FORTY, 2.0

Debra heard the repeated thump-thump-thump while she washed dishes, and the smile flooded her entire face. The corners of her mouth turned up, teeth began to spring through her lips. She felt her eyes wrinkle at each end, and her nostrils even flared a bit. She brushed hair off each ear, and continued washing dishes.

Thump-thump-thump.

A basketball, the thumping occasionally interrupted by the ball bouncing off the backboard, double-bouncing in the street, then picked up again and dribbled. The hoop at the end of their driveway had been there for years, since Mario was born.

He’d gone on to play varsity ball in high school, continued for the first couple of years in college before focusing on his business education. But throughout all that time, he led almost daily games of basketball for the neighborhood boys — sometimes girls would come by, but they usually just watched and waiting for the ice cream truck.

Debra missed those days, but as her own son graduated college, the neighbors’ kids grew up and took over the daily ritual. Basketball in the spring and summer, street football in the fall.

Debra and Mario Sr.’s mailbox was one end zone, or out-of-bounds for basketball, and the “Witch Lady’s” was the other end zone. Whichever team was scoring in that direction made sure to score quick and easy — no one every tackled a player on the Lady’s lawn.

Debra chuckled do herself, wondered why she’d always believed her kids when they called that poor old woman the Witch Lady. She and Mario had never taken the time to introduce themselves to the neighborhood, not to everybody at least.

Mario was busy starting his practice, and Debra had always had her hands full with Mario, Jr. and little Christine. But now the kids were grown up, out of the house. Mario, Jr. had kids of his own, way up in Maine. Christine had a business partner, but took little to no time to focus on a love life.

And Debra…she was alone.

Mario had died of a heart attack two years ago, now she lived in this big house by herself.

Even the dishes she washed were pathetically small, in her eyes. Two bowls, a plate from breakfast, and a frying pan that was her go-to each morning, noon and night. She tutored neighborhood kids, but even they were few and far between.

Mario, Jr. and his family came to visit the requisite twice-a-year for holidays, and a third time on the anniversary of Mario’s death. That was about as much action as Debra was used to seeing.

But she was content with that.

In the winter she sat on her back porch, bundled in a blanket in the afternoon, to watch the kids come home from school and climb to the top of Apple Hill, only to sled down every few minutes and narrowly miss the bushes.

Then springtime came, and though the sound of basketball on the street came less often, she enjoyed it when it happened. Just the sound of that ball bouncing would make her mind run backwards, to happier times, fuller times. She wouldn’t look at who was playing — God knows, she’d probably not even recognize whoever it was. But she did let the sound bring her to sleep, a nap, or to a solid, day-dreaming slumber that was all important to keep her mind going as age was creeping up fast.

Today, she finished her dishes but didn’t feel tired. She decided she’d poke her head outside and say hello to the kids, maybe buy them an ice cream. She put on her jacket, as it was still getting cool in the afternoon, and slipped on her Crocs — Mario, Jr. always made fun of her for these, but she didn’t care.

Comfort is comfort.

She opened the door, smiling, and took a breath of fresh air, eyes closed, nostrils flaring. She opened her eyes, and the smile faded when she saw the empty street, and the light patch of cement covering the spot where the basketball hoop had been firmly planted up until five years ago.

She slipped back inside and closed the door, slowly.

The bouncing returned the next day, and with it, the flood of memories once more.

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