Jack Boyle
Being and a Ball
 
 
            In the late afternoon Steve was telling Peter he wanted to write a story.  Peter was sitting on a picnic table outside their apartment building smoking and Steve was standing flicking his cigarette and scuffling his feet on the pavement.  Peter wore his hair tied back in a ponytail and was fingering his brown beard. 
            “Did you ever notice that light there?”  Steve asked, pointing with his cigarette to a post hidden behind a tree, but staring off unfocused into another direction, as though looking through something.
            “No,” Peter replied, “That’s strange.  We’re out here everyday.”
 
            In the early evening another day, they smoked again.
             “You know,” Steve said, “now, every time we come out here, I feel like I have to notice that damn light.”
            “Just ‘cause you made notice of it the other day?”  Peter said, knowingly.
            “Yeah, it’s gotten kind of annoying now.”
            They lit their cigarettes and dragged, staring off.  Steve noticed himself looking away in hesitation.  He tried to feel comfortable with the idea of not knowing what he was thinking at that moment.  They finished their cigarettes.
            On their way inside, Steve saw a tennis ball on the ground by their apartment building.  A dog must have dropped it, he thought.  He picked it up and started down the stairs with it.
 
            At dusk, Steve was outside smoking with Camille talking about bouncing a ball or something.  He’d say the ball reaffirmed his existence—it bounced and came back—then he’d be off on something else.  Talking about French and trying to say something about language.  He’d been talking about language and the deep, hidden meaning behind bouncing a tennis ball.
            They were sitting on the concrete steps outside his apartment building.
            “And now, of course, if I wasn’t already aware of the fact that I mentioned what the ball means—or what I say the ball is, is…—I mean how I said— You know, I said I was going to develop a lisp over this—I mean talking.”
            “I like how you talk,” She said.  “I can’t talk like you.”
            He paused.  This happened a lot.  He got stuck on what she said.  Then, his brain fired and he was off again.
            “Oh, so, what I said… what I was saying was that if  I’ve said that the ball is a metaphor,” he bounced the tennis ball, “then, now, I must be very aware of it.  Right?” 
            He dropped the ball.  It rolled under the handrail he was leaning on, and it fell off the ledge into the stairwell, rolling down the steps that led to the basement of the apartment building where he lived.  He gave her a knowing look, as if this meant something.  To him, the bouncing ball actually was a metaphor for the conversation itself, a representation of the reality he created in conversation with her.  When he dropped the ball, it was symbolic of the end of the very conversation which it had caused.
            They had finished smoking their cigarettes, so he was just talking without much reason.  But he kept going like he was getting at some important point the whole time.  He’d look up and he’d think she’d smile and he’d look away and stop, and he’d start again.
“Now, it’s a metaphor and I’m aware of it—and the ball rolls down the stairs, to the door,” he said, like he was telling the story.
 
            Camille left after Steve had made his tennis ball conclusion, so Steve walked down the cement stairs smiling.  He bent down and scooped up the yellow ball from where it had fallen and walked into the basement of his and Peter’s apartment building.  Closing the door, he walked down the dark white hall.
            He opened the door, bouncing the tennis ball again.  Peter was sitting on their futon watching the evening news on mute. “You know, sometimes I have the most brilliant conversations and I can never explain them,” Steve said with a poetic rhythm that made Peter nod and wait for explanation.  But Steve had noticed the email that was still open on Peter’s computer, waiting to be read.
            So he sat down at Peter’s chair to read it.  It was about shadows and confession and Sal Paradise.
            When he was finished, he said, “You know, I’ve been seeing myself more and more wanting to do things just because other people do them.  You know?  Like I drew that comic right after you showed me some of Jeff’s comics, and now I wish I could write something like that beautiful email.  I only want things because other people have them.  I feel like a fraud for it.  Like I’m only a reflection of others with wants and needs created solely out of imitation.”
            This was answered with a nod from Peter, his eyes fixed on the silent television.
            “But, like I was saying,” Steve went on again, “I have these brilliant conversations—  Just now, I was outside talking to Camille, and I was—I was bouncing this ball,” and he bounced it, still sitting in Peter’s chair, his forearms resting on the insides of his legs.  “It was the strangest thing.  I was saying how I like bouncing the ball because...” And he looked up to see that Peter knew this was part of his story.  He picked up out of place.  “Then, I went off saying how I don’t know the language as well out-loud as I do on paper.  I’m a better reader-slash-writer than a talker.  You know like French.  I can see, when I’m trying to learn it, that I don’t know it as well when I’m trying to talk; I feel like I can’t really say anything.  Like in here,” he pointed to his head in between bounces, “when I see the word, Reaffirmation.  I see ‘Affirm’.  Then, I see ‘Re-’.  And then, I see ‘–ation’.  And I don’t see it the way people really say it out-loud. People say it ‘reffirmation’.  So when I say it, I say, ‘Re affirm ation’, like I’m only seeing parts of the word— but the word isn’t even there to see.  That’s what happens with French too, ‘cause I don’t see and say the words the same—you know, I’ve got the English in my head that will stop me from reading it French.  Anyway, what I was saying to Camille outside just now was the thing with the re-affirm-ation, and the French and the everything.” 
            All this time, he was still bouncing the ball, tripping over words and tittering, bouncing the ball faster and faster.
            “Now I’m acting it out for you, you know.  I’m acting.  I’m bouncing the ball, here, now, but I was bouncing the ball the whole time I was out there and it was real.  I was saying that I liked to bounce the ball.  Right?  Like I said how I was liking the ball-bouncing and everything.  And I said to her, I said, ‘I’ve always wanted the things I do outwardly to be worth more than people really see them as,’ and I guess that’s why I have to always talk to people so they’ll start seeing everything I’m thinking.  Right?  So I said how I wanted her to see the ball as, eh, some sort of metaphor.  Some sort of metaphor for something ‘significant’ about life.  I said ‘Significant’, with little quotes in the air around it, so she’d see it as parenthetical or whatever they are.”
            And he went on telling it like this to Peter, looking at himself bouncing the ball, and referencing the actual conversation.  All the while saying, “I’m acting it now, but then, outside, it was real.”
            “—Oh, but then, all of that was to discover for her—it was for her to discover—what I was saying, or what I started to say in the first place, that the ball is a reaffirmation of reality.  I bounce it and it comes back.  I bounce it and it comes back.  But, like I said, it was a metaphor—or is.  And when I told her that, I dropped the ball purposely, like now,” and he dropped the ball.  “I dropped it and it rolled down the stairs to the door.  She smiled and left and it was like a story that I was telling the whole time.  The ball symbolically ended the story.  That reality which I was affirming was gone.  I lost it.  Nothing else to say; no more ball.”
            He got out of the chair and walked across the room to where the ball had rolled.  He picked it up, bounced it and smiled.  He walked back to his chair, setting the tennis ball on his desk.
            Peter said, “Give me that damn ball.”