Death

by Tom Swift

Here comes this lady into your life. You don’t know that she has been up all night peeing, racked with pain in her lower back. You don’t know how many people told her she was nuts to get on an airplane and fly to your hometown at a time like this. You don’t know that an hour ago, when her water broke, she was crouched in an eight-seat King Air blotting her legs with paper towels. Hell, you’re 16. You don’t know that she’s spitting Nature in the eye and kicking Time in the teeth.

She’s sitting on your sofa as you come through the door from school on a September day in 1990, and she grins and grinds her teeth against the contractions. How could you know that it’s already too late — that Pat Summitt’s got you, she’s got you forever?

Michelle Marciniak takes a seat and looks around her living room. She’s a senior at Allentown (Pennsylvania) Central Catholic High, an hour north of Philadelphia, a guard who in six months will become the Naismith and Gatorade player of the year. But that’s not enough for Michelle. In her dream she has both the acclaim that goes to the best player in the land and the championship that her high school team keeps falling short of. She would love to put her dream in Pat’s hands, but in Pat’s hands already rests the other player of the year candidate, the other All-America who plays Michelle’s position.

Michelle knows something weird is going on the minute she walks in the door … but what is it? Her mom, Betsy, and her old brother, Steve, are wearing the same nervous, crooked little smile. Michelle’s cocker spaniel, Frosty, is yip-yapping laps around the premier coach in the history of women’s basketball. Pat’s bouncing from sofa to the bathroom to the telephone and back. Her assistant coach, Mickie DeMoss, is whipping through Tennessee’s recruiting scrapbook as if she’s sitting on a mound of fire ants: Here’s the area, here’s the library, here’s the ’89 national championship — O.K., Michelle, any questions? Michelle’s dad, Whitey, is sitting across the room jingling coins manically in his pocket. You try it. It’s not easy to jingle coins while you’re sitting down.

Suddenly, Nature mounts a furious comeback, Time starts kicking Pat in the teeth. “Mickie,” she blurts, “we have to go. Now.” Suddenly they’re babbling to the teenage girl that Pat’s baby is coming, and Steve and Michelle are racing to his car to lead the Tennessee coaches to — the hospital, right? — heck no, to the airport, because Patricia Head Summitt is going to have this baby when and where she wants it. Suddenly Steve and Michelle are swerving around curves, blowing through red lights and stop signs and Do Not Enter signs, swiveling their heads to look back at Mickie, who’s freaking out at the wheel of the rental car, and Pat, who has her feet on the dashboard and is groaning. They all screech to a halt near the airport’s private hangars. Mickie runs up the steps into an airplane. Wrong airplane. She pops back out. “I’ll call you!” Pat shouts to Michelle. She strides into the King Air, and off she roars into the sky.

-Gary Smith, “Eyes of the Storm,” Beyond the Game: The Collected Sportswriting of Gary Smith (2000)