing for me to do would be to jump back under the blanket and hug her and tell her that I loved her over and over, until she woke up. It was the only feeling that made sense to me, but I continued to walk towards Hoops.


I made it to his body, and it hit the senses what I had been smelling, it was shit. I looked at his torso, he had the same blue shirt on with white sleeves as he had on the night before when he played cards with Scotty D, Tracy, and Mark. He was still in his tan cargo shorts and the laces of his sneakers were still perfectly tied. I looked at his pale calf and saw the feces running down his leg. What I feared would be answered with a visual was quickly given and hammered down with a loud, cold snap to the senses. I woke up. I was no longer with God.


"Hoops," I said, trying to move his body.


He didn't move like a person should. His bones locked up like tough leather wrapped around strong granite. I felt up and down his back, the frozen bones of his spine met my warm hand. I began to scream without a sound or word coming from my mouth. I silent screamed for Ginny. I looked up at the loft and silent screamed for Mark, Tracy, and BJ.

My head spun around, and my fears shot down the hallway towards Bob and Loretta's room, towards Scotty D and Lisa's room. My hand moved up his head, dark hair popped out and rested in between my fingers. Cold and frightening as grave mold. Frozen like the first time a bully picked up a slush ball and gave me a whitewash.


I ran down the hallway and opened Bob's room without knocking. Bob's bald head rested underneath the blanket. Loretta's red hair was tangled in one of Bob's hands, her back faced me.

"Bob," I said in a soft voice, like I was afraid to wake him.

He didn't say a word.

"Bob?"


The bed moved. Loretta looked at me, her eyes both pissed and lovely collapsed back into a dream.

"Bob!"

"Fucking what, Kid!" Bob shouted; his eyes still closed.


I didn't know what to say, even though I knew what had happened. I let out the first thing that came to my head.

"Hoops is cold."

"Get him a blanket then!"

"No, he's fucking cold."


Scotty D opened his door with the might of a bull. He ran down the hall to the table. I could hear him smacking Hoops across his frozen face. Bob looked at me and slowly got out of the bed, Loretta followed. For a brief moment, a moment that still sits with me twenty-five years later, the room smelled like Loretta's perfume. I wanted the smell to hug me and hold me, to never let go. I wanted the perfume to mother me and take care of me and to protect me from what was happening down the hall. Bob looked at me without expression and put on his shirt. Fear circled his pupils, Loretta inched towards the both of us.


The three of us walked down the hall, even if we didn't want to take another step. At the end of the hall where the dining room met the stairs, Scotty D was still smacking him across the face. He desperately cried out "Hoops!" He smacked him time and time again until he was exhausted. Ginny made her way to the kitchen from the pull-out, unable to comprehend the reality of what had happened. Tracy, Mark, BJ, and Lisa made their way into the kitchen and living room, surrounding the situation and looking on with a blank horror, it was clear to me that none of us would ever be the same again. That we'd eventually all die and perish. Maybe not in such a dramatic way. Perhaps alone in a cabin from a heart attack. Maybe surrounded by loved ones as we fade away from a disease. The idea of living forever like an immortal packed its suitcase and took a train to the next group of suckers who believed they'd never have to face the consequences.


Someone called the paramedics on the yellow phone. The 9-11 operator on the phone told us to lay him on the ground. Rigamortis had set in, his arms and legs forever frozen in the chair like position he fell asleep in. Tracy gently cleaned his face with a warm rag. CPR was performed by several different people. My body bumped into Loretta's, and we locked eyes. We told each other in secret without word that our friend was dead. I moved my hand and gently placed it on top of her hand. I gave Ginny the same look, then stood up and hugged her like it was the last hug I was ever going to give. I hugged her so hard and for so long that love, pain, fear, future, past, and sensibility leaked from my pores and entered into hers.


When the medics arrived, we were scattered. Property management gave the medics and police the vacant downstairs condo, everyone was sent down there, both me and Scotty D had to stay behind, since Scotty was the last one to see him the night before, and I was the one who found him. When a medic and an officer were taking Scott's statement, I noticed a medic shake his head no to another medic, and even though I understood a good hour ago, it felt like I was released from a set of heavy chains that had been locked around my body since first light.

"Name?" A cop asked.

"Francis Reardon."

"Middle initial?"

"H"

"So, you found him?"

"Yes." I replied.

"Do you know what he took?"


Where we all come from you don't snitch, and I wondered if it mattered anymore since he was dead. I wanted to tell the medic everything I knew, but instead I watched another medic unfold a body bag and place it on the floor. Bile ran up from my hungover stomach and hung around and burned the insides of my throat.

"Do you know what he took?"

"I don't," I said.


He was dead, and I wasn't about to endanger any of my friends, things were bad enough. We went up there for a good time, to party, and be together. The rest of the world didn't matter to any of us. The love, friendship, hugs, care, music, drugs, and laughs were the only things that mattered. I didn't see a need to disrespect my friend's body void of soul by giving out a list of things he may or may not have taken.

