Dorothy s'engage'
by Richard Watson

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,
and she pushed them through to fourth place. The trophy stood on the central table in the high school assembly hall. This year's team would not go to state. But the tradition was there and the girls were good. They would win the sectional and the district. Dorothy knew exactly which team would
take them out in the sub-state.

Dorothy stood under the showers with the girls in the basement locker
room. Their shrieks did not interrupt her thoughts. Her body was massive among the reed-thin high school girls, her faded blond hair was long and streaming, her feet were large. Her locker was the same one she had used during four years of high school.


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
language; it occupied his thoughts the way basketball had when he was in high school.

Duane was warned that French was not taught in many Iowa high schools.
He continued in English, but took enough French so he could teach it, too, if he ever got the chance. And he was lucky. The superintendent of Dorothy's high school had a daughter for whom he had pretentions. He wanted her to go to an eastern girl's college that required students to have French in high school. The superintendent had been surprised to find a man among the few applicants for the job. Duane's credentials and character looked all right--good that he had been on the university basketball squad--and besides a French teacher, the school needed a new coach. The interview with the school board went well, so Duane was hired.

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
the only girls' team in Iowa above high school level was at a business college in Des Moines. They recruited Dorothy. The basketball was all right--she knew some of the girls from other Iowa high school teams--but she did not like the business courses and she hated living in the city. After basketball season was over she packed up and returned home. When fall came again, she asked the superintendent if she could work at the high school. The school board approved, and now Dorothy had become a fixture.


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
no talent), and he put up with the intense scrutiny of his personal life that teachers--particularly unmarried ones--are subjected to in small towns. Duane lived with an old German couple, retired farmers, in a house across from the school. He had the upstairs to himself. He prepared lessons and corrected papers in an easy chair by the window at the foot of his bed.
Single teachers rarely entertained.

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
the Lutheran church. There were five churches in this town of 1200 souls, so it probably made no difference which one the coach attended.

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
for desert. It was cooking of the sort Duane had eaten all his life, even during the four dormitory years at the University.

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
he was their teacher and coach. Had he so much as laid a hand on one of them, that would have been the end of his teaching career. Everybody knew the rules.

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
game some fifty miles away. Dorothy's father did not mind that Duane played on Sunday. The town understood basketball.

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
long day, and Duane was hungry. He started out toward the parsonage.
Heavy snowflakes began to fall.

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
she did not work very hard.

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,
left the kitchen.

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
cleavage between her breasts. She looked him full in the face and smiled happily.

Dorothy s'a fiance'e.