Whatever Happened to Sébastien Grosjean?crumbTitle=Whatever Happened to Sébastien Grosjean?author=Robert Liddell
“It’s a fine day for tennis,” Win said. He was wearing linen slacks and a pair of Cole Haan loafers with no socks. I knew they were Cole Haans because he told me. “I adore Cole Haans,” he said, as though they were a pair of soft leather kittens. “Like sex on the feet.” We were cruising in his Boxster down San Felipe. The car was small and close to the ground, and I could feel the grade of the road beneath us. Win whipped through tiny spaces in traffic, a drink in his right hand, shifting gears with the heel of his hand whenever he felt the need to jolt us through a closing portal. Ice rattled against the Styrofoam wall of his cup.
“Federer is playing,” he said. “He’s Swedish.”
“Does he still live there?”
“God no, man!” He glared at me. “None of them live in Sweden because of the taxes. Taxes in Sweden are outrageous. Like 60 percent. But it doesn’t matter because he’s really Swiss.”
“Why’d you tell me he’s Swedish?”
“He’s Swedish,” he said, “because they say he’s Swedish.”
Win had called me at the beginning of the week and asked if I’d fly down to Houston and visit him for the weekend and maybe check out the tournament. I’d spoken to Lauren for the last time that morning, and being anywhere but where I was seemed like a great idea, so I agreed. On the plane that Friday, I’d been thinking about something my father once said to me: All men lose their hearts eventually. He was lying in a hospital bed at the time, with another arterial blockage, but that’s not what he meant.
“We have to pick up the girls,” Win said, as though I knew already that there were girls, just not that they’d need to be picked up. This irritated me, and I started to say something but stopped myself. He cut through a side street, and we sped by an assortment of Easter-colored mansions: pink, blue, and yellow. Most of the houses were brick.
Win continued to talk tennis at me: the players’ histories, their injuries. Federer’s opponent was from Lyon. He’d torn a hip flexor three years earlier in Paris at the French Open and had not been the same since.
“It’s tragic,” Win said at a light. He pressed a button, then lit a cigarette while the top rolled back. The sunlight crawled up our laps. “Absolutely tragic. In the second week! For a Becker or an Agassi, it’s just a disappointment; they have opportunities. A player like Grosjean gets one crack at a major—maybe. So much has to go right. The draw, the surface. The body. He could have won it really. But the hip gave and that was the end of it. The entire country went into mourning.” I assumed he meant France. “Of course, no one here will remember that.”
When the car started forward, Win’s fine black hair, just long enough to suggest impertinence, whipped in the wind. We crossed a major street and passed several sets of two-story apartments with gates and stairways of black iron. A store on one corner sold wire frames in the shapes of animals. The frames were filled with fertilizer, and you grew jasmine vines around them. Win told me how fine Vickie was.
“You could grow jasmine all over this girl, Jack.”
I still saw pieces of Lauren: the thin silver cuff she wore on the back of her left ear; her smooth legs over the length of our couch (feet tucked under my thigh to keep toes warm); the plastic amber daisies she used to clip her bangs aside; her eyes catching mine in the mirror when I stepped out of the shower. I remembered her foot in my hand, the slender white curve of the arch, my teeth soft against the back of her ankle. And later, my finger tracing the lines of her face while she slept. I could remember things she’d said to me, phrases she used, even words she liked. Solace. Illusion. But I couldn’t hear her voice.
And I shouldn’t have called her. I called her up, and everything I had to say was wrong, but I said it anyway, and she listened, and I kept on saying, and when I finished she didn’t say anything, so I began to say things for her and then for me again as well, and she just listened until finally it ran out.
“Pathetic,” Win said outside Vickie’s apartment. He knocked on the door. “Their clothes will be inadequate. They’ll be dressed up, I swear, but it’ll be faux Chloe and faux Gucci. You shouldn’t say anything about it.”
Vickie wasn’t answering. I looked around the courtyard. She lived in one of those overnight stucco jobs marketed to whatever they call yuppies now—the kind with its own fitness center, weekend mixers, and a conference room reservable with advance notice. The landscape was cramped and theme-ish. In the courtyard a small pool shaped roughly like the lower two thirds of a snow man was surrounded by palm trees and large dark lava rocks.
“Who’s Chloe?” I asked. The palms looked ridiculous.
