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  • I saw a girl, a young woman, take my tennis racquets down from the overhead bin – they were just loose up there, one on top of the other, on top of other people’s carry-ons.

    She was deliberate -- trying to find something of her own. She moved like someone who thought; she wore that crystalline presence of active mind.

    Her face was forgiving, like a camp counselor’s. Her back and shoulders were cloaked by a long curtain of hair which seemed impenetrable in its undulations, bearing the color and glossy fascination of an unwrapped caramel.

    In two clean, unhurried moves, she pushed in a latch, and with a loose grip allowed the mini attic door above our jet-propelled, indigo-upholstered quarters to spring open at a measured pace. In doing so, she revealed a chasm - as well as the vulgar specificity of personal possessions - that had only a moment before been concealed by a uniform stretch of taupe plastic. The hatch itself was well-camouflaged, even, nondescript alongside a legion of clones.

    Her head moved a couple inches to the right, and then to the left, scoping out the situation with a keen eye, calling to mind some long-forgotten video reel of a jungle cat waking up from a nap. But it was also an unpressured assessment, in the vein of a hairdresser squinting in a customer's face, checking sideburns for evenness. It was as if she had been schooled in, or perhaps just possessed a preternatural talent for, nonchalant, graceful peering.

    This zen presence, sober and pleasant, unfazed if not exactly indifferent, emanated the capacity for uncomplicated love and unoccluded perception. It shot me up with the sharp thrill of trust and comfort. I felt bathed from the inside out by the kindly, platonically, erotic.

    I was six rows back and afraid to watch any longer, certain our eyes would meet. It was possible she had begun to feel another mind burning nearby. If she turned, she would sense the connection between my stare and the belongings in the bin, and mistake my suspense-filled spectation for some flavor of concern or admonishment. This would change her. This would inhibit her. And this would have been catastrophic to me.

    I took a last look at the moment that she reached right toward them, toward the racquets. Belted-in and breathing shallow, I seethed with spiritual arousal. Comparison could be made to the experience of seeing a friend or lover wearing an article of your clothing: it confronts you with no small kernel of wonder, this fact of a more-perfect-someone -- someone whose goodness is known but whose cell-deep experiences of light, sound, memory and the rest, whose seat of consciousness cannot be truly comprehended -- in close congress with such a talisman, one so undeniably drenched in your you-ness.

    Because I know that astounding smoothness, personal-like. The way the racquets clack against each other, the exact tone they will emit if bumped against any object or material with a given angle and degree of force. The type of wiggle each requires to become situated in the special compartment of my shoulder bag, as well as a panoply of trouble-shooting techniques to employ if the backpack is particularly full and inclined to permit only partial entry. I know these two, nearly identical fire-colored instruments, how they handle, how their shape feels (so clean), how those space-age weightless polymers slide against my hand. How the details of each darken when viewed from below, when outstretched against a clear expanse of sky, at a moment of impact. And I know how cool they become when left unhandled for a while. They're not datapoints a person consciously acquires or considers...but their certainty cannot be unraveled.

    The primary distinguishing factor between the two racquets is the grip. One grip is white, perforated by design, and through use has attained the appearance of something once swallowed by a dust cloud. The other is periwinkle, and coming apart. An older, grayish predecessor is plainly visible in a couple places where the frayed-blue matte material has twisted back onto itself. Both have been sweat onto - a lot - , and look it. They each bear the unmistakable mark of that which has been held onto, tight -- these objects through which I now and again bring force into the world.

    Pupils dilated but gaze strenuously averted, breathing buoyed by this display of calm competence from a stranger and the whole situation in general, I become consumed by the idea of the impending contact. She will hold the racquets. Furthermore, she will have to make - and execute - some choice with respect to them.

    I imagine how it's all going to unfold. She will line the pair up, undaunted, then clasp them both together and see if they can be treated as one. Her left hand encompasses some of the grip, and some of the neck.

    The right, 80% of the way towards the top of the now-double-thick racquet shape, endeavors to sandwich the rims between the muscular base of her thumb and the undersides of her knuckles. The pads of those fingertips will press a bit against the slick grid of the strings. Indents of a partial or entire rectangle will be momentarily impressed upon each, and she will not notice this occurrence.

    But the roughness of the well-grazed bumperguards – the thin strips of hard protective plastic running from 10 to 2 on the outside of the rims, which frequently get scuffed during baseline lunges, ankle-height volleys, ball pick-up, and any number of minor frustrations or nervous tics that bring racquet into impassioned contact with court, fence, or heel-of-shoe – this roughness will feel dirty and unpleasant on her palm, as it does on mine. As soon as her skin senses this jagged, almost sandy micro-terrain, sending a micro-shudder to her parietal lobe, she will be compelled to make adjustments.

    So her right hand will drift back down until it is entirely situated on the high-gloss portion of the affair. Instability will accompany this process. It’s hard to keep both rims against each other: they are only a couple millimeters thick - maybe 3 - and the edge of the rim itself is streamlined. Any attempt at exact alignment invites a slip or some other departure from the perfect.

    Her left hand moves down accordingly, and becomes wrapped best it can around the girth of both grips. She finds some security in that more-sturdy shape and the tacky surface. A pinky curls itself around the very bottom of the handle, knowing somehow what to do all on its own, and affords her an even-greater degree of dominion.

    There is no question, now, that they are firmly under her control. She pulls them over a third party’s roll-on and partway out of the cavern, then hinges the racquet-heads out over the low-barrier at the base of the compartment, exposing them to the cabin. They are visible so anyone could see. As she does this, unencumbered sound of synthetic against synthetic - the same family of noise as the ecstatic swipes of a paper cutter, surprisingly - stakes feeble claim against the roaring white noise of the engines.

    She will balance and cushion the top of the racquet heads against the top of her chest, that delicate part just below where collarbones make themselves known. A confident chin comes into play against the strings, soft underpalate above her neck stabilizing the rim’s edge, catching some of the rough bumperguard and all. This frees up a hand to finish the job, to seize what she was really after, and let that prize fall softly onto her seat below.

    And there will be a brief pause, as the pendulum precipitates its swing back.

    Delicate right hand slips under the face of the lower racquet, now, and she is positioned to begin stretching her arms out, equally, above her head, to return this pair of gaudy aliens, these instruments of sport and battle, to their unnatural perch. All ten digits engage and rise up, angling independently from her palms and distinctly from each other, making the final spatial adjustments a wordlessly exquisite and gratifying act.

    In the moments of that maneuver, an ocean of history – tides summoned by the texture of the lightweight woven surface and this modest gesture of supplication, presumably -- will register as a faint ripple across her consciousness. Sheltered and magnified in that ripple, the mind of this rose-cheeked, olive-jeaned maiden and my own will converge entirely, pierced by the following image-feeling as though by a laser: bare feet processing on salt-stung limestone, sun blinding from above and the expectant eyes of an ancient city upon her, figs threaded round that neck and a reed basket cradled in her hands, bearing barley, fruits, and a blade.

    The image leaves little trace. She closes the bin with another firm, calm, quotidian manipulation. The task's completion results in a small exhalation, a slight slouching as her shoulders disengage, and an even-more-minute un-dimpling of what had been, for the past seventy or so seconds, a gently pursed lower lip. She vanishes now, this nymph of sky and hand-luggage, below a fixed horizon of seat-backs.

    I remember her when I'm finally courtside again, how she fingered the throats of my strange bright twins, those unexpected gatekeepers with whom she had to contend on her quest for headphones or ibuprofen - or maybe earplugs, a pen, a sweater.

    And I will remember how I squirmed, anonymous, adrift in the intimacy.
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