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LAce Posted Monday, August 23rd, 2004
Debbie Ann Ice

Merle was in jail because her tennis outfit had color in it. All clothes must be white on team tournament day. Only white. Nothing can deviate in the slightest, not even the hat, unless it was inscripted with Weeburn Country Club, or just Weeburn, but not Wilson or Dunlop.

Merle stared at a large woman sitting on the bunk bed across from her. She had on a black tank top and pink spandex pants and had groaned when Merle walked in with her tennis racquet.

Merle had already called the guard twice to complain about the smell, which was extremely lemony, with a hint of body odor. Why had they not cleaned with Clorox which had a better smell and was certainly more effective in warding off what must be armies and armies of billions of germs leaping off unclean bodies? He shook his head. The fat woman groaned again.

Merle tried to ignore the cell’s odor and concentrate upon the loss of her best friend, Carla, because this time, she was quite certain Carla had reached her limit.

Carla was the tennis captain. Carla wore white. Her dress was crisp linen, with a slight boat neck, tapered at the waist. She had solid white shoes. Her hat was white with a white tennis ball embroidered on its front.

Merle’s dress had a large blue stripe that dropped from right below her breast all the way to her hips. It shouted its “not white” color to the world. She also wore a red tennis hat because it was Friday and Merle was participating in the women- who-hate- the- president- wear - red campaign to show her hatred for the Republican President. Everyone else on the tennis team was Republican.

“It’s just ridiculous that we must have white on for an outdoor sport. White. Why not black. How do the African Americans feel?”

“We will give you ten minutes, Merle,” Carla said. “Go home and get a white tennis dress. Or better, just go down the street to The Racquet String and buy a white dress real quick.”

Merle puffed out a "shit" and headed to The Racquet String, where, as usual, the only parking spaces left within a mile of the store were reserved for the handicap. Five empty handicap parking spots. Actually there were more than that. There were five handicap parking spots on each row of the parking lot square. Merle calculated that of at least 100 parking spaces, fifteen were reserved for the handicap, a 15% concentration. She wondered what percentage of all drivers in the entire country was handicapped.

But Merle was liberal so she didn’t park in the handicap lot. Instead, she put her blinking lights on and double-parked.

When she returned a policeman with a torso exploding from his shirt was writing a ticket.

“My blinkers were on,” she said.

He handed her the ticket.

“Do you know how many huge trucks are on the side of dangerous roads daily with blinkers on?” said Merle in a spit. “If you got a truck you can stop anywhere. Cell phone call? Well, hey, I’ m in a big fat truck. I will just pull over right here and chat.”

The policeman looked mildly amused.

“Why don’t you go after them?”

He put the pad back in his back pocket.

“Noooo you never arrest them. You go after a woman wearing a colored tennis dress. And a red hat. Do you know why I am wearing red? Do you understand that all women who hate the Republicans wear red on Friday? Is this why I am getting a ticket?”

“Ma’am, you can either send this in or show up to pay it.”

“Maybe I will do this.” Merle tore up the ticket and tossed it in the policeman’s face. “And you know what? You’re fat. You are a fat policeman. What if you had to run after a criminal? I can’t wear color, and yet you can get fat and go after women because they don’t drive big fat trucks.”

When Carla showed up to retrieve Merle from the jail, she looked weary. Merle had called Carla because there was no one else. Merle’s husband had left her a year earlier. Carla managed to somehow smooth things over with the police so Merle would avoid a hearing.

On the way home Merle slumped in the car seat and cracked the window so the wind would toss her hair about hysterically. She should probably cry but tears never came to her easily. She hadn’t cried in two years.

“I know you’re furious,” said Merle. “And, so, OK, this is it. That's fine. Your life, Carla, will now be more stable. You will play better tennis, that’s for sure. I don’t like tennis anyway. It’s OK. Don’t keep me on the team.” Carla had stepped in on Merle’s behalf on four other occasions to prevent the coach from kicking her off.

Carla reached over and grabbed Merle’s hand. “It’s been two years, Merle. It took you a year to let me come over and clean out the room. You sat for a year with his room there, filled with toys and clothes. Two years is not long enough. It takes time.”

Merle felt pressure behind her eyes.

“You don’t have to play tennis if you don’t want to, but I would love to have you. We will of course love to have you back on the team. You are my friend, Merle. I love you.”

And that is when it finally happened. They came, like rivers, in heaves, and coughs and mucus, and shakes that went on, even with Carla’s strong arms around her shoulders, her white tennis dress pressed up against Merle’s blue.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Myfanwy Collins on Tuesday, August 24th, 2004 at 9:26 AM
Great story! Love it. So funny and strong and sad.

Posted by Ellen Meister [ ] on Tuesday, August 24th, 2004 at 2:11 PM
I love when a story takes me by surprise and WORKS. This one does it in spades. Heartbreaking and magnificent!

Posted by Katrina Denza on Tuesday, August 24th, 2004 at 7:29 PM
Wonderful story with an incredible ending!

Posted by Kathy Fish on Tuesday, August 24th, 2004 at 7:39 PM
That's a beautiful story, Ms. Ice!

Posted by Lisa McMann on Wednesday, August 25th, 2004 at 5:57 AM
Deb, you knocked the wind out of me. You combined humor, anger and grief in a lovely way, and you made me walk away with a crooked little ouchy smile--I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry, or do both. Nicely done.

Posted by Patricia Moed on Wednesday, August 25th, 2004 at 9:15 AM
What a lovely, touching and surprising story! You've given us a real treat.

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