“Of London.” He knocked again. “Just take fashion off the table altogether, okay? If anything needs to be said, I’ll say it. But under no circumstances will I say anything at all.”
It was just after eleven o’clock, already hot enough for my shirt to stick to my back. There was supposed to be a front coming in late in the day, but there was no sign of it. The sky was so blue it hurt.
Win opened the door himself and entered. “Men in the house,” he announced. “Jesus, doesn’t a girl answer her door anymore?” I waited on the breezeway a moment, but Win waved me in behind him. Vickie and her friend were sitting on a pair of stools in front of a kitchen bar. I didn’t know who was who. When they saw Win they smiled at him like his name was Frankie.
“Win, baby!” the woman on the left cried. Her eyes were a sharp brown, and she wore a short white skirt and tank top with a pale yellow blouse tied at the waist. She slipped off her stool and skied across the carpet in platform shoes. She hugged Win, who spun her around and set her down in front of me. Her toes were bare and polished.
“Vicks, this is Jack,” he said.
“We were just talking about you,” said Vickie. As twenty minutes ago I’d never heard of her, I was of the opinion she was lying. “This is Sandra,” she said. The second girl approached. She had straight blonde hair to her shoulders and wore a strapless sun dress that trickled down her figure like blue honey. She was gorgeous. They were both gorgeous.
“I’ve heard so much about you,” she said to me.
“Then,” I answered, “I guess the only decent thing for me to do is leave.” They all laughed a little too hard, and I knew Win had told them about Lauren.
Both of their outfits were fantastic, and I found myself relieved that Win had been mistaken. Not that I cared about fashion etiquette one way or the other. I just wanted him to be wrong.
“You’ll have to follow us,” Win said to me, taking Vickie’s arm. “I’m in the Box.” Box was his pet name for the Porsche.
“We’ll take my car,” Sandra said. “But I don’t know the way to the club, so don’t lose us.”
In the car Sandra asked me how I knew Win.
“We were at Duke together,” I said. “You?”
“I don’t really know him, except through Vickie. I’ve been out with them a couple of times. He’s tough to get a read on.” I couldn’t argue with that. It had taken me a long time to understand his particular breed of sincerity. The first time I met Win was our third semester at Duke. We had an instructor, a man named Wizzenhand, who held a theory that all literature was reducible to the confrontation of fear. The first day of class, he asked each of us to tell him what it was we feared most. The majority of answers were expected: rape, a plane crash, failing out of school. I don’t remember mine. But when it was Win’s turn, he leaned back and rested his arm over the back of his chair and said, “My greatest fear is that I’ll never give my best to anything.” People laughed at that. Win laughed with them. They believed he was joking.
Win performed his standard magic act on the road, vanishing through holes in traffic that Sandra couldn’t possibly get through in her Honda. A couple of times we lost them, but we managed to catch sight of them again when he made a turn, Vickie waving back at us helplessly.
Sandra said she was an editor for a magazine and told me the name of the magazine, and I said I thought I’d heard of it, even though I was sure I hadn’t. I told her I lived in Chicago and was a trader and didn’t want to be a trader, but the money was good, so it was a question of how long I could stand it. She’d been to Chicago and thought the El was wretched. I told her that after a while you don’t think about it.
Then there was the time when no one says anything.
“Do you know how his father is?” she asked finally.
“Not good,” I said. “It’s metastasized to the spine. They told Win he’d have to take him home next week. They can’t do anything. They’re surprised it’s gone on this long.”
“Has he talked to you about it?”
“No,” I said. I laughed, and she looked at me. I pointed at the slippery black Porsche ahead of us and said, “It’s just not something he would do.”
We arrived at the club, which was at the end of a long boulevard of plantation-style homes. I half-expected to see slaves working the lawns. Cars were parked for blocks along the surrounding streets, and people walked in small clusters along the sidewalks toward the entrance. Win drove right up to the gate and spoke to a guard. The guard leaned down and listened to Win then shook his head. Win began gesturing with his hands, pointing back to us and then at the guard, and his head moved like he was agitated. Then he shoved the car in gear, screeched his tires, and shot the Porsche straight into the club.
Sandra pulled up to the guard and said, “We’re with him,” and I wondered if that was the best thing to say. The guard explained that because her car didn’t have a sticker, we’d have to park on the street. Sandra said, “He has our tickets and we don’t know where to go,” but the guard told her, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to turn around now.” Sandra asked, “What are we supposed to do then?” and I said, “It’s okay. We’ll turn around.” This surprised her, because she hadn’t finished with him, but she gave it up.
