Flash Fiction by Diane Frank
In my fantasy, they aren’t wearing shirts. It’s later in the afternoon, cooler, and the light is pushing toward rose pink.
The Russian Dancer and the Postman volley a tennis ball. They are playing just for me. They shake hands, spin the racket. The Russian gets the serve. He lifts, dancing, flamboyant, almost fragmented. He is the Norse God Tyr, the God of Fire and Triathalon. On his feet, Nikes, the Messenger God, the Norse God of Commercialism.
The Postman warms up slowly, saving his fire for later. He says he is out of practice, with a deceptive smile. He is a lithe and lanky animal, a panther with black fur and eyes that only see after midnight. But when the ball moves toward him, he is intensely focused.
The Russian Dancer is more interested in ballet than athletics. He leaps, pirouettes, returns the serve. Suddenly a broken string. Now, the ball is over the fence. The dancer circles, turns back. He is looking for lost sheep on the hills of Jerusalem.
A wasp hovers into a scrap of light drifting between two trees, gets into attack mode. The Postman delivers a topspin lob, way up in the air, and impossible to return. A buzzing circles around me. I have to move quickly, into the shadows.
The Russian Dancer has become a philosopher of drop shots and underspins. He is a sculptor of the unlikely angle. It’s more important than winning. He is Plato in the world of ideal forms. Underneath appearances is the most beautiful shot in the world.
The Russian Dancer knows that tricky shots are for flirting, and he doesn’t save them. He has become a flamingo with slick pink feathers, one eye on the ball, the other watching me. After he serves the ball, his beak is in his feathers, but the Postman returns everything. They are in the Acropolis – warriors who need each other to pursue excellence. For thousands of years, it’s the same conversation. A world where a difficult ball is a compliment.
The tennis ball is a woman with a wide papaya mouth, cutting melons in the Philippines. The Postman is a rock musician, with a grandstand of invisible bystanders going wild. He’s on stage, and the redwing blackbirds are swooning. The local butterflies are going wild. But he is not chasing women – he’s chasing tennis balls.
In China, two monk philosophers are studying the Tao. It’s a philosophy of delicate calibrations, slight adjustments. In the slanted light, two dragonflies swirl around Chinese calligraphy. The words ripple. The world as they know it is about to disappear. In the late afternoon, the words disintegrate. The Universe has become round. The monks are two cicadas arcing over the ecliptic, a Southern wind full of heat and flowers in their face. The tennis ball is a hen house just before a tornado.
Bees fly to the yellow globe, circle the woman watching from the side. They almost get her. The Russian says, “That’s enough violence for one afternoon,” but the Postman stops hiding and slices the ball. The dancer can’t return it. The ball is a flying cloud, and the sun is almost blinding in the four o’clock heat.
The Russian Dancer plays to the audience, shoulders bare, the tennis ball his excuse for a pirouette. The Postman, hiding a smile, wild eyes, Irish cheekbones, plays to himself. At the edge of the field, a bumblebee, a hummingbird, a single falling leaf. At the edge of his mind, a fantasy of a grand jeté.
The tennis ball is six wives, leaping for him at the same time, and he doesn’t want any of them. They are dancing for him in a marble pool. A Sufi dancer with long dark hair covers herself with jasmine blossoms and lets the veils fall, one by one. She is spinning into a rapture. He yawns, takes off his shoes, and silently dances out the back door.
It’s different in my fantasy. A volley of Norwegian shoulders, Irish cheekbones, tennis and ballet. The Russian Dancer leaping across the stage, the Postman playing a tribal beat on the bass guitar. A hot wind blows in from Africa. In the distance, a singular falling leaf, a butterfly, a plié. The tennis ball flying at the speed of a fighter jet. The butterfly, an ascending note of a Bach partita, in and out of the chain link fence. My heart is a faded half-moon over an elderberry branch, snowing blossoms.
The Russian Dancer flirts with the butterfly, slices the ball, but the Postman returns it with an underspin. He’s totally cool, on stage, a jazzman with a saxophone, playing a song that is trying to annihilate itself. He is a monk inside a cloister in the fourteenth century, copying scrolls to keep the words from disappearing. It’s a philosophy he doesn’t understand, and he feels naked, trapped. In his confusion, he smashes the ball. But in order to win, he needs to work on steadiness.
In my fantasy, you do this just for me. We are in a club in Paris, late at night. I am Anais and you are Henry Miller. I am wearing a red feather boa. You are wearing a red baseball cap and red shorts. In a jeweled mirror, I watch your back ripple.
I am a hummingbird, in love, hovering over your shoulder. I am the spinning orbit of a philosophy made of bird feathers. All of the men I have ever loved are spinning inside me, in constant pursuit of perfection, some greater excellence unfolding, the artist, the body celebrating, the mind body gap closing, rendering the imaginary art, the perfect shot, the perfect universe, making it real.
The Postman is peddling up the cliffs of a small island off the coast of Italy. He is in exile on a one-speed bicycle. The tennis ball is a dancer who falls sideways into his arms.
Diane Frank is author of eight books of poems, three novels, and a photo memoir of her 400 mile trek in the Himalayas. Her new book, While Listening to the Enigma Variations: New and Selected Poems, is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area,where she dances, plays cello, and creates her life as an art form. Diane teaches at San Francisco State University and Dominican University. She plays cello in the Golden Gate Symphony. Blackberries in the Dream House, her first novel, won the Chelson Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines received honors in the San Francisco Book Festival.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela