Book excerpt -- 'The Falconer: A Novel' by Dana Czapnik

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From The Falconer by Dana Czapnik. Copyright 2019 by Dana Czapnik. Excepted by permission Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

A fresh rain on pavement smells primordial. The scent burrows into prehistoric neurons in my brain. There's a connection there to ... I don't know. Something before man. I dribble the ball as I trot to the middle court. I pick the only basket that has a semblance of a real net. The rest of the open ones are naked. The net's crumbling, barely hanging on. The rain has weighed it down, turned it a murky gray color. But I like the way the ball falls through a proper net.

The court's still damp, so tiny little stones stick to the ball every time I dribble it. I'm playing with a real quality indoor leather basketball, which I stole from Pendleton. It's about the third one I've taken from them over the years. You just can't play with a crappy store-bought rubber basketball after you've played with the real deal. And to buy one for myself would mean I'd be out at least a hundred dollars. Which I don't really have. Especially now. All my babysitting money has to be stashed away for plane trips back home. When you play with a leather basketball on an asphalt court, what happens is that the outer lining of the ball gets all torn up and worn. It makes the basketball's life a lot shorter, but while it's alive, man, that thing is great. The best grip you can get. It means a lot, those extra feels.

Atria/Simon & Schuster

"The Falconer" released in Jan. 2019.

I put some backspin on the ball and throw it onto the court. It bounces into my hands like a boomerang. I shoot a long-range jumper and it falls right in. The season's been over for a few months, but Alexis and I have been shooting around in the gym after school, playing some intense one-on-ones, so I'm keeping my game up. My body is still calibrated to basketball. Nothing feels off. Plus, I haven't been punishing it during practice or games, so it's well rested. Fresh.

I throw up a couple more jumpers before I really get into my routine. I read an article in Sports Illustrated that said that Michael Jordan shoots a hundred baskets a day, every day, without fail. Even game days. So, I've been trying to do that, to make sure when I get to school I'm at the optimal level.

I start downing baseline shots, one after the other. Boom. Boom. Boom. Rotating sides as I go. After I've hit about ten on each side, I move over a couple feet and start shooting from a bit of a different perspective. Trying to cover every speck of pavement inside the three-point arc so that I have no weaknesses. When something is feeling off, when I hear a clank and I shouldn't, I stay in the same spot and just hit that basket again. Again. Again. Square my shoulders. Bend my knees, pull my whole body straight to the sky, and release right at the top. Until the ball floats into the center of the hoop. Just net. Then I'll stay there until I hit five more shots just like it.

There is no silence like the silence in your own head when you allow it space to be silent. No sirens. No honking. No ka-klunk kaklunk. No shouting from the games on the other courts. No music. No playground screams. No stroller wheels. No creeping thoughts. No wondering. No melancholy. No happiness. Just: ball on pavement. Silence. Air. Thwip. Ball on pavement. Ball on pavement. Feet on pavement. Ball on pavement. Silence. Air. Thwip. Again. There is a meditation in this. A nirvana. I cannot find it anywhere else but here. A ball. A hoop. And me.

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