Angela had never played tennis before in her life, but it turned out she was a natural, born to play the sport. The day after the revelation that the two of them were going to be tennis tournament partners, Stephanie suggested, very carefully, that they spend at least part of that Sunday practicing a little bit. By some stroke of luck, she had an extra racket and plenty of fresh tennis ball tubes, so equipment was not an issue. When she handed her roommate the wide Wilson racket, Angela turned it over several times and then suddenly gripped the handle menacingly, waving the thing through the air like a machete.

The two walked through the university campus. It was a crisp and sunny October morning and few people were out and about. Stephanie wore white shorts and a light yellow cotton blouse, her not-too-long blonde hair wrapped up behind her head with a green elastic hair band. Angela wore jeans, a Thrill Kill Kult concert t-shirt and black canvas converse shoes. Her eyes were shaded with black plastic sunglasses, an attempt to cover her sleepy red eyes from the harsh daylight. As she walked with Stephanie she flipped her racket in her hand, dropping it every few steps to Stephanie's extreme annoyance.

"That's not a cheap racket," said Stephanie, as the Wilson hit the ground for the tenth time with a clatter. "In fact it's a pro racket, and it needs to be taken care of, not beaten around like a handball."

"Ooops, sorry," said Angela, a bit embarrassed, but not too much. "Just once more and I'll stop." She spun the racket high into the air so that it flipped a full five times, but her attempt to do an amazing behind-the-back catch failed miserably, and the racket crashed into a nearby hedge.

"Give me that," growled Stephanie. She grabbed the expensive not-a-toy from the bush and held it alongside her own. "I'll give it back to you when we get to the court." The rest of the way she spent examining the scuffed edges of the Wilson sadly, picking out little pebbles and pieces of dirt that had become wedged in the holes along the sides of the racket due to Angela's extreme negligence.

They weren't too far now from the string of tennis courts that ran between the indoor swimming pool and the Walter J. Howson Dining Facility. Angela could see that there were a few people already playing, but most of the courts were still empty. It was at least eleven o'clock but it was a Sunday and she was much more tired than she wanted to admit. She thought back to when she was in high school, when her day spun in the other direction and she got up ass-early even before the rising of the sun. At some point in the past few months she started tilting towards the other extreme and now the sound of Stephanie brushing her teeth at nine in the morning forced her to bury her head deep under her pillow in an effort to remain asleep as long as possible. Stephanie had wanted to start tennis practice closer to ten a.m. but Angela dispelled that thought by reminding her that she had veto power over the whole bleeding thing taking place at all.

When they arrived at the hardtop court of choice, Stephanie suggested they start out easy, just hitting the ball around a little so that Angela could get a feel for what it was like. Up until now, sports had been an alien concept to Angela, and everything about them was quite new to her. In the corner of her mind she secretly wanted to understand what the draw of physical competition was. Why was it so popular to pit body against body in such a meaningless exercise as racking up some number of "points" for the purpose of winning a tiny silver monument to one’s own fleeting glory? Listening to people talk, especially men, she got the distinct feeling that sports had replaced religion as the national pastime, and the immense amount of energy and effort that was invested in playing sports, watching sports, and discussing sports far outweighed any other human endeavor. Well except love, perhaps. No, she corrected herself, thinking about her parents' relationship: love dies, but sports goes on forever.

Angela’s body had always seemed to betray her in the past, but she realized now that she felt lighter, quicker, stronger than she had ever remembered. For much of her life she had been weighed down by inches of fat or a backpack crammed with books, or both. But here on the tennis court she felt free, almost weightless, with only the lightweight tennis racket in her hands to anchor her to the earth, otherwise she would probably go spinning into space like a feather. Secretly, she thanked Stephanie for this experience, but she would never admit any of this to her, and she certainly wouldn’t allow this to change her opinion of her crypto-fascist roommate. It wasn’t because of Stephanie that Angela’s physical transformation had occurred. Rather, it was some kind of karma or fate that had allowed the physical beauty of her outer body to catch up with the spiritual beauty of her inner soul and mind. Right.

Stephanie hit the first ball over to her and without thinking Angela caught it on her racket and returned it like a bullet aimed directly at her roommate’s head, which dropped just in time to avoid the collision.

"Hey, watch it," shouted Stephanie from across the court, hands on crypto-fascist hips. "Ay, you can let it bounce once before you hit it, and Bee, you’re supposed to hit it inside the lines on my side, so if you hit it so high, it’s just going to go out of bounds."

Angela listened patiently as Stephanie continued describing the rules and scoring procedure, then waited for Stephanie to serve her another ball and with what seemed like a lightning flash, her arm sent the ball back faster than the first and hit the little crypto-fascist squarely on the nose.

Chapter 15


Chapter 14 was first written November 21, 2001

It was last edited December 19, 2001