I stare at Linoleum Snopes across the net, hating him. “It don’t bounce proper,” I say. “It don’t hardly bounce at all.”

He studies the service line at his feet, furious. The sun is hot.

It don’t bounce proper. It just.

“Eight-three-one,” he says. “You best back up some.”

I don’t budge. I look back at Varse, my partner, daring him to boss me. He don’t.

Lin swings hard, like he’s beating a carpet, like he’s angry but can’t say nothing. The ball gets bigger coming at me. I stick the paddle up thoughtless and the ball skips back across the net and catches Rayleen Butters in her pink soft gut, just below the knot she’s tied in her blouse to show off her tummy.

“You gotta let it bounce,” Lin says, his voice urgent, fierce. “The two-bounce rule.”

“It don’t bounce,” I say. “I seen cow-flop with more bounce.”

Rayleen hunches over like she been shot, low to the ground moaning but careful not to get dirt on her little white tennis costume.

Varse trots hangdog up to the net. “You all right?” he says to Rayleen.

“‘Course she’s all right,” I say. “She got more meat on her than you do.”

Lin helps Rayleen up like he’s lifting a china cup. “Eight-three-two,” he says, furious. “Your serve,” he says to her. He hands her the ball like it’s a secret between them.

Rayleen primps at the service line, but her thick shoulder muscles roll like a working mule’s under the skimpy tennis outfit. She coils beautiful in the blistering sun for just an instant, then hurls her whole soft self into the stubborn, indolent pickleball. It clears the net quicker than a rifle shot and sends Varse skittering sideways like a waterbug.

“Nine-three-two,” Lin shouts. He wants to pat Rayleen on her big soft behind, but he keeps his hands at home, spinning his racket. He fetches the pickleball and flips it to her, harmless, indifferent.

“You gotta let it bounce,” he says, trying to look straight at me. “And you gotta move back. You’re standing in the kitchen.”

I put my paddle hand on my hip and move back some. With the other I give him the finger. I look sideways at Varse, daring him to boss me.

Rayleen leans into her next serve and sends it whizzing past my ear out of bounds. She smiles at me, quiet.

“Y’all’s serve,” Lin says. He pitches the pickleball to me, underhand, like he don’t want to start nothing. It arches in a lazy parabola through the heavy, somnolent air. I let it hit me in the midsection and don’t do nothing but kick it sideways to Varse. He paws sheepish at the impassive yellow earth he and Lin have raked to make this shabby court.

“Y’all serve,” he says, kicking it back to me. “Don’t do nothing to torment Rayleen.” He creeps ahead toward her while I back off to the service line.

The sun is hot. The pickleball weighs in my hand like a dead thing. I try to bounce it in the dirt but it don’t bounce. I throw it in the air and bring the paddle around like I’m hurling a pitchfork into Rayleen Butters’s little white tennis outfit. It catches Varse square in the small of the back and fells him like an ox in a slaughterhouse.

Rayleen trots to the net like she’s thinking on jumping over it, then skitters around it and stands over Varse, letting him get a glance up her skirt. “That’s like to bring a welt,” she says.

Varse don’t budge, like he can’t, like he’s pinioned to the hot, wild, vertiginous earth.

“Three-nine-two,” Lin says. “You, Varse,” he yells, furious, implacable, “your serve.”

“We give,” I say. “I don’t want to play no more.”

“You can’t quit,” Lin says. “Game’s eleven.” He sidles up to Rayleen nonetheless, like he’s not about to let her get away.

“Gimme that pickleball,” I tell Rayleen. She drops it immediate and kicks it toward me under the net. I catch it under my heel and crush it flat.

“It don’t bounce,” I say. It just.