The Reds Heads

short story #3

Hello! Today, I’m posting “The Red Heads,” a short story about a travelling women’s basketball team during the Great Depression that earned me $100 in a contest a decade ago, and that I’m trying to rewrite into a novel. Last summer, I finally wrote about fifty pages I like, and this summer, I hope to write about fifty more. In the meantime, I keep books like A Century of Women’s Basketball and Cages to Jumpshots on my desk, and read them from time to time. I hope you enjoy!


Five years after the stock market crashed Nora’s mom found work running the lights at a burlesque show in downtown Portland. After Nora finished high school her mom got her a job there too. Nora sat on a stool in the dank backstage, prompting dancers to go onstage on time. If hungover or in a volatile mood they swore or flipped her off. But she didn’t think it a bad job. She worked only nights and was paid a hundred dollars a month. Her little sister, Callie, still in school, didn’t work. Her dad, a residential real-estate agent, earned less and less money each day.

            After Nora had worked there six months, the owner George asked if she wanted to train as a dancer. She was on her stool, staring at lights onstage. George ran a finger down her long nose.

            “You have unusual features,” he said. “And a nice figure. You’re almost pretty.”

            “Thank you,” she said, turning her body and head away.

            “As a dancer you’d earn twice what you’re earning now.”

            A pay increase would be welcome but she didn’t dance well. She told him that.

            “You could learn,” he said.

            He went to pet her thick hair. She ducked away and leaned against the stage curtain. Four dancers in short black dresses moved deftly onstage. The audience, gaudily well dressed, followed the women with their eyes. George placed his hands on her shoulders. She shrugged them away.

            “You think you’re too good for this?” he whispered. “Is that it?”

            “No,” Nora said.

            “You hold yourself aloof. You turned down a good job. Why?”

            “I’m not good at dancing.” Nora turned her head. Her braid hit his face.

            George rubbed his cheek. “Are you good at anything?”

            “Basketball.”

            A number finished. The audience clapped. George looked at Nora like she was crazy.

The fall Nora was five, her neighbors bought a basketball hoop. Curious, she walked over and sat on the curb. The smallest dribbled so low his brothers couldn’t snatch the ball. The tallest made a shot from across the street. When they took a break, Nora looked through the metal rim at yellow leaves and blue sky. 

            “You wanna shoot?” the middle brother asked.

            Nora nodded, and he placed her on his shoulders. After three tries, she made one basket, then a couple more. The brothers clapped.

            After that, Nora often spent afternoons playing basketball. The intense concentration gave her joy. She played on a boys’ team in grade school. By high school, she herself make more goals than the opposing girls’ team. She wasn’t playing for fun then. She played to forget that her dad’s business partner had jumped off the Morrison Bridge, that she had to wear her cousin’s dresses instead of buy new ones.

            During Nora’s high school years, many neighbors moved away, including the boys next door. The youngest one, now a young man, fought with his mom to take the hoop along.

            “There won’t be room in the apartment,” she said.

            “I’ll put it up outside,” he said.

            “You won’t find a place for it,” she said.

He stuffed it in the overpacked car anyway.

            A few months later, Nora’s family moved to an apartment, too.

Nora worried George might fire her but he didn’t. He watched her as she sat on the stool or walked across the thick rafter beams to talk with her mom. He didn’t try to touch her again.

            Nora’s high school coach telephoned her one summer afternoon while she and Callie drank lemonade in their kitchen. Nora missed their old front porch where they could stare at the world instead of the wall. “Did you hear the Red Heads are coming to town?” he asked.

            “No.”

            “Tonight. I want you to try out.”

            The Red Heads, a women’s basketball team formed in Cassville, Missouri, traveled across the United States playing men’s teams. They dyed their hair red with henna. Sometimes they picked up a new player along the road.

            Back at the table Nora asked Callie to fill in for her that night at the theatre. “I’m going to try out for the Red Heads,” she said proudly.

            “Who?” Callie asked. She’d finished her lemonade.

            That night Nora’s coach navigated her through a crowded high-school gymnasium to the end of the Red Heads’ bench. The first half she watched. Women usually played a six-on-six half-court game, but the Red Heads played five-on-five full court, like men. In women’s basketball you couldn’t take more than three dribbles in a row or swat at the ball while your opponent held it. The Red Heads did both.

            The coach put Nora in for two minutes in the second half. She forgot they weren’t playing half-court and dribbled toward the opponent’s hoop. When no one followed she looked over her shoulder and saw both teams waiting. Her shot was blocked once. She didn’t make any goals. She thought she’d failed but the coach asked her to stay around after. In a deserted gym he instructed a player with freckles to pass her the ball as Nora moved in widening concentric circles around the perimeter. She made every shot.

            “Geez,” the young woman said.

            The coach and Nora sat on the bleachers, Cracker Jacks boxes and ripped newspapers around them.

            “I’d like you to play for us,” he said. “You’d be making thirty dollars a month, plus room and board.”

            “I’ll talk with my parents,” Nora said. She was making more now, but while she was on the road her parents wouldn’t have to feed her.

             “We’ll be leaving at midnight to drive to Boise,” he said. “If you want to join, you’ll have to come along then.”

            At home her dad sat in an armchair, listening to music on the chest-high oak radio. Callie and Mom weren’t home yet. Nora sat on the piano bench and told him the offer.

            He glanced at a stack of papers on the end table, listings of houses that wouldn’t sell.

            “You’ll be sending thirty dollars home each month?”

            “I’ll need a little spending money.”

            “Twenty-five then?”

            “Yes, that’s fine.”

            “Go ahead. Enjoy yourself. Not many people in this country can right now.”

            Nora packed her suitcase and wrote Callie a note. Don’t take over my job at the theatre. George is a bastard, and you need to focus on school. If money gets tighter, maybe you could teach piano lessons.

            A black limousine waited outside the high school. Nora placed her suitcase in the trunk and slid inside, bumping shoulders with a young woman.

            “Hello,” the young woman said. “I’m Lucy.” Other team members were asleep, heads resting on each other or the windows.

            “Nice to meet you,” Nora said and introduced herself.

            As the limo pulled out, Nora realized she was leaving. Hoping for a glimpse of the Willamette River, she turned to look out the window. Her braid hit Lucy in the face.

            “You know,” Lucy said. “You’re gonna have to dye your hair.”

The next day, the woman with freckles, Mary Ella, dyed Nora’s hair. Nora sat on a bench in the locker room while Mary Ella stood behind her and worked the green goo through, starting with the ends and working toward the roots. The dye set while Nora and her teammates shot around. Back in the locker room Nora stuck her head under the faucet and washed out the paste.

            Nora sat on the bench during the first half of the game. They were in a high-school gym again. The crowd was similar to Portland’s—mainly young people, a few families. When Mary Ella wasn’t on the court she explained how the Red Heads played.

            On defense: “One pass away, deny your opponent; two passes, stand off.”

            Nora had never tried hard to deny the ball before. The Red Heads’ defense worked like a string puppet—all the players shifted as though connected to one another, their movements determined by the opponents’ ball placement.

            On offense: “We have plays. You’ll learn them. But often it’s every man for himself.”

            Mary Ella dribbled the ball down the court and yelled out numbers. Often she’d take a close-in shot or pass to another player who’d shoot. Lucy played underneath the basket. She faked a move on one side and went up on the other. Her arm muscles tightened and relaxed. Each player had their own particular strength: Betty could sprint back lighting-fast to play defense, Julia could steal the ball, Ann could box out large men to grab rebounds.

            When Nora’s ponytail slid into her face, she studied her hair’s new redness and tossed it back behind her neck.

            At halftime Lucy put on a show. “We rotate our show every halftime,” Mary Ella said. “Usually a couple of us at a time, but Lucy likes to show off by herself.”

            Lucy dribbled the ball between her legs. She jumped high while she dropped in a shot. She twirled the ball on a finger. Nora tried to twirl a ball but couldn’t. She’d never gotten the hang of that trick. Lucy picked out kids from the audience and bounced the ball in between their legs. Nora laughed and clapped.

            “Ham,” Mary Ella said, but with pride. She rolled her eyes. “I’d say you should see her when she’s drunk, but she doesn’t drink. It’s probably good. She already acts drunk while sober.”

            Nora played the second half. The pace was faster than in high school but similar to games with her neighbors. The full court confused her. She dribbled slowly, unsure. Once a man snatched the ball from behind.

            “Push the ball ahead when you dribble,” Lucy told her when she took a break.

            Nora tried but couldn’t move faster than a skip. She looked forward to talking things over with Mary Ella that evening, but ten minutes after the game finished, they crammed into the limousine and headed to Missoula, Montana, where they had a game at noon the next day.

Dear Callie,

            I wish I could give you our schedule but I can’t. Coach can’t tell us more than a few games ahead and sometimes that isn’t even accurate. We’ll be in Cassville, Missouri, in about a month; you could send a letter there. ℅ The Red Heads. Everyone knows us in that town.

            We’re in Colorado now. I’m looking at the Rocky Mountains. They make our Coast Range seem small. We’ve driven near or around the Rockies in Montana, Nevada, and Colorado. Every time I’m amazed.

            I wish you understood basketball, so I could describe to you how good the Red Heads are. Maybe it’s like after you’ve been practicing a piano piece for a long time. One day you play it better than you ever have, then you’re able to play it that way every time, and every time you’re delighted with the music and yourself. I feel like that when I play with the Red Heads.    

          We don’t play in the nicest venues. Dirt playgrounds, skating rinks, church basements. Next week, in Oklahoma, we’re playing on a second-story dance floor. The Red Heads played there last season. They say there are springs in the floor.

            I feel bad charging money to some people who come to our games. I thought our family is broke, but these people are broke. Unkept and drunk, often. Some hobos as young as you riding the rails looking for work.

Dear Nora,

            I’m teaching piano lessons. None of my students are musically gifted. Dad goes on walks whenever they come so he won’t have to listen to their noise. I’m making less than you did but it helps. Mom and Dad hide in their room to talk but I hear them. Mom asked George if I could take over your job, but he wouldn’t hire me. I bet he wants someone older. I don’t quite look like a woman yet.

            There are hobos around here, too. I talk to them, though Mom doesn’t want me to. They’ve traveled all over the country like you. One rode the rails from Virginia. Once, I made them muffins.

            Dad sits in his chair a lot, doing nothing. When I come home from school, and all the lights are dim, and his head rests on the side of the chair, his eyes half-closed, I’m frightened.

The coach, Roy Eldridge, had been a neighbor to Mary Ella’s family in southeast Missouri. His wife, a beautician in Cassville, trained Mary Ella as a hairdresser. “I’d come pick Lou Ann up from work,” he said, “and those two would be out back playing basketball. I didn’t hurry them. I like watching basketball. I gave them a few tips, too.” Soon, enough women had joined the pick-up games to form a team. Lou Ann had traveled the first few years, then returned to hairdressing in Cassville. “More money in it,” Roy said.

            Roy liked Nora because she took defense as seriously as offense. He became impatient when she didn’t catch on to full-court play. “Dribble or pass,” he said when she got a defensive rebound. “Don’t stand there like a startled prairie dog.” He made her dribble half the night after a game in which an opponent had picked the ball off her. They were sleeping on church pews in rural Ohio. It was snowing outside. Nora dribbled in and out of the pews while the other women tried to sleep and Roy smoked cigar after cigar under the cross at the front of the sanctuary. “I want you dreaming about basketball,” he said when Mary Ella complained about the noise.

            Lucy complained behind his back. “Why the hell do we wear makeup on the court?” she asked. “And those happy-go-lucky poses. God. We’re not models.” And later: “You’d think we’re in finishing school. Damn him.” Nora had never heard of finishing school, but after Nora asked, Lucy described it to her. Lucy’s family had attended private schools in Connecticut since the 1700s. They owned multiple houses. During fancy meals, Lucy knew which forks to use during which courses, though she purposely used the wrong ones. If she caught herself standing up straight, she slouched.

            One spring evening, the Red Heads played on a second-story sprung hardwood dance floor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nora and Mary Ella sold tickets outside the first-floor entrance. It was twilight, and the farming families appeared out of the darkness and dust. Boys in overalls, girls in too-tight dresses. Parents who inquired about the ticket price and stepped aside to discuss whether they could afford it. It was the first place they’d been that not even the children smiled.

            A lanky man approached, his face full of eyes and cheekbones. “I’d like to play,” he said.

            “You’ve played before?” Nora asked.

            “I’ve played.” He moved his jaw back and forth.

            Nora smelled alcohol on his breath. “Go upstairs then,” she said. “They’re warming up.”

            He stepped aside. Behind him stood a girl, a black kitten in her white pinafore pocket. “My daughter get in free if I play?” he asked.

            Nora glanced to the side. Mary Ella was talking to an elderly lady who apparently knew her relatives.

            “Fine,” Nora said. “But don’t let anyone see the cat.”

            The girl pushed the kitten’s head into her pocket and smiled.

