by Laura Valeri

You were always too slow, your father used to say, too slow dodging the other girls' hands blocking your shots, slow to move out of the way, slow to catch up, slow to make the basket—just like when you were ten, at ski camp, he'd remind you, where you were sent in hopes you'd learn some self-preservation skills, hopes all but lost the day of the storm when the competition was canceled, but somehow you had already gotten to the top of the mountain, early as your father had suggested, so you could study the slope alone, testing the ice, the snow, the binding of your skis, you, still struggling with your gear and missing the last lift down, and slow to bundle up with adequate scarves and gloves, slow to apprehend the context of the warning passing around from mouth to mouth, missed everything important; and although you won't talk to your father anymore now that you're earning your own money for college, he'll still have seen you today, maybe on tv, maybe from the bleachers, maybe in his mind, still thinking you're always one second or so too late to shoot, too slow to move out of the way for the referee to call a foul he's not sure he's seen, too slow telling the coach how the girl with the frizzy hair slugged you one under your chin so that you got confused and didn't know where you were, and the game turned into a stampede of squeaking sneakers, flying sweat, and shoving hands, and wouldn't slow down for you, (although it didn't seem like such a long time to you) and you just stood there under a rain of whistles and shouts, costing your team two points, slow like molasses as they say in the South, but not quite that sweet because you're too slow with a compliment from the boy who, after the game, told you that referee was crazy not to call that foul, and that your shots seemed elegant from where he sat, high up on the bleachers, and in spite of yourself, you have difficulties processing how there might be some things about you that are elegant, after all, and you fail to show interest or gratitude for this person whose smile is better than one hundred foul shots from the foul line where no one can trample you, better even than that invitation to the party tonight he's just offered, where the coach has agreed the team should go to celebrate—but even in the comfort of beer and dim lights you're too slow to prevent the girl with the frizzy hair and big breasts who slugged you one on the basketball court earlier today from moving in on the kill before you, slow on the dance floor, slow to think of how to react to the way he looks at you as she takes his hand and leads him away, her teeth showing, her breasts rubbing against his chest as she nudges him to a cozy corner behind the beer keg where their bodies merge to the mellifluous tones of a Latin ballad, where you know now it's too late for you to go, too late to answer his subtle invitation, too late for a fair score, too late to catch the last ride home, like that day at ski camp, when you felt too numb with fear of losing to see the snow storm coming, the wind rising up fast all around you and the fog swallowing you quickly, quickly, until the rescue team had to be sent to find you, you, the slow one, hunched down against the fast wind, inching your way down the slope through feet of powder-fresh snow, still thinking about winning, your fingers and toes frosting one by one, your tongue tasting metal, until the arm of someone you couldn't see wrapped around you, snow and cold tufts of steamy breath congealing on your ski mask as he spoke to you of safety, of shelters, of canceled competitions; even now, with your arms wrapped around you in a sober hug while a slow song plays out, you remember how it felt to be rescued, to know the slow beat of a stranger's breath catching up to your quick gasps: because you know you will have to get home tonight somehow, but an arm may yet reach out and wrap around you, the arm of a stranger who won't ask for your name, or ask what you're doing here alone tonight in this dangerous darkness, won't ask how you expect to get safely to a warm, slow place you call home that you would otherwise have to earn walking alone from glower, to yowl, to whispered propositions of strangers leaning in the shadows of corners, offering sex, offering drugs, offering slow and dreamy dissolutions for a price, and you making your way through these streets alone, will pretend not to see them, as if it weren't urgent, as if it weren't all about living or dying, as if happiness were all just a whistle away from that elegant shot you took after the party on an empty court, no one watching, no one missing it, no one to evaluate how elegant it seemed, and no one to criticize you, like your father used to, for taking your time.

Laura Valeri is the author of the short story collection "The Kind of Things Saints Do" winner of the John Simmons/Iowa short fiction award and the John Gardner Fiction Award. She has published in Creative Nonfiction, Glimmer Train, Literary Potpourri, Big Bridge, Waccamaw, and various other literary journals.