“You into basketball?”

Jared heard the question. He assumed it hadn’t been directed at him, but then realized he was the only other person sitting at the bar. He tried to shake the fog out of his brain to answer, but it was thick. The flat screen behind the bar was showing a game. He’d been watching, but hadn’t been paying attention. It was just somewhere to rest his eyes. He had no idea who was playing whom. Background noise. Moving wallpaper. He never came to Smitty’s to watch a game. He came to sit, drink a beer, and have the occasional thought, which he was quite sure he wouldn’t remember. Now suddenly a stranger was asking if he was “into basketball.” A woman. He’d noticed her when she’d taken a seat at a respectful distance, leaving a single barstool between them. But he hadn’t actually seen her, not directly. He didn’t know what she looked like, what age she might be, what color dress she was wearing. He’d only seen the part of her reflected in the skinny mirror between liquor shelf and the bottom of the flat screen, the part that went from her chin to her cleavage. All he knew was that she had a nice neck.

Jared had long ago given up chatting in bars, particularly with women. It had never been his thing. There was no profit in it. He’d never actually “connected” with a woman in a bar. He’d met his former wife on a blind date which had been arranged by a neighbor who felt sorry for him. A marriage that ended in disaster after less than a year. The other dozen or so women he’d dated, if one can use that term euphemistically, he’d met through socials or community events. The single exception was Paula, the woman who’d been his secretary at the firm. Dating her had been the biggest mistake of his life. Cost him his job. That said, meeting women in bars was for him the social equivalent of traveling to outer space. Not likely in this lifetime. Besides, how did one go about talking to a woman in a bar? He didn’t have a clue. He knew only that there was never a right answer, never a winning strategy. At least not for him.

Was he “into” basketball? she had asked. What kind of a question was that?

Jared refocused his eyes on the flat screen. Basketball. Basketball players. Who were they? Ball-dribbling gazillionaires in short pants. How fucked up was that? People the world over were suffering, and what was he doing? Watching bullshit. But wasn’t that the point? A distraction from all the other bullshit? Nothing matters, Jared thought. Surely that’s what the woman was getting at. If he told her he was “into” basketball, he’d just be supporting what she obviously already thought, that his life was a pathetic waste of time. And she’d be right. On the other hand, what if she agreed with his point-of-view? Maybe she was looking for a little ain’t-it-awful camaraderie. Maybe he was being too hard on her and on himself.

Then again, she could be a fan of the game. Had he ever been “into” basketball? Jared smiled at the memory of watching Michael “Air” Jordan and the Bulls dominate the ’92 finals against the Trailblazers. Game One was the best he’d ever seen. Jordan played like a god, 35 points in the first half. Jared had seen the game on television but false memories placed him in the third row, center court when the man leapt into the air like no human ever had, ever could. Jordan defied gravity, pirouetted, switched the ball from one hand to the other in midflight, and dunked it so hard that the air was sucked out of the arena. The beauty, the athleticism. The man was like no other. Maybe the woman sitting two stools away wanted to share in the tribal glory, relate as one fan to another, as one person to another.

Should he take the risk? he wondered. Risk shame? Risk humiliation? How would he know unless he tried? What could it hurt? Jared turned his head and looked at her. In the dim neon light he saw a pair of beautiful blue eyes, cobalt blue. And a great smile. Wide, full. He’d not seen a smile like that in … well, he couldn’t remember when he’d seen a smile like that. Be bold, he told himself. Women don’t like men who waffle. Whatever you do, don’t waffle. Just be yourself and be decisive. Jared took a breath.

“Sometimes,” he said.

Jim Woessner is a visual artist and writer living in Sausalito, California. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College and has had poetry and short fiction published in numerous online and print magazines.

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