The King of Wands inspected himself in mirror in the men’s changing room. “OK,” he thought, “but these whites would have looked a lot better if she’d ironed them instead of leaving it to me.” Very few people at the Tennis Club had whites nowadays anyway, so he was quite lucky that he still fitted in to the now ancient set he’d had since his mid-twenties. He went out to check the pairings list on the noticeboard. “Ah, there you are,” said the Queen of Swords, whose white T shirt was quite respectable, but she was wearing her gardening leggings, which were definitely not white. “We’re paired for the first round, you’d better serve and cover the net, and I’ll patrol the baseline.” “We take it in turns,” said the King sulkily.” “Yes, I know,” said the Queen, “but you know what my serve is like ……. come on,” and she hustled him out onto court.

Their first opponents were the King of Pentacles and the Queen of Cups. “I’m the Umpire,” the Emperor introduced himself,” the Two Pentacles will watch the lines. Toss,” he added. The King of Wands called correctly but there was short delay while he and his partner argued about who would serve first. “We’re ready to receive,” said the King of Pentacles firmly. “Play” shouted the Emperor, “and stop pretending this matters; it isn’t Wimbledon.”

The game, which was just one set, proceeded fairly smoothly, though the Pentacles/Cups pairing seemed to have the edge, even though the Queen was not a physically strong player but she somehow patted balls just where the opposition couldn’t return them. At 4 all, and thus the business end of the game, the King of Wands was distracted by the younger players on the adjoining court. The Knight of Cups was scolding her partner The Knight of Swords for rushing the net, but it was the Knight of Wands who caught the King’s eye. Not only was she very pretty but she was by far the best player on the court, and managed to cover for her stodgy Pentacles partner’s mis-hits and lack of energy. The King of Wands served a double fault. “Not now!” snapped his partner. “Concentrate! You can let your roving eye rove afterwards.” Her admonitions were no good; the Wand/Sword pairing duly lost the match. They went on to lose to another pair of first-round losers and were thus out of the competition.

The King of Wands went over to the court where the Knight of Wands was playing. Several other people had also gathered to watch. “I think she’s reining herself in,” said the King of Swords. “How do you mean?” replied the King of Wands. “Well don’t you think she’s playing just well enough to score winners – some of the time – and bossing your son, but letting the opposition have enough of the match?” “I didn’t think we had a club member good enough to do that,” said the Queen of Pentacles. “Aren’t you going to get changed?” she continued. “We’ll need to start getting the club room ready for the evening.” and she turned her husband round and walked him over to the changing room. The King of Wands sighed. His wife could be so matter-of-fact at times.

When the tournament was over (Senior Winners: King of Pentacles/Queen of Cups; Juniors: Knight of Pentacles/Knight of Wands) everyone went the Club Pavilion for drinks and refreshments. “Does anyone know where Marigold is?” asked the Knight of Pentacles. “I wanted to ask her where she learnt to play like that.” “School probably,” said the the Knight of Swords. “Didn’t you ask?” “No, I was rushed of my feet,” said the Knight of Pentacles, “I was too puffed to say much.” “She had very nice kit,” said the Knight of Cups enviously. “Yes, well you were so busy eyeing her kit we lost our match,” snapped the Knight of Swords. “You played well,” said a voice behind them, and the young people turned to see Marigold had joined them. When asked, she merely said she had learnt to play at school “We have a very good sports teacher, and really I’m not that good at the academic stuff,” and when pressed about her kit, she said some of it was second hand, but declined to say where she had got it. Marigold was pleasant to everyone, and when some of the older men showed a tendency to flirt, she dealt with them kindly, and made friends with their wives by helping with the clearing up. “Oh, so you do know how to wash a few dishes,” said the Queen of Pentacles to her husband who had suddenly appeared in the kitchen. “Mind you don’t do what you do at home and break something.” The King of Wands sighed. Why did his wife always have to draw attention to what she saw as his shortcomings? In public?

The Queen and the Knight of Pentacles got into their car. The King of Wands appeared at the passenger window and handed the car keys to his wife. “I’m just going to walk Marigold home,” he said, and shot off quickly before his wife and son could protest. “Dad is sooooo embarrassing,” muttered the Knight.

“So where did you really learn to play like that?” asked the King of Wands. “I told you,” said Marigold, beginning to feel impatient, “School.” “Which School?” pressed the King. “School school,” said Marigold crossly. The King took her hand. “How far is it to your home?” he asked, hopefully. Marigold turned a corner. “Just here,” she said, turning into a rather untidy front garden. “This is the Queen of Wands’s house,” said the King. “Yes, she’s my Aunt.” They approached the door. “May I kiss you?” asked the King. “I suppose so. Everyone else has,” replied Marigold off-handedly, and tilted her head so the King could only peck her on the cheek.

“I haven’t seen much of our son lately,” said the King of Wands to his wife some time later. “He’s out with his friends,” she replied. “He seems more animated than I remember,” said his father. “I’m surprised you’ve noticed,” said his mother. “They’re all at the tennis club, with Marigold,” she added deliberately. “They haven’t been there when I’ve been there,” the King let slip. “Oh?” said the Queen neutrally.

“No, you can’t go out this afternoon,” said the Queen of Pentacles a few weeks later. “I’ve invited friends round for a bit of a send-off for the children, and for us becoming empty nesters.” “Oh what a bore,” thought the King. He’d finally caught Marigold briefly during the week and she’d said then “See you Sunday.” .”You didn’t mention this before,” said the King. “Oh, I did,” replied the Queen, “several times. I expect your mind was full of – um – tennis so you didn’t hear.”

The older guests began to arrive, and then a group of the younger people arrived together, including the Knight of Pentacles – and Marigold. His father was stunned. The Queen of Pentacles turned to her husband and gave him a look which said “You see?”

At the end of the afternoon the Queen called everyone together and suggested they all raise a glass to the younger people to wish them well. “And do tell us what you are going to be doing.” The last one to speak was Marigold. “Thank you for inviting me,” she said. “I’ve had a very pleasant summer staying with my Aunt.” “And what are you going to do?” interrupted the King of Wands. “My friends know already,” she smiled at the group around her. “I’m going to university in America; I’ve got a tennis scholarship.”

“Oh.”

(c) Lucy Voss

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