When he called her to ask her if she wanted to spend the day in the park with him, she didn't know what to make of it. It had been three months since that last date and this was the first time he had contacted her since. She'd assumed he wasn't interested. And now this. Still, at least it was a nice day out, and she figured it couldn't hurt.
When they got to the park he dumped their things under a tree then pulled a tennis ball out of the picnic basket. "Let's play catch", he said. She almost laughed at him then - the very idea seemed so absurd. But then she saw how serious he looked, how solemn, and realised that he really meant it. Well, why not? She used to play catch as a girl. She was even quite good at it - even her brother said so (though grudgingly, and only after she'd beaten him at it a couple of times). She found herself enjoying the idea of a game. "Yes", she nodded, jumping up from the grass.
At first his throws were easy enough - slow, lazy arcs that made their way to her almost diffidently, as if he were afraid of pushing her too far. Hers, on the other hand, were defiant, breathless: gestures of force flung in the sky's face, the ball trembling ever so slightly on the way down. He caught them easily enough, though, letting them drop softly into his hands, holding on to the ball an instant longer than necessary, just to make sure he had it, then swinging around to throw it back to her again.
It was only after they'd traded the ball back and forth a dozen times that he started to smile. Till then his face had held a grim intensity quite out of keeping with the seeming casualness of this late summer game. But now his features softened, his body swung more freely, she could see him loosening up. By about the twentieth throw he was laughing aloud. Meanwhile his throws were getting harder - the trajectories flatter, more direct now, as if he was trying to discover what the shortest distance between them might be. She had to hustle to keep up with him. She was out of breath. She was sweating. She considered asking him to stop, but the delight in his face was too infectious.
When she finally dropped a catch, his body stiffened suddenly, as though she had struck him. He ran over to where the ball lay, reaching it before her, picking it up very tenderly. For a moment he just stood there, staring at the ball in his hand, his shoulders suddenly heavy. When he finally looked up at her she thought she saw tears in his eyes. When she asked him if there was something wrong though, he shook his head, tried to smile. "It's okay", he said, "it doesn't matter".
That afternoon, after the wine and the cucumber sandwiches, he read Donne to her, and there was a defeated edge to his voice she'd never heard before. "Thou when thou returnest wilt tell me / All strange wonders that befell thee / And swear / Nowhere / Lives a woman true and fair". It was that kind of afternoon - an afternoon of polite shadows and a sunlight as unrelenting as sadness - the shapes of their conversations withdrew into themselves, their feelings shrank from each other, puddled at their feet.
All the rest of that day, he didn't say anything about that game of catch. Soon he was laughing again, buying them both ice-cream cones, playing Desire on the car stereo on the way back to her house, singing along to the chorus of 'Mozambique'. Yet somehow she couldn't shake the feeling that in some strange, unspoken way she had failed him.
So when he never called her back after that, she understood.