Mom had used a cocktail glass to steady herself. It backfired most of the time, but she had meant well. When Lola woke up after the accident, Mom stopped drinking and poured all her need into caring for Lola. I felt left behind. It had been Dad who scooped me up and set me back on my feet. But Mom seemed to have lost touch with the rest of us. Lola saw it though. Lola saw everything.
She knew even then, when she didn’t know more than my name and who I was supposed to be to her, that I was falling through the cracks in the universe, cracks that spread out like spider veins—purple and blotchy, permanent and useless.
Lola was eleven, still using crutches, still in therapy. That part seemed to take a long time. I was fourteen and on the girls basketball team. Lola made Ray drive her to all my games. Mom had no interest in sports, she was just trying to hold herself together. As much as Dad wanted to see the games, he had taken to working the late shift because the pay was better and there were medical bills left over from the accident and more to come. Lola sat in the bleachers and banged the crutches on the wooden seats when everyone else clapped their hands. Already she had begun to cover the braces on her legs with bright colored legwarmers. Making everything art.
At times I hated that she was there. She made my legs ache. Sadness rose up in my throat like bright acid. The squawk and stick of sneakers on the gym floor, the rush of ball through the air, ball through the net, crowd thumping in applause was a sick symphony, an ode to the little girl in the neon green legwarmers who could not run up the court, could not climb the bleachers without help, and could not stop calling out my name and waving franticly to me when I looked her way. Who barely knew who any of us were, but knew we were the world.
Ray didn’t watch the games. He waited for the two of us in the parking lot. He drove home without speaking, dropped us off in the driveway, drove away and did not come back until after curfew, after Mom gave up and went to bed and left Dad awake and worried and me hiding in the hallway making sure that the world did not come to an end while Lola slept.
The morning after those nights, Mom would ask Lola if she had a good time at the game. Lola would tell Mom about every basket I scored, every foul shot I made, every time I looked at her and waved.
Sounds like you had a good time, Mom would say to Lola.
Make sure your sweaty clothes aren’t on the floor, Mom would say to me.
During our last game that year, I broke a school record. I hadn’t told anyone how close I had been to it, but Lola must have been keeping track. That night, after the game, she hobbled into our room with Little Debbie snack cakes and soda and we stayed up late enough for Ray to come home. He had to walk past our door on the way to his room. Lola waited for him in our doorway.
Nina has scored more baskets in one season than any player in the history of our school. We’re celebrating.
She gave him a cake and he stood in the doorway to our room and ate it. He nodded at me. He smelled like beer. There was a store in town that would sell to underage kids for an extra ten dollars. Lola waited for him to finish the cake and then hugged him around the waist. He put his arms across her back and closed his eyes. She let go of him and for a second they stood looking at each other. When she gimped back across the room to the bed he closed his eyes again. He couldn’t forgive himself for what he’d done and he’s worked his whole life to get the punishment he thought he deserved.