The cop and medic told me I could join the rest of my friends in the condo. When I got there Ginny was sitting on the floor of the hallway. She was in all black: hair, shirt, pants, and zip up black boots with chunky heels. I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. Neither of us spoke a word. Bob paced the living room with Loretta. Tracy hugged Mark. BJ stood on the balcony and smoked with Lisa and Scotty D. We waited on answers from the only people willing to give us those answers. Some of us knew the truth, the others knew too, but they also secretly hoped for a different outcome.


Down the stairs and into the condo walked Bartlett's 'finest', a plain clothes cocksucker of a detective who was more pissed off that he had to be there, than he was interested in showing us a bit of compassion. He made a joke to cut through the gloom hovering around room. I felt anger rip through my body and into my fists, mouth and stomach. My friends, for a moment, felt the same anger. The cocksucker stepped back from his words and just stood there and said nothing for a few minutes, a few minutes that felt like twenty.


"Your friend is gone," he said, then walked away like the snake he was. More cops arrived, followed by more medics. Onlookers in other condos looked at us from their windows.


The entire time I had known Ginny she never once showed rage, but when she heard those words, her chunky heel went through the plaster of the wall. When she pulled her boot from the wall with all the horrible passion a human can muster, I knew instantly I was standing with the blessings of music and art inside the body of a young woman from Revere. The room erupted in tears and hugs. For whatever reason I couldn't cry, the police snatched me up.


"Draw us a map of the condo and tell us where everyone was sleeping," a cop wearing Oakley sunglasses told me.


My hands shook like tiny earthquakes popping underneath my flesh. I did my best to draw him a map. I used the first letter for each of us and put the letter in a room, on a bed, on a couch. They seemed pleased with my nursery school artwork and passed the paper around the room from cop to cop. After I used the phone to call home. I called our friend Jake, so he could let our friends know what had happened. None of us, myself included, felt like explaining shit to anyone once we arrived back home. Everything was all too personal still, the wounds had yet to heal. The scabs never bothered to show up.


We went there as ten and were returning as nine. We headed home with a missing puzzle piece; a jigsaw made up from our experiences, adventures, beliefs, loves, cares, music, anger, agony, lusts, future plans. The missing piece to a puzzle that was our humanness, now forever departed. Left alone under a table; under a mountain; to endure the eternal within the atmosphere of Bartlett, New Hampshire, to breathe with the infinite consciousness holding us tight, grit-hooked; forever devoted to the peaks of the silent mountains.


I held myself together emotionally best I could. I wanted to be strong for my friends that couldn't be, but what I didn't know was the trauma had begun to burrow within me, eventually to show itself in a few years in the form of depression, mania, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts. I asked Bob if he wanted me to drive, he didn't. I reached behind the seat and held Ginny's hand. No one said a word most of the way home. Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,' came on the radio. It felt both fitting and full of shit. We all listened.


We're still listening to this day.


When we turned the corner, Grover Street hit us all in the face, both welcoming and terrifying. The nine of us emptied out of the two cars and walked towards Bob, Mark, and Ginny's Mother's home. Many of their family members, and friends, were there to greet us, hug us, to hear the story. Bob collapsed in his mother's lap and cried; it made me feel real. I had been afraid of anything real up to that point; I needed to feel it so badly. Bob's tears allowed me to breathe and show my heart. I leaned against a wall like a rolled-up old carpet and spoke for everyone, told them our story. It felt right. I opened a beer and tried to pretend that none of it happened.


Ginny's sister and brother-in-law let both of us stay in their upstairs apartment because they were going out of town. We watched everyone from the day trickle out, one by one, and head home. I looked out the window, it was dark outside, and the darkness of the streets took my thoughts, swallowed them and spit them back out. The streets didn't give a shit about me, they didn't care if I was hurting, they never did. Ginny and I tried to watch TV, a John Cusack movie came on, I shut it off. Instead, we smoked a few bowls and made love, it seemed like those were the only things we were capable of doing. The energy of the day had left us, immortality was gone for good. Later we stared up at the ceiling and talked a little about something and nothing at all. We tried to laugh but felt guilty doing so. I hugged her in the dark, she held me so tight that I was able to let go of my own skin and let it turn in on itself. I finally allowed myself to howl.


"Shine On You Crazy Diamond." 7/6/97


/


FRANK REARDON was born in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Charlotte, NC. Frank has published short stories and poetry in many reviews, journals and online zines. His first poetry collection, 'Interstate Chokehold,' was published by NeoPoiesis Press in 2009 as well as his second poetry collection 'Nirvana Haymaker' in 2012. His third poetry collection 'Blood Music' was published by Punk Hostage Press in 2013. In 2014 Reardon published a chapbook with Dog on A Chain Press titled 'The Broken Halo Blues.'

In 2019 he published a collection with Blue Horse, 'Loud Love on The Sevens and Elevens.' Frank is currently working on a nonfiction column for Hobart, more short fiction, and will have a short story collection finished later in 2024.

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