not all strawberries and cream
WIMBLEDON, JUNE 2015
It wasn’t every day a middle-aged woman wearing a neat bun and a purple polyester suit directed you to lift your skirt. The woman’s voice was clipped, British proper. All business.
After glancing at her coach, Marcy, Charlie lifted the edges of her pleated white skirt and waited.
‘I promise you, everything’s in order down there, ma’am,’ Charlie said, as politely as she could.
The official’s eyes narrowed to a steely squint, but she didn’t say a word.
‘All the way, Charlie,’ Marcy said sternly, but it was obvious she was trying not to smile.
Charlie pulled the skirt up to reveal the waistband of the white Lycra shorts she wore beneath. ‘No underwear, but they’re double-lined. No matter how much I sweat, no one will get a show.’
‘Very well, thank you.’ The official made a notation on her legal pad. ‘Now your shirt, please.’
At least a dozen more jokes sprung to mind – it’s like going to the gynecologist, only in workout wear; it’s not just anyone she’ll show her underwear to on the first date; et cetera – but Charlie held back. These Wimbledon people had been welcoming and polite to her and her entire entourage, but no one could accuse them of having a sense of humor.
She yanked her shirt up so far it covered most of her face. ‘My sports bra is made of the same material. Totally opaque, no matter what.’
‘Yes, I can see that,’ the woman murmured. ‘It’s just this band of color here around the bottom.’
‘The elastic? It’s light gray. I’m not sure that counts as a color,’ Marcy said. Her voice was even, but Charlie could hear the smallest hint of irritation.
‘Yes, but I must measure it.’ The official removed a plain yellow tape measure from a small fanny pack she wore over her uniform suit and gingerly wrapped it around Charlie’s rib cage.
‘Are we through yet?’ Marcy asked the official, her irritation now readily apparent.
‘Very close. Miss, your hat, wristbands, and socks are all acceptable. There is only one problem,’ the official said, her lips pressed together. ‘The shoes.’
‘What shoes?’ Charlie asked. Nike had gone above and beyond ensuring that her regular sneakers were modified to fit Wimbledon’s stringent standards. Her usual cheerfully bright outfits had been changed entirely to white: not cream, not ivory, not off-white, but white. The leather around the toe cage was pure white. Her laces were white, white, white.
‘Your shoes. The sole is almost entirely pink. That is a violation.’
‘A violation?’ Marcy asked in disbelief. ‘The sides, back, top, and laces are entirely white, strictly to code. The Nike logo is even smaller than it’s required to be. You can’t possibly have an issue with the soles!’
‘I’m afraid swaths of color that large are not permitted, even on the soles. The rule is a band of one centimeter.’
Charlie turned in panic to Marcy, who held up her hand. ‘What do you suggest we do, ma’am? This young lady is due on Centre Court in less than ten minutes. Are you telling me she can’t wear her sneakers?’
‘Of course she must wear trainers, but according to the rules, she may not wear those.’
‘Thank you for that clarification,’ Marcy snapped. ‘We’ll handle it from here.’ Marcy grabbed Charlie’s wrist and hurried her toward one of the private training rooms in the back of the locker room.
Seeing Marcy rattled gave Charlie the sensation of experiencing turbulence on a plane. When you glanced toward the flight attendants for reassurance, it was almost nauseating to see them panicked. Marcy had been Charlie’s coach since Charlie was fifteen, when she’d finally excelled beyond her dad’s skill set. Marcy was chosen for her coaching acumen, of course, but also for the fact that she was a woman: Charlie’s mom had died from breast cancer only a few years earlier.
‘Wait here. Do some stretching, eat your banana, and do not think about this. Focus on how you’re going to dismantle Atherton’s game point by point. I’ll be back in a minute.’
Too nervous to sit, Charlie paced the training room and tried to stretch out her calves. Could they be tightening up already? No, that was impossible. Karina Geiger, the fourth seed with the body of a refrigerator that earned her the unfortunate but mostly affectionate nickname the Giant German, popped her head into the training room.
‘You’re on Centre, right?’ she asked.
‘It is a madhouse out there,’ the girl boomed in a strong German accent. ‘Prince William and Prince Harry are in the Royal Box. With Camilla, which is unusual, because I think they do not like each other, and Prince Charles and Princess Kate are not there.’
‘Really?’ Charlie asked, although she already knew this. As if playing Centre Court at Wimbledon for the very first time in one’s career wasn’t stressful enough, she had to be playing the lone seeded British singles player. Alice Atherton was only ranked number fifty-three but she was young and being hailed as the next Great British Hope, so the entire country would be cheering for her to crush Charlie.
‘Yes. Also David Beckham, but he is at everything. It is not so special to see him. Also one of the Beatles, which one is still alive? I can’t remember. Oh, and I heard Natalya say that she saw—’
‘Karina? Sorry, I’m just in the middle of some stretches. Good luck today, okay?’ Charlie hated to be rude, especially to one of the few nice women on the tour, but she couldn’t stand the talking for even one more second.
‘Ja, sure. Good luck to you, too.’
Karina passed Marcy on the way out, who had reappeared at the door with a tote bag full of all-white sneakers. ‘Quickly,’ she said, pulling out the first pair. ‘These are a ten narrow, by some miracle. Try them.’
Charlie dropped to the floor, her black braid smacking the side of her cheek hard enough to hurt, and pulled on the left shoe. ‘They’re Adidas, Marce,’ she said.
‘I am really not interested in how Nike feels about you wearing Adidas. Next time they can get the sneakers right and none of us will have to worry about it. But now you’ll wear what feels the best.’
Charlie stood up and took a tentative step.