The club was nearly a mile away from where we parked, and Sandra was annoyed, but the houses were beautiful with deep quiet lawns, and most of the walk was in the shade of wealthy oaks. A pair of twin ponies grazed on the lawn of the last house before the club. We stood and watched for a moment.
“Aren’t they worried they’ll run off?” she asked. There was no fence.
“I guess not,” I said. “But I’m not sure it’s legal to keep them in the city like this.”
She grinned at me. “I know they’re not worried about that.”
We walked to the entrance of the club. When we saw the guard again, Sandra traded eyes with him, but after we passed she said, “I suppose he didn’t have a choice.”
We followed the flow of people across the grounds, which were interspersed with rows of pink azaleas. The stadium was a small, tastefully green structure at the back of the club in front of a golf course. As we neared it the noise of the crowd rose.
Vickie was waiting for us at the end of a long gallery between the stadium and clubhouse, where everyone collected before the match.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Did you have to park far?”
I let Sandra field this question.
“It was fine,” she said. “Jack and I had a decent walk in.”
“It’s amazing you found the club at all. Win drives like such a spaz. He’s at Will Call now.”
We stood and watched the people. Everywhere were kisses and hats and light-colored suits. Alcohol, corduroy, bow ties. It was the Sunlight Costume Ball. A white billboard announced the 63rd Annual River Oaks Tennis International in large black letters along with the players’ names and scores from all the matches up to the final. Under each match was the amount of money at stake for that round. The winner of the final would receive fifty thousand.
Win showed up with the tickets and a fresh drink in each hand. He handed one of the drinks to Vickie and licked a small spill off his wrist.
“Jesus, Vicks!” he said, surveying the girls. “Your outfits are atrocious! They’ll accuse me of running a bordello.”
“What a thing to say!” Vickie slapped him hard on the shoulder, and the jolt spilled his drink again.
A splash of frozen pink liquid hit the front of his shirt. He wiped at it with his free hand. “Jesus’s baby sister!” he said. “We’re a fine disgrace. I’ll be barred from the grounds.”
“Is he always this obnoxious?” Sandra asked.
“Audacity,” he said, “is the seed of aristocracy, my dear. Care for a drink?”
He took us through a gate into an enclosure reserved for members of the club. People lounged in white iron chairs at round tables under white umbrellas. Women dressed like parrots gave orders to waiters in white jackets. A row of tent stands offered various nationalities of food. There was the green lawn and a pale wall and the clean blue gleam of a pool. And the feeling I did not belong.
Win and Vickie ran off to get our drinks. Sandra grabbed my arm and said, “My God, will you look at these clothes?”
When she touched me my foot slipped off the sidewalk and into a deep puddle where the lawn intersected the pavement.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, clutching my forearm with both her hands. I pulled my foot out, and my right shoe was coated in mud. Next to me was an orange cone indicating not to step there.
“It’s okay,” I told her. I felt cold water seeping into my sock. I tried to wipe the mud off on the grass but there was too much of it. Sandra found some paper napkins and I limped over to an empty chair and began wiping at my shoe.
“I hope they’re not ruined.”
“Just the one,” I said. She looked down at me fearfully then realized I wasn’t serious. “Really, it probably looks better than the clean one.”
It wasn’t long before I had wiped the mud evenly across the surface of my shoe and was holding a wad of sopped napkins. There was nowhere to put it.
“Let’s just leave it,” Sandra said. “One of the waiters will pick it up.” But I felt awkward, so she wandered with me through the crowd of gorgeous people, in search of garbage. My foot was cold now and squished conspicuously with every other step. There were no trash cans, but we found Win and Vickie at the front of the drink line.
Win couldn’t stop laughing about it. “I can’t leave you anywhere,” he said. Sandra said, “It was my fault, Win. For God’s sake,” but he just kept on laughing, and it was funny, and Vickie saw that it was funny, and then all of us were laughing except Sandra, who still felt bad, until she looked down again at my shoes, and then she said, “It’s still not funny. I feel terrible,” but she was laughing when she said it.
Win signed for our drinks at the bar, and we headed to our seats. I was still holding the napkins, and Win told me to hand them to a waiter. I said no, I’d find a garbage can somewhere, but he called one of the waiters over and instructed him to take care of the napkins for me. The waiter took them from me, and when I thanked him, he said, “You’re welcome, sir,” but he looked less than pleased about it. “He pegged you as a guest,” Win said. “No self-respecting member would’ve thanked him.”
