Cheers rise from the soccer field just over the hill. A bird wings its way across the sky. My breath is ragged, loud as the sun is hot on my bare shoulders. A light breeze fingertip-touches my right cheek, hurries a bead of tickling sweat into my ear. I bounce the ball two times. Catch the ball. Tell myself: no, you bounce the ball three times before serving, not two. Stick to your routine. Don’t rush. Deep breath. Bounce it again. Three times. Left hand sure. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Racquet in my right hand, grip slick with sweat. Listen. Don’t listen. Think. Don’t think. I wait. I go. My squat mom-body moves in practiced mimicry of the lithe athletes on TV who butterfly around courts around the world. During long hours of lying corpse-still next to Noah while waiting for his seizure-stormed mind to quiet so he might fall asleep, I visualized my serve, metronomed the movements. I lean forward. Take my weight onto my left foot. Ball held pressed against the Y-shape of my racquet right above the handle, just below the face. I lean back, take my weight on my right leg, bend my right knee just a bit, turn my shoulders. Look. Twist. Toss. But my hand is slow to release the ball, to shoot it into the sky, into view, to where that bird flew, to where now there is a cloud skittering. The ball arcs over my head instead, and I wing my left arm out to catch it. “Nope,” I say, talking to myself more than my opponent. “Sorry,” I say to her because politeness is a requirement of the game, even if, when I approach the net on a short ball hit by her, it is also completely within the rules of comportment to hit that ball right at her chest, force her to move quickly, to defend herself, to launch the ball I’ve launched at her right back at me. I tell myself: I’ve been through worse. I tell myself, stop thinking. Nose breath in; whisper breath out. I reset. I bounce the ball. One, two, three. A bird flies overhead. The ball flies into the air.
Exercise 96 Kiteley
Iowa Summer Writing Festival