Someone has reserved the beach volleyball court at the park for the office party. Mary wanders up to the sand and waves at Heather, her cubicle neighbor and best work friend. Heather wants Mary to play on the other team so both sides are even.
“I’m not really good at sports,” Mary calls out to Heather and her other friends on the court. They don’t care; they want her to play.
Mary ducks whenever the ball hovers over her and lets others do the spiking. It isn’t long until her friend Mark from Accounting accidentally runs over her other friend Evan, who works in Sales, both of them concentrating on the ball over their heads. Mark gets up, shaking it off. But Evan, with his much smaller build, is slow to stand. Others help him to the bench nearby. Mary notices how Evan hangs his head low, so she leaves the game and sits next to him. No one objects; the teams stay even. She touches her friend’s narrow back. A I’m-here-for-you kind of pat, a I-care-buddy kind of pat. Her fingers detect his twig-like spine. Soon Evan looks up at the game and stands. Someone calls out, “Hey, he’s fine. Get back in here, you two.”
Mary finds herself at the back corner of the court, where the sand borders the grass. She remembers elementary school–how if anyone injured themselves, they would sit on the concrete steps leading to the classroom until they felt better. Mary would leave the playground and sit next to the injured child, like she did just now. She smiles at how her friends from work cheer and laugh with each other on the court.
“Watch out, Mary.” Her vision strobes a flash for a few beats after the plunging ball socks her a good one. She feels her nose for any blood while Heather helps her to the bench. Her best friend hurries back onto the court.
Mary squints at the ball rising and falling from the sky, how it pops up again. They play on.
No one comes over to sit with her, just like when she’d wait on the hard steps after scraping her knee or bruising her elbow, silently watching the playground by herself.
“You know what?” Mary calls out to her co-workers. “Now you’re odd. All of you are odd.”
Dan Crawley is the author of Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) and The Wind, It Swirls (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2021). His writing appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Milk Candy Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and a Pushcart Prize.