Volleys and Cigars
“Nice shot, Loy!” His name
is actually Roy, but Phong can’t pronounce it right, or he can and he’s
just trying to make all the white old men feel easy about his being
Roy is tall but talks to himself. Meryle smokes cigars and slices a nasty volley. Dale used to coach high school tennis and sometimes forgets the score, or changes the score, or wants to talk about his R/V instead. Gene wears highwater white shorts and listens to a Sony Walkman. He’s got a laugh that could drop a seagull mid-flight.
They play in warm months on the courts near the river, afternoons until the heat sweeps up from the valley, at which point they switch to mornings. They’re men who long ago got their first blowjob and crashed their first car. Men who can wax about college football almost in tongues. They drink beer after tennis in the old train depot, which is now a bar open only for dusk, three hours on weekdays, a place for men who want to sit next to each other and stare at nobody.
You could fall asleep in your truck on top of the dam and show up the next day to play tennis with these men and nobody would ask shit. Phong would offer you his jug of homemade Gatorade, and Meryle maybe a little puff. These men aren’t even leather anymore: the leather’s all rotted away and they’re living on tanning brine.
Meryle slaps a forehand down the line. Phong chips a return. Gene’s playing net and scoots over to put it away, but Roy with his long arms somehow manages to volley a half-lob back into the middle of the court. It’s an awkward shot, right into Meryle’s wheelhouse. He grins and winds up. These men would be together underwater. They would carry one another on their backs the whole circumference of the moon. Shivering, Gene turned his lock. He went into his bedroom and crawled beneath the bed. He put a pistol under his jaw and mouthed his name. Sometimes these men imagine each other buck. They hit yellow balls. Their hands smell like grip tape. Stray dogs paddle the river. When the tall lights flood the courts, that means it’s seven; somebody is probably waiting for them to come home, but the men keep hitting, since who the hell is light to tell them where to go.
The Cake Maker Gets Back to You
Thank you for ordering a cake. Right off, let’s be honest: we’re not going to ask you a lot of questions. Not a lot of “sprinkles or Oreos” bullshit. This isn’t an ice cream parlor and you’re not a fucking diaper explosion. Your cake is our business. Not the other way around, okay? We’ve been at this shit for a while. Earl of Sandwich invents the sandwich: terrific, but how does he celebrate? Exactly. With a fucking plum tart. We knew what we wanted and delivered. Everybody’s got a cake in them. Vegans and tobacco farmers. Doesn’t matter. We’ve got cakes for trapeze artists and cakes for trundlebed manufacturers. Stephen Hawking eats our cakes. Australian truck drivers eat our cakes. Fuck, even cakes eat our cakes! So shut up. You’re gonna say you don’t want lima beans in your cake. Say it. We’ve got a bag for you to say things in. It smells like cake. Yell it out, that’s what my coach always said. No I don’t want half a yurt in my cake! No I don’t want Twitter updates in my cake! Hell no I don’t want to eat a cake made out of boring friends of my ex-girlfriend! The bag don’t judge, kiddo. Say away. Meanwhile, we’ll be back here near the ovens, mixing and stirring, whipping and getting all yeasty on your ass. And when we’re done, licking the frosting out of our sweat, then we’ll slice your little bitch face a piece and slide it over. Taste it up. That’s what we call a cake. Don’t worry. You’ll be bulging your eyes and some such. We’ll call it a cake and take your card. We ain’t in this business to ask. We’re in it to make. We’ll just be up here doing our make, and if you’re expecting us to wave down at you or some shit? Well, then I think you’re looking for the fucking ice cream man.
It’s Only Fair
Once my sister wanted to go on all the fair rides. She wanted the loops and zips and jangles. I liked the bumper boats, just those, but she hit me. Okay, I said. Shut up. We rode the biggest ride. Understand: this was a town wrapped in heat like a corn husk. My friends spit loogies off the railroad bridge. They fed pigeons Alka-Seltzer. Our neighbors had a mule they drew swastikas on. High and flung, my sister and I careened like dolls, like the ride was a little girl exerting. Screws I saw sneak off. But there was no girl, no no little nothing. It was just a fair ride run too fast by hungover carnival volunteers. In a moment of velocity, I understood both the absence of God and the command of His illusion, which is a sky and the pressure of that sky. After we got off, my sister puked. I walked through the fair, the straw shit smell of the petting zoo, the sharktooth necklaces and fried bubblegum, until I’d left the fair and found a phonebooth. There is where I called the one I loved and told her “Listen.”