His shoes were already pounding the clayey dirt when he remembered why it was that he
usually avoided the school track after a certain hour on Saturday mornings. On the grass in the
middle of the field several soccer balls were already being kicked around by groups of kids, and
more kids boys and girls were crossing the track to join them. They seemed to be trying to avoid
the joggers, but occasionally a kid would start crossing, without looking, immediately after taking
leave of an adult, and on some stretches he found himself forced to run a slalom-like pattern.
After one lap he took a look at the adults that the kids were taking leave of. They were
mostly women. Soccer moms! he suddenly said to himself. Of course he had heard of them as a
sociopolitical phenomenon, but he had recently read an article in an online magazine, titled “Sexy
Soccer Moms” or something like that, in which the writer confessed his unquenchable lust for the
ladies in question. So now, as he was jogging by them, he looked at them more intently as they were
leaving the grounds, the kids presumably entrusted to the coaches. They were mostly between 35
and 45, mostly in fairly good shape, but none that he would regard as objects of deep desire.
None, that is, except one. He first saw her from behind as she was walking to the parking lot
while talking to another woman. She had short hair that was either light brown or dark blond,
depending on its orientation to the sun. She wore a plain white T-shirt, jeans and blue athletic shoes.
But there was something about the swaying way in which she walked that made him turn around to
look at her, and the sight of her smiling, oval face, accentuated by thick-rimmed glasses, left him
with the kind of sensation in the pit of his stomach that only an overtly sexy young woman would
have provoked when he was younger.
As he ran past her, a soccer ball wandered onto the track in front of him. Without breaking
his stride, he kicked it back onto the field like the midfielder that he had been in his adolescence.
After completing another lap, with yet another ball greeting him, he decided to abandon the
track and finish his jog in the streets. As he ran through the parking lot on his way to the gate, he
saw the attractive woman stop on the driver’s side of a Ford Aerostar and begin unlocking the door
while her companion walked on. His practiced eye scanned her free left hand and saw no marital
icon. The minivan’s license plate read SCCR MM.
“Nice license plate,” he said as he passed her. “Thank you,” she replied with a shy but
He made a 180-degree turn to face her. “Are you Jewish, by any chance?” he asked.
“Oh, because Hebrew is written without vowels, mostly,” he said as he turned again.
She smiled again, this time without shyness. “It wasn’t my choice,” she said. “All the ones
with the O in MOM were taken.”
At that moment the other woman had reached her car, and yelled across the lot: “Bye,
“Bye, Joyce!” Penny yelled back. “See you later!”
“Nice to meet you, Penny,” he said.
“Nice to meet you, too, uh, what’s your name?”
“Aaron,” he said just before running on.
“Nice to meet you, Aaron,” she said as she climbed into the Aerostar.
Penny’s image faded quickly from his mind as he proceeded with his jog through the familiar
streets. Instead, his thoughts turned to soccer moms in general. It seemed to him strange that kids
who were active enough to play this demanding sport had to be driven to their field by a parent.
Why couldn’t they just hop on a bicycle, or even walk, to the nearest expanse of grass, as he had
done when he lived in Spain during his father’s sabbatical, or later when he spent summers with the
Domínguez family in Cuernavaca? And why should such young kids be on organized teams with
sponsors and coaches? How much did these coaches know about soccer, anyway? When he was
eight or nine, all the kids just played at being Di Stéfano or Pele, everyone following his natural
impulse in trying to score a goal. Passing and other aspects of teamwork were learned by trial and
error. American kids, it seemed to him, were inculcated with organized play before their killer
instinct something so highly prized in American sports in general had a chance to develop. That
was, perhaps, why American teams performed so defensively in international play. It didn’t matter
in women’s competition, because in other countries girls didn’t spontaneously play soccer anyway.
But the men’s team just couldn’t mount a decent attack that would go beyond endless passing to a
good, strong shot at goal. And that, after all, was what the game was about.
He checked his watch as he arrived home. His run had been 35 minutes, five less than he had
intended, but good enough. Plenty of time for a shower, checking e-mail, reading the paper, brunch
It was the following Wednesday, as he was pedaling back, in late afternoon, from the
supermarket, with a grocery bag fitting neatly into each of his side baskets, that he noticed the blue
house, and the Aerostar with the SCCR MM plate parked in its driveway.
If Penny in fact lived there, then the place was no more than a mile and a half from the
playing field, and unless her child was very young, there was no reason (he told himself again) that
he or she could not simply bike over there. Soccer mom indeed, or SCCR MM NDD, he snorted
inwardly. But, on the other had, maybe she was just visiting.
He rode by again, the next afternoon, and the car was there again. He noted the address and
decided to write Penny a note. Since it was a single-family house, there would be no problem in
addressing it simply to Penny.
From among his many blank notecards, he picked out one with a Léger reproduction. Hi
Penny, he wrote before he began to think about what else to write.
It was a pleasure to meet a true representative of a new species known as Sexy Soccer Mom
(or SXY SCCR MM), about which I have just read an article. I hope to see you in that role again.
Upon rereading the note, it seemed silly and pointless. But he decided to send it anyway.
He enclosed a card that contained his address, phone number (home and office) and e-mail address.
That Saturday he started his jog at his accustomed early hour, and finished running around
the track well before the soccer kids had come. He only vaguely thought of Penny.
