Uprisings at Cap d'Antibes
The white blur came out of the French sunlight, rebounded off the clay, and rocketed straight for me. The vague impression of a tennis ball whizzed past my ear. Behind me, the chain link fence shivered from high-velocity impact.
Off the court, in Hailey's neon outfits and sudden grins, I still glimpsed the girl who'd never brush her mother back with a forehand smash. On the court, she turned into a predator, twelve going on twenty-five.
I rediscovered breathing and said, "Your dad wants us working on your backhand."
Hailey bounced on her toes. "So make me hit one."
"I'm trying," I whispered, but my next try caught the racket frame, arced over the fence, and rolled twenty meters of Côte d'Azur lawn away.
Hailey moved on to serves, and I wandered out after my miscue. Feliks Karperov Academy was as posh as advertised: tournament stadium, seaside dorms, state-of-the-art workout room, citrus trees and royal palms. "Molding talent into elite since 1992," his website boasted. "Where French glitz meets Grand Slams," Topspin Magazine proclaimed. "The Karperovs choose their students," my husband Tom swore. "Feliks has a shoe deal," Hailey added.
Bonding time, I had thought. Tom, the ex-jock, covered Hailey's practices and conditioning, but closing a development loan for lakefront housing would keep him in Louisville all spring. I jumped at the chance for a serious mother-daughter adventure of glam beaches and harbor villages.
A buff-white Pomeranian shot around me and snatched up the tennis ball. The dog squared its body my way, as if daring me to do something about it.
"Keep it," I said.
The dog, top-heavy with its prize, trotted a half-circle over to Feliks Karperov, now courtside and watching Hailey rip serves. The old champ had been unavailable when we checked in the day before—"much of the illnesses," his son Sergei had said—and, when I asked again that morning, Sergei warned me not to instigate. That sent me slinking out of the clubhouse. My closest to instigator was my fame among the junior competition parents for mixing the best cocktails.
I moved in breezing Feliks my tennis circuit smile, friendly but not overdone. "Dasha Meacham, Hailey's mom."
He pressed my hand into a kiss. Age had worn on the man I'd seen in his sailboat racing photos, but if vigor and eyebrow heft were any gauge, the champ had plenty of sets left in him.
"Hailey's got a cannonball, huh?" I said. "She keeps us shopping for trophy shelves."
Feliks nodded to his dog sniffing along the fence. "Is Gorbachev. Like Soviet premier."
I'd take his word for it. Despite my family tree, I was as Russian as my Tanqueray gimlets.
"The Pomeranian," Feliks said. "Noble animal. Once as large as the wolf. Did you know this?"
"Is that right?"
"Bred down. They take out the wolf, make it toy. Something for handbags."
"He's a cutie."
Feliks knitted his brow, or he might have under all that brow hair. "We speak of dogs, but this is metaphor, yes?"
Hailey smacked a ball into the net and let loose a word Tom must have taught her.
"For revolution," Feliks said.
Revolution topped my max for creepy metaphors. I seized on the first conversational out available, Sergei and two security guys hurrying up to the fence.
"You are a pig," Sergei hissed at his father. "A bloated, capitalist swine ordered to remain in his pen."
I asked if everything was okay, and Sergei wheeled around to me, all hawk's nose and glower. His eyes crackled with menace. "Your Academy pass."
"But we just spoke—"
I tucked down my hair. "It's in my gym bag."
Sergei made a note of that, nothing good either based on the piercing look he aimed over his clipboard. One security guy latched onto me, the other onto Feliks.
"See?" Feliks said. "Now Dasha must be wolf."
Sergei had me escorted off Academy grounds, citing a rule about no parents or media during instruction time. Really, his beady eyes declared, he meant no instigators.
The whole episode sucked any joy out of an afternoon at the hotel pool. Instead, I donned a sun hat and went Côte d'Azur native. Roaming through old Antibes and sniffing hyacinths at the flower market cleared my head, but less and less in a pleasant way. Hailey's workshop that night, reprogramming the mind for victory, took on darker possibilities.
