The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
For a moment, Paul Lerner didn’t quite believe his eyes. He’d been hitting against the wall on the last of the half dozen tennis courts of his retirement community, trying to get his timing back after a layoff caused by tennis elbow. He was the only one on the courts, or at least so he’d thought.
He’d occasionally had a fantasy of meeting an attractive woman on the courts, and, there, on the front court she was, practicing serves, pretty hard serves, too. She couldn’t have been over 40, blonde, tanned and fit, nice legs under her short tennis skirt.
“Hi,” he said.
She turned around. “Oh,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind my using your courts. My mother lives here.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not a monitor. It’s fine with me. Do you want to hit a little?”
“All right. I’m Julie.”
Julie? The first name of the girl he’d been infatuated many years ago in San Francisco, Julie Landis. “I’m Paul. Paul Lerner.”
“Nice to meet you.” Engelbrechten, not Landis. But Engelbrechten, fallen angel, was the last name of the girl he’d met in Germany when he was in the Army, even further back than when he was in San Francisco. This was uncanny. He wasn’t dreaming all this, was he? But this woman seemed real enough. A few strands of hair had fallen over her eyes and he could see the sweat on her face. He put his tennis bag next to the bench alongside the court, next to hers. “I’ll go over to the other side of the net,” he said.
They began hitting. She hit the ball pretty hard, just like her serve. Her strokes were fluid. She must have taken lessons, thought Paul. They hit for about 20 minutes. Paul was glad that his elbow wasn’t hurting but he thought he’d better not overdo it. “That’s all for me,” he said, coming to the net. He told Julie about his tennis elbow. They went over to the bench, where Paul sat down gratefully and took a long drink from his water bottle. Julie also sat down on the bench. “Where do you play?” he asked her.
She named one of the larger clubs in the area, saying she’d just joined. “Nice place,” said Paul. “I was there a couple of times. In my younger days, when I played interclub. How long has your mother lived here?”
“Almost three years.”
“Does she like it?”
“She did, but she’s been having some problems, a broken hip and now memory loss.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“That’s one of the reasons I transferred back from LA. I work for (she named a large California oil company). Are you retired?”
“Yes, five years, from the State. But I’m still working. I became a free-lance writer, for the Sacramento Bee. Do you live close by?”
“I’m staying with a friend for now.”
A friend? Paul couldn’t help wonder if it was a girl or a boy friend. As if knowing what was on Paul’s mind, she said, “I broke off a long relationship in LA, another reason I decided to move.”
“I see.” In doing interviews for stories he wrote for the Bee Paul had learned that people liked to talk about themselves and he’d become a good listener. Julie Engelbrechten was no exception. He found out that she’d gone to high school in San Francisco, where she’d been on the tennis team. She’d then gone to college at San Diego State She hadn’t been quite good enough to play on the team there. She’d been married right after college but it was a mistake and she was divorced. She liked to ski. She was looking forward to doing that at Tahoe in the winter. She thought she was going to like Northern California better than Southern California. She was worried about her mother’s condition, which had become worse in the last few weeks.
While she talked, Paul studied her, not too obviously, he hoped. Up close, he could see lines in her face but in some ways she was even more attractive than he’d thought. Her eyes were a deep blue. She smiled often and seemed to have perfect white teeth. He was aware of her full breasts and her shapely legs. Good grief, he thought. I better be getting back home.
He stood up and said, “It’s been nice meeting you. Do you think you’ll be coming to the courts again?”
“I might. I have to get back on my game.”
“You have a beautiful game.”
She laughed and shook her head. “I don’t think I’m there yet.”
“Well, I’ll probably be here same day, same time next week.”
“Maybe I’ll be here.”
“I hope so.”
Paul picked up his bag and walked out of the courts. He couldn’t help but look back. Julie was packing up her tennis bag. Her face had a serious look. Her blonde hair seemed to glow in the sun. With her tan set off by her white outfit she was a vision. She must have seen him looking because she waved at him. He also waved, then he went to his car. When he was back home, his wife said, “You’ve been gone a long time. Did you find someone to hit with?”
“Who was it?”
“Oh, one of the guys.”
At the same time the following week Paul went back to the courts. Of course, Julie Engelbrechten wasn’t there. Once again the courts were empty. He trudged down to the last court and hit against the wall. Every few minutes, he looked back to see if anyone was on the front court. Nobody. He hit for almost an hour. Still nobody. He packed up his things.
When he was home, his wife said, “Nobody to hit with this time?”
“Nope.” He found the community phone directory. There was no Engelbrechten listed. Well, there were some possible explanations for that. Maybe Julie went by her husband’s name, even though she’d divorced him, and her mother’s name was different. Or possibly her mother had never been listed to begin with. Or maybe a Julie Engelbechten didn’t even exist. Maybe she was just an embodiment of his fantasy. Real or imaginary, he never saw her again and eventually he stopped thinking about her.
But it took a long time for that to happen.
© Martin Green June 2015
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