by Christine Guerra
The courts were reserved—Tuesday nights for the men’s tennis team and Wednesday mornings for the women’s team. After the children had gone to school and the husbands to work, the women would put on short white skirts and gold bracelets. They each drove, one lone head in the minivan, and waited together at the end of the court. They pulled their husbands’ green beer bottles out of the trash and said, “Do you believe them? Glass on the court. What were they thinking?”
“They weren’t thinking.”
“I’ll have a talk with my Harry tonight.”
“If it breaks and gets in the surface, you can never get it out.”
“This is the reason we have a charter.”
“Glass,” Delia said.
They would play until the sun rose above the tree line, till the cool of the morning started to burn off. Not competitive like the men. The men played in the heat. Their shirts would stick, and they would pull them out by the tails to rearrange the beads on their swarthy faces. The men threw away their game balls after a match, considering all the sport to have been smashed out of them by their mighty strokes, but the women pulled the cans of balls out of the trash the next morning, used them for practice, and found they still bounced.
Delia shook her head with the rest of them when they talked about the men. Her husband didn’t play tennis with the neighborhood. He preferred racquetball at the health club. He wouldn’t stand out in the cul-de-sac with the other men on Saturdays, either, and talk about whatever it was those men talked about. Delia didn’t understand this about Paul. The men always looked so friendly. They were older; you could see the shine of their scalps through the wisps of hair. They were stable. When they mowed their lawns, you could tell how far along they were or whether they had done the back first by how much red sunburn showed through their hair. Paul paid a teenager from the next street over to keep the yard. Delia asked him to do it himself, just once, and said she would bring him lemonade when he stopped to change the bag. He told her she could take lemonade to the teenager.
Sonya lived in the stucco house with dormer windows on the corner. She invited Delia to the team. “Come wheeze with the old ladies,” she said. “Lend us some youth.” Sonya came from Norway with her husband and talked as though she had something in her mouth. Delia let the words go into every part of her mouth, especially when she spoke with Sonya, as if she could improve her accent by example. Sonya was an atheist—Delia half-expected her to be a shoplifter or a child abuser.
There was an order to things, Delia thought. Baptists were at the top, the most virtuous. Under them were the Methodists, then Catholics and Jews. Below them, populating the prisons, were the cultists and atheists. Delia had never met anyone in prison. The farthest she’d ever been from the Chatahoochee River was New York City. She had gone there on a theater trip when she was nineteen. It was an ungodly city, a Sodom, a Gomorrah. She hadn’t been mugged, but a waiter padded their bill. To her it was the same. Best to stay in your own pond, she thought. She did not believe in evolution. Fish should stay fish.
Paul had lived in California for a year, before his father repented. That was when Paul was twelve. Paul said that before he met Delia, he had wanted to live in San Francisco, but that Delia had helped him to see what he really wanted. He still thought it was a nice place to visit. Delia was working on that.
The tennis coach was a short Jewish boy who lived in the city and drove a VW Rabbit the color of an under-ripe lemon. “Ladies,” he always said. “Ladies.” He was raised in South Carolina. You could tell. “Ladies, let’s get those racquets up.” He had hair on his arms and very white teeth. He smiled like a toothpaste model. His 1eg muscles were bunched. Sometimes, Delia would catch herself watching him walk, his calves swelling and smoothing.
Sonya would grip her racquet like an ax. The Jewish boy would say, “Ladies, shake hands with the grip,” and she would say, “Glad to meet you.”
Delia kept a paperback Bible on her nightstand. Paul wanted to get her a nicer one, but she said that she would feel bad bending the spine back. When she didn’t feel like reading, she would tell Paul that she had been studying the Word in the afternoon and that she needed time to digest. She believed greatly in the need to digest the Word.
Delia had a bachelor’s degree in biology from the small Baptist college where she met Paul. She had planned on medical school before she met Paul. But when you meet the right one, all your other plans become dispensable. She told Sonya that.
“Two people with one direction,” Delia said.
“It takes work,” Sonya said.
“The Bible says that Jesus will do the work,” Delia said.
Sonya smiled politely. She didn’t believe.
Delia heard the riffled hum of bees.
“I wasn’t accepted to medical school. I wasn’t smart enough.” She held five balls on the flat of her racquet. “I sure don’t know what I would do without Jesus—what I would have done if I didn’t know that Jesus was guiding me.”
“In other places, people don’t believe like you.”
“It’s not believing. It’s just true.”
Sonya drank from a bottle of water that had ice forced through the neck.
Monday mornings, Delia clipped the coupons from the Sunday paper and did the shopping. She liked doing them back to back so that she could remember better what she had clipped. It reminded her of when Paul was still in college and every fifty cents mattered. They went over and over the bills, offering to cut personal luxuries. Paul skipped lunch, without telling her. He insisted that she buy scented candles, since she liked them so much. He would bring them with wildflowers wrapped in the free supermarket newspaper. Now, the house was filled with candles.
She would watch the children on the street and wait for Paul’s car, pushing all the wax to the center of the candle. She thought that she should have lived back when they sealed envelopes with wax drippings. She thought that she would have been very good at that.