I stopped at a promenade café with a quiet corner to phone Tom. His admin picked up and promised she'd find him for me.
Across the harbor, the cliffs of Cap d'Antibes bulged out into the aquamarine sea. Hailey and I were supposed to be up there, enjoying a tour of the Karperov villa, goggling at movie stars, and generally connecting through extreme savoir vivre. Instead, she might undergo a leftist brainwashing.
Tom called back during my second glass of Vin de Pays. I recounted the afternoon, to which he said: "Das, breathe. It's just an old guy off his meds. And Sergei, he's European. Radical there is like our hipsters. Anyway, you're talking about a tennis camp."
"Sergei's a total communist."
"Used to be, big time. Last of the Soviet tennis poster boys. Feliks was a Russian idol in his day. Just tell me those damn commies like Hailey's game."
"You weren't there," I said. "It's like a coup. That Sergei has the eeriest stare since Rasputin."
"The bearded guy? Was he even communist?"
"I don't know!"
"Look, I'll talk to Sergei. In the meantime, just don't freak out Hailey. I want her hyper-focused."
I'd have thought a banking exec would take revolution more seriously, bankers supposedly first up against the wall, but Tom said goodbye and went back to funding lakefront McMansions.
That night, the guard at the Academy gatehouse asked for my passport and club card. He checked his list and, what I had assumed was his permanent frown, deepened into a scowl.
"Visit tomorrow," he said. "After the lunchtime."
"I have a right to see my daughter."
The guard waved me off. "Parents tomorrow. CENTACAD orders."
I stayed put, hands locked on the wheel. Stalemated, the guy made a show of dialing CENTACAD or whoever on his phone. A clipped exchange later, he opened the gate.
Any trace of Feliks had been purged from the Academy grounds. Placards lauded impossibly robust tennis players in dramatic poses, including Sergei in his Olympic glory.
Hailey waited for me on the clubhouse steps, looking tan and capitalist girl chic in a tank top and Capri pants. She wriggled out of my hug. "God, Mom. What's wrong?"
"I didn't get a chance to say goodbye earlier—"
"You so got busted."
"—and I'm dying to hear how your day went."
"Control drills and then volleys and footwork. Sergei is this amazing coach."
"What about tonight? The mental part?"
Hailey shrugged. "I don't know. Kind of weird. It started out all the usual no fear and performance state stuff. Then Sergei got all 'Western kids are fat and weak' and broke us into groups. Me and some others, he wants in this inner circle. For top players, so that's cool."
"No, honey. I'm pretty sure it's a communist thing."
"I guess. This Dutch kid asked about the shoe deal and where's Feliks, and Sergei just went off about oppressor cabals exploiting everybody."
"This place isn't right for you, honey. We'll call your father from the hotel."
"I already talked to Dad. Hey, bring cash tomorrow. He says its suicides every serve I don't break and, if you pay the security guys, you get extra Powerade."
Back in my room, I managed not to cry through another pointless call with Tom, who had convinced himself communist connections might improve Hailey's odds at an Ivy League scholarship. I took matters into my own hands, researching communist theory over the hotel's pay-by-the-minute Internet. The bill might get Tom's attention if revolution didn't, and, like Hailey studied her opponents, so would I.
The proletariat, Lenin wrote, must throw off its shackles and form its own dictatorship to prevent capitalists from regaining power. Replacing the old elite, he posited a new one, a Party vanguard that chopped off any toe not in collective line.
From my laptop, Lenin's arched face glowered out at posterity. I said, "Good thing you were in the vanguard, huh?"
Later, my phone rang as I moped in front of the computer. I took out some frustration punching the receive button. "Hello?"
A click, then white noise.
"Darya Eduardovna Meacham." A man. A statement, not a greeting. "You were warned agitating is unwise. Poisoning family against the cause is unwise. Do not attempt this again."
"Being a mother is not agitating."
