First four letters

Watching a TV tennis match, a kid swears in front of his parents for the first time.

Jim Esch
5 min readJan 22, 2022

I’m in the den with Dad, watching McEnroe versus Borg. The tennis ball makes a fat popping when hit.

I’m all for Borg because he’s quiet, patient, seasoned and wise, hanging along that baseline, waiting for McEnroe to come in.

McEnroe is younger, brash, ballsy. He hunts the ball, smacks at it. He hurries the net, rushes the point, wants them over. When Borg hurls a shot past him and it kisses the line, McEnroe cries foul. It’s getting tiresome. Even to my 15 year mind, he seems the petulant brat. And he really needs to lose the terry headband.

Photo by Samuel-Elias Nadler on Unsplash

Mom comes in asking what we want for dinner. Dad stares at the ceiling and says hot dogs. I wonder what he sees inside all that whiteness. Why don’t you look at her when she talks to you, I want to say. Just give her that much respect. Then I turn my attention back to the match. I’m rooting for Borg to give it McEnroe. Not looking promising. The Swede’s not at the peak of his game anymore.

Mom’s been a little queer lately. About once a day she’ll descend to the cool basement and hide, sometimes for half an hour, or lope into the bedroom to lie down. Dad slumps in his recliner and scratches his head. Nobody says nothing in this house to offend anybody. It’s like an abandoned church in here.

Sometimes Mom, before retreating to the bedroom, will explode, taking it out on the furniture — moving and sliding kitchen chairs, shoving them in corners, punching doors open, smashing them shut. She mutters in my direction, yet never flat out hits me. Maybe she should.

I’m getting away with stubborn laziness, selective listening, spending more time alone in my room with my books and my stereo headphones, or outside shooting baskets. Dad’s way is to sneak a Kool cigarette on the back stoop. I tried them once. The menthol tricks you. Behind the minty foretaste is always the bitter coming after.

Dad often gets up from his marathon TV watching to stare across the street at the neighbors’ front yard, like he’s waiting for a sign or a ride to pick him up. He’s most relaxed when their calico cat Spazzy drops by. Dad gives him treats and talks to him with a…


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