Shirts Versus SkinsRussell Nichols
The game started like every other: we each picked a number, one to six, Isaac rolled his die, shirts even, skins odd. That’s how it went down every day at Pickett Park that summer, every day except the one day I showed up late.
“Took you long enough, yo,” Cole said when I stepped on the court, still shaking.
It wasn’t my fault. Uncle Joe was supposed to drop me off at three, but a cop with nothing better to do was tailgating us for twenty minutes. My uncle kept cool, hands at ten and two, staying under the 30 mph speed limit. Neither of us said a thing and unspoken words converted into sweat globs. When the squad car turned away we blew out so much air, my uncle’s Acura Legend could’ve floated. You alright? Uncle Joe asked. I peeled off my soggy shirt and nodded. I didn’t want to talk, not then, not at the park, either. I just wanted to play.
“You skins, man,” Isaac said.
I nodded and reached over my head to pull my shirt off. It was stubborn or I was too distracted. Either way I yanked harder and harder till it gave and I tossed it on the metal bleacher.
Jet was the first to notice. “What’s up with your boy?” he said, pointing and laughing at me and the rest of them did too. The joke was lost on me till I looked down and saw my whole upper body exposed and red—a textbook figure of blood vessels, connective tissue, glands and nerves.
What the hell? I went to get my skin, which was balled up, but Jet beat me to it.
Give it here, I told him. That’s mine.
“Keep away!” he said and lobbed it to Isaac, who threw it to Cole, who tossed it to Lighty.
Flailing around only made my look stupid, so I stopped. Folded my arms across my bare bare chest like I could cover up shame.
“What’s the matter, yo?” Cole cackled. “Cat got your skin?”
They didn’t want to play? Fine. I’d play by myself. I dribbled the ball to the free throw line. I shot. I missed. They laughed even harder. The rebound came back to me. I had to redeem myself, so I stepped back and back and back. I ran and jumped. And I flew, the summer air tickling sinews, and slammed the ball through the chain net. I had never dunked before. Was it adrenaline? Aerodynamics? Weight loss? I had no idea, but swear to God it happened. I had witnesses. Up there, hanging on the rim I could breathe clearly. And when I came back to Earth, they handed me my fistful of flesh.
“You alright?” Isaac asked.
“I’m good,” I said, raising my hands to slide my skin over my head.