Dorothy dominated the basketball court. She gripped the floor with her rubber-soled shoes, she held the ball high at the end of a curving arm, and she pivoted on a solid hip. As her body finished its swing, the ball rose in a short arc through the air into the basket. Dorothy bent forward, her hands on her knees.
"Face the basket," she said, "for the rebound. Now you do it."
A slender teen-aged girl took Dorothy's place in the center's circle. She was as tall as the older woman, but she lacked hip power and would not this season ward off guards as could Dorothy.
"Not bad, but put it in next time," Dorothy said, catching the rebound absently. "Try again."
Dorothy was not the coach. He stood at the other end of the crackerbox gym, instructing the guards against the likes of Dorothy. Dorothy took the rebound again and tossed the ball into the basket. Then she started the forwards on a running and shooting routine.
Dorothy was assistant
coach and chaperone. She was part-time secretary, uncertified substitute
teacher, hot lunch server, woman of all work. She was also the school's
all-time girls' basketball star. Six years ago in her senior year she
had taken her team from this tiny town to the state tournament,
Dorothy stood under
the showers with the girls in the basement locker
Duane--Coach--had been a star high school athlete himself, in a larger town, at the other end of Iowa. But none of his teams made it to state. Even so, he had been good enough in basketball to win a university scholarship. There, he did not develop as had been hoped. He seldom started, but he earned his letter playing guard. He was a good shot from far out.
Had he ever considered
being anything other than a high school coach? No. But a coach must also
teach. Duane liked to read, so listed English as his teaching field. Then
in his sophomore year he took French to satisfy the language requirement,
and was fascinated. He loved learning this new
Duane was warned
that French was not taught in many Iowa high schools.
Dorothy wanted to learn French. Her work was never so well-defined that she could not organize some of her time as she saw fit. She started sitting in on Duane's French class. After the first week, the superintendent called her into his office. She understood, and did not argue when he asked her not to attend the French class. But after girls' basketball practice started (early in the fall in this basketball town), she asked Duane to give her French lessons. He could think of no reason to refuse.
Dorothy lived with
her parents in the parsonage next to the church where her father was pastor.
Twenty years after Dorothy graduated, players of her caliber began to
go to real colleges on basketball scholarships, but in l950
Duane had grown up
in such a town as this. He knew how to get along. Despite the peculiarity
of his teaching English and French, he was soon accepted. He was a good
coach. He played on the town ball teams, and was better in basketball
than any of the local stars. He was open and friendly, good with boys
and girls who wanted to play ball (even with those who had
The old couple treated
him as a cross between a poor relation and a hired man. He took his meals
with them, and he liked the solid midwestern fare cooked in quantities
as though they were all still working on the farm. On the first Sunday
they expected, without asking, that he would go to church with them. He
had been raised as a Methodist, but went along obediently to
Duane soon discovered that the pastor was Dorothy's father. Looking up to where Dorothy faced out from the choir, Duane could see that she was glad that Duane, too, was a Lutheran.
The pastor invited
Duane to dinner at noon the following Sunday. The food was Sunday fare--fried
chicken, potatoes and gravy, marshmallow-topped candied yams, green beans,
whipped cream on fruit jello, and cherry pie
Dorothy invited Duane to dinner the Sunday after that. From then on, Duane ate Sunday dinner at the parsonage.
There was not another unmarried woman his age in town. This was not strictly true. There were a dozen other unmarried women in town between the ages of nineteen and thirty. He was warned against the oldest. The youngest, a soda-fountain clerk in the drug store, flirted so obviously that no one had to warn him about her. Some of good family were already marked as old maids and one was feeble minded. None of the remaining were of good family.
High school girls
also flirted with Duane. He returned their banter as was expected. They
were not innocent--it was a Iowa farm town, after all--but
Duane sometimes caught himself staring down the court at solid Dorothy. In scrimmage he felt the power of her hips. "Built like a brick shit house," the town wags guffawed, time-honored praise. Duane watched Dorothy handle the ball, the graceful young limbs of the high school girls weaving helplessly around her as she pivoted, rose, and eased the ball through the hoop.
One late February
Sunday, Duane did not eat dinner at the parsonage. Right after church
he had gone with the town basketball team to play an afternoon
Duane got home at
five-thirty. It was already night, the sky overcast and the wind rising.
That morning in church Dorothy had urged him to come for supper. But he
dreaded walking across town to the parsonage in the bitter cold. He knew
the old German couple had eaten at five, and the town cafe was closed
after the noon meal on Sunday. It had been a hard game and a
Duane walked around the dark front of the house to the back door. He stepped inside the screened porch and stamped his feet. He knocked, then opened the kitchen door when he heard Dorothy shout, "Come in." Dorothy and her mother were setting out a supper of leftovers in the breakfast nook. Dorothy's hair was wrapped in a towel, and she wore a floor-length bathrobe. The robe clung loosely to her body. Her mother glanced at Dorothy and then in alarm at Duane.
"It's all right," Dorothy said.
Dorothy went to get a plate for Duane. Her body moved languidly under her robe. She was never in a hurry, even on the basketball court where she was always naturally where she was supposed to be. Dorothy smiled at Duane as she put his plate down beside her own, then she slid in along the bench ahead of him. Duane sat right down beside her. He was hungry.
Dorothy's mother went to the stairway and called up to the parson. She waited for him, and when he raised his eyebrows, she said in a tight voice, "It's all right."
The parson grunted, and slid into the breakfast nook along the bench opposite Dorothy. When she did not notice his glare, he shrugged and began to eat. They did not talk while they ate.
After they finished eating, the parson went back up to his study. Dorothy's mother cleared the table. Dorothy took some papers and a book from the window sill. It was her French lesson.
Duane picked up the
papers and straightened them out. He could not deny Dorothy's desire to
learn French, but she was not a good student, and
Duane opened the
book. The assignment was to translate some sentences into French. Duane
started through Dorothy's work, correcting, instructing. Dorothy murmured
agreement and understanding. Her mother hung up the dish towel, could
not catch Dorothy's eye, and after a moment of indecision,
Duane's leg itched where Dorothy's heavy thigh was pressed against it; a wet spot from her bathrobe had soaked through his pantleg.
One sentence to be translated was, "She is engaged to be married." Dorothy had written, ":Elle s'engage'"
"I don't know how to finish it," she said.
Duane sighed. "Well, first," he said, "even if that were the way to do it, it would be "lle s'a fiance'e."
Duane turned his
head to look at Dorothy. The top two buttons of her bathrobe were unfastened,
and the aroma of Ivory soap wafted from the deep
Dorothy s'a fiance'e.