The sun had already begun sagging in earnest by the time Alan Bornstein blooped their last tennis ball, the newish one still shedding a bit of soft gray fuzz, over the chain link fence.
“Bye-bye,” he sang out, waving at the ball’s downward arc before it skidded off the hood of a parked station wagon, then vanished beneath the McDonald Avenue elevated train tracks. Whipping a crumpled white cotton handkerchief from his back pocket, he flourished it overhead in capitulation, and shrugged his shoulders at Lynn Blass, who stood poised at the net in her baggy blue and gray Lincoln High School gym uniform. “Me sorry. Me no good.”
“No good?” She clapped her racket twice. “You’re a natural! You did terrific.”
“Shucks.” Alan hung his head. “Couldn’t have did nothing, Ma’am, without your Daddy’s super-duper Pancho Gonzales cat gut racket.”
Lynn jogged towards the sideline bench at mid court. “That last shot though, what the heck?”
“That? Trying to lob it over your head.” “Very tricky,” she said, pointing. “This isn’t really your first time ever, is it? Swear.”
“Honest.” Alan’s palm pounded his thinning oatmeal colored cardigan sweater. “Took just ninety minutes to dispatch all three balls to oblivion.”
Resting her foot on the bench, Lynn leaned forward and balanced the heavily taped racket she’d lent him on her thigh. Then she adjusted a rectangular wood press over its head, tightening the four metal screws.
“Must’ve been a real yawn, for you. Hardly even worked up a sweat.” His eyes flew from her sneaker laces, how perfectly she’d tied them, to the immaculate pale pink bow rising like rabbit ears from her rust-colored hair. He held out a stick of Juicy Fruit gum.
“A yawn? Right!” Lynn brushed his hand aside, then zipped a cloth dust cover over the racket. “You’ve got the backswing down, Mister, you’ve got some touch on your ground strokes. Really put me through my paces with all those long rallies.”
“Yeah? Next you’ll try and get me on a bicycle.”
“Say when. It’s fun to try new things.”
“Never happen,” he said. “This boy don’t like to fall down and get boo-boos. Tricycle maybe.”
She stuffed both rackets head first in a macramé bag with the rest of their gear, hoisted it over her shoulder and motioned for him to follow. They passed six or seven teenage boys huddled around a radio blaring Time Is On My Side in the adjacent park, two of whom sat arm wrestling at a concrete chess table, squinting and straining through wisps of cigarette smoke. He asked her if this section of Brooklyn always looked so deserted, he wondered out loud where they had hidden all the darn cars, he asked how often she ventured down here, and with whom she usually played. Slow down, she said, every chance I get, the whole family, my parents and brothers, color us complete fanatics, or with Susie Millman sometimes, she’s good, or Nedda, that artsy-fartsy a few houses down who attends Pratt Institute when she isn’t traipsing off to some beatnik happening in the Village. Or, once in a blue moon, her cousin Phyllis, the snob from Seagate, who’s graduating in January and heading right to Pharmacy College in Boston, but she has this totally annoying tendency to cheat on the line calls, anything close, so they just hit together, they never play sets. How’s about Stevie Lind, Alan asked her, Huh, snapping his gum, he carries himself like some big time tennis pro, and she made a face. She said, Gross, Steven is hardly intelligent enough to know which end of the racket to hold, and Alan said, Oh, so you expect me to believe you’re the one cute girl at Lincoln not gaga over his ice blue eyes, that the two of you didn’t go see Goldfinger together last month on Kings Highway, to which she said, Please! Give me a little more credit than that, whatever you heard, it was practically a dozen of us, en masse. Then she cocked her head, batted her eyes, and spoke in a honeyed little girl falsetto: Besides, he’s a pretty boy, and us cute girls like the wild rugged type. Alan roared and beat his chest Tarzan-style, whereupon he saw their bus, hollered, It’s coming, it’s coming! and they dashed off herky-jerky towards the corner.
“Make sure you ask the driver to give you a transfer this time,” Lynn reminded him, as they ascended the steps.
“Okay if we ride up front?” he asked. “I like seeing the full panorama.”
“Sure. Be my guest.”
“And you remember where we get off?”
“Relax, little boy.” She slid in next to him and patted his head. “Leave the driving to us.”
They coursed through an unfamiliar neighborhood of open air fruit stands and street vendors, laundromats, churches, people hanging their heads from windows, sitting on stoops, children bicycling against traffic. She rested her head on his shoulder, that was a first, neither spoke but Lynn did hum some melodic lines under her breath that Alan couldn’t place, classical he guessed, from like a 40s suspense thriller, the bus kept lurching to a stop, loading more pas