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The Lob IF Richard Uncle Richard were a tennis shot, it would almost certainly be a lob. Tall, balloon-faced at thirty-four, he seemed, as he sat fussing with his racket off to the shady side of the patio, like someone drifting into an imminent and not particularly difficult smash. "I have an announcement, everyone!" June said, swinging a fly swatter playfully past his head as though she were just the person to make it. Richard didn't move. If he made a good lob in the literal sense, he made an even better one in the figurative one. A lob is a hopeful shot and for years Richard had been the hope of the Mansfields-wavering, subject to unforseeable and dismaying gusts, but their hope nevertheless, flung up in the air October 12, 1948 as Richard Martin the Third, with all the expectation and calculated aim it implied. Even now-his father dead, his mother confined to the mainland with cancer, surrounded as he was by nieces and nephews and guests he no longer knew, the rather pathetic keeper of family traditions no one else remembered, the intruder on new traditions he couldn't seem to catch up with, arrived for the first weekend in six summers without a tennis partner of his own-even now, with all these things, it would have been very hard for any of them to pinpoint exactly where on the trajectory he was. Still rising up easily and confidently off the racket? He was only 39 THE LoB 40 in his thirties, he was in good shape yet, with most of life still before him. At the apogee now, poised above them all with the ultimate landing point already deterntined but still to be revealed? He felt that way, felt right up on top of things, with some of his early momentum gone but with plenty more to look forward to on the way down. Or was it down? Seeing the Scotch in the wine glass near his sneaker, listening to the way he cursed the tennis racket because the stringing job was botched again-was it down? Was it down, and if it was down, would he be landing well within the baseline for a point, or just out, an inch or two long? The lob, his nieces called him. Richard Uncle Richard. But he didn't really mind-in fact, it rather flattered him. Tennis was everything now and when his sister announced to the other guests on the patio that she was pregnant his only reaction was to wonder what its effect would be on the afternoon's game. "None whatsoever," June said when he finally got her alone near the garden. "I don't even show yet. Aren't you going to congratulate me?" "It's not as if it never happened before." "Thank you." "Okay. Congratulations," and he bent down to give her a quick kiss on the forehead. "Now that that's settled . . . I was watching Jack and Sue yesterday. It's her backhand we'll have to concentrate on. Jack tried to cover for her but it's still damn vulnerable." "I want to talk to you," she said mysteriously. "About what? About the game?" She thought of him as an incurable dreamer, living half in the past. She probably always had thought of him that way, ever since the time he stopped being everyone's hero. But what was new that summer was the stuffy, condescending way she had of talking to him as though it were her duty to make him face the cold, hard facts of the world-the slow, grave shake of her head, as though what she had to tell him was too bitter for words. THE Los "Richard," she would say, pursing her lips. "You're drinking 41 too much Scotch." "Oh, yeah right, June," he would answer, taking another sip. "Sure thing." But this time before she could start in on him they were interrupted by Tommy who was on his way down to the beach with a half-inflated plastic dragon draped around his neck like a fur. Now that Bobby and Laurie were grown up, June had become sentimental over her younger ones-she couldn't bear seeing them go by without a hug. "So talk," Richard said. In his role of doting uncle he had tried to puff the dragon up but his face turned red before any of the fins would stiffen. "Later." "I...


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MARC Record
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