Authors: Sandra Scofield
Ellis was dressed in a starched and ironed white shirt and stiff twill pants. He had a fresh haircut, and a line of white skin showed between the edge of his mowed hair and his dark oilfield tan.
“When you're done, we'll go smack a few, huh?” asked David.
Ellis looked up at the glaring sun, shading his eyes with one hand. The family was going to 9:30 Mass. “It'll be eleven before we get home. It must be ninety now. You want to die on the court?”
His family was in the wagon, kids piled on top of one another in the back, Mrs. Whittey sitting primly in the front, waiting for Ellis to drive. She fussed with her hat, an old yellow straw with a wide green ribbon.
David slammed his fist into his other palm. “I need to play,” he said intensely. “We need to practice.”
Ellis slapped his partner's arm. “We've got months to get back in training, old buddy. It's August, man. Listen, I'll meet you at the college courts at seven, how's that? We'll play till it's dark if you want. But it's too hot now, Puckett. It's too darned hot.” He was the color of leather. Under his bright white shirtsleeves, David knew, his arms were knotty with hard muscle. He liked to say, Working is good for something besides money.
David drove slowly through town. He followed the route they drove when they “did the strip” on Friday and Saturday nights, up the main drag past the junior college, through the Dairy Queen, up to Dewey's Drive-In, around back of the playing fields. Nobody was out, of course. The world was at church.
At home his father was shaved and dressed and frantic to get the car. “How's it going to look, I have to walk to my poker game?” he asked. His pals liked to play while the women went to church. Marge went to Monahans to see her sister Cheryl on frequent Sundays. On Mondays she visited her daughter.
David could see that Saul wanted to snarl at him. His father clenched his fists, holding his arms out away from his body half a foot, but he only gave David a dirty look, and stormed out of the house. He backed out so fast the tires squealed.
“You could go with me, Davy,” Marge said, coming out of the bedroom. “You could do the driving,” she said, as though it were a long way and not just thirty miles. “Cheryl's so disappointed that you never stop, all these trips right by Monahans.” She had done her hair. It was naturally curly, and sprang out when it was washed. She wore a little lipstick, and had dressed in a light green dress with pale red strawberries all over it. The dress had large buttons from the neck right to the hem of the skirt. She wore a bright red patent belt. With her figure so well-defined, David had a sudden vision of her twenty years ago. She must have been a knockout. “Their house is nice and cool,” she pointed out. Aunt Cheryl had central air conditioning, instead of fans and window coolers like they made do with here. Being cool was not enough to bribe David into his aunt's house. The thought of her shrill nosy questions and her hysterical religious pronouncements was like the memory of fingernails down a chalkboard. And his pukey cousin Leona, sixteen and stolid as a fence post, was worse.
“I'm going to sleep,” he said rudely.
He could guess what was coming. He shifted his weight from foot to foot. He told himself other parents paid a lot more attention to what their kids did; other parents lectured all the time. Leland said his father had to give him a daily dose of advice, like a vitamin. Leland liked Saul, and was the only friend David had who came and went in the house comfortably. Behind his back, Saul referred to him as “Pecker Piper,” thinking he was very funny to think of it. He had no way to know how much sex was on Leland's mind, how he was always wanting to talk about it.
“I don't have anything to say about what you do away from the house,” his mother began. “But that girl, in my houseâ”
“Don't start in on it. I'm sorry you came in, sorry she was there for you to see. She's just a girl, though, a nice kid. She's not something awful, and neither am I. And you're no holy-roller. You know what goes on in the world.”
“The damage is done,” his mother said flatly.
“Shit.” David walked past her into the kitchen.
She followed. “Assume I'm the last to know what you've been doing with her. Or maybe her own mother is. Other kids must know.”
“What's it to you?” He swung around to confront her. “What do you know about teen-agers, anyway? What have you learned, with two in the house?”
“I know girls suffer when they get talked about.”
“So don't tell anyone.”
“She loves you? That's it, is it? She loves you, so she'll do whatever you want?”
“It was her idea! Crimeny, Mother, what do you think I am? Your Son the Girl-Eater?
started it! She's the one who started
. Get it?”
