MARY QUINN IS ABOUT TO WIN the national varsity women’s title. Again.
She is a dominant woman on the court with dominant thighs. She has a penetrating forehand and an incredible short game. The tennis world is decades from the first graphite composite racket and therefore in the height of the wooden era. This is the pinnacle of the tennis intelligentsia where the smart, not the strong, survive.
The score right now is five games to love in the second set and Mary Quinn tosses a ball into the air for her first serve. She has the precision of a sniper…no……she has the precision of an allied assass-…no…an archer. Yes, an archer. She has the precision of a schooled archer and when the racket makes contact with the ball, it goes exactly where Mary Quinn wants it to go.
From the corner of her eye, she sees her opponent standing in the far corner of the baseline, swaying nervously from side to side. Her name is Jennifer Wallace and in any other match the score would not be five games to love because Mary Quinn always gives her opponent at least a game in the final set because she knows how it feels to lose to love. But this is Jennifer Wallace and Mary Quinn must summon all the goodness that a six mass per week regiment will afford her. Yes six masses per week because this is Ireland and it’s 1971 which means Mary Quinn has only one day in the week where she does not attend mass, and it takes all her knobby–kneed faith to summon a holy spirit strong enough to silence the urge to smash the bitch’s teeth in with her racket somewhere in a dark Dublin alley. You see, Jennifer Wallace is simply a bad person but we will not go into that because this is not a story about Jennifer Wallace and the countless ways she takes, has taken, and will take, spiteful pleasure in humiliating Mary Quinn. Instead we will say simply that she lacks the modesty and fine manners of Mary Quinn. Sure, she will live longer than Mary Quinn and she will not drown in her own bed when a blood clot in her lungs slowly suffocates her like Mary Quinn, and she will not be orphaned a year from now like Mary Quinn, but again, this is not a story about Jennifer Wallace, so frankly we don’t care if the bitch lives or dies. Because this is a story about Mary Quinn and the night she made sweet love to Stan Smith.
So, in lieu of smashing her opponent’s teeth somewhere in a dark alley, Mary Quinn tosses a ball into the air and sends it deep and wide to her opponent’s backhand. Jennifer Wallace stretches to reach the ball, returning it with a weak lob and sure enough, Mary Quinn has already arrived at the net to punch an easy volley to the far corner.
From beneath her skirt, Mary Quinn takes out a ball and bounces it on her way back to the baseline.
And then it happens.
As Mary Quinn looks up to the bleachers she sees him. She sees the legendary Stan Smith and for the first time in her life, as her palms grow wet and her chest grows heavy, all time stops. Dead.
Oh Stan Smith.
She has modeled her game entirely after his. All the way down to his backhand slice gentle drop shot.
Secretly she fears he will have eyes for Jennifer Wallace and that God has planned this to humble her in the only place Jennifer Wallace cannot hurt her. But God has much darker plans for the good woman that is Mary Quinn and this is the sacred world of tennis, where a woman’s beauty is usurped by the gracefully superior play of an opponent. Jennifer Wallace is taller, her legs are longer, and her cheekbones slightly higher, but the grace granted Mary Quinn by her ground strokes means that on the court, until she loses, she is the most beautiful woman on the planet. Well, at least in Stan Smith’s world she is.
She tries to hold it together and steer her mind toward the match and motions to the ball boy for another ball. But with the shaft of her racket in one hand and a pair of fuzzy balls in the other, the world starts to make sense to Mary Quinn. Best of all, her eyes have met the eyes of Stan Smith.
Now it should be said that Mary Quinn is a dreadfully conservative woman with puritanical instincts and an unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and Paul McCartney. Mary Quinn does not smoke, rarely drinks, and attends Church, as we said, on a daily basis. But it should also be said that Mary Quinn is a woman with all the requisite parts and wirings that make the Catholic girl that she is desire the strong arms of a man to carry her to bed and do to her a litany of deeds that would leave the stained glass windows of any Irish confessional wet with steam.
On more than one occasion, Mary Quinn has wished, no, prayed for a sinful visit of Stan Smith’s lips to her neck and clavicle. Now, for the good name of Mary Quinn, let’s resort to a few tennis analogies and clichés and simply state that when she closes her eyes at night and thinks about Stan Smith she imagines he will have everything she wants in a doubles partner: a delicate touch, tender strokes, and a deep penetrating delivery into the service box.
It need hardly be stated that Mary Quinn quickly disposed of Jennifer Wallace with a final ace down the middle line to finish the match and win the national varsity women’s title, again. What need be stated is that after the match, inside the clubhouse, Mary Quinn was invited to meet the legendary Stan Smith and it need only be stated that her cultivated manners and years of reading books provided her a vocabulary rich enough to maintain a dialogue with the man who would later drive her home in a Rag Top MG and give her his room number at the Ballymascallion Hotel where he was staying. And it need hardly be stated that when Mary Quinn locked for the last time her black bicycle to the gate of the Ballymascallion late that night, she could taste her heart in her mouth. But when she entered his room and saw his navy v-neck sweater and the tanned chest beneath it, she knew that six masses a week could be increased to seven to absolve her of any negative light the act of making sweet, sweet, oh dreadfully sweet love to Stan Smith might shine on her. She knew it wasn’t wrong. This was, after all, the fine work of God. She had prayed for this. He answered the call. It would be wrong, he reasoned, to refuse a gift-wrapped tennis star sent directly as a blessing from the Lord. So Mary Quinn closed the door and that is the last we get to see of her. We do not get to see his sweater come off, her skirt come up or his wide American hands on her clammy Irish backside. All we get is the door.
Outside the hotel, in the cool air of county Louth, only the sound of wire cutters can be heard as it bites through the lock of Mary Quinn’s dark bike, and the quiet squeak of the pedals as it is ridden into the night by a good thief. In the wee hours of the morning when she goes to collect it she will bless herself when she discovers it is gone and serve her penance with a long gingerly walk home where she will reflect fondly on her actions with the glow of a fine Irish woman freshly and devoutly laid.
“Stan Smith” is an excerpt from The Olive and the Dawn (Snare Books, 2009) available here as a free eBook.