His cellphone lit up, making robotic birdlike sounds. He reached out a hairy arm, his hand thumbing at the keypad to turn off the chirping. Silence returned, only the sound of soft snoring coming from a huge white Labrador at the end of the bed.
Some time passed before he picked up the phone again, realizing it wasn’t his 7am alarm. He let his eyes adjust to the bright light: 11:50pm. He opened the text message:
Are you awake? Can I call the house?
He tried to roll his body out of bed, but found his feet completely immobilized by the dog.
“Pepa,” he softly muttered to her.
She shifted and he grimaced, shaking some circulation back into his lower extremities.
He dragged himself to the phone and slowly returned to bed. Using his cellphone as reference, he dialed a number.
After the second ring, a female voice answered timidly.
“You didn’t have to call…you were sleeping.”
“It’s alright. I’m awake now.” He paused, listening to his own tired voice before cutting to the chase:
“Nothing,” she said with a smile.
Pause. And then he made a second attempt: “How was your day?”
“You just got back from practice, right?”
“Yeah… I re-stubbed my pinky finger and hyper-extended another finger. Should have taped them.” He could hear she was doing something while talking, probably folding clothes or organizing. For a moment, he let himself imagine the moment clearly: the soft red light in her room, Mara on the bed purring, and her standing figure, the phone clamped between ear and shoulder, while clean clothes were taken out of a bag and put in their proper place.
She breathed in and he was brought back to his own present darkness. She spoke with frustration in her tone: “I feel kinda stuck. I want to be more aggressive on the court and I’m trying to be aware, but I don’t feel I’m progressing. I feel like I keep coming up against the same wall…”
His mind was still a bit fuzzy, but he dilated his words out: “Well, that is something you have to see. How did you play today?”
“Okay, but Cate always repeats the same thing in every practise: ‘Cinthia, you have to be more aggressive.’ Then, I just ended up banging Marcela up twice and felt bad.”
“Injuring others is part of playing…you aren’t doing it intentionally-”
She interrupted him: “But I don’t like to do it. And I don’t want to be aggressive out of anger or resent. I want it to come out through a positive emotion. I want to be strong…”
“You are strong.”
He stopped her there for a moment, before she picked up again.
“The thing is, I know this isn’t a physical issue. I wonder if my team could motivate me in other ways. I don’t know… what pushes you to play hard?”
He shifted over to his other side. “Different things…depends on the situation. Sometimes, if we are losing really badly, it might motivate me to defend harder…”
He could still hear doubt in her voice.
“Hey, you can work on your aggressiveness. Especially when you play with guys: you can be really tough and then apply it in practice, with your team. And then, you have to learn to bring it out in games. But it’s all a process…it takes time.”
She paused before saying: “I have a feeling it might be the other way around: first I have to practise being aggressive with women and then with men. ”
They both laughed and he said: “Yeah, maybe.”
He could hear she was thinking through the silence.
“Okay, I’m going to keep trying…by the way, can we go to Puey on Thursday?”
“If it isn’t too fricking cold!”