We walked back through the gallery to the stadium, and an usher took our tickets and escorted us to Win’s father’s box, which was designated by a sign that read Winfred H. Maddox, III. Every box had a sign like that, most of them suffixed with a Jr. or Roman numerals. I sat with Sandra in front of Vickie and Win.
The court was a dirty baked orange. The players had taken their sides already and were warming up. You could hear the clay crunch under their feet as they moved about the court and stepped into each shot. Federer was the younger, with a nest of long blonde hair that whipped like a horse’s tail when he swung his racket. His body was lean, arrogant, and unbattered. Grosjean was more reserved. His short black hair and dark eyes lent a certain melancholy to his appearance, but his movements were light and deliberate.
The stadium seated around four thousand, most of whom were still in the gallery. Their noise filtered up through the green boards under our feet. The boxes were nearly empty.
“They’ll stay that way until the second set,” Win said.
“What about the match?” I asked.
“They’re not here for the match, Jack. The match is here for them.”
He explained that the court was made to look like French clay but was actually crushed limestone. “They dye it to make it look like the real thing. But the French is a redder surface. It’s made of brick dust, so it’s a finer grain. This stuff is gravel and plays a lot faster even though they scrape the top layer off.”
“Who do you think will win?” Vickie asked.
“Federer is too strong. Grosjean is a smart player, and he can make it close. But he can’t win.”
“And how do you know that?” Sandra asked.
“It’s a matter of realities.” He told them about the injury. I kept looking at the stain on his shirt, wondering why it didn’t look ridiculous. “A year ago even, Grosjean might’ve beaten him. But Federer is stronger now, and Grosjean is only older. He can’t win. The leg will prevent it.”
“Well,” Sandra said, “I hope he proves you wrong.”
“Yes,” Vickie said. “We should cheer for Grosjean.”
“We’ll all cheer for Grosjean,” Win said. “How ’bout it, Jack? Vive la France?”
The tennis was well played. Grosjean was overmatched at the start, and Federer took an early lead. His shots were strong and heavy, and he kept the points short.
“His game is power,” Win said. “Power’s the first weapon they learn, but it’s the weakest. Grosjean will adjust if he wants to.”
The crowd was distracted. People talked and moved about during play, and I waited for the umpire to say something, but the tournament was merely an exhibition and didn’t count toward the players’ rankings. There was a staged quality to it all, the feeling that the people had come to watch each other more than the tennis. We sat in Win’s father’s box under permanent shade and watched the players slide on the orange clay. Even in the shade it was hot, and there was no breeze to relieve us. To stay cool Win and I took turns buying fresh rounds of drinks. He told me to go back to the members bar and just sign his name and number on the ticket, but instead I dragged the obscenity of my shoe to the concession stand in the public gallery and paid with cash. We played a game to see who could return with the most exotic drink. Win beat me every time because the concession stand didn’t have a full bar. His trump card was a cloudy concoction known as Planter’s Punch.
“What the hell is in this?” I asked him.
The general public sat on the far side of the court on a temporary grandstand with no awning. They sweat and burned in the heat, and the sun’s light reflected off their sunglasses and annoyed us. We chatted between points. I heard several people refer to Federer as “the Swede.” When I showed up with four margaritas, Win took a long sip and said, “Christ, man, show some imagination. The Amish drink margaritas!”
After Federer won the first set, Win took Vickie to find food, and I was left alone with Sandra. I enjoyed being around her, but I was still in the stage of having to be reminded who was next to me. Every time my attention fell to the match or to Win, I’d forget, and when she spoke or laughed at something, it was always a surprise to me that it was Sandra. She became the girl who was not Lauren.
She said to me, “Your friend is vicious.”
“Yes. More to himself than anyone.”
“Do you suppose he’s right?” she asked. “About the match, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Probably.”
“He says ugly things.”
“I’m not sure I like him.”
“You should tell him.”
“He’d tell you.”
She laughed. It felt good to make a woman laugh again. I tucked my unclean shoe under the chair.
“I’m sorry about what you’re, you know . . . going through.”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“I realize. I just knew you knew Win told me, and I didn’t want to pretend.”
“Thanks,” I said.
