One day she remembered a young man she had known and loved for a little while when she was twenty-five. He would play basketball on Sunday afternoons and he would come to see her afterwards in the evening. He had been trying to tell her once how much he loved basketball and he’d said, “It feels like cheating.”
It had been beautiful to hear it and she had thought that she could love him for a very long time when he’d said that. After it had ended, she’d remembered it and she’d wondered if she had something that felt like cheating. She had thought that she would, even if she didn’t then, because she was only twenty-five. And she had not wanted to think that the only thing that could do that was love.
She was thirty-six now and there was a man, but he did not feel like cheating. He felt like playing the game correctly. But now at thirty-six it was hard to say what was cheating and what was playing the game correctly anyway. They blended together. The young man had not been talking of love anyway. He had been talking of basketball. Maybe if her mother and father had been the kind to sign their daughter up for sports, she would know what that meant. There was a basketball court near her house and now when she saw the little boys playing there and the little girls in the grass nearby, she felt angry.
When she remembered the young man, she wondered if she had shown him how much she loved that basketball felt like cheating to him. Maybe she had acted like it was only cute. It had been a funny age. There had been a lot of ways in which she’d tried to show that she was a woman and not a girl. Maybe she had made him think it was only cute. It was possible. It was possible she didn’t know how to show someone that she took it seriously when they told her they had something that felt like cheating.
She wanted to ask the man she was with if he had something that felt like cheating. She did not think their relationship could bear it though if he did not know what that meant. It was the first sign that she should end it with him. She ended it soon after that.
Coming home from the last time of seeing him, she stopped next to the basketball court and watched the game. I want to cheat, she thought. I want to cheat with someone who wants to cheat as well. We are here to cheat, no matter what anyone says. She wondered what would happen if she were to run onto the court and tell the boys to make room for the girls in the grass.
Two years later, when she had met a man she was beginning to love, she decided she would tell him that she wanted to cheat, and that she wanted him to cheat with her as well. It would be her declaration. Men got to make declarations all the time. They had all the formal occasions to make them, but a woman had to make hers when she could.
On the way to see him it was very clear in her mind. I believe love should feel like cheating, she would say. It should feel like we are getting away with something we aren’t supposed to have. And we should feel like bad criminals lifting our heads up when we shouldn’t, and looking around us wondering if it’s really true, if it’s really true that nobody is going to stop us and say, just who do you think you are, acting as though you deserve happiness? And then she remembered the young man who had said that basketball felt like cheating, and for the first time she thought it was very foolish that basketball was the thing that felt like cheating to him. What a small and insignificant thing to feel like cheating. It wasn’t even cute. No wonder she had ended it with him. She had known back then at twenty-five that there was only one thing that was the real cheating. She’d had to wait many years before she could explain to a man what the real cheating was. If boys and men could spend as much thinking of love as they did throwing a ball into a hoop, they could all start cheating together much sooner. She thought of the basketball court again and she did not want to bring the girls onto the court anymore; she wanted to bring the boys to the grass.
By the time she got to his house and sat down with him to talk, she knew it was going to come out angry. She had not planned for it to come out angry, but she thought it was better that it come out angry than not come out at all.
She told him how she believed that love was cheating, that it was the only cheating, and that she was looking for someone to cheat with, to cheat against all that was small and foolish and meaningless in life. It came out angry, but the anger was deserved. The man was moved by all of it, including the anger. He had never thought of love as cheating before, but he understood it and he told her he wanted to cheat with her as well.
The next day when she went past the basketball court, she thought it was a beautiful scene. It was the same as always – the boys on the court and the girls in the grass, and the only thing she felt compelled to do was to tell the boys to play, to play but to pay close attention to their playing, because if it ever felt so good that it felt like cheating, then the idea was that it was telling them about something else, and she imagined them asking her what that other thing was, and she imagined herself smiling and walking away.