She was hurt. It wasn't Glee she cared about. She was thinking about Joyce Ellen, who had not been in this house, had not laid eyes on her father, since she eloped with “Big Pete” Kelton, local DJ and all around jerk. Saul had called her a tramp, she insisted they had not “done it”, that they were in love and wanted to get married. Marge bawled. What a scene.
Kelton had never met Saul.
“Maybe Joyce Ellen can go with you,” he suggested.
Marge shook her head. “If Pete's home, she has to be home too.”
“So? What did she get married for if not?”
“What do you know!” His mother looked like she'd like to spit at him. Instead, she stormed out of the house, too.
Alone, David felt he could breathe for the first time that day. He switched on the cooler in the window above his bed. He smoothed out his bed and lay down with his notebook. He thought he would write about the woman who seduced the young man. He needed a name for her. The story was not about Teresa, and he needed a name, to break the connection.
He doodled with rows of warm-upsâovals and slashes, from his Palmer practice daysâand began listing possibilities. Carolyn. Paula. Susan. Virginia. He liked the nickname, Ginny, but it was too young for his character, who would be matronly. Rosemary, that would be good.
I can name some other character Ginny later, he thought. It sent a delicious chill down his neck. He imagined a stack of books in a bookstore with his picture on the back, and his name on the spine. David Puckett. David Stolboff. That sounded good for a writer. What would his father think then?
The phone rang.
“David Puckett, that you?”
“Yes. Who's this?”
“Hayden Kimbrough here. I'm glad I caught you.”
,” David said.
“You've been out of town, I hear.” Kimbrough made it sound like David had been on vacation.
“On business for my father.”
“I called to issue a little invitation. It's late, I know, but it can't hurt to try.”
“What is it, Mr. Kimbrough?” David asked in a steady voice. The perspiration on his face felt icy in the gush of air from the window unit. He brushed his hair with the flat of his hand. “What can I do for you, sir?”
The last time Hayden Kimbrough called it was early May, and David and Ellis had just won the regional school championship. They had won the West Texas Relays in March, exulting in their home court advantage on the concrete, playing in high gritty wind. They had won the Southwest Invitational in El Paso, too, although none of the Dallas or Houston schools sent teams, diluting the sense of victory over lesser districts. Basin was barely big enough to fit the AAAA category, with few of the advantages of the bigger schools. The team had bought new rackets with money cadged in parking lot car washes. The city had always poured money and enthusiasm into the football teams, which had a wildly fluctuating record, and had ignored everything else except basketball, but this was the first time anybody from Basin High had performed significantly in tennis apart from the Relays. The paper splashed the boys' photograph across the sports page: WHITTEY-PUCKETT TEAM SWATS LUBBOCK OUT OF REGIONAL TITLE SLOT. At school, guys said, Good going, Puckett. Hang Houston. Girls smiled and said, Great going, y'all.
It felt good to win. This year, it was more important. If David and Elis could win state, there would be scholarships. Every time he drove by Basin Junior College, he gulped to think of two years there. Two years nowhere.
David and Ellis had gone out to the country club to play with a group of Kimbrough's friends. Kimbrough said he was trying to build sponsorship for a county meet at the club; too late for '58, but he thought '59 was possible. “Let's show you off to the fellas,” he told the boys. So they played exhibition sets with Kimbrough and the tennis pro, moving fast to win each one, quicker and more aggressive and more alive than the older men. And of course David and Ellis were a real team, moving like one organism that spring, and, that day, richly confident. They won the match 6â2, 6â4, and Kimbrough split them up to play other combinations. Kimbrough and his daughter played his wife and David. It was a surprisingly vigorous, enjoyable game. The women were evenly matched, and Kimbrough had improved through the morning. David, cut off from Ellis, played a less spectacular, more sociable game. He found himself smiling, even humming. Mrs. Kimbrough and Beth Ann wore fetching outfits with short skirts that swirled around their slim hips as they dipped and ran. They were quite tan. Mrs. Kimbrough wore her hair in a short cap-like style, uncurled, with a stretchy band on her forehead. Her hair rose when she leaped, and fell back perfectly in place. It shone like taffeta in the sun. She had the same clean features as her daughter, and she did not look twenty years older, either. Beth Ann wore her hair pulled straight back in a curvy pony tail. David noticed how long her throat was, and how strong her legs. She probably had her own pool, and swam every day.
