Backwoods Elegance

December 27, 2007
By Linnie Leavines, Zachary, LA

I was standing there in front of hundreds, all awkwardness and clammy sweat, microphone in hand. I remember the gym was hot and the air was wet, and the sun was bright as it shone through the gaps in the roof. Like a natural spotlight. Eyes on me.

Children were crammed in bleachers on the left; teenagers were crammed in bleachers on the right. Shifting seas of red and white and grey and plaid – the colors of a backwoods school and a dead Confederacy – were blurs before my eyes. I sat by these people every day in class, but perspective changes when you step up, tools of art in your hands and a message in your throat, and prepare to redefine yourself. I couldn’t recognize any of them.

Fake diamonds gleamed from my throat and wrist and ears, winked from where they were strewn in my dark hair. I never wore real lipstick, but now my mouth was painted dark red; I never wore real eye color, but now my eyes were dark and wild. I wasn’t beautiful. I never said I was beautiful. But I made them look at me.

My heels clicked on the newly-varnished basketball court, and I wondered for a crazy moment if the coach was noticing. A metaphor came to mind, causing a grim inward chuckle. Here I was, the symbol of The Arts, innocently damaging the perfection and legend that was Backwoods Basketball, the very bread and butter of the school. All with my strappy heels, artfully torn black dress, and ghostly, skittering adolescent legs.

You need to understand my agenda, my battlefield. There is irony here, there is justice and vengeance. Arts versus the gods and goddesses of physical might – sports. The past few years we have suffered from genocide, but, like any oppressed people, we also had a champion. She came in the form of a gun-shy girl who spun out her dreams in empty room, who sang in the shower with the show tunes in her head, whose weapons were a microphone and a cheap karaoke track. I was ready to do battle.

The judges sat directly across from me, papers strewn in front of them, pens tap-tapping, faces bored and beaded with sweat. I knew them all, because everyone knew everybody there, so I smiled at them. I do not know if they smiled back, because the song began to croon from the speakers and my world went hazy again.

Then there was the trophy, the certificate with my name misspelled, and a hollow ‘Congratulations’ as the principal, or, as he is more widely known, The Basketball Coach, shook my hand. But the crowd was standing, cheering for the fourteen-year-old girl with skinny knees and a big voice, so I just smiled at him and scuffed my feet innocently.

My shoes, I noticed later, left black marks under the basketball goal.

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