His e-mail contained, among other messages, one from firstname.lastname@example.org, with No
Subject. The name meant nothing to him. He opened it last.
aaron: if you are interested in me, you should know that besides being a soccer mom, i am
also an artist and a free lance professional sex worker. and i don’t come cheap. surprised? penny.
His first thought was: Penny Penelope Ulysses. Aha!
His next thought was: so that’s what hookers call themselves now free-lance professional
It was only after these purely linguistic reactions he was, after all, a linguist that he began
to respond to the gist of the message.
Surprised? That would be putting it mildly. Shocked? Not quite.
She might, of course, be putting him on. But what could be the motivation of that?
And if she was indeed what she said she was, and revealed the fact so freely to someone she
barely knew, then it could be no secret from her fellow soccer moms or even her kid or kids. This,
then, was not a case of a double life à la Belle de Jour.
Or was it one after all? Did she, perhaps, have an instinctive sense that a man who was
interested in her would be discreet about the revelation?
Of course Aaron would be. He might tell the story to a friend or two not Stephanie but
not identify the woman or the license plate.
He suddenly wondered: does she in fact drive that Aerostar that proclaims her to the world
as a soccer mom when she meets her clients? Is there, in fact, a legion of men who lust after soccer
moms, and is she riding that wave? Not likely, he answered himself. Her trysts are probably at
downtown hotels, and she probably takes cabs; she doesn’t, after all, “come cheap.”
The recall of that expression made him wonder if there was a pun intended. If she doesn’t
come cheap, how does she come?
Enough of that. He was hungry.
Penny’s message in his in-box. Would he reply? Perhaps,
though he could think of nothing to say to her; or perhaps he would
show it to someone or other. But there was that
email@example.com, No Subject
staring at him each time he opened his mail for the next several days.
Wednesday afternoon he was, as usual, shopping at the supermarket. Near the checkout area
he noticed a woman pushing an only slightly filled cart with two girls,
about eight and ten, riding on
it on either side while making playful faces at each other. He saw the woman only in profile, and
she looked vaguely familiar. When the time came for her to push the cart through an aisle, the girls
jumped down and ran off in opposite directions. They did so with great freedom, but in a disciplined
way, without impeding anyone else’s movement through the store. Perhaps they were soccer players,
Soccer! The woman was Joyce, Penny’s friend! From the moment of that realization, he
followed her discreetly. Once he had finished his shopping, he moved around the store, looking at
articles here and there, while she was completing hers. When she entered a checkout line, he quickly
moved in right behind her.
It was a busy time at the store, and the line was fairly long, but the checker, a very pretty
young black woman whom he hadn’t seen before, was quick. He decided not to waste any time.
“You look familiar,” he said to the woman in front of him, forcing her to turn around.
“Aren’t you Penny Drayton’s friend?”
“Penny? Oh, yes... Well, we’re not really friends, we just see each other at soccer practice.
Do you know her?”
“Not really, I just met her at the soccer field about a week and a half ago.”
“Are you a soccer dad?”
“No, I was just jogging.”
She paused while looking around to see if her turn to unload her cart had come, but there
were still two well-filled carts ahead of her. “Our girls are on the same team, but they go to different
schools. Besides, she’s single, and I’m married...”
“So you don’t, like, get together for tea?”
She laughed. “We’ve talked about it, but our schedules are too different.”
“Do you know what she does?”
“She’s a performing artist... I mean, a performance artist. I’ve never seen her perform,
though; she says she only works at private events. She’s a lot of fun to talk to, though she doesn’t
say too much about herself. It’s mostly about the kids, and sometimes she talks about her ex-husband very funny stuff.”
It was time to move another cartlength towards the checkout, and Joyce was almost at the
unloading point. The two girls suddenly showed up on either side of the cart.
They must have been lurching nearby, for the older one asked, “Who were you talking
“Penny... Nicole’s mom.” The two girls looked at each other conspiratorially, ritually
suppressing a giggle. “Oh, by the way,” she went on while turning to him and first nodding at the
older girl, then the younger, “these are Jenny and Liz, and I’m Joyce. And you are?”
“I’m Aaron,” he said. “Hi, Jenny. Hi, Liz.”
Another look across the cart, with the giggle not quite suppressed this time. Then the girls
began expertly to unload the cart, with Jenny, who was on the right side and had a longer reach,
handing articles to Liz, who placed them on the checkstand. The cart was empty just as the pretty
checker, wearing the name tag Sarah, began sliding the cart’s former contents past the scanner, and
Joyce began fumbling in her purse. The girls were now standing behind the cart, facing him.
“You know Nicole’s mom?” asked Jenny.
“Not really,” he said.
They looked at each other again, seriously this time.
“You guys know something about her?” he asked, looking from one girl to the other. He
began to unload his cart, placing his purchases behind the separator.
Jenny shook her head as if to say “Not really,” but before she could do so Liz piped up: “It’s
a secret, right, Jen?” Jenny, embarrassed, nodded.
“I’ll bet Nicole made you swear to keep it a secret, right?” he said. Jenny nodded again.
“That’s good,” he said. “It’s important to keep friends’ secrets.”
Joyce had finished paying, and her bags were neatly stowed in the cart, which she began to
push outward as the girls jumped on. “Bye, Aaron!” they yelled in unison as they rolled out.
“Paper or plastic?” Sarah asked him as she began to scan his stuff.
“Plastic, please,” he said. “Two bags.”