A tiger's smile crept into his monotone. "Ah, but mothers seek what is best for child. Puberty, it changes everything in the tennis player. The girl must have firm instruction or performance window is lost. Pity the mother who obstructs this. Consider these lessons carefully, Darya Eduardovna."
The sun had worked up to a mid-morning bake when I arrived at Karperov Academy. The club pass I showed the gatehouse guy came wrapped in a hundred euro note. I came wrapped in a stretchy black turtleneck that hopefully screamed leftist. The guard let me through, no production made of dialing the clubhouse.
Overnight, the placards had spread like cartoonish mold over the stucco walls. The new star amid Sergei's idealized youth was my daughter: Hailey brandishing her racket, Hailey coiled in a serve toss, Hailey in mid-backhand and owning the baseline.
Most courts sat open. Party members only, a sign said. Trainers had the kids jogging or practicing on the lawn. I didn't see Hailey, but there was no Sergei either, and that told me where to start looking.
At center court, another fifty euro put Hailey in unlimited Powerade, and twenty more bought a shady seat in my usual domain, the bleachers. Down on the court, Sergei crouched hands on knees, barking at Hailey while she blasted unreturnable serves. Hailey spotted me and, on her next serve, bellowed out a grunt that rang through the stadium. The ball clipped the net and spun long.
Sergei drew up, as if about to unleash an epic reprimand. Our eyes met, which made my skin ready to crawl off to a safe house and made him signal an assistant coach. He switched Hailey to light hitting, volleying her sideline to sideline. Her stroke fizzed with new power, an assassin's fizz.
Soon, intellectual types began to fill the courtside boxes. The vanguard, I wondered, or a chess club. I was picturing them in old-time tennis wear when my phone vibrated. A serious tennis mom faux pas, but Sergei kept his clipboard holstered. I checked the number—Tom, no surprise—and turned the phone off. Only then did Sergei seem irritated.
Hailey grabbed a towel and climbed the bleachers up to me. "You look like a slutty English teacher."
I showed off my beatnik sweater. "Just trying to blend."
"Mom, stop," Hailey said, stifling a grin. She knocked back some bootleg Powerade. "I'm playing this girl Erika next. The winner gets invited to a thing at Sergei's villa tonight."
Not that I enjoyed rooting against my daughter, but the idea flared up anyway. "Yeah? Is she any good?"
"Chicken at the net. I will destroy her. Come watch from Sergei's box. The thing I like about communism is you get privileges."
Courtside, the privileges abounded: champagne, finger foods, socca bread fresh off the coals. The luxury set-up reminded me of nights helping Tom entertain clients at the bank's arena suite, but instead of his chamber of commerce buddies, I had wild-haired intellectuals getting socca crumbs in their beards.
Sergei found the seat beside mine. He eyed me ice picks and said, "Sweater does not make a radical."
"Peace, okay?" Peace until I hog-tied and dragged Hailey to the airport. Until then, it was sip and schmooze. "I admit you all have style. I mean, you couldn't have picked a nicer spot to start a revolution."
Sergei munched hard on a stuffed mushroom and gestured for the umpire to start the match.
Poor undersized Erika fired off the opening serve. Hailey volleyed back a winner loaded with killer intent, her war grunt igniting a charge of excitement around the stadium. So went the entire match. Hailey dominated the net and peppered ace after ace, Erika flailed against the barrage, and the vanguard thrilled at the display.
"Yes," the intellectual behind me said. "She is the spearhead."
Hailey capped the two-set, double bagel demolition with a teasing drop shot that left Erika gawking on the baseline.
The intellectual leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper. "First, Hailey Fominincha. Then those who want to be her. Then more camps, more sports, the Olympics, adoring masses. Your daughter makes a most excellent icon."
No, I thought, Hailey of the shoe-deal fetish made them a horrible icon, a spectacular crash and burn no matter how their revolution ended.
At dusk, Sergei escorted Hailey and me into his Mercedes. We pulled out past Erika, now among the kids practicing on the lawn. They had assigned her a wooden racket.
