Greg slung his gym bag over his shoulder. “I’m heading out to the park, honey. Time for some hoops.” He hoped that his voice sounded convincing.
His wife, Lisa, looked up over from the government-produced soap opera that was on the TV. “I ran into your buddy Travis at the store yesterday and he mentioned that you never showed up last week.” This was phrased as an innocent statement, but Greg knew his wife well enough to know that this was a question he was supposed to answer.
“I was shopping for an anniversary gift but didn’t want you to know,” Greg lied as he winced internally. If his wife knew that he had visited an underground, illegal dunk club, she would easily divorce him. The prospect of divorcing his wife and leaving their loveless marriage was not unattractive in itself, but divorce presented certain societal and regulatory penalties that he didn’t want to face.
“Oh,” Lisa said as she smiled and turned back to the TV, clearly pleased that a (presumably expensive) gift was in her future. Material possessions and television dramas were all she seemed to care about these days.
Feeling lucky that his lie had worked, but also frustrated that he would have to really show up at the park this time, Greg exited their apartment and began the ten minute walk. The weather was sunny and cloudless, perfect for a game of (government-mandated, dunk-less) basketball, but walking down canyon-like streets lined by drab apartment blocks made the day seem as dreary as any other.
“Hey man,” Travis called out as Greg walked up to the rectangle of asphalt. “Where were you last week?”
“Shopping for my wife,” Greg answered as he sat himself down on a bench to get his basketball shoes on. Now that the lie had worked once, he didn’t feel as bad about repeating it. “I might only stay for one game today. I think her cooking is disagreeing with me.” He theatrically rubbed his hand on his stomach and hoped the inclusion of this detail would be enough to prevent his wife from finding out about his latest illicit excursion.
“I feel you man,” Travis replied. “Carrie made me some funky scrambled eggs yesterday and I was on the toilet for two hours.”
Greg stepped onto the court and got up some practice shots, but as he did, he could only think of how he had, just the previous week, seen a real-life slam dunk. There were kids at the park who had never seen one live, maybe some who hardly knew what a slam dunk was, but he had seen one in person. The thought gave him a rush of forbidden excitement. When the game started in earnest, he couldn’t help but notice how many of the breakaway layups could have been dunks, and when he got such a layup himself, he had to resist the urge to just go up and attempt a dunk, even if it was unlikely to be successful.
The game finished, Greg restated his excuse, and he left. He bustled to the bus station, knowing that the cross-town express bus could get him to the dunk club in thirty minutes, but he first ducked into a public restroom to change into his disguise. If a coworker, or worse, an Auth, saw him getting on the bus towards the poor part of the city, he would certainly be flagged for surveillance, and the situation could easily spiral out of control after that.
Even worse, being discovered could blow the cover of the entire club. Despite having only been there once, he already considered the people there to be better friends than any of the people in his “normal” life. He felt a certain kinship with them: three parts basketball purists, one part small-time insurgents.
“Name and password,” came the voice from the other side of the door.
“Greg Carter, Weis Got Teabagged,” Greg replied, reciting the password that his coworker had relayed to him via a surreptitiously-exchanged hand-written note. Greg didn’t know exactly what the phrase referred to, but the knowledge that it was somehow dunk-related made him lower his voice to a whisper as he said it.
Just like his last visit, the lock clicked open, and he was allowed inside the abandoned gymnasium.
“Hey, it’s the newbie again!” JD said as Greg walked onto the unlit court. “Can you dunk yet?”
“Give me time, alright?” Greg answered with a smile. In truth, every night for the past week, he had been doing leg exercises on his own after his wife had gone to bed, all in pursuit of a dream that, up until a week ago, he didn’t know he had. He wasn’t sure if he would ever make it, but he would keep trying, if only because it felt dishonest to be part of a “dunk club” and make no effort to develop that skill.
Except, there was a casually-dressed woman sitting in the disused bleachers, taking longhand notes in a notebook and clearly showing no interest in feats of leaping.
“That’s Emma,” Nate supplied, having just walked over to greet his coworker. “She’s documenting us for ‘historical reasons’. As if a bunch of dudes quietly doing illegal slam dunks in an abandoned gym is notable in some way.”
Greg nodded vacantly as he stared at her.