Caleb Gardner

After we finished playing tennis the other day

down at the East River public courts just past

the little league field, the father of a kid who

had been training on the court next to us came over

and asked where we were from and if we’d

be willing to play a match sometime against his son.

“He wants to play for Stanford,” he said,

to which we couldn’t say much else than “all right”

and nod our heads, his son being so young and Stanford

being so good and there being so much left to happen,

even just in terms of tennis, between now and then.

“His mother went to Stanford,” he explained a moment later.

“She died when she was thirty five, he wants

to follow in her footsteps.” We couldn’t say

much to that either, except maybe to ask

how long ago it happened, which, looking back,

might have been the question he was waiting for,

but right then we didn’t end up saying anything,

which was OK too, I think. Instead, the three of us

just stood there and watched the guy’s son play

for a minute before exchanging numbers.

It also happened to be the first day that felt like fall,

when the leaves on the ground start to mean something,

or, rather, when you’re forced to finally acknowledge

that, of course, they’ve meant something all along.

So, needless to say, we didn’t waste much time

putting on our sweatpants and long-sleeved shirts

and picking up our bags and walking out the gate,

and, by turning our attention to the rest of the day,

forgetting for the moment most of what had just occurred.

After walking fifty feet, however, for some reason

completely unrelated to the man and his son,

or, at least, as unrelated as anything can be

to something that happened so soon before,

I turned around and took one last look at the courts.

But then, once I was turned around, I couldn’t help

but take notice of the two of them, who I could still see

quite clearly through the chain link fence.

The boy had just then stopped playing,

whether for good or only to rest there was no way to tell.

He was stretching against the net post while,

behind him, his father took a blue Gatorade

out of a small red cooler and wiped it on his shirt.

Then it looked like he was about to unscrew the cap himself,

before he stopped, as though thinking better of it,

and finally handed the bottle to his son unopened.

Caleb Gardner was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 2006, where he played four years of varsity tennis and received the Edgar Eager Memorial Fund Prize for poetry his senior year. He is currently an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at New York University.

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