End Game
Walewska Oliveira Picture
Walewska Oliveira Picture

I’m out on the sport court. The lights are off, but the glare of the white fluorescents that reveal every bead of salty sweat and every purple-to-green-to-yellow bruise on the knees and elbows of countless athletes stands out in my mind. A plaster outline marks a spot on the wall where a medicine ball once burst through onto the tile. Below rest the taut yellow, green, and blue bands that leave your hands smelling of rubber and powder, their tangled webs a metaphor for the game of volleyball. My fingers trace the raised lines of the sport court. I know that underneath, sharp connectors threaten to cut the flesh of an unprotected knee.

I can hear the din of the crowd, and feel the supple fabric of my constraining uniform, trapping the heat radiating from my body as I stand in an intangible huddle, and the scrape of the ropy net against a wayward finger or arm. The voice of my former coach Jen resonates in my head, her soothing tone, reminiscent of a mother quieting her wailing infant, calming a team of nervous twelve year olds. Dull pain in my shoulder calls up memories of mechanical motion, completed countless times on a tall box covered in gray carpet. Yellow tape on the floor maps out the battle tactics of our practiced plan.

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I look up from our huddle into the rafters. Several balls rest undisturbed, the debris remaining from previous tournaments. Tape constricting my ankle has rolled down, loosening its grip. I can smell the spray adhesive, and feel the soft caress of pre-wrap on my lower leg before the suffocating tape is applied. The volleyball’s smooth sides become rough and worn, and I place it back into a teetering cart that longs to dump its cargo onto the blue and grey tile. The duct-tape around my wrist tightens, the marked bold black letters spell out CHAMPION, reminding me of my aspiration and duty. My hair is in sweaty tangles around my head, all bobby pins long since abandoned. The smell of fresh paper hangs about the scorekeepers table, their faces a mixture of boredom and frustration. Inaccurate score boards hang off the end of the table, their red and blue letters secured by cold metal rings broadcast the magnitude of the match.

The tall “catch-it” stands alone in a corner, its mouth having swallowed up countless passes.

The look in the eyes of my teammates is fierce and determined. The intensity of the match weighs in the air, its presence suffocating the players and burning their skin. Silence in the huddle assures the team of our unity. A shrill whistle sounds from high atop the ref stand. Footsteps echo around the gym as the players advance towards the court. Once again, the smooth sides of the ball morph into one of countless practiced with in my five years of club, its familiarity cementing my resolve. The bright white line of tape stretches before me and the black net looms ahead. I raise my arm into the air, and the holes in the court become apparent, like huge gaping pits. A cleansing breath exiting my lungs will be the final battle cry. Dim lights flicker as the dusty smell of the gym assaults my senses.

The game is over, and I am left alone.
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