What can I say about Lauren? Once, I spent a weekend with her in Massachusetts. We stayed in a cabin suite at a small inn on the Cape. In the daytime, we drove from town to town, stopping every so often to stretch and catch the flavor of a place. The towns were old; you could walk the length of them in minutes. The shops and restaurants occupied houses strung along the main road, and we walked among the people and didn’t worry, because there was no one to find, nowhere to be getting to, and it was all of the moment. We went inside the stores but didn’t buy anything. Sometimes I pretended to be distracted by a painting for sale or a title in a shop that sold used books, and I let her walk ahead of me so I could watch her. People passed right next to her on the sidewalk and still missed it. Knowing her was like knowing a secret. She was beautiful and thin, and what she loved was always simple: the walking, the sunlight, the cool raspy feel of the air so close to the sea. She loved the twists of the road and the view of the trees along its curves and the pale sky behind them. She had to point these out to me.
Win and Vickie returned with drinks and penne. The pasta came in little cardboard containers with stiff plastic forks. We were all hungry, and it was good to have food on the tongue and a sweet drink. We ate and watched the match.
A very old man with silver hair combed back in wet, greenish waves and wearing a seersucker jacket tapped Win on the shoulder.
“How’s that father of yours?” he asked. He was a fat old man. It looked like it would take him half an hour to walk out of the stadium. Patches of white whiskers glistened on his pink jaw where he’d missed shaving that morning.
“They’ve got him on an epidural,” Win said, standing up. “He’s coming home Wednesday.”
“What are they giving him?”
“Fentanyl. The morphine wasn’t cutting it.” There was a casualness of tone between them, as though they were discussing an old car with a failing transmission. “Of course, he doesn’t want any of it. Or thinks he doesn’t.”
“Raising a bit of hell, is he?”
“Said he’s only lending me these tickets.”
“Well, see that you don’t get comfortable, then.” They laughed, and the old man shook Win’s hand then cut the laugh short and pulled Win close to his striped girth. He raised an eyebrow and stared hard at Win more with one eye than the other. “You give him my best now. Understand?”
“Absolutely,” Win said. He was smiling.
The match went on during all of this.
The man clapped Win on the arm and shuffled toward the exit, clinging to the rail in the way of old men who can no longer find good footing. He offered a final piece of advice over his shoulder: “Hope your money’s on the Swede.”
Win sat back down and said, “I’m in the mood for a comeback.”
The stadium had filled considerably by now, and the crowd settled its attention on the match. Federer was a grunter. He struck the ball with a certain brutality, as though he were angry it had been returned, and when he made contact, he expelled a hollow growl that covered the sound of his shot. Grosjean, though, was elegant. He was silent and effortless, and I heard the strings on his racket fong when they met the ball. There was a flare to his game, a fluid simplicity that drew me to him. For the most part though, the crowd favored Federer. Win said this was because Federer had played at River Oaks before anyone knew him, and now that his name was beginning to be known, the crowd appreciated his willingness to return to their little tournament. “A few come back on their way down,” Win said. “But it’s rare.”
Both players moved and placed the ball with precision, but Federer’s game was founded on aggression, whereas Grosjean’s seemed composed of a weary inevitability. It was the difference between dogma and philosophy.
In the second set Grosjean hit several terrific shots to keep the match close. The sun had fallen behind the awning, and a broad shadow crept across the court. The players moved from shade to sunlight and back into shade again, and it was difficult to follow the ball as it passed through the changing light. The wind picked up. Grosjean seemed to handle the change in elements better than Federer, who lost a pair of long rallies with loose shots. Grosjean took the set with a backhand lob that caught Federer too close to net, sailed easily over his head, and clipped the back line behind him.
A segment of the audience rose and applauded. People whistled and yelled the players’ names. Sandra stood up in front of Win and shouted a few cheers. There was a nervousness to things now, and for once the crowd seemed to lose sight of itself.
“He’s decided to make it real,” Win said.
But it was never real for Federer. The third set was brilliant tennis, but you could tell the Swede was holding back. There was a hollow look to his game, as though he were doing only what was necessary. Grosjean mixed the points well, varying the pace and spin of the ball. He made some amazing shots, and Federer let him. More than once Federer hit a shot that seemed a certain winner, but the Frenchman tracked it down with a silent, graceful sprint and placed it delicately out of Federer’s reach. With all the dramatics it seemed as though Grosjean should be way ahead, but every time we checked the score, it was even.
