Coach Strager named the girls’ basketball team the Fighting Octopuses because she knew that the best players on the scene seemed to have at least six arms.  She wanted her girls to have eight.

The name stuck despite the fact that the school’s actual mascot was a wild boar, a low-to-the-ground animal with short stubby legs that probably had the least likelihood of any animal she could think of to be good at hoops.  You have to keep your head up in basketball, and wild boars tend to have their snouts stuck to the ground, brooding, chuffing around for mushrooms in the dirt.

It was the same with artist types, Coach Strager learned the hard way.  There were some girls on the team last year who thought they could do it all–be in theater and some of them in jazz band and some of them on their way to become playwrights or whatever it was they were doing, and those kids, you could never get their head in the game.  They were always snout down, “processing” something, off in a dreamland somewhere and that’s when the point guard would maneuver around them and score a layup.  And then those artistic brooders would take 20 minutes to process what went wrong and in the meantime the game would be over.

That’s why Lacy Fendale was such a star.  She  had absolutely no artistic pretensions at all.  Lacy Fendale didn’t care what anything meant, she just wanted to win.  She could stay in the now and pass the ball and keep her head up, and most of all she could defend the crap out of the best player…shut them down, grab the ball out of their hands and turn things around for her team.

That is, until last November.

Last November Lacy developed a crush on a boy in her algebra class.  Brett Munson.  Brett was going out with Janelle Peterson, who had just joined the Fighting Octopuses as a sophmore.  And shortly thereafter, Lacy stopped passing the ball as much.

“Where’s your head?” shouted Coach Strager after one game where Lacy got a bounce pass and started moving, but forgot to dribble–she actually *traveled* with the ball, a mistake you stop making after the 4th grade YMCA leagues.

“I don’t know,” said Lacy, “sorry” and she was benched for the rest of the game, which the Lady Octopuses lost.  In the locker room nobody would look at her. Except for Janelle Peterson.

“Are you okay?” asked Janelle, as they waited on the curb for their rides home.  “I’m fine,” said Lacy as Brett came up and took Janelle’s bag and they walked to his car.

In the next game Lacy tripped on her shoelaces and went down hard, but she stayed in the game and managed to score 14 points anyway, by not really seeing Janelle’s face, but rather just seeing her as a body in a pink uniform with a number on it.  27.  That seemed to work.  For a time.

Then the next week Brett was in the stands and Lacy was guarding Julie Lardswick from Colfax and at a key moment when Lacy would have normally slapped the ball out of Julie’s hands, instead she punched her in the face, and was suspended for a week.

“Is everything okay at home?” asked indifferent school counselor Ed Crondale, filling out the paperwork for Lacy’s official dismissal, a record that presumably would be available to the colleges she had applied for, if they asked for it.

“What about at school? Is anything happening? Are you being bullied or harassed or made to feel small by people who might just be jealous of your innate talent?”

Lacy kept quiet.  She didn’t want to talk about it.  What she wanted to do was go out in her tent by herself and bring her books about mountain climbing and women who go out into the jungle and live with wild animals, and in three weeks she would come back and she would score 42 points in the game against Menomonie Falls, those Amazons–thought Lacy– that’s what happens when you grow up in a small town, she thought, basketball becomes too important, and the whole town comes out to support you and if you win they throw you a barbeque dinner and slip you Miller Lites under the table, and if you don’t win they simply pretend that you don’t exist and you become a ghost in your own town.

Lacy was going to make those fat girls into ghosts.  But not ghosts like the ghost of Jesus, rising from the dead on Easter, better than he was before.

Oh no.  She meant dead ghosts.  Ghosts who tried to put their hands on something and they would glide right through.  Ghosts who could not pick up a fork or play the piano.  Ghosts who would not be offered any Miller Lite, and would go home and eat a Stouffer’s box meal out of the freezer.  And sit and eat it alone while watching Wheel of Fortune.

“I’m fine,” said Lacy.  “Just give me my paperwork.”

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