Indians play cricket every Saturday morning on the tennis courts. You’d think cricket matches would play out better on the baseball diamond, which no one ever uses for baseball, but most of the players crowd themselves to the left of the nets, and balls hit to the right rarely make it to the one or two players on that side. Those players don’t see much action, the ones on the right. Mainly they just clap and offer encouragement in Gujarati.
In the evening, long after the Indians have left, a lone tennis player practices his swing on the court, bounces balls back to himself off a big piece of plywood painted green. Every so often he sails one too high over the top of the board, over the cyclone fence it hangs on, into the trees. The fence encloses the court. Its gate stands open, blocks the path I walk on with Maggie. I kick it shut as we pass. Maggie barks at the tennis player. She barks at the joggers and the kids in the playground. She barks. I bark. Why not.
The basketball court is a concrete semi-circle where sometimes a white guy plays but usually it’s black guys, occasionally Hispanics. Occasionally it smells like weed over there. Occasionally I breathe deep as I pass. Around the bend and down a hill lies the soccer field where the Asians play. No uniforms, no shirts-and-skins. I wonder how they know who’s who.
Litter covers the playground and the pavilion. Beer cans, fast food cups, plastic bags. The odd diaper. I pick it up when it’s near a trash can, toss it in, but there’s always more, I can’t keep up.
The homeless kid with dreads has given up the center table under the pavilion — he’s moved back to the uncovered picnic tables behind the basketball court, where he’d made camp when I first started coming here years ago. I figure someone complained. He used to sleep with his head on the table under a blanket, but he’s taken to lying on his stomach in the grass. I was afraid he was dead the other day but there were people at the tables nearby and they didn’t seem concerned. I picked up a crushed DVD case, tossed it in the trash, tossed around the idea of tossing myself in, too.
The trees near the tennis courts are mostly friendly, but the old live oak, that old papa bear by the bench in the center of the cluster, he’s an ornery son of a bitch. Grouchy. Doesn’t like it when you tread on his roots. You can all but hear him snarling get off my lawn.
At the doctor’s office, Doc shines his light in my daughter’s ear, says it looks angry in there, asks what we should do.
“Paint rainbows,” she says.
“Yeah,” I chime in. “Big-ass double-wides. The kind you can see from space.”
“Where does one find such rainbows?” wonders the Doc.
“Kid’s a goddamn entrepreneur,” I offer. “Owns and operates her own rainbow factory.”
“We coagulate them with robot labor,” she says. “Then Daddy spreads them door-to-door.”
Doc switches off his light, drops it in the breast pocket of his white lab coat. “Delightful!”
“Yeah, well, it’s a tough racket,” I say, hopping off the examination table. “Come on sweetheart, we’re leaving.” I grab the doctor’s hand, holler over my shoulder. “There’s alcohol swabs in the Tupperware if you get hungry, kiddo.”
The kid smiles, waves goodbye. “Don’t forget to get stamps!”
“And don’t you keep Mrs. Hessenbaum waiting long, my dear,” says the Doc. “She’s an ornery son of a bitch who will poop in the sink if you’re not prompt.” He flicks open his Zippo, lights a smoke, sucks it down. Cranes back, blows heavenward.
“Nothing soothes the T-zone like a Lucky Strike, huh Doc?” I grin. He grins, “You’re goddamn right!” Oh, how we laugh. I slap him on the back, he coughs a cough that rattles around his chest for most of the rest of the day.
A tennis ball sails over the green-painted board, over the fence into the grass, rolls to a stop on the old grouch’s roots. The kid eyeballs me through the cyclone fence plaintively. I deduce that he would like me to hop off the bench, grab it, toss it back. I shake my head. “No way. That geezer hates my honky ass.”
The kid snarls, pokes his bony finger between a fresh ball and the chain link it’s wedged into. The fresh ball pops out, squeezed. It is freshly squeezed.
“Hey kid, you ever think about slapping a rainbow on that board?”
Maggie’s rummaging in the overgrown grass, searching for park food. Someone’s in the habit of throwing leftovers off their apartment balcony, over the rickety picket fence leaning towards the park. Maggie finds these treats by snouting with her snout. Park sandwich, park sausage, park chicken. Once she sank her fangs into a park apple and got them stuck. I let her walk home like that, sheepishly, head down, apple protruding as if from a stuffed hog. My wife hates it when Maggie finds park food, says it’s dirty. I remind her that a package of raw bacon once went missing into Maggie’s belly, right off the kitchen counter. We called the vet, who said to expect ‘blowout diarrhea.’ We prepared for it but it never came.
My phone rings. It’s the doctor’s office. “What’s up, Doc?”
“Daddy, it’s me. When are you picking me up?”
“What are you still doing there, sweetie? How is Mrs. Hessenbaum?”
“Ruder than a witch’s teat, and I’m pretty sure I caught whatever she had because my skin is wrinkling and I feel all stooped over. Daddy, it’s dark here and everyone’s gone.”
“Same here, it’s just me and the homeless guy and two dudes sitting in their car with the engine off. I can kind of see their faces in the glow when they suck deeply on their cigarettes, but they’re using bad words you shouldn’t know. Listen, I’ll meet you out front in ten minutes. If you see any prescription samples lying around, grab ’em. Want a park sausage?”
The kid is in her tutu out front doing a rond de jambe on the fire hydrant when Maggie stops the car and hangs her sniffer out the window, barks get in. The kid hops off the hydrant with a flawless grand jeté as I hop out the passenger side, pop the trunk, climb in, curl up in a nest of jumper cables, my head on the spare tire for a pillow. The kid slides in up front — I hear the door swing shut, hear her muffled voice through the back seat: “How were sales, Daddy?”
I reach for the tie-down, pull the trunk down, sealing myself in darkness with the smell of copper and rubber. “Pretty shitty, honey,” I say. “Pretty shitty.”