She said to Paul, “Maybe I should get a job.”
He said, “Do you need money?”
She said, “I miss working.”
He said, “Do whatever you want.” Delia didn’t mention it again.
Sonya said, “Where did you learn to serve? I can’t do it.”
“Jesus does the work,” Delia said.
“I hope he has more important things to do than that,” another woman said. They laughed, very friendly. Delia decided that the woman must not be a Christian.
Delia said, “I never thought a person could be happy without Jesus.”
“It can be hard to be happy. As hard as serving,” Sonya said.
She swung her racquet short. She didn’t stretch like she should have. The ball bounced in the lane.
The Jewish boy said, “Ladies. Like picking an orange, ladies. “
Tuesdays Delia had lunch with her sister, who lived with a man. The sister swore a lot and made Delia uncomfortable, but at the end of the lunch, she would say, “It is so refreshing to talk to you.” Delia would always bring her a scripture to read, written on a piece of paper, even though she knew that the sister wrapped her gum with it. Delia didn’t really look them up. She copied them off her daily calendar for Christian women.
Thursdays the cleaning lady came, and Delia took the laundry to the cleaners. Fridays she went to the postnatal wing of the hospital and looked at the babies. She would lay her face against the glass and try to read the charts. Paul said, “When the Lord wants us to have children, He’ll send them to us.” He counted days for her. He was tender. She was taking birth control pills, but didn’t tell him.
“Follow through, ladies. Put some power in it, ladies.”
Paul liked to cook. He would bring home special cuts of meat, or ripe vegetables, and make dinner. Delia said it threw off her shopping. She didn’t really like to cook. For lunch, she ate peanut butter sandwiches. She also liked yogurt and chewy granola bars with chocolate chips. She bought the kind of yogurt printed with dinosaurs, because the grown-up yogurt had chunks of fruit in it. She didn’t like chunks.
Sonya had two children, ten and thirteen, and she tutored college students in physics. Sonya had never eaten a peanut butter sandwich in her life. Delia didn’t know that for a fact, but it seemed true. Sonya’s husband looked like he was sixty.
Paul came home and said, “A woman tried to pick me up at the gas station today, can you believe it?”
Delia said, “Didn’t you tell her you were married?”
Paul said, “Sure I did. It’s just funny.”
Delia told her sister, “I don’t know what to do with kids.”
“What? It’s easy. That’s what they invented TV for.” The sister was looking at the waiter, trying to catch his eye.
“What would I feed them?”
“They love peanut butter sandwiches. And macaroni and cheese. And anything that comes in a can. If it gets too tough, give them ice cream. They’ll eat it till they explode.” The man she had lived with before had a son, who was only allowed to visit them once a month. Delia thought that was too generous.
“Why don’t you have any kids?” Delia said.
“Oh,” the sister said, “Because they ruin your sex life. But that wouldn’t bother you as much.”
Delia didn’t answer.
Paul thought they needed a vacation. Time to get away, and relax. Stress could make you sterile, he said. Could make either one of us sterile. He said, imagine us at the beach, with the moonlight and the surf. What a beautiful way to make a baby, he said. We could always tell him where he was made, he said.
Delia said, “Why would you tell a child about where it was conceived? It would warp its mind.”
Delia said she couldn’t go anyway, that she couldn’t leave until the tennis season was over. The others were counting on her, she said.
Delia had trouble praying lately. She felt silly, as though someone watching her would think she was talking to herself. She didn’t sing in the car anymore, either. She never danced alone. She didn’t care for dancing in public, either, unless someone said to her that she danced beautifully. Then she enjoyed it.
Delia said, “Maybe the Lord just doesn’t want us to have children. Maybe we should just give up.”
Paul tried to touch her hand, but she pulled it away.
“Ladies, concentrate. Ladies, be sure to eat lots of carbohydrates before the match. Pastas and breads, ladies. Pastas and breads.”
Delia zipped her racquet into the bag and packed her tennis balls into the can. The lid was missing again.
“I’m bringing cream puffs for after the march.”
“We’ve earned some extra calories.”
“Don’t tell Bob. He’s on a no sugar diet.”
“They are worse than the children, really.”
“Yes,” Delia said. “They never want what’s good for them.”
Paul asked if she wanted him to come watch her play. She said yes, but when he was there, he made her nervous. After the first set, she waved him over to the chain-link fence and asked him to leave.
When she got home, he said, “Do you want a divorce?” He stood at the bottom of the stairs. She stood on the third stair. She could see the top of his head, where the hair was just beginning to thin.
She said, “Divorce is a sin in the eyes of God.”
“So is lying,” he said. “You don’t want me. I’m going to a hotel. “
She said, “Wait, we’ll have children. Wait. We can fix this.”
He said, “I don’t understand you.”
She said, “I might be pregnant right now. It might happen tonight. Don’t go.”
He said, “We need help.”
She said, “You’re right. We’ll pray.”
He said, “I don’t think I can right now.”
After dinner, after the news, when the house was dark and cool, Delia watched the moonlight on the wall. In the pine branches, the moon made shapes of light. An old man at first, then a toy soldier. Then it looked like Jesus, bending slightly towards the window.