            Some opponents played in a half-drunk state that night. A pot-bellied man leaned into Nora too long and hard on a rebound so she elbowed his stomach. A young man hesitated before he shot so she picked the ball off him. But the crowd loved the game. “That’s my boy!” some woman yelled when Nora stole the ball from her kid.

            During her halftime show Lucy chewed gum to the rhythm of her dribbling. She bounced the ball in figure eights through her legs. She twirled the ball on her figure while some kid from the audience counted the spins. As a finale she used the extra bounce in the floor to dunk so hard that the wooden hoop clattered to the ground. The crowd chanted “Red Heads, Red Heads” while Coach and Lucy fastened it back up.

            After the game people invaded the dance floor and sat or stood around, drinking and griping. Nora listened to the lanky drunk while his daughter leaned against her, the kitten climbing back and forth between their laps. For five years the federal government had paid the farmers to kill hundreds of their pigs and cattle and burn their cotton fields, the lanky man said. There was a surplus, and prices would rise if they decreased the number. He hated that they had to do this; they had no choice. The pot-bellied man said at least they were surviving; what else mattered? “A damn waste of good food,” the lanky man said.

            “I’ve watched good meat burn,” the older lady said. “Next year I’ll take my pigs to Mary Ella’s family. The government won’t know.”

            “Sure they will,” the pot-bellied man said. “What’ya think inspectors do?”

            Lucy, standing by the window, motioned to Nora. Nora handed the girl the kitten and went over. Lucy crawled through the window and onto the roof. Nora followed. The cool evening breeze felt good against her sticky skin. When a staggering man stepped outside below, Lucy made birds calls, and he looked up, confused. An hour later, when the really drunk people left, Lucy mooed like a cow or snorted like a pig. The people’s expressions made Nora laugh harder than she ever had in her life.

Dear Callie,

            We’re in southern West Virginia. Lucy, Mary Ella, and I are staying on pads on the floor of a house. It’s hot, and I can’t sleep. Since we left the East Coast none of our crowds have been rich. People enter the gym, their clothes tight or patched, their faces focused inward. By the end of the game they may not be happy, but many have suppressed their troubled thoughts. I’m glad our playing can give them this.

Dear Nora,

            I’m glad you’re coming home this summer. You can make some money working shows. If you don’t, Mom said I have to. And George is a creep. He stands too close when I visit the theatre, and to Mom every day. Last week, Mom bought a new dress. Dad got his revenge by going to a restaurant dinner. Now we have very little to eat until Mom and I are paid. Whenever Dad says he might go work for the CCC at Mt. Hood, Mother says we shouldn’t break up the family more than you have. Then she goes to stay with Aunt Emma.

The Red Heads played 160 games each season. The year Nora joined, they won 90 out of the first 150. Their success surprised her. Men’s teams were stronger, but the Red Heads deduced and subverted the men’s plays and presses more quickly. According to Coach, women were tougher, more aggressive, and more competitive than men.

            Nora’s last game of the season was in Seattle, Washington. They played on an uneven, outdoor, covered court. Rainwater collected underneath, forming puddles. When they dribbled, water splashed. By halftime they were wet, cold, and down six points. In the second half, Nora tightly guarded her opponent in the backcourt, guiding him toward a midcourt puddle. The ball plopped in the puddle, then she scooped it up. Mary Ella ran ahead of Nora, Nora tossed it to her, and Mary Ella laid it in. They did this twice more before their opponents caught on. At that point the Red Heads were up by two. They hung onto their lead and won.

            Afterward they waited in the limo while a reporter interviewed Mary Ella. Mary Ella thought Nora should be the one interviewed. Lucy told Mary Ella to take all the publicity she could get.

            They slept that night on mats on the gym floor of a YMCA. “Why didn’t we play here?” Lucy asked when they walked in.

            “It was booked,” Coach said.

            “I bet it was,” Lucy said.

            All the women fell asleep except for her and Mary Ella. They talked while on their backs, their faces turned up, their voices echoing off the high ceiling.

            “I told the reporter you made all my assists,” Mary Ella said. “And he said, ‘When you say an assist, what exactly do you mean?’”

            They laughed. Nora thought about how Callie wouldn’t understand this language. She felt her hair, still red except an inch or two near the roots. Her family hadn’t heard of half of the towns they’d played in.

            “What are you doing this summer?” Nora asked.

            “Helping on the farm,” Mary Ella said. They rarely mentioned their families; Nora knew little to nothing about farm life.

            “Tell me about it,” Nora said.

She fell asleep while Mary Ella described where and how she’d found her sheepdog, Bella.

            At 10 a.m., Coach roared into the gym, shaking a newspaper. Julia, Ann, Mary Ella, and Nora woke up. The other women were already out exploring the city.

            “Read this,” Coach said. He tossed the newspaper between Nora and Mary Ella. They each held one side and read the editorial. “Bullshit,” Coach muttered, pacing the row of mats.

            The editorial argued that women, because of their innate selfishness, should play individual not team sports. “In basketball, for example, one woman will hog the ball indefinitely. Men know that quick passes lead to open shots.” And later: “Men instinctively understand when to hold onto the ball and when to pass. Women succumb to false intuition and extremity.”

            Mary Ella looked up. “Is there anything about us in the paper?” she asked.

            “A couple inches on the fifth page of the sports section,” Coach said. His red face got redder. “You, Nora, know exactly when to hold onto the ball and when to pass. Anyone at that game could see that. That guy was at home writing this damn editorial.”

            That afternoon, the team dropped Nora off in Portland. By accident she directed them to her old house. When she realized, she didn’t let on but simply redirected them to the apartment.

            “You’ve been gone less than a year,” Lucy said. “Did you already forget your own city?”

Nora sat on top of torn-out magazine pages while Callie stood on her knees and applied the green goo. Callie had found a job playing the organ at an Episcopal church on Wednesdays and Sundays. “Most nights Mom’s at the theatre,” Callie said. “She wants you to work a couple shows this summer.” Nora sat on the couch while the dye set and listened to Callie practice the piano. Her sister’s eyes squinted, her lips pursed; Nora imagined she looked like that when playing basketball. Later, Nora leaned over the edge of the bathtub, let the water flow over her head, and worked the paste out of her hair.

            Most nights that summer Nora sat on her stool backstage and envisioned new offensive plays. One night after a show, while the dancers changed, Nora thought of a play in which the players spread out as far as possible, drawing out defenders with them and leaving open space near the basket. George approached her from behind. He ran his fingers through her hair. She jumped off the stool. George pushed her against the wall and held her there. Nora squirmed and screamed. Suddenly, he let go.

            Her mom swung to punch him but he ducked. “How dare you,” her mom said. Nora’s chest ached where George had held her. She thought her mom would come over to her, but she didn’t.

            “Sara,” George said. By his conciliatory tone, Nora knew the truth.

            Nora waited a week to tell Callie. Dad already knew.

            A couple weeks later Nora boarded a train to Cassville. She felt as though she was abandoning her family. Callie had taken Mom’s remaining clothes to Aunt Emma’s, and wouldn’t speak to Mom after that. Nora’s dad asked her to stay and find a job in which she could earn more money. Nora told him she wouldn’t be able to find another job in Portland, but she thought she probably could have. The train passed through high desert, mountains, and plains. The farther away Nora rode, the more she thought she should have stayed. Then the train was at the Cassville station and Lucy stood on the platform, black leather bag at her feet, smoking a cigarette. “Last one of the summer,” she said when she saw Nora. “Don’t tell Coach.” If she hadn’t met Lucy, she would’ve bought a ticket to go back home.

Mary Ella had stayed on the farm to help her family. Nora missed her in the car when she had no one to talk to, and on the court where no one worked as hard to get open for an assist. Lucy, a one-woman show, didn’t often need them. Nora wrote Mary Ella a letter. Mary Ella wrote back, and promised, if possible, to return the next season.

            At the height of fall the Red Heads played in rural Willington, Connecticut. Stunning red and yellow-leafed trees surrounded the gymnasium. Lucy’s parents drove from Harford to attend. Her mother wore a fur wrap. Her father cheered for the opposing team the first half and the Red Heads the second. Lucy had grown up with some of the opposing team’s players.

            By the beginning of the second half Nora knew they’d lost. The men passed the ball so quickly that the Red Heads, attempting to rotate on defense, looked like little-girl Nora chasing the neighbor boys. What else could she expect from men who’d taught Lucy? When Nora became ferocious on defense, men complained about her pushing. Once, she deflected the ball off a pass, then jumped to save it from going out-of-bounds. She landed on her stomach and elbow. An opponent stepped on her fingers and slapped the ball back in. Nora’s pointer and middle finger swelled to the size of her big toe. She sat on the sidelines the rest of the game, cursing.

