By DS Levy
We sported dark sunglasses. The sky was pink and gold, the trees our spectators. We were smacking the hell out of the yellow wiffle ball, back and forth, back and forth. The court was in the middle of a field inundated with false hellebore. I was playing pickleball with Joy Williams, the writer.
Her forehand was her best shot. I kept drilling backhand, backhand, backhand—and she kept running around it, hitting amazing forehands with top-spin. Even though she was in her Seventies and wore a black knee brace, she moved like a gazelle. Her frizzy gray hair didn’t get in the way either. I kept thinking, Does this woman ever miss?
Her two proud German shepherds eyed us coolly.
Joy never said, “Good shot” or “Well-played” when I hit a winner, though she once smacked her paddle on her thigh and shouted more to herself than to me, “What kind of shot was that!”
At one point, she worked her way up to the net and volleyed a clean winner. But I objected, reminding her she couldn’t volley from the kitchen. Rules were rules. Her dogs growled.
Joy said, “Do you think I like this game? Do you think I enjoy playing?” I knew she’d said something similar about writing once, so I wasn’t surprised.
And I knew she was an only child like me, and here’s the thing about only children—many people think we’re spoiled rotten, but in fact we’re often pushovers because, growing up lonely, all we’ve ever wanted was to be liked.
“Okay,” I said, “Your point.”
She brightened; her dogs quit whining.
That was game point. We marched to the opposite sides of the court. It was my serve and I was determined to forget who was on the other side of the net. Yes, she was a great writer and I’d have given anything to write sentences like hers. And yes, she’d been nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, was, as they say, a “real writer’s writer.” And yes, I was forever quoting her on Twitter: “All art is about nothingness: our apprehension of it, our fear of it, its approach.”
But my work had been rejected all over the place, and I was tired of losing.
I blasted a forehand wide, then slammed the next shot to her backhand. I watched her lunge like a panther, her paddle extended as her thin Protestant nose sniffed out the shot.
Before I could pump my fist in victory, she got to the ball and blasted a cross-court winner. “Joy,” I said, “Enough! You win.”
She whistled; her dogs ran over and licked her hand. I’ll admit that I was tempted, too.
We left the court, the dogs followed. Not speaking, we crossed through the false hellebore, down past the arroyo, and walked off into the sunset, our dark sunglasses growing darker.
DS Levy has had work included in New Flash Fiction Review, Little Fiction, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, South Dakota Review, Brevity, The Pinch, and others. Her chapbook of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published by Finishing Line Press.