“How come you’re missing the easy ones?” my opponent asks.
“The characters in my novel won’t go away,” I say. “It’s like they’re right here on the court.” And then, suddenly they are. Here comes the heroine, Lili, strolling through the open gate. “I can’t believe you left me at home, she said. “You didn’t even let me unlace my corset before you disappeared, and I can hardly breathe.”
“And what about me?” Delphine, also sixteen, is standing beside her. “I was practicing curtsies for my presentation to the Queen of France. My thighs are killing me, and my back feels like it’s going to be stuck forever.”
She’s looking around. “The weather’s much nicer here. Back in your study, it’s November in Paris.” “And raining too,” Lili adds, as if it’s somehow my fault.
“Are you okay over there?” my opponent calls out.
“Can you move out of the way?” I ask the two girls. “I have to serve the ball.” Delphine sighs loudly. “Come on, Lili,” she says, heading for a row of chairs on the sidelines.
I serve, well aware I have two characters to impress. To my surprise it goes in, and when I win the point I hear applause from more than two pairs of hands. I look over and the entire cast of characters is now watching from the sidelines. There they are—every last dour, sweet, ditsy, scheming, lusty, loving, stern, warm, solemn, treacherous, precious one of them.
“Oh man,” I say to myself. “I’m toast.”
I’m down fifteen-forty and net my second serve. I toss a stray ball across the net to my opponent. His serve.He shoots a bullet to my backhand, and I return it down the line. Wow! Where’d that come from? Love-fifteen. He serves one of these weird twisty things that usually end up far away from where I’m swinging my racquet head, and much to my surprise there’s a clean pop on my strings as I connect again. Love-thirty. Fifteen-thirty. Fifteen-forty. Game to me. Expecting applause, I look to the sidelines.
I picture them, finding their way over the few blocks from the courts to where I live. Cars screech to a stop to let them march across the street. What’s a crosswalk? What’s a red light? I cross my fingers for them. Maybe when I get home they will have recovered enough to resume the story. With any luck, they’ll tell me what’s supposed to happen next.
I love them all, but sure do hope they won’t use up the hot water and drink all the wine.