- Coach Schwartz
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[End Page 164]
He'd put on a little weight, yes, but this was always going to be a sugar-cereal household. Any single-uncle guardian who didn't stock the cabinets with unhealthy shit was a Puritan and didn't understand his circumstances. [End Page 165] Ryan scooped the milk from the bottom of his bowl, an odd sodden fragment of Frosted Flake floating across the spoon. Thump stayed evergreen skinny anyway. Like sometimes he worried that people would call the authorities on him.
"Why are those bushes out front?" Thump said, working on her Fruit Loops.
"Beautify the yard," he said. "The pursuit of beauty."
"Don't think it'll help."
True, wise, cheeky preteen. The yard was doomed. But this was a ranch house in a neighborhood. This is what people did, what people were supposed to do with the yards in front of their ranch houses in late March if they wanted to look the part. When he'd checked online, there had been twelve nursery and/or landscape supply pins besieging his map in the little Yelp window.
"You gonna delay the match for me?" she asked. She hated missing the beginnings.
"It's forty-seven degrees," he said. "Cold arms, double faults, boring tennis early."
Skinny Thump finished her Loops, dubious but resigned. She could give a look just like Dan. That's how genes worked, he figured, but it was still unsettling to see the father in the daughter so clearly. A vector so easy to trace. In the next ten minutes she cleared and rinsed her bowl, brushed her teeth, and pedaled to fifth grade like a good niece.
By 9:30 am all the elementary kids had cleared and commuters were gone from their driveways and Ryan Schwartz, unpaid assistant boys' tennis coach at North Arlington High School, walked three blocks to Kelly Thurman's house to carry out their lazy-ass affair. Today it commenced on her dining room table, which he never liked because it was flat and hard and bruised the knobs of his hips. Kelly and the husband were separated, so it wasn't real adultery and Ryan wasn't a real home-wrecker; they went through the motions of being torrid but he suspected they would both prefer the safe old bed. When it was over, they microwaved pizza rolls from the freezer, dosed two 5-mg Percocets each, and washed them down with merlot. From deep within the sofa, they watched YouTube videos for hours.
Thump never got As and had behavioral problems. She'd already had two cavities. Their yard was ugly, and all the neighbors whispered. [End Page 166] He left Kelly's house sometime before 2, jogged home, and showered himself back into the active world. When he'd done his brother right and reclaimed Thump and it became clear his guardian duties would outlive the month, he'd withdrawn some prize money to buy a used pickup. Nothing jacked or fancy, just a little Dodge Dakota. He tossed his gear bag into the bed—he liked to coach with a racquet in his hand, like he could be called up to play in a jam—and sped to the high school.
The pills were still in his system and he felt at peace. Relaxed. A leaf floating on a goodwill breeze. It was the only way he could coach; otherwise he was relentless and pacing, wearing a rut along the courts' fence like a bull elephant in captivity that had gone mad with the limitations of its space. He made the kids nervous, Coach T. said. Take it down a notch, Coach T. said, his puffy, freckled ankles casually dead-ending in his boat shoes.
In the athletic shed, Ryan dug out two hoppers of balls for warm-ups and six new cans for the matches. The courts were built on a berm that rose six feet above the parking lot. He climbed the berm's yellow, winter-dead grass and swept the courts and squeegeed the damp patches left by Sunday's...