The Mag Fiction Issue -- 'Squashed: A Confession'

Tue, Mar 8
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This short story appears in the iPad version of ESPN The Magazine's March 7, 2011 Fiction Issue.

I HAD NEVER played squash before I arrived at the Hill School, an Eastern boarding school, in 1961. I was a scholarship boy, a veteran of the public schools of Utah and the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, where you played football, basketball and baseball. Nothing else, not even track, really cut the mustard.

But at Hill I'd fallen through the rabbit hole, into a world dominated by exotic games I had barely heard of -- soccer, lacrosse, golf -- and one I'd never heard of at all: squash. Even the name was weird, almost comical. But I understood that its very obscurity where I came from was a sign of its cherished place among the sort of people for whom this school -- and also, it seemed, the world beyond -- had been created. To change classes, one must change games. And so I took an interest in squash.

It was my roommate who gave me my first lessons, and I immediately fell in love with the game. Indeed, I became an addict and exhibited all the nervous irritability of withdrawal when the courts were taken, or I couldn't find a partner. No sport had ever taxed me so much; my face turned red, my eyes burned from rivers of sweat, I frequently had to stop midgame to lean, faint, gasping for breath, upon my knees. And yet I shrugged these pains off as nothing, because in the actual playing I was so fixed on the ball that I didn't notice the labor of getting to it. However tainted my original motives in taking up the sport, I came to love it as the most pure, challenging form of competition I had ever experienced.

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