Issue > Fiction
Charles Israel, Jr.

Charles Israel, Jr.

Charles Israel, Jr. teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. His chapbook, Stacking Weather, was published by Amsterdam Press in 2011. His poems and stories have appeared in Field, Crazyhorse, Nimrod International Review and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Tennis In A Dozen Easy Lessons

12. Volley. Make sure you hit the ball in front of you; make sure to shorten your swing to a boxer's jab. I recall deddy and momma facing each other in the living room/dining room, and one of them is a little drunk and the other is a lot drunk. The words go fast and flat, jabs right at each other's sternum. Hurtful, baby.

11. Ace. Hit this, a service winner, and the point's over. It was how I kept myself in matches when all other shots failed. Rich Uncle Jesse got me sent to prep school where I played the game. Ace—that was deddy's nickname down at the plant. Did he play a lot of poker during the 17 minutes they had off the clock for lunch, aces tucked in his coverall pockets? No, but an ace was also thought to be a good guy. But that wasn't deddy, so calling him Ace was like how they'd call this kid named Jimmy Littles, who sat as near to the front as he could, in class or on the bus—he had a mental disability—lightning. I stood up for him once, and got the beat-down for it. After that, I didn't do anything.

10. Smash. The polite word was smashed, which I found out later when I lived in a more polite neighborhood with Uncle Jesse. But as a kid, I just knew the word drinking, like in "deddy's been drinking again." My deddy drank a lot—mostly steel cans of Ballantine he'd open with a church key. I remember the two dark deltas cut into the top, one straight across from the other for better flow, and beersmell leaking out of both triangles.

9. Getting Spanked. Losing a match, 6-0, 6-0. I was spanked as a kid—my generation's time-out—for things like dropping the car keys down the sewer drain or sneaking a beer or not making my bed or even licking bird feathers to make them look like the quill-tip pens we'd see the captain in pirate movies use.

8. Love-Forty. Not a score you want to be calling out. I do not love being 40. It is the age I'm at, with two children of my own whom I love, and I'm happily married to Christina. But I do not love my age, if such a thing is possible, and it is. Momma and deddy divorced when they were 40.

7. Disputed Line Call. Don't waste energy arguing calls. Make your best call since there's no ref in amateur matches. When it came down to it, you and the guy across the net had to settle your own calls. Another kind of disputed line call was back when we had party lines through Southern Bell, so two other families shared our phone number. Two quick rings (brrring brrring) was us. One long ring, like a dog doing a low growl, was the Williams. Two long rings, with a long count between them, were the Haits. Deddy was in love with Susan Hait who lived over a few hills in the little garden apartments we lived in then. If you were slick when you picked up the phone, you could listen in on other people talking.

6. Double-Fault. Well, who is at fault? Those who spanked or those who were spanked, like me? Everybody: some at fault for getting into mischief and some at fault for punishment overkill. I still talk to my parents, who live apart and neither remarried, but that's all it is—talk. And who's at fault for their divorce? Judge said both. I don't think they talk to each other, so I deliver news back-and-forth about their general health, like angina and high blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and cartilage that's gone missing. Also, spending more time at the doctors' than at home.

5. Drop shot. To work, the shot needs surprise. Disguise this shot to make it drop just over the net. What dropped in their marriage? A glass cookie jar, a soft touch on the forearm, the tiny shreds of a love letter from Susan Hait that momma'd found in deddy's coveralls, confetti fluttering down from her hand, a full can of beer from deddy's hand that bounced and spilled all over. At least real shots, like gun shots, were never fired at our apartment, like what happened at some garden apartment a few hills over.

4. Backhand. It's just like opening a door for a lady. First, draw your arm from the side that's not the side of your dominant arm; then, extend. Now, did you see that backhand upside deddy's head from momma? Him too drunk to see it coming, and it laid him out. Deddy was a big fucker, built like a linebacker, but there he was on the red linoleum of the kitchen floor. That was the last fight. Divorce and joint loss of custody to follow, sweetie.

3. Forehand. When I hit a forehand at prep school, it took forever to get across the net, what with wood racquets and pressure-less balls—their heavy-weaved nap and a thick, thick rubber interior that a lawnmower couldn't slice in half. About the heft of a goddamned baseball. So, when the game changed to powerful racquets and the school started buying pressurized balls, I could smack the hell out of the ball. That swing was grooved for power. I miss that and might hit a few balls with my kids in the summer, but mostly, they like tap dance and the violin. That's fine, and that's how things turn out. I have never spanked them and never will. If momma and deddy had forced me to play a certain sport, like tennis, I would've hated it.

2. Service. This shot always starts play, and you hit it with an overhead motion like a smash. Service is the most sublime word in English, Uncle Jesse said that Robert E. Lee said, but it wasn't "service," it was "duty." About the same thing, as far as doing what you're supposed to do for others. Providing for the family, talking to my parents: I have served long and hard at trying to do so. I don't know if I've succeeded.

1. Held at Love. Win your service game without the other guy scoring a point—good luck, it's damn hard. The best is smacking four aces, which I did once. Really, though, it's the windlass of what we want as kids. To be hoisted on our parents' soldiers and held high forever. Forget service—all anybody ever wants is just to be held and to be loved.

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