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Tennis under Strange Circumstances

Dreamed 1948 by Nancy Price

Source: Acquainted with the Night by Nancy Price (1949), selections from an experimental dream journal she kept for one year. Sketches by Chris Wayan 2009.

I still see the courts. Several were occupied, one was being rolled, but there was still another vacant which I walked towards with an unknown companion. It had no net and was in a disreputable condition, yet it appeared that people had settled themselves to watch. These onlookers I felt very acutely as being both friendly and unfriendly.

"Never mind the net," said my opponent. Sketch by Chris Wayan of a dream by Nancy Price: a soft, droopy tennis racket.

I swung my racket only to find the handle bent to and fro like a banana.

"I am sorry, this racket is impossible," I said. "Can anyone lend me another?"

Several of the onlookers offered to do so. I took the first but saw that practically all the cat-gut was gone.

"The ball will go through this," I said.

"Oh! go ahead," said my exasperated opponent.

I tried another, the handle again served me as my own had done, another and yet another I tried but they were all the same.

"I am sorry," I said, "terribly sorry."

"You evidently don't want to play," said my companion.

The onlookers were laughing. Then a strange old woman called out: "If you are not playing do you mind if we take the court for an exhibition game?"

My opponent vanished. The old woman suddenly swung up from nowhere an immense electric contrivance which seemed to remain poised in mid-air without difficulty, and when switched on gave great brilliance. Then proceeded an amazing game, both the players were old and both changed from side to side with such miraculous rapidity that the mind and eye were dazzled, and one could not tell which was which.

Sketch by Chris Wayan of a dream by Nancy Price: two old women in long black dresses play a savage game of tennis before a crowd.

"Now, if you can tell one from the other, you win a vast amount of money," said an onlooker to me. "You can also get your racket to work, but unless you can tell this, your racket will always refuse to function and you will remain a pauper."

I found I could not tell. The players suddenly stopped, then both bowed, took off their wigs and thick dresses, which I had not noticed before, and I saw that both were young girls looking exactly the same in height, features, everything, yet it was conveyed to me that one was good and the other evil. There was something sinister about them altogether, though what it was has faded. Everybody else vanished but they still continued bowing and smiling. The court was now smooth and well kept, the net was up and taut.

"Everything ready, why don't you play?" they said together. "The handle will always bend in your hand."

Sketch by Chris Wayan of a dream by Nancy Price: twin girls, tennis players--one good, one evil. Quite indistinguishable; both aware of it and mocking the dreamer.

Then they vanished, I saw and heard the players on the other courts shouting their score; I was left utterly wearied, surrounded by useless rackets. Sketch by Chris Wayan of a dream by Nancy Price: a burly man on stilts.

Then a huge man on stilts advanced towards me.

"Pay, pay, pay," he said.

"I have nothing but these rackets," I said.

"Then I must take you," he replied.

And he grasped me firmly in his long arms, whisked me into the air, and conveyed me to--where I do not know, for I woke.

All this strikes me now as ridiculous but at the time, I felt everything in the dream to be sinister, menacing, and full of foreboding.

--Nancy Price


In 1949 America, racket could mean "business" or "line of work". Being British, Price had perhaps heard this often enough for her dream to use the pun yet not often enough for her conscious to think of it in a tennis context. But try reading it that way. Unless you tell the good players from the evil, "your racket will always refuse to function and you will remain a pauper." Of all possible rackets, Price's (acting and theatrical management) demand the sharpest character-judgment!

Other hints that the dream's about theatre:

So under all the craziness, I'd read this circus-like dream as a straightforward warning: that one of two equally competent players in Price's working milieu (two ingenues wanting to join her company? Two rivals for a part?) is honest, while the other's a backstabber. Not that it sounds like Price got the message consciously. But it's still possible the dream unconsciously prompted her, in auditions, to see through a pretty face and formidable skills, and avoid someone who's real trouble.

--Chris Wayan

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