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The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories

After The Tennis Match 
Martin Green
The four of them were seated at a table on the club patio at noon.  Paul and Bud had won two of the three sets in their weekly tennis match so Gene and Charley had bought the sodas.  Paul had always thought the patio was the best thing about the club, somehow it was always cool and pleasant there, even in the heat of a Sacramento summer.


“That tastes good,” said Charley, drinking his soda.   He was a large man, in his sixties, retired, as they all were.   He’d worked in the State Department of Corrections and was a tough old guy who didn’t hesitate to yell at younger players on adjoining courts if he thought they were getting too loud.

     “If you hadn’t tried to hit that last shot through the fence we wouldn’t be buying,” said Gene.   He was small, bald, wore glasses and had a beard.   He’d been an insurance salesman and Paul could well believe it, he was always wisecracking.   He especially liked to needle Charlie..

     “Hah,” said Charlie.   “It was your double fault that did it.   You choked in the clutch, just like your friend Obama. is doing.”  

     Charlie was a bedrock conservative while Gene was a flaming liberal.   Bud hoisted his soda and looked at Paul as if to say, “Here we go again.”   Bud himself was of middle height, stocky and the fittest of the four.   He’d been in advertising, but, thought Paul, was the opposite of the flamboyant types associated with that profession.   He was quiet, dependable and solid.

     “At least we’re getting out of Iraq now,” said Gene.
     “Yeah, and getting deeper into Afghanistan.”
     “How’s your knee,” Bud asked Charley.   Paul knew he was trying to change the subject.   Charley’s knee had been bothering him for months and at the end of the last set Paul had noticed him hobbling slightly.
     “Not any better.   I hate to get a knee replacement.”
     Every one of them had some kind of physical problem, thought Paul.   Charley had his knee, Gene was getting macular degeneration, Bud had his shoulder and he had his hip.   In a way, Paul reflected, they were playing not only against each other but against time.

     They talked a little about fellow tennis players they knew who’d gotten knee replacements.   Some had gone okay, but there were also some horror stories.
     A good-looking young woman came out of the clubhouse.   She was carrying a racket and wearing a short tennis skirt.   “Whew,” Charley whistled softly.   “Look at that.”
     “Yeah,” said Gene.   “That’s all you can do, look.”
     “Shows you how much you know, buddy.”

     This led naturally into a discussion of good-looking women tennis players.   Sharapova’s the hottest,” said Gene.   “Those legs go on forever.”
     “Too bad about her shoulder,” said Bud.
     “Hey, who’s looking at her shoulder.”
     “Chris Evert had the best legs of them all.”
     “What about Steffi Graf?”
     “Are you kidding?”
     “Agassi liked them.”

     They usually had this kind of back and forth at least once during their weekly talks.  Paul wondered if this was a way of showing they weren’t so old they’d lost interest in sex and women.

     After they’d run out of women tennis players to compare, Paul asked Gene how his son was doing with his house.   Gene’s son was one of the many who’d bought at the height of the housing boom and now that the bubble had burst was left with a mortgage larger than the house was worth; underwater, as they called it.

     “He’s still going round and round with the bank, trying to get a loan modification.”
     “Those lousy banks,” said Charley.   “Why doesn’t Obama do something about them?”
     “He’s trying,” said Gene.   “What about your daughter?.   Has she found a job yet?”   Charley’s daughter was in her forties.   When the recession hit, the small ad agency where she worked had closed and she’d been unemployed for six months.
     “Nah, there’s nothing out there.   I’m trying to get her into a State job but there’s a hiring freeze.”

     Another common theme, thought Paul.   His own son worked for Sacramento County and was waiting for the next round of layoffs.    He’d worked there for 15 years and Paul was fairly confident his job was safe.   Still, you never knew.   No matter how old you got and how they old they were you still worried about your kids.

     They’d finished their drinks.   Charley stood up.   “Well, same time, same place next week?”
     “I won’t be able to make it,” said Bud.
     “How come?”
     “I’m going into the hospital for surgery.   The cancer’s come back again.”
     Charley sat back down.   “I thought it was in remission.”
     “It was, now it isn’t.”
     “Jesus,” said Gene.   “That’s crappy.”
     “What hospital is it?” asked Paul.
     Bud told them.   “How long will you be there?”
     “Depends on how it goes.”
     “Hell, you’ll be okay,” said Charley.
     “We’ll try to call,” said Paul.   “If we can’t get you, you’ll let us know, right?”

     There was a silence.   Nobody knew what else to say, thought Paul.

     Charley patted Bud on the shoulder.   “You’ll be okay,” he said.   “I know it.”

     “Sure,” said Gene.   “Hey, we need you back here for our foursome.”
     “Good luck,” said Paul.   He reached out his hand and shook Bud’s.   The other two also shook Bud’s hand.

     Out in the parking lot, Paul got into his car.   He fastened his seat belt but waited before driving off.   His eyes were blurred.   “Damnit!” he said.   They were all playing against time.   Had time run out for Bud?   It had better not.   Bud would be back.   The foursome would go on.   They’d be sitting out on the patio again, drinking their sodas, Charley and Gene going at each other, a pretty girl in her short tennis dress would walk by and they’d all stop and look at her.    Bud would be okay.   They’d all be okay.
©  Martin Green April 2011
Martin Green

They had a tacit agreement that the fewer the people who knew about their lunches the better

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