“He’s favoring the leg,” Win said.
We watched the next two points.
“He isn’t,” Vickie said. “I don’t see a thing.”
“I’m not seeing it either,” I agreed.
“It’s there,” Win said. “You have to know what you’re looking for.”
“You know what I think?” Sandra said. I could feel it coming. “I think you’re being an ass because you want him to fail.” She turned and looked right at him.
He was unperturbed. Vickie placed a hand on his forearm and said, “Please be civil, Win.”
“Of course, I’ll be civil. We’ll all be civil.” He grinned at Sandra and then at me. “You have to appreciate honesty when you see it.”
“You could at least take him seriously,” Sandra said.
“I do,” he said. “More seriously than you take him.”
They stopped talking then and turned their attention back to the match, but none of us felt comfortable.
The points grew even longer. Each player had learned enough of the other’s habits that it took more time to gain an advantage. The sun was fully behind us now, and all of the court in shade. In the distance a bluff of dark clouds was sneaking toward us. The wind had stiffened, and I knew I was cold, but I had such a stiff buzz going I couldn’t feel it. The girls were sitting on their hands to stay warm. I wanted to leave and get another round of drinks. I wanted to leave and just leave. But Grosjean was beautiful and authentic, and more than anything else at that moment, I wanted to see him win the match. I’d decided Federer was a powerful sham, and I wanted him to pay for it.
“There it is,” Win said again, after Grosjean missed a forehand. “See? How he hit that shot off his back foot? He couldn’t step into it.” None of us answered him. We had all seen it. “It’ll be over now.”
A few minutes later, with Grosjean trailing by a game and trying to pull even, there was an extended rally. Federer controlled the point from one spot on the court. He moved Grosjean from side to side, slugging the ball at sharp angles. Grosjean ran in quick choppy steps. He slid his way into every shot, then scrambled to get back in position. He looped deep defensive strokes to keep Federer at bay, but he was forced to cover more of the court as the point wore on, and you couldn’t help looking for the leg to give. Then Federer struck a perfect ball, a quick dipping shot at such a severe angle there was no way Grosjean could reach it. But he ran anyway, with no regard for what is possible, and there was a strain in his voice as he stretched for the ball, the first sound we’d heard from him, and he reached the ball, he reached it, and laced a running forehand down the line. The crowd buzzed at the shock of it. Federer had no play because he hadn’t believed he’d need one. He watched the ball sail past him and land flawlessly in the back corner of the court.
There was a beat of silence before the line judge called it long. People in the stands muttered at one another in confusion. Grosjean approached the net and asked the umpire to check the mark. The umpire got down from his chair and trotted to the area where the ball had landed. He said something to the line judge and the line judge stepped forward and pointed to a mark. The umpire examined the mark and confirmed the line judge’s call that the ball had been out.
There were a few suspicious groans.
“That’s not the mark,” Win said. He was right; the line judge had selected a mark from earlier in the match. The umpire climbed back into his chair and announced the point in favor of Federer.
“That’s not the mark!” Win shouted. There were murmurs of agreement. He stood up and stepped between my chair and Sandra’s and leaned over the rail of the box. “It’s the wrong mark, I said!”
Grosjean didn’t protest. He took his place at the line for the next serve and waited for the noise to settle.
“Advantage Federer,” the umpire said. “Players are ready.”
“No one is ready,” Win shouted, “until you correct the call!”
People began staring at Win, who showed no sign that he knew or cared. Grosjean tapped the ball against the ground with his racket. Federer stood waiting to return service. Neither of the players looked in Win’s direction. “Quiet, please,” the umpire said. “Players are ready.”
“The ball was good!” Win screamed. His face was calmer than his voice.
Someone in the crowd said, “Sit down, Maddox.”
Vickie put her hand on his. Sandra and I stood up from our seats and backed away.
“Win, baby,” Vickie said. “Let them play.” He pulled his hand away.
“The call was bogus!” he continued. She put her hands on his shoulder this time and tried to whisper something in his ear, but Win shook her off and pointed at the umpire. “Ask anyone in this stadium if that’s the mark,” he said. “Ask him!” He pointed at Federer. “Ask your Swede there and I’ll shut up.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats,” the umpire said. And again, “Players are ready.” There were some boos for Win now and a few scattered comments—from, I supposed, people who knew him—that he should leave. I saw a policeman talking to the usher who had seated us. The umpire nodded, and the cop came down the aisle toward us.
