I’d like to think it was out of genuine concern that my father pulled me away from playing with my sister’s dolls to stand out with him in the autumn air. We faced one another like gunslingers in a fast draw. He looked at me with question marks playing up a crease between his coal-black eyebrows on his coal-black face wondering how I could possibly be something he’d had any part in creating. He stood with confident feet planted firmly on the ground, whereas I took a more relaxed approach; hip thrust out to one side, one hand on my hip with the giant glove on my right hand. I held it up to my face like a Spanish lady holds her fan.
This moment was, to my memory, the first time I had donned such a glove. A dead thing on my hand. But, I liked the smell of it very much. It smelled of my grandfather’s easy chair. Summer was breathing its last and the sky was the color of erased pencil on white paper, and I was delighted because the air was cool enough for me to wear that darling faux leather jacket I loved topped off with a smart, powder blue, knit cap. I wasn’t paying attention to my father’s words as he spoke to me. He was speaking in the foreign tongue he used with my brother that I had already, at eight years old, learned how to tune out. He only grabbed my attention again when he started to do ballet.
Basketballs are resilient things. I’ve always been fascinated by how something so innocuous looking could take such constant punishment. Footballs introduced me to one of my favorite new words as a child.
These balls the world kept handing me so I could conjure miracles were fascinating. Especially the inflated ones. They were just air pushing back against a leathery prison. Air doing its best impression of a black boy in America. One for whom balls were supposed to take on a life of their own and perform magic in his grasp. Black boys are good for sports. But up until now, in my care, the inflatable ones squirmed dying to get back into the hands of their rightful owners. They pitched over backward to escape my hands preferring to roll around in the dirt than spend one more second in my possession. I spent an inordinate amount of time chasing them clumsily as they ran away from me laughing, and I’d like to think my father thought he was doing me a favor when he decided perhaps this newer, smaller, harder ball was the one that would take to me.
And, now Daddy is doing ballet.
He’s doing the kind of ballet that barely holds my attention on the TV screen as he and my brother punch one another lightly on the shoulder and cheer when something “good” happens and suck air through their teeth at something “bad.”
And, now Daddy is doing ballet for me.
His hands raised slowly up to a praying position under his chin as he leaned unnaturally backward with one foot stubbornly planted on the ground. The other foot coiled and curved up, gracefully bent at the knee, rising higher and higher until it seemed he would topple over. So graceful my mouth hung open. His hands separated. The right hand extending all the way behind his head, his whole body commenced to slowly lurch forward. The leg that was bent at the knee made an audible thud against the wet grass in front of him and the rear leg extended. My father’s normally grimy and clunky frame was now lithe as liquid and refined as teatime and I was transfixed. So hypnotized by his beauty that I was caught wholly unaware when the angry ball collided with a crack against the bridge of my nose. It was the kind of pain, dull at first, that grows more intense with time, and it didn’t immediately dawn on me to cry. But, after a few seconds, the tears came in torrents accompanied by bouts of shrieking. It didn’t hurt yet, but I cried anyway. I cried and cried the tears born of wondering why he would ever do such a thing to me.
© Brian Broome
[This piece was selected by Sara Crowley. Read Brian’s interview]