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She slung her leg over the side of the hammock and sighed. It was the sigh alone that told the story of her boredom, the story of being dragged out to visit an aunt and uncle she barely knew; then of finding that her relatives and their neighbors were about the dullest people who ever walked the face of the earth. Then just as she sighed again, the actress in her searching for the best pitch to portray most complete and utter boredom, the screen door opened and quietly closed and her aunt stepped out and squinted in the sunshine.

"Carmon, honey. I'm afraid this must be rather dull for a city girl like you," she tittered. "Why don't you take a little stroll. I'm going to be off to the Ladies Society." Her aunt stood awhile, expectantly waiting for her niece to jump up and scamper down the road calling, "Have a nice day, Auntie!" like the niece she had always imagined. Carmon only raised one eyebrow and twisted a short black curl around her finger. Reluctantly Aunt Angela walked down the manicured sidewalk toward the dark red minivan in the garage. A minute later she was backing out of the graveled driveway.

Carmon watched and wondered, momentarily, why people drove in parkways and parked in driveways, but she soon dismissed the thought, telling herself that it was much too hot to think. Her eyes followed the minivan in a lazy sort of way, the way you might imagine a large beetle who, having just eaten his fill, lay watching a slow, fat fly. Carmon got up and pulled her soccer shorts from her sweaty skin, then gave up because they replastered each time. A gnat flew into her hair, and she flicked it away. "I guess anything would be better than this, even a walk," she said to the mosquito on her arm before squashing it. Carmon grabbed her faded New York Mets cap and put it on, then began to walk toward Maple Street, which was three houses down from Aunt Angela and Uncle Fredrick's house.

In the Land of the Basketball Hoops looking at girl playing basketball
At each house there was a girl with blond hair, shooting hoops and hoops and hoops and hoops . . .

On the corner of Maple Street and Eve Street there stood a large house. Carmon stopped to pull out her water bottle from a Barbie fanny pack that her little sister Melissa had insisted she bring and wear to remember her. Carmon took a long drink, then replaced it and looked up at the house. It looked like an imitation of the houses she'd seen along Brattle Street in one of her many visits to Cambridge, mixed with an imitation of a villa in Switzerland that she had stayed at for a year. Carmon shook her head and smiled. The imitation was certainly bad.

Thunk, thunk, thunk—her head turned automatically toward the sound. In the driveway there stood a medium-height girl with medium-length blond hair. She was shooting baskets at a hoop almost rhythmically. Carmon gazed at her for a moment, then noticed the lack of emotion on her suntanned face. She showed no sign of having any fun, yet every time she shot the ball it landed neatly in the basket. Carmon shook her head, then walked on.

As she came to the driveway of the next house she heard dribbling again, and again. Carmon turned her head to see a young girl shooting baskets. She seemed totally unaware that right next door, a girl was also playing. Their houses were just far enough apart that neither of them could see each other. Carmon wanted to run up to the girl and tell her that right next door a girl was shooting baskets too, and that they could play one-on-one, but the girl's dad was on the lawn blowing leaves in a circle with a leaf blower. Every few minutes he would stop and watch his daughter's endless, perfect shots, then give her a thumbs-up. She would smile, toss her blond hair, then continue to shoot and dribble, perfect synchronized dribbling. Carmon walked on and on, and at each house there was a girl with blond hair, shooting hoops and hoops and hoops and hoops . . .

Carmon began to be mesmerized by the endless perfection. She looked around her and realized she had no idea where she was. Her head seemed to be throbbing in perfect, synchronized beats, almost the same as the thunk, thunk, thunk coming from the driveway ahead. She couldn't seem to remember where she'd turned or how long she had been walking. She looked around and realized you couldn't give directions around here. You couldn't say "turn left at the house with the leaf blower" because every house had one, prominently filling the natural silence.

You couldn't say "turn right at the house with the fake jockey statue" because every house had one.

And you couldn't say "make a U-turn at the house with the minivan" because every driveway seemed to contain one.

You certainly couldn't say "cross the street at the house with the basketball hoop." Even in her present state of mind Carmon knew that.

Carmon turned yet another corner with the desperate hope of ending up on her aunt and uncle's street, though the street sign clearly read Twilight Park. In front of her, about five houses down, stood a Man, a Lady and a perfect little Boy. They were calling her name and beckoning to her. They seemed to know her, though she was certain she'd never seen them in her life. She seemed drawn toward them, closer, closer, her head throbbing with the repeated cries of "Carmon, Carmon, Carmon . . ."

She walked on, the monotonous, coordinated sound of the voices merging with the ever louder thump of basketballs. The people stood in front of her smiling. The man held a basketball which he placed in her outstretched hands. She walked forward, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror on their minivan. Carmon wanted to scream as she stared into the mirror—her curls had straightened and her raven hair was now brightly blond—but her face seemed frozen. She wanted to stop and run, run far away from her appalling situation, but she was externally helpless to the calling. And as she began to dribble, the last sound she heard before the thunk, thunk, thunk of the basketball completely enveloped her mind was the sound of the man turning on the leaf blower.

In the Land of the Basketball Hoops Felicity Slater
Felicity Slater, 12
Cambridge, Massachusetts

In the Land of the Basketball Hoops Sarah Dennis
Sarah Dennis, 13
Nashville, Tennessee