Fear of Tennis
Book Sample


The back of Jason Bunt’s head filled me with unease. I could already feel my chest muscles tightening. I could almost hear them tightening – a creaking sound, like someone had inserted a key in my back and was slowly winding me up. I hadn’t even seen Jason Bunt’s face in eleven years, let alone the back of his head, and yet a voice within me insisted: on the other side of that head you will find Jason Bunt.

I’d been reading my newspaper when I happened to glance up and see him from behind. He was sitting about ten feet away, directly in front of me, immersed in a magazine, or something. It took no more than thirty seconds to convince myself that this was Jason Bunt. After that, all I could do was stare intently at the back of his head, and listen to my chest muscles as they continued to contract. Even though I had no clear recollection of what the back of his head looked like eleven years ago, I knew it had changed quite a lot. His hair had certainly grown thinner, but, as if to compensate, his neck seemed to have grown thicker, a muscular pedestal emerging from his black suit jacket to support the oddly cube-like skull.

As I watched, the head made a slight movement. Thinking he was about to swivel around, I quickly concealed myself behind my newspaper. But no, he was just stretching. Had I been able to get up and walk away I would have done so immediately. The problem was, we were on a bus, the Central Area Transit vehicle I caught every day from the train station to the corner of William Street and St. Georges Terrace. For the moment I was trapped. I’d always feared that some day we’d bump into each other, but I hadn’t expected it to happen on public transport. I disembarked at the next traffic light, shielding my face with the newspaper.


Every morning when I arrived at work, I made a stop in the men’s restroom in the building’s lobby, not necessarily because I had to, but simply because it was one of the best restrooms I’d ever seen, and I’d come to regard it as an oasis of peace and solitude, a tranquil haven to which I could escape when necessary. The whole building, to which our office had recently relocated, was practically brand new. The restrooms in our old premises were dingy and cramped, the tiles cracked, the pipes rusty, the locks on the cubicle doors broken. After that, any reasonably modern restroom was a welcome sight, but the one in our new building was a minor masterpiece: spacious but not cavernous; the lines clean and elegant; the light warm and muted. The granite benchtop housing the classic white porcelain washbasins was at just the right height. The polished stainless-steel tap handles (one hot and one cold; I hated lever-action mixers) were cylindrical in shape and forward-angled, parallel to the spout itself, giving the whole a sleek, aerodynamic look. Everything was still in that pristine state where even the paper-towel dispenser operated smoothly and you didn’t get a whole wad of towels coming out when you tugged at one. Importantly, the electronic hand-dryer, a Roache 2400 Turbo series, was button- rather than beam-activated, so you enjoyed a continuous blast of hot air. The sight of a well-designed, well-maintained public toilet always filled me with pleasure.

I stood before the mirror, thinking about the back of Jason Bunt’s head, and then about the rest of Jason Bunt. My chest still felt tight so I performed a relaxation exercise recommended in a book I’d read. I did this exercise a lot. It involved tapping the thymus gland (just behind the upper part of the breastbone in the centre of the chest) while smiling. It was supposed to calm you and improve your mood. A helpful diagram in the book depicted a figure tapping his breastbone and smiling. According to the author, it wasn’t enough just to smile; only one particular kind of smile worked, and this was known as the Duchenne smile. The author went on to quote an expert, who pointed out that the key elements of the Duchenne smile distinguishing it from all others were ‘the crow’s-feet wrinkles around the eyes and a subtle drop in the eye cover fold so that the skin about the eye moves down slightly toward the eyeball.’ While doing this I turned side-on to the mirror and tried to get a look at the back of my own head. My experience on the bus that morning had me wondering how much it had changed in eleven years. I regretted not having recorded its development in some way.

I worked at Precision Court Reporters Ltd, a company which produced transcripts of all proceedings, both criminal and civil, in the District and Supreme Courts. My job was to record the court cases on audiotapes, from which the transcripts would subsequently be typed.

I emerged from the lift on the fourth floor and entered the office to the clatter of duelling keyboards and a chorus of humming laser printers – the usual soundtrack to a busy Monday morning. It was already 8.50 AM, so I went straight to my pigeonhole and withdrew the photocopied A4 sheet containing details of the case I had been allocated that day – a fairly standard unlawful assault trial – along with a plastic bag containing forty or so re-used blank cassettes plus four brand new Sony D90 master tapes.

I placed these items in my briefcase, re-entered the lift and rode down to the lobby, where I made another brief visit to the restroom to perform the smiling exercise. While I was in the middle of this, my boss, Des Geary, entered. I stopped what I was doing and pretended to wash my hands. Des and I enjoyed a good working relationship, but somehow he always appeared in the restroom when I was standing there doing my exercise. He’d pretend not to notice, but I’d invariably blurt out something stupid to cover my embarrassment. Today was no exception.

‘Hi Des. Nice tie.’

