Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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29

“You want to serve?” asked Wally, circling his end of the court.

“I’d much rather see you try it,” said Pat, smug.

“Look – if you’re going to be negative about this…”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Pat. “Let’s play. You serve.”

To Pat’s horror, this was something Wally could do well. He threw the ball up into the sun which hung over his end of the court, and for a brief moment a wedge of belly the colour of waterlogged porridge grinned out from between shirt and shorts.

Then Wally bought the racquet up and smacked the ball straight out of the glare. It bounced off-court to Pat’s right. As far as he could tell, it had landed close enough to be inside the lines.

“Hell – you didn’t tell me you know what you were doing.”

“It’ll come up even. My psoriasis is bad today so I can’t run much. If things are getting away from you, draw me into a rally.” Secretly, Pat believed this was the explanation for why Wally was a loser; he had no competitive instinct.

No matter what, bad legs or prior experience, Pat wanted to win and would never have surrendered that kind of information.

“I’ll serve the rest of this game and then you can serve,” said Wally. “I can’t really see the lines, though. You’ll have to tell me.” Evidently, Wally wasn’t wearing his contacts. Pat filed this information away as equally useful.

Wally’s second serve was faster, but less accurate.

“Fault,” called Wally, cheating Pat of the opportunity to lie. He had inserted tennis balls into the hip pockets of his shorts and the denim bulged obscenely. An old Greek lady sitting on a nearby bench slid one large, disapproving eye over them.

Pat noted this and pretended to absent-mindedly scratch his testicles. She quickly swept her gaze away.

Wally squeezed a ball from his shorts the way a kid will squeeze a Mentos from its tight paper tubing. He bent over the line and bounced it twice, as if defying the surface not to return the ball.

There was a command and control that Pat found hard to associate with rotund, shiftless, punk-rock Wally. He seemed much more at home with a beer sweating in his pudgy little fist than strangling a tennis racquet.

“Hang on a minute,” said Wally, racquet and ball in one hand, fishing

around under the neckline of his shirt, “My cigarettes keep moving around.”

He took out the pack and threw it into his racquet case, where it tinkled amongst the small change. He returned to the line, bounced his ball once and tossed it overhead, his spine elongating as he reared up into a silhouette within which Pat could discern the line of a younger, stronger man.

Again a ‘pock’ sound issued from somewhere within the sun-blot and the ball came towards him, echoing its issue with another pop as it bounced.

Pat ran to meet it, clumsily trying to judge the correct distance from ball to racquet-plus-arm. He swung and felt the vibrations of the sound he heard; he hit the ball with the frame, rather than the strings. The ball shot uselessly away from him, off into the fence at his right.

“Fuck it!” he cursed, and the old Greek lady swung the beams of her attention back to them like a seagull watching two impudent crabs marching along her beach.

“Do you want to just have a hit?” asked Wally.

“Just serve the fucking ball, you,” said Pat, pointing the racquet as if it were a sword.

Wally swung a ball into the air and then swung his racquet after it. This ball was ladled towards him, rather than launched. Wally skipped forward towards the net in preparation for counter. Pat galloped in, hungry for the point.

He hit the ball and it caught the net, mercifully rolling forward and making it over. Wally scooped it from where it hovered obediently at his knees and from the deliberate arc of the racquet, Pat felt, to his increasing frustration, that the ball was only returning to him because Wally had condescended that it do so.

Pat gripped the hilt of his racquet with both hands and shoved like he was rowing. He sent the ball off on a sharp diagonal; Wally turned and stretched and leapt to reach and caught it.

It returned on its angular trajectory and Pat didn’t even register fast enough to move his racquet. He heard the ball bounce behind him. Wally turned and sauntered gingerly back to the far end of the court.

“What does the score go up to?” asked Pat.

“That’s ‘game’. You wanna serve now?”

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