21 to 20

(I hate to admit it, but this is a true story. It’s about the first time I played my father-in-law in racquetball. I was 25 years old.  He was 55.  At the time I had no idea that he was, in fact, the Michigan State Racquetball Champion. Now excuse me while I go crawl under a rug.)

Fred: “Ros, you want to play a game of racquetball?”

Ros: “Sure. Haven’t played before, but it can’t be too hard.”

The two hit around for a few minutes on the court. Fred shows Ros some basic stroke techniques. Ros pretty much shrugs him off, saying he’s played plenty of tennis and is quite an athlete anyway. He punctuates his bravado by smashing the ball with some his explosive athleticism. It’s an adrenalin rush that charges him, readying him for the game.

Ros: “Well, I’m ready. Go ahead and serve old man.”

Fred: “Funny. But I tell you what, you serve first.”

Ros: “Seriously? Come on, you go first.”

Fred: “No, I insist. You serve first. I want you to.”

Ros agrees to the offer and sets himself up in the serving box. Just as he is about to unleash a cannon serve, Fred interrupts him.

Fred: “Wait a sec. I want to give you a lead.”

Ros: “A lead?”

Fred: “Yes. In fact, a 20 point lead and we’ll play to 21.”

Ros finds this very amusing. As he’s chuckling he looks at the back glass wall and notices that his wife’s relatives and other people are all gathered together, like a large audience prepared to watch a real competition. The sight of them thrills Ros.

Ros: “Okay. A 20-point led. Good luck Fred!”

“He’s an idiot”, thinks Ros.

“He’s an idiot”, thinks Fred.

Ros fires a blistering serve, exploding off the front wall then making its way to a back corner. The power excites him. He is all jock and all in control. The old man is going down.

Fred moves a few steps to his right, pulls back his racquet into a ready backhand position and unleashes a low shot that missiles along the sidewall before hitting the front wall, one inch above the floor. Ros watches, having been unable to move, not knowing how even to possibly react to such a shot.

Fred: “1 to 20. My serve.”

Ros: “Whatever.”

Fred’s first serve puts Ros in such a contorted position in the corner you would think he was purposefully gathering himself into a fetal position in hopes his mother would come to his aid. As he reaches to hit the ball, all he can manage is spastically paddling the racquet back and forth in the corner of the back and sidewall, completely missing the ball by six feet.

Fred: “2 to 20.”

His second serve fares Ros no better. It is a high lobbing serve that comes down on Ros’ head. In an attempt to move out of the way and utilize a rocket overhead stroke, Ros hits the ball off the side of his racquet and sends it ninety degrees to the right, allowing it to bounce off the sidewall and hit him in the leg.

Fred: “3 to 20”

Ros watches the third serve like an idiot. Just stands there expressionless as if there is no more need to live, and recognizes it as something completely impossible to even attempt for. It zips along three walls with a ricocheting sound messing equally with Ros’ mind.

And so the game continues. Fred serving. Ros stumbling. Super athlete turned lumbering cow chasing a jackrabbit was pretty much the scene point after point. The audience of relatives and strangers didn’t know what to make of the spectacle. Was this a staged comedy (certainly!)? Or was this honestly one man’s sick idea of thinking he deserved public humiliation in the worst way. Medieval flogging couldn’t hold a candle to a game with Fred.

And later…

Fred: “20 to 20.”

Ros: “Just serve the damn ball!”

Too sore to move, too humiliated to look in a mirror, and too tired to cry, Ros prepared for the last serve as if he had a chance. As if a great comeback was even a possibility. As if….

The serve puts him against the back wall, for all the audience to watch his agonizing, pathetic, losing face. A last desperate swing only caught air, and a lot of it.

Fred: “Game. 21 to 20.”

But those were not Fred’s last words. In fact, there was only one word left. And that he kept private.


Copyright Ros Hill 2015


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s