This is being beaten by Anna.
“Do you remember when we were kids?” she says.
I lie because I want to play, not talk. Can’t talk when I play.
Whack. Blam. She does both.
The tight blue sphere tears past my shins at speeds approaching light from a spray can. I swat at it with my racquet as the concrete wall meets my shoulder. Can a human body be dropped from a skyscraper and fall sideways? If it ever happens it will feel like this.
The wall is streaked with black and blue rubber from speeding balls that passed on their way to breaking the sound barrier. None of them were hit by me.
There’s rust on the wall next to the ball-skid marks--old blood from warriors who died in shame.
Sweat on the floor. Watch your step as you lunge.
This is me lunging. This is me slipping on my own spit. This is my twisting ankle. This is the mark on my chest where the ball hit me. This is the tear in my rotator cuff where I hit the wall in a Kamakaze run at salvaging a point.
It’s a guy thing. If you can’t win, bleed.
Anna doesn’t get it. Anna doesn’t lunge. Anna is curvaceous sinew. Her light brown hair is tied in bun on her head but a few strands leak out around her cheeks and forehead. Her tank top is mottled in patches of wet so that it sticks in places to her sports bra. When she runs for the ball the edge of her underwear peeks from beneath her shorts. It’s red.
I think we’re wasting all this energy whacking a ball around a concrete room. All I can think about between losing point after point is that I need to be somewhere alone with her. I need to convince her it would be more fun to take off these sweaty clothes and take a shower together and act like married people for a while.
She must sense my thoughts, because every time the urge hits me to call the game and get her to leave with me she says she’s not going until I put up more of a challenge. I’m losing too easily. If this is her mating selection process, I don’t stand a chance.
Then I’ll just have to die, because I can’t live the rest of my life wanting Anna so much.
There is no way for me to win. Somehow she is always where the ball is as if she’s plotted and memorized the course of every racquetball that would ever fly in this court so she could be where it was going months before it was manufactured.
Somehow those arms can impart enough energy to turn the little blue ball to a rifle bullet. My arms are bigger. Making a calculation using the same mass to strength ratio I should be able to propel balls at the speed of light. I am an engineer. Anna is a goddess. Balls I hit run away from my racquet laughing.
“You don’t remember anything?”
She’s still on the childhood remembrance gig. Instead of answering her, I fling my body into the corner of the court hoping to induce enough head injury to destroy my speech centers. Twenty years from now they’ll invent a machine I can use to speak with. Maybe then I’ll get over losing by twenty points, time after time.
After hitting my head I see stars for a second. When they go away, I realize she still wants an answer. Maybe I should chew my leg off.
“No.” But I do remember something. I remember we held hands a lot and played house. What man wants to remember that? Unless, it gets him into bed… Anyway, I’m so out of breath I can only afford one-word answers. My hypoxic brain needs the oxygen.
Don’t make me talk. Let me kill myself with some dignity.
It’s her turn to serve, as it always is, but she holds the ball instead of hitting it.
“I still dream about you. Do you dream about me?”
“Yes,” I say, panting. I motion for her to continue so I can tear my ACL when I slide on the big puddle of sweat I’m leaving while standing here. Then I can have surgery and tell my friends about it.
She smiles and now I know why thousands of Greeks went off to their deaths for Helen. I wonder if she knows I’ve dreamed of nothing but her since I saw her in that aerobacize course.
“I knew it was you the first second I saw you. I knew what you would look like even though it’s been, what, ten years?”
“Seventeen,” I say. What do I tell her? That in my dreams I’m licking whipped cream from her breasts?
It’s true, you know.
“Do you remember I used to call you ‘Rocco?’”
And I didn’t so I said that. Mostly what I remembered about her was getting in trouble whenever we were together. My parents were always worried something was happening that would wind up embarrassing everyone. Two four-year olds playing doctor.
“Gimme a break,” she says. “What were they thinking? But I knew we would get together again someday. I knew you would find me. You had to. We’re soul mates. You were Rocco in our prior life.”
“Prior…” I say, realizing this woman is not only the best athlete I’ve ever met, but a New Age nutcase as well. “Did we play racquetball in our former lives? Did I ever win?”
Without as much as a tiny warning she fires off a serve that hits the front wall and misses the floor with only atomic radii to spare. I have to run, I have to make a suicidal lunge so that if I miss, at least I’ll be dead and I won’t have to be around to hate myself for losing to the most beautiful woman on earth.
I hit the ball but it’s impossible to tell how many times it’s bounced because it’s more vibrating than bouncing. I follow-through my futile swat and the ball goes out, up, somewhere. Who cares? In this life I’m not capable of beating a girl at racquetball so my ‘Y’ chromosomes are informing me I deserve to be expunged from the gene pool before I can pass my traits to progeny.
Then Anna misses her shot and runs into me. She misses her shot and she wraps her arms around me as if we’d never been playing. My back is against the ivory concrete wall. The sweat on her shirt is cold and wet, like mine. We’re both dripping. She kisses me and her plastic eye protectors hit mine.
I don’t know whether to pull away or surrender until the four horsemen of the apocalypse bash down the doors looking for court time. A picture jumps into my mind. We’re making love, she on top of me. All around are the people who work at the racquetball club, other players, innocent bystanders. All I see is a circle of legs and Anna on top. I think I saw this scene in a movie once. Twice. Everyone’s applauding.
No wait—I didn’t see it, Anna saw it.
Why am I thinking this?
When she depressurizes my lips for a moment I say into her mouth, “Was that actually my point?” hoping to distract myself enough to avoid what will become an embarrassing situation if I let this fantasy get the best of me in these damned gym shorts—I have to go into the locker room and get changed. Can’t be this way with all those other guys. Damn.
“It’s different when you’re older. Lots better,” she says, and I don’t know what she means. Don’t wanna. Can’t get this picture out of my mind. In my head she’s got her hands in the hair on my chest. In the racquetball court she’s got her hands in the hair on my chest.
In my head she throws her head back and pushes her thighs into mine.
In the court she throws her head back and presses me against the wall.
In my head she makes a sound, somewhere between a squeak and a sigh.
In my arms she shudders.
“Did what I think just happen…?” I can’t put any more words together. This is nuts. I’m either going to run away screaming, or have an orgasm, or die, or everything at once.
Now I’m panting again. “What are you doing?” I say, not ask, because I don’t have to. I should have asked—how are you doing this—but I can’t wait for explanations. I’m standing in a racquetball court with a woman in my arms having a complete sexual encounter with my clothes on.
“Did you just…?”
“I knew you’d find me,” she says.
“Yeah. Well thank God for that,” I say.
This goes with Tunnel of Love, When we were little kids, running and Telling Anna you love her the first time. For some reason I never noded it. Seeing as how it will probably never see the light of day, it makes most sense to put it here for noders to enjoy. Cheers.