After they played, there was a nice buffet laid out on a long table in the shade of the portico. The table was banked at each end with bowls of cut flowers. Someone handed the boys bottles of Nehi Orange Crush, not what David would have chosen to quench his thirst, but he drank his greedily anyway and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He suppressed a belch, and caught his partner's look; Ellis, familiar with David's mighty burps, winked. They set their bottles down on a round glass-topped table and moved toward the end of the buffet to pick up plates. David was starved, and exhilarated to be in this company. Just then Kimbrough came over and somehow seemed to gather them in like children, close to him. He pumped their hands, and gave them hearty pats on the back. He thanked them for coming and promised they would do it again. “It does us good to see our youngsters so healthy and able,” he said. Other men, most of them now showered and dressed in golf clothes or swimming suits with matching shirts, gathered around to say thanks and goodbye and nice job. Good luck at state, they all said, and turned back to their friends. David saw girls and boys he knew from high school, sitting in clusters at tables or on lounge chairs near the pool. None of them seemed to have noticed him, except Beth Ann, who waved a light, fingery goodbye and turned away. David looked around. New people had arrived. The buffet was something else, not to do with the tennis at all. It was not for them. Ellis looked confused. He was dangling a paper napkin from his left hand. David gave him a sign with his eyes, and they left hurriedly.
In the car they expelled the held-back air, cried “Shee-it!” and then shook hands jovially and mocked their hosts. “Such fine YOUTH!” they laughed. “So HEALTHY!”
“Did you see that fat guy in a turquoise bathing suit?” Ellis was bent over with laughter.
David went along with his brave humor. He said, “And how about Sue Hunnicutt's black bathing suit? I mean, puhlâunge. She sits near me in chemistry. Always dressed to the gills, little silk scarves tucked around her throat. Now I'll see those big smashed boobies, no matter how she hides them!” He felt hot and anxious, stirred up. He beat his hand against the steering wheel, then backed carefully out of the tidy parking lot. Sounds of chatter and laughter sprayed the air.
Now here was Kimbrough, calling again, and David's chest seemed to fill with happiness. He wanted to go to the club again. He had always known that tennis was a gentleman's game. Although he had started with a three-dollar used racket on a public court, he had often imagined himself in expensive clothes, dangling a cat-gut racket while he waited for his opponent to crawl out of a little black Jaguar. Even as a little kid he had seen himself in better circumstances, playing tennis for fun. For
, as people do who have the money to call their fun a word like that.
But he wanted to set himself up for a less humble exit. “Sure, I can spare a couple of hours,” he told Kimbrough. “I'm going water skiing later.” Actually, the gang would be long gone for Red Bluff by eight in the morning. Sure enough, the kids did come by for him early, and he waved them away sleepily. He said he wasn't up to it. He often begged off from group events. He skirted the edge of being stand-offish. He knew it, and tried to make up for it with his pass-by friendliness at school. Down the halls he went, raising his hand in a palm-forward, raised salute. Hi, hi, and hi.
Glee's protests were aborted by the other kids' urgency to be under way. “Oh goodie,” Dickie Huber said, hugging Glee and giving her a smacking kiss on the cheek. “Two girls for me, my good luck, huh?” His date looked peeved. David thought to himself that Dickie Huber was a creep who wanted to get under Glee's skirt; he could hardly bear the minute it took for them to pull away. His last view of Glee was of her glaring angry face as she looked at him through the back window of Buddy's pink BelAir. They really are her friends, he thought. Why does she like me?
He raced to shower and dress. He had washed his tennis shorts after Kimbrough's call, adding extra bleach to make them as white as possible. He wore a white polo shirt with a pale blue collar and ribbing at the armholes, a birthday gift from his mother. He could kiss her for it now. He had scrubbed his tennis shoes, too.