“Can’t you see?” Win shouted. “Any of you? Can’t you see what’s happening here?” The umpire ignored him and waited for the cop. “The man is doing something genuine, Goddamn it! And you’ve gone and wrecked it.”
The policeman reached our box and looked at me, and I stood up and said, “Win.” I said it in such a way that he heard me. He turned and looked at me, at the cop, at Vickie and Sandra, and at all the people staring at us. Then he smiled like it was all a joke.
“Officer,” he said, pointing at me. “I’m glad you’re here. This man’s shoe is covered in mud. As you can see, that sort of thing isn’t allowed in here.”
The cop said, “You’ll need to come with me, please, sir.”
Win slumped his shoulders in a posture of concession. His face took on an expression of terrible guilt. He raised a hand to his eyes and rubbed them with his thumb and forefinger, then he looked directly at the cop and said, “I’m not going anywhere until that fucker corrects the call.”
The cop said, “Sir, why don’t you just come outside with me.” The players had gathered at the net. They watched us blandly and talked with their hands over their mouths. The cop gave Vickie a look, and we all stepped out of the box except Win. “Let’s not have this get ugly now,” the cop said.
“It was ugly before you arrived. Taking me out of here won’t fix that.”
“Just the same.”
“Yes.” Win smiled like he was pleased by what the cop told him. “I suppose it is.” He stepped out of the box and gave the cop a friendly tap on the side of the arm. Then we all made our way down the aisle together under the watch of offended eyes.
They forced us to leave the club, and Win offered no more protest. He gave me the key to his house and vanished with Vickie in his little black Box, which was just as well, because Sandra had had enough of him.
Sandra suggested we go to dinner. She took me to a small café, but neither of us was hungry, and we drove right by the place. We sat in her car outside Win’s house and talked, but I wasn’t in a mood for it, and she realized that, or possibly she had no interest. Or both. The weather had tamped out the day’s remaining light, and I told her she should try and beat the rain home. She thanked me for my company, and I apologized for same. I got out of the car and said goodnight.
I stepped inside and removed my shoes by the door. The mud had dried in silky streaks and was beginning to flake. The house was dark and cool and empty, and the silence set me further into a mood. I went upstairs and took a long shower until steam filled the room and the mirrors were useless. I fell asleep on the bed with a brush in my hand, the towel still wrapped around my waist, and the first darts of rain pecking at the windows. I never heard Win come in.
When I woke it was still dark out. My flight was early, and we left the house at five. The air was fresh and wet, and the driveway glistened under the house lights. Win rattled on about his exploits with Vickie after the tournament.
“She despises me,” he said. “That’s a fine enough reason to marry anybody.” I sat stunned and exhausted in the passenger seat and sipped my coffee with both hands as it quivered in the cup. The road was clear of cars, and it was a smooth black ride to the airport.
“It was good you came,” he said. He stopped the car in a zone of red stripes in front of the terminal. “Learn not to take it all so hard. The score’s all that matters.”
We shook hands.
I said, “Wish your father good luck for me.” Win would never have said this.
“There isn’t any left, kid.” Always a goddamn smile. I got out with my bag, and the Porsche screeched away before I’d finished closing the door.
Inside I bought a local paper and waited at the gate. The sports section had a small article on the tournament, and I saw that Federer had won 7-5 in the third set. The article said only that the match had been close.
I sat in the airport and watched people walk by, dragging baggage on their way to everywhere. I thought about Win’s father, then Grosjean, likely still asleep in bed. Or maybe he went to his hotel, showered and packed, headed straight for another city. A new tournament. The next fat chance. And I wondered if he knew he was finished. Was it all just the same to him, or was he kidding himself? If he received a letter saying, I’m sorry, dear boy, this will never be enough, would he still walk on the court and offer his best? What kept him going? Was he waiting for the sound of a voice?
Robert Liddell lives and writes in Houston, where he plays, most days, an unwatchable brand of tennis. He recently completed an MFA in creative writing at the University of Houston. He received honorable mention in the Atlantic Monthly 2004 Student Writers’ Competition in fiction.
“Whatever Happened to Sébastien Grosjean?,” Liddell’s first publication, was selected for inclusion in the 2007 edition of Best New American Voices.
“Whatever Happened to Sébastien Grosjean?” appears in our Autumn 2005 issue.