The car climbed up narrow lanes into Cap d'Antibes. Near the swank Eden Roc hotel, we entered Sergei's compound overlooking the harbor and rugged Mediterranean coast. In the marinas below, sailboat lights bobbed with the tide.
Once inside the villa, Sergei whisked Hailey into his film room, leaving me in a salon full of trophies and Soviet memorabilia. Strains of folk guitar and accordion filtered in from the terrace pool. I stepped outside and stood there observing the aging militants who had staked a claim on my daughter.
Then I thought, if everyone shaved and the ratty sport coats were blazers instead, I had attended dozens of events like this, tennis people gathered around a torch-lit pool and chatting over drinks. Tonight was one more party where nobody cared about Hailey beyond the prodigy slice of her. I had launched Hailey's rocket ride, and I owed joining in on her crash.
If she wanted to be a Party icon, so be it. No one in youth tennis worked a party like Darya Eduardovna.
For a half-hour, I mingled, giving Sergei's crew the tennis mom smile, complimenting ideas, squeezing arms, nodding along. First impression made, I sent the bartender for limes and grabbed the cranberry juice and vodka. By the time Sergei and Hailey arrived to great applause, everyone on the terrace sipped my Cape Cods, tonight repackaged as Red Menaces.
Hailey waved to me and wormed over through her fan club. Sergei had her decked out in an Academy tracksuit, as if anyone could miss the Amazonian tween among musty radicals.
"It's official," I said, sliding her a cranberry and lime. "We're going revolutionary together. I'll be good at it, too. You know I will."
Hailey's eyes popped wide. "Dad would kill you."
"Honey, that's going to work the other way around."
"Whatever. Everybody here is old. Oh, and Sergei is cancelling Feliks' shoe deal. Symbols of the oppressor. He's got this new South American company. Their shoes are hideous." She fingered her jacket sleeve. "He says I have to wear this. Do I have to wear this?"
A flash of white fur caught my eye. Across the terrace, the Pomeranian ran past the cabana and into a formal garden.
"Take Sergei his drink," I said. "And really push him on the shoe deal, okay?"
It took a minute to break away unnoticed, but I slipped down the footpath where Gorbachev had vanished.
"Dobryj vyechyer," said someone in the gloom between cypresses, Feliks based on the bushy eyebrows discernable anywhere. He leaned out and clapped his approval. "Way to step it up. Not she-wolf, but better."
"How are you?"
"Ha! Fit as team of horses. I have boat in harbor. You get girl, boom boom boom, Majorca."
"You are so hired."
I bided my time broaching the getaway with Hailey, content to let Sergei rant at her about class friction reaching critical mass. When he paused for breath, I swooped in with a fresh round of drinks.
"Your Red Menace could use a comrade," I said.
Sergei took a pull and said, "Cocktail does not make radical."
"Well, I have to start somewhere."
I made a vague excuse about female issues and led Hailey off to the powder room. "Sweetie," I said when locked inside, "would you like to get out of here?"
"Can we? Everyone is kind of pervy and has cigarette breath."
Fifteen minutes later, I eased Hailey down from the bathroom window. A loyalist stashed us in the trunk of his car, and we rode in darkness to the marina. In short order, Feliks had us aboard his Twister yacht and cruising out of Antibes harbor. I stayed at the bow, dog sitting. Gorbachev quivered with excitement, his nose windward and testing the salt air.
Hailey proved a quick study as first mate. I waited until she had secured the lines and riggings to call out an overdue question. "Do you even like tennis anymore?"
"Most days. But some girls at camp were taking dance lessons, like for ballrooms. I want to start, too."
"You like dancing? Since when?"
"Since always," she said. "Were you going to go commie?"
"Da, kiddo. You're stuck with me."
There we were, Hailey and I fleeing across the Mediterranean with a deposed tennis champ and his pocket wolf. Maybe we would fly home. Maybe not. Hell, I was instigating now, so maybe we'd help start the counterrevolution. Tonight, with the moon reflected gold on the glassy water, it was enough that we kept on sailing.