            Afterward they all went to a local tavern. Red-and-white checkered tablecloths, high tables and stools, the smell of hearty foods like steak and potatoes. Lucy’s parents paid. Some of the men started a poker game, and Lucy and Nora joined. Nora stepped out after she lost money three rounds. Lucy won infrequently, but always in rounds with a large pot. Later, Nora and Lucy traipsed arm in arm across a field and around a pond to a large farmhouse where they’d be staying. Nora had been drinking and wobbled. Lucy hadn’t drunk anything, but wobbled along with her, and sang: “We’re in the money, the sky is sunny, Old Man Depression you’re through, you done us wrong!”

            In the morning, Nora woke to a headache, throbbing fingers, and a wad of money in her unhurt hand. Lucy brushed her hair while she watched Nora through the mirror. Nora sat up and counted the bills. One hundred dollars.

            “Take the damn money,” Lucy said. “Send it home. We can’t afford to lose you, too.”

            Nora hadn’t said she was thinking of leaving. She sent the money to Callie.

            They played two games on their way to a Chicago tournament. The first game Nora sat out, and in the second she dribbled with her left hand and flinched when she shot or passed with her right. She couldn’t have imagined a small injury could cause so much pain.

            In Chicago they stayed four nights in a motel, a rare treat. Nora and Lucy had a narrow room on the sixth floor. A window overlooked a busy street. While sitting cross-legged on her bed Nora read a letter forwarded from Cassville.

Mother sold the piano. The apartment feels so empty. Dad left for Mt. Hood last week. He seemed happy to go. At the end of this month, I have to move in with Aunt Emma. That lady will want to know my whereabouts every second. I miss you. Will you come home? We could live together. Or maybe I could travel with the Red Heads? Write back soon.

Nora wanted to tell her about the ponds in Connecticut, the poker game, her hurt fingers. But she had been writing to Callie as though their lives didn’t intersect. She needed to stop that. She took out a piece of paper and tried to avoid touching the pen to her bad fingers.

I’m sorry the piano’s gone. Do you still have your job as an organist? I’d continue in that. Aunt Emma is a pain, but when I come home in the summer we can move somewhere else together.

It was October. Summer seemed a long time away. A direct train connected Chicago to Portland. Maybe she should go home, right now. She imagined herself dragging her yellow leather suitcase onto the busy street below, hailing a taxicab. She put the unfinished letter away. She took out tape and wrapped her bad fingers, tighter, probably, than she should have. In the lobby, the players sat on black plush chairs, discussing the merits of different teams. Nora leaned against the wall.

            The Red Heads played on a real court that night. They had their own locker room, and they didn’t have to take tickets at the door. “It’s about time they gave us some respect,” Lucy said. It was the first time they’d allowed a women’s team into the tournament.

            The Red Heads were a couple points behind at the half. Nora and Lucy sat on the sidelines while the rest of the team performed a dance routine for “The Gold Diggers’ Song.” Nora couldn’t because of her fingers, and Lucy had refused. “We’re not show girls,” she’d told Coach.

            Lucy was leaning back, arms crossed, and chewing gum in Nora’s ear. Like at the burlesque show, the audience followed the girls’ every move.

            “We need to use this court more,” Nora told Lucy while she retaped her throbbing fingers. “It’s huge.”

            “I know it,” Lucy said. “You’re the one moving in slow motion.”

            “My fingers hurt.”

            “Forget about them.”

            Once, in the second half, when attempting a lay in, Nora’s opponent swiped toward her hurt finger and the ball, and she avoided his reach by dribbling to the baseline. If she tried to shoot from there she’d hit the back of the backboard. While Nora stalled, Lucy cut through the middle. Nora passed the ball in a high arch. Lucy laid it in without bringing it down. Nora had found a new space on the court. She dished off three more assists from that spot before the opponents realized they needed to guard her there. The Red Heads lost by three.

            On the walk back Nora wondered how Callie had spent the evening. She ignored the city lights, looking up only when a horn honked close to her. As soon as she entered the motel room, she took out the letter. She wanted to tell Callie what she’d discovered but thought it mean to sing songs to a heavy heart. Plus, Callie wouldn’t understand the terminology. Backboard. Baseline. Bounce pass. You’re still attending school every day, right? Nora wrote. She suspected her sister wasn’t. She tapped the pen against the paper. Tomorrow she wanted to use that space between baseline and hoop again. She’d continue with the team, at least till the end of the tournament. She dropped the pen, picked up a ball from the windowsill, and lazily tried to twirl it on her fingers, still taped together. She could. She pushed the ball with her free hand, spinning it around and around.