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Playmaker, a forty-year-old "egg rancher" whose chicken ranch is threatened when an oil company plans to drill adjacent to his property, travels to Fort Worth with the Tarantulas—a six-man, city league basketball team—to compete in the State City-League playoffs. Playmaker is at the end of a successful college and amateur basketball career. All the more remarkable is the fact Playmaker has a withered left arm, his "chickenwing." During the playoffs, Playmaker meets Gloria, his wife who disappeared with his daughter, Brett, three years ago. Gloria is a legitimate Chickasas princess, descendant of Sitting Paw, a chief who successfully negotiated with the Federal government to retain Chickasas mineral rights over vast asphalt lands. Joseph Nicholson has published fiction in a number of magazines and has two chapbook collections: Odds Without End and The Dam Builder. FROM PLAYMAKER I Joseph Nicholson FARRAH'S ANCESTRAL HOME displayed massive gables flanked by a series of low arches which gave access to a tiled courtyard in the front of the house. Stout brick chimneys rose above the peaked roofs. The Tarantulas followed the drive to the back of the house where there was a six-car garage and two gardeners digging in a flower bed. An old butler came running from the house, hugged Farrah and, putting his finger to his lips, led them all inside. Playmaker saw two maids peering. They tiptoed past the high-ceilinged living room where old man Hedges slept in a big leather chair before the fire. He was wearing a union suit and an old, stained Stetson. His feet were pointed toward the flame and a pile of wood shavings lay on the rug. A jack-knife was stabbed into the table beside him, next to a decanter of whiskey. Farrah had told them their comings and goings would not bother the old man. Besides, he would be mortally offended if they stayed at a motel instead of his home. Each Tarantula had his own room and bath. Playmaker took a hot shower and lay on the bed watching television. He put hot-packs on his chickenwing which, in the last couple of years had begun to ache every time he went on the road. In highschool, road games were a lark. In college, an adventure. But as the years passed Playmaker had grown to dislike travel. It was initially exciting yet, in the end, it left him depressed. The streets were still streets, the houses still houses. The faces of all the new people you met said they lived pretty much the same kind of life you did, and most of the time it was a drag. There were games, Playmaker knew, where you came onto the court so high the stands suddenly shrunk back a good twenty feet. Your warmup was flawless and your body felt ten pounds lighter. You sailed through the air and pulled shots out of your ass that even you didn't believe were possible. Then the game began and you played like a little crippled dwarf. You lumbered and staggered, shot hopeless air balls, and watched your best passes fly straight into the hands of the defense. In other games, it was the opposite. You broke both shoe laces in the locker room and taped your ankles too tight. You came onto the court feeling low and heavy and miserable. Then you played a magnificent game, one from which you later remembered selected scenes long after you had forgotten who it was you played against, or when, or even if you had won or lost. Such was the Waco game. THE MISSOURI REVIEW · 55 Playmaker felt listless. He tried to shake it off. He had spent too many hours sitting in the van and lying around Farrah's house. Inactivity resulted in lethargy. He would almost rather have been one of the goons sitting in the stands eating popcorn. When the Tarantulas walked into the Coliseum, Playmaker took an instant dislike to the building. It seated ten thousand people, but was less than half full. The tongues of empty seats have one cheer only: this game is not important. Neither did Playmaker care for the enormous...


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pp. 54-65
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