I’m sitting here feeling sick after this morning’s run. My legs ache, my lungs are burning and I can’t stop coughing. It’s my running partner’s fault. I ran my fastest ever 5K time on Friday and she said “Ooh, that’s only 8 seconds slower than my best ever.” How did she expect me to react? It was a shame she wasn’t there today. Still, at least she passed on her congratulations after a few sweary texts. When I told my wife she just sighed. I’ve no idea why.
When my wife and I first got married, she decided that we should have a shared interest. Her choice was badminton, as she played to a good standard when she was younger. We started to play once a week. It was fun. At first she beat me easily but I gradually improved until our games became evenly balanced. Then she damaged her knee ligaments playing basket ball. We continued to play badminton but the atmosphere wasn’t the same. She didn’t like my tactics, hitting the shuttlecock to the corners of the court, forcing her to run around. I didn’t understand. It was her weakness, why not exploit it? The last time we played I won seven games to nil. That was eight years ago.
In my late teens Dad asked if I’d like to play squash. He’d played on and off for twenty years whereas I had only played a handful of times, but I thought it might be fun; I hadn’t played Dad at sport for a long time. The game started fairly evenly – his skill being balanced by my energy – but as I started to tire the game became more and more one-sided. Every time I missed a shot my Dad would say “unlucky”, or “so close”. Most people would see this as encouragement, but it wasn’t. Dad was looking to get under my skin and it worked. Finally, during one game, Dad hit the ball to the back of the court. It bounced high and was begging to be hit. I looked to see where to place my shot when there he was in front of me, hogging the centre of the court as he had all game. I swear to this day it was an accident. I apologised profusely as he limped off the court, the bruise from that hard rubber ball colouring up nicely on his lower back. We never played squash again.
One of my earliest memories is of playing cards with my Dad. I had just progressed from Snap and Go Fish to playing Blackjack. It was a proper game, a grown-up’s game, and I loved it. I’d got some money for my birthday so Dad asked if I wanted to bet on the next game. I bet 10p. This was in the early 1970’s when bread cost 14p per loaf and milk was 5p a pint. 10p was a lot of money. We played the hand and I won. “Double or quits?” Dad asked. I nodded. I won the next hand. Then the next. Then the next. By the time we had stopped playing, my Dad owed me £3.20. He never paid up.
The other day I was playing cricket with my boys in the back garden. My oldest boy was bowling, I was batting and the youngest was fielding. We’d been playing for over an hour and everybody was a little tired. After hitting a ball to the fence, my oldest child started crying. He complained that it wasn’t fair, that it was too hard to get me out. “It’s not meant to be easy,” I said. “That’s why players celebrate so much when they get a wicket. If everything was easy, life would be boring.” My eldest wiped his eyes, went back to his mark and bowled. As the ball came towards me I thought about letting it hit my wicket. It would boost his confidence and increase his love of the game. Then, at the last second, I changed my mind and tried to hit the ball over his head.
His smile as the ball clattered into my stumps lit up my heart. He had bowled me. I was out. He’d beaten me on his own terms and his joy knew no bounds. I watched my son career around the garden, screaming with delight and thought back to the lessons I’d learnt whilst young, those magic moments in getting the better of my Dad. I smiled.
“No ball,” I said.
This flash fiction is based on fact. I’ll leave it for you to decide which bits are real, and which are not.