‘Yup,’ he said, not even pausing to look my way as he made for the urinal. I studied the back of his head for a moment. He still had plenty of hair, and he was probably twice Jason’s age. It seemed somehow unfair. I regretted the tie remark. True, it was a nice tie, but so what? No doubt he owned dozens of ties. I owned precisely five, one for each day of the week. I wore them in the same sequence, week in, week out. If by chance I forgot which day it was, I could always check my tie.
I walked back out of the building and continued up St. Georges Terrace in the direction of the District Court.

To the left of the court building’s entrance, a trio of young men, looking ill at ease in suits, grimly smoked cigarettes, while nearby, a large middle-aged woman spoke animatedly to her barrister. As I entered, she was saying, ‘So I turned around and I said to him, point blank: “Look, Tibor, I’m over it. I’m literally over it.”’ Squeezed in amongst more black-robed lawyers, their clerks, and several trolleys bearing stacks of files, I took the lift up to level five, walked down the silent corridor, and keyed in the security code for the door leading to a stairwell which in turn led to the courts themselves. Once I arrived at court 5.2, I opened the door of the adjoining booth, switched on the light and the recording equipment, adjusted the swivel chair for optimum viewing capacity and surveyed the empty courtroom through the broad glass panel. I felt like a football commentator awaiting the first siren.

I placed audiotapes in both of the Denier tape machines and in the two master recorders. Then I put on my earphones and plugged the jack into the little box-like unit connected to the Deniers. This unit enabled me to switch between the left and right tape machines, depending on which machine I was listening through at any given time. I pressed the RECORD buttons on the Deniers and on the master recorders, left the booth, entered the courtroom, switched on the lights and tested the microphones. Then I returned to the booth, played back the tapes and adjusted the sound levels accordingly.

Next, I prepared the history sheets, pads of lined paper on which I entered information as the trial progressed. There were two sets of history sheets: those relating to the Denier tapes and those relating to the master tapes. The former, smaller sheets were the most important because each one directly corresponded to a single tape. As the tape rolled, I would enter, in the left-hand margin of the corresponding sheet, the name of whoever happened to be speaking – Judge, Crown Prosecutor, etc – the number on the tape counter, and that speaker’s first few words so as to provide a lead-in for the typist. When another person spoke, I followed the same procedure, and so on, until eight minutes had elapsed and it was time to change tapes. In this way, alternating between the right and left machines, I recorded the entire day’s court proceedings in successive eight-minute portions. A junior collected the completed tapes and their attached history sheets at regular intervals and conveyed them back to the office.

While I was preparing these sheets, the judge’s orderly and the clerk of arraigns entered the courtroom and commenced stacking heavy black law texts on the bench. They were soon followed by the Crown Prosecutor and counsel for the accused, who, positioning themselves at opposite ends of the bar table, perused their briefs and arranged their robes in preparation for today’s bout. Before long two uniformed police officers ushered the accused – a young man with close-cropped hair and a neatly trimmed goatee beard – to his chair in the dock, from which he casually sized up his surroundings, studying one wall, then the next, as if he were there to paint the courtroom.

Having placed the thick pad of small-tape history sheets in the centre of my desk, the master-tape history sheet pad to the right and a notepad to the left, I prepared a stack of Denier audiocassettes, removing them from their plastic sleeves and winding them forward slightly by inserting the shaft of a pen into the cog-holes. Then I arranged my spare biros, liquid paper and yellow highlighter pen into a small portable plastic desk organiser I carried around with me. Finally, I withdrew a box of tissues from my briefcase and set it towards the rear of the desk. Since commencing this job, I’d come down with an average of two colds per year and gone through two boxes of 220 tissues per cold. Add another, say, two boxes for other purposes and that makes 3,960 individual two-ply tissues. It seemed like a lot.

The defence counsel spoke to his client for a few minutes, then resumed his position at the bar table. From the booth, I could see everything I needed to see. The judge’s bench was at the front of the courtroom, to my left. Directly in front of him and considerably lower down, sat the clerk of arraigns. The orderly didn’t have a desk, but occupied a stool to the right of the clerk of arraigns’ desk. Over on the far side of the courtroom, to the judge’s left, the accused man continued to study the decor. The bar table, a bit further back from the dock, extended along the centre of the room. Counsel for the accused stood, as always, at the end near the dock, while the Crown Prosecutor stood at the end closest to me and the jury box. The witness stand, to the judge’s right, was directly in front of the booth, a bit to my left. The public gallery, where a few spectators now sat murmuring to one another, was to the rear of the courtroom, a couple of metres back from the bar table. The only part of the courtroom out of my range of vision, unless I put my face right up the glass and turned my head ninety degrees to the right, was the jury box, but I didn’t need to see the jury.

It was now 9.27 AM. Everyone was in place, awaiting the judge. Before long the bell sounded to indicate that he had just arrived in the lift and was about to enter the courtroom. That was my signal to press RECORD for the first cassette of the day. Over the last four years I’d monitored 876 criminal cases. Number 877 had just begun, and for now I forgot all about Jason Bunt’s head.

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