The Arc of the Cosmos

Swinging his father's putter, Jack kept whapping the tennis ball, trying to get it up the wheelchair ramp. The ball would roll about a third of the way up before curving and falling over the edge and onto the carpeted step. It was like a miniature golf course. Except he was inside his house.

He tried once more. Of course, he should have tried using a real golf ball but that could break something and his mother would kill him if he broke something. He set the ball at the bottom of the ramp, looked up the length of the ramp to the carpeted hallway and saw the edge of the wall where he wanted to bank the shot so it would roll into his room.

After whacking the ball with more force than the last time, he watched it zoom up the ramp. It made it! It made it! It kept rolling, heading almost precisely where he'd aimed it. Inches from the wall, however, Punchy darted from the shadows of the hallway, her slobbery jaws intercepting the ball before it could make its bank into his room.

"Punchy, no," he shouted. "Bad dog." He dashed up the ramp and the dog scrambled away from him, twisting in the hallway until she was bounding down the steps and into the living room where she skittered across the slick tile.

Her haunches gave out from under her and she banged into the fireplace with a yelp.

Jack chased after her and went to all-fours when she fell and crawled over to her to make sure she was all right. There were enough injured animals in this household with his mom all banged up from slipping on the ice last month.

He ruffled Punchy behind the ears and the dog sat up and nosed his face and began to lick him. "Off me! Off me!" He struggled to push away the dog's heavy forepaws, when suddenly the dog's weight shifted away from him. In the middle of the living room floor was a glint of yellow. The tennis ball. "No Punchy! Stop it. My ball. My ball!"

But the dog had already snatched the ball in its slobbery jaws.

By the time Jack had scrambled up, Punchy's snout had jutted into the air, the ball lifting in an arc, and then falling away from the ceiling, dog spit flipping in silvery droplets from it. One of the droplets connected under Jack's left eye. "Yuck!" He wiped away the spittle. "Stupid dog!"

The ball spattered against the tile, bounced again in an arc, twisted and fell with a dusty thump into the fireplace.

"Shit," Jack said. Heat rimmed his ears when he realized what he'd said. Cursing was foul. His mother would beat him for sure.

No time to worry, however. The dog had already started for the ball. He leapt and tried to grab her collar, only to crash against the hard tile, sharp stings needling his elbows and the backs of his legs.

Ashy tendrils curled around the fireplace where the dog had landed. She was snuffling in the ash and soot for the tennis ball.

From down the hallway his mother hollered, "What's going on in there, Jack?"

Jack bellowed, pains knifing his arms and legs.

He had crashed like this once before. On the gravel road behind his house. His bicycle had caught a big rock and slung him over the handle bars and he smacked against the road. Then he had to have stitches for the cut above his eye. He hadn't ridden his bicycle since, afraid to crash again.

Everyone was afraid to crash. His mother talked about how scared she was lying out on the patch of ice after her crash, unable to move, trying to call for help, but not finding her voice. Her hip didn't pain her until after they'd gotten her to the hospital. The cold and shock must've kept it from hurting, she explained to Jack. Now she was afraid to walk, because that could mean another crash.

Jack had watched when the woman therapist came to help his mother walk again. She would bawl when the woman tried to get her on her feet.

Pain pierced his thoughts and he screamed for help. Punchy stood over him, whimpering. His elbow hurt so much. He thought it might be broken. No one was there to help him. No one had been there to help him or his mother in a long time. When he had fallen from his bike, his father had been there to drive him to the emergency room so he could get sewed up. His father was gone, though, married to someone else by now.

What could he do? He stared up at the ceiling, tried to focus on the fan churning above him. The fan whirled like the cosmos, empty and black, nothing out there, nothing to hear him cry in pain.

Feeling began to come back into his legs. A few minutes later he was able to sit up. He knew then he'd have no one but himself to rely on.

Down the hallway his mother shouted, "Jack, are you all right? Jack?"

"Yes, Momma, I'm okay," he said. His legs were wobbly, coltish, but he could stand. Punchy nuzzled her ash-dusted snout against him. "I think I'm going to be all right."

About the author:

Todd Glasscock is Lifestyles editor for the Temple Daily Telegram, Temple, Texas. His articles and reviews have garnered acclaim from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and have appeared in other online publications. He is currently revising a novel. He holds an MA in English from Southwest Texas State University.