> > > Always



The British Club is no longer what it must have been in its colonial heyday. The lawns and terraces are returning to the wild; the restaurant opens fitfully; the musty volumes in the library disintegrate on the shelves. But the tennis courts are still in use, the bar does brisk business and the cards room is frequently occupied.



There are people and places which exist in bubbles of time. I may be such a person. The British Club is — was — is such a place.


Late afternoon. As always, hot. This is a country with no seasons.

The coarse, worn grass of the lower tennis court; mixed doubles; Harry at the net.

— Yours! cries Harry, lunging at my backhand lob. Yours!

The ball hits Harry’s racquet and we watch it lift, hang for an instant and float into the rhododendrons.

— Out! says Yvonne, my partner, perhaps unnecessarily.

— Game, set, match, I say. Thank you, Harriet. Thank you, Harry.

But Harry’s back is turned to us. He is standing, staring at Harriet.

— Where were you, Harriet? Where were you?

— Oh, God! says Yvonne. Not again.

— Behind you, Harry. On the baseline.

— Where, Harriet?

— On the baseline, Harry. Behind you.

Harriet answers calmly; Harry boils with fury. This is how games of tennis with Harry and Harriet always end. Harry’s recriminations; Harriet’s patience. Embarrassing to witness. Manifestly unjust. Harriet’s tennis is elegant, educated; Harry plays like an enraged turkey. Harriet wins points; Harry loses them. This is how it always is.

Yvonne collects her cigarettes. I follow her off the court and we sit on a rusting garden roller.

— Poor Harriet, I say.

— You feel sorry for her? asks Yvonne, blowing a smoke ring.

— Don’t you?

— Why does she tolerate him?

— Because she’s his wife?

Yvonne snorts. She has a low opinion of wives having once been one herself. But that, as she sometimes says, was in another incarnation altogether.


►►► continued ...


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