Carrie pulls out her driver while I'm telling the guys, "What I learned from all of this is you gotta live every day like it's your last. You can't count on tomorrow. What you got is here right now. That's it. The past doesn't count. The future doesn't exist."
"We're getting to that time in life when shit starts happening," Rick says. "It's hard not to take it personally. But everyone goes through it. That's why we have golf."
Jim smiles, hits me in the shoulder with a loose fist as Carrie lines up over the ball. She bends her knees slightly and wiggles her feet.
Rick says what the three of us are thinking, staring down her shirt into her cleavage. "Christ. Does she know she's doing that?"
Her swing is textbook. Left arm straight, head down, hands interlocked bend at the wrist only toward the end of the stroke. She twists at the waist and her ponytail of black hair curves over her shoulders like it must look when she wakes up in the morning with the daylight in her eyes.
"Ye-es," she says, following her ball's arc. "Did you see that? I hit a good shot for your old man, Billy." The grin on her face could light New York in a power crisis, but none of us are watching her ball. The club slides through her hand until she's holding it by the head. She walks off the tee, picks up a knit head cover that looks like Winnie the Pooh pulls it over the top. She's got the whole set of Hundred Acre Wood character golf club covers. Knit them herself.
She slings her bag over her arm and it pulls on her tight flowered top so we can all see her bra strap underneath. It's blue. Now we three males can look at that and her navel.
"Who's next?" she asks, but she has us frozen in paralytic sexual desire.
"How the hell does she play in those tight jeans?" I mutter.
"Fuck if I know, but I'm damn glad she does," Jim replies.
Carrie joins us, turns and stares at the empty tee. "Okay, who's up?" she says, but none of us have taken her eyes off her. She lowers her eyes and smirks.
I'd speak but I have a lot of spit to swallow. Rick says we guys are all going to take a bigger handicap on this round. "...just to even the score with you looking like that," to Carrie.
He gets ahead of me. Says he'll go. Slams the ball and tee into the turf, hauls back his driver like he's going to make a Stanley Cup finals slapshot, and whacks.
This ball we all follow. It travels in a perfect parabola and lands square in the middle of the fairway, two hundred yards away. When I look a little further I see Carrie's ball about fifty yards beyond Rick's.
"How the hell do you hit it like that?" Jim says. "You're a goddamned nightmare. That ball should go straight down to hell with a swing like that."
"You gonna play or you gonna complain?" Rick says. He puts his club back in his bag and makes sure to sneeze as Jim takes his shot.
It doesn't matter. You could set off a howitzer when Jim swings and it wouldn't affect him. And Jim's shot goes where it always goes. Hundred fifty yards out. Thirty to the left.
"See you're perfecting that hook," I say to Jim. "It's really looking good now. I'm going to tell your coach you're learning well. Try a little harder and I bet you can nail someone at the clubhouse."
"Looks like you're in the rough again," Carrie says as Jim passes me, cursing. She says, "Still wanna bet? Say, fifty bucks a hole?"
Betting with this woman could only lead to trouble. As I tee up I tell her I'd be happy to bet. "If I lose I'll have sex with you, if you lose you have sex with me," I suggest.
"You know, that's harassment," she says, reminding me she's my boss's boss's administrator and could screw up my employment record without anyone knowing. And hell, what would my dad say if he knew I was propositioning married women? This golf game's in his memory.
Carrie got us a mid-afternoon tee time. We all work for the same company, so she sent us e-mail and at the right time we made excuses and slurked away from the office. Wednesday afternoon. Three weeks after my dad's funeral. They're doing it for me. Good friends.
The Big Bertha's head rests on the mottled grass next to my ball. I make sure I've got my grip correct. And I can hear my dad coaching me. Knees bent. Head down. Clubhead back. Swing through, around, arc, don't-look-don't-look-don't-look at where the ball's going until the follow through.
"Criminy," I say. My ball does what it always does, what it's been doing for the whole of my golf career. A hundred fifty yards out. Right turn. Fifty yards to the right.
In my mind I hear my dad screeching: "You turned your wrists again. You opened the club face. That's why you're slicing like that."
"Fuck. I'm on the other fairway," I say, trying to figure out how to stop turning my wrists. I'm sure the answer to this problem lies hidden with the lost dutchman's treasure because I'll be damned if I can tell if my club face is open or not.
"As usual," Jim says about my hit. He's already past the tee and heading toward his ball in the rough. Carrie and Rick walk together up the middle of the fairway.
And I'm pissed as I always am playing this goddamned game. I hit two strokes for every one the rest of the forsome hits. I wind up traversing alien fairways, digging myself out of sand traps, looking for my ball under the cars in the parking lot.
There's a ball where I think mine went. I pull out a five iron, toss the bag to the ground and line up over the ball as someone screams behind me.
"Hey asshole. You touch that ball, I'll wrap my club around your neck."
I look up to see a guy in chinos, white wing-tipped shoes, a beret, and a yellow cartigan over an Izod shirt. He's approaching me holding his iron in the middle of the shaft like it's about to become a weapon and my mood goes from just plain sour to fire.
I'm thinking, "Come on, you yuppie Mercedes-driving sonofabitch..."
"That's my ball, sport," he says, squaring off in front of me. He's about four inches shorter than me so I have to look down to see the spray of spit emitted from between his flabby, flaccid lips. "I'm playing a Titlist 2."
"And I'm playing a Mickey Mouse 1," I say. I'd given the case of Disneyland balls to my father before his cancer prevented him from playing. He'd never cracked them open. The four of us were playing them in his memory.
"Mickey Mouse," he says, laughing. "Figures. Now step away from my ball." He lowers his club and I raise mine.
I am about to tell him that I'd never actually seen a Ping Eye shoved so far down a man's throat it came out his asshole, but that life was all about the surprise of experimentation. Those words are on my lips when Carrie comes through the stand of trees between the two fairways.
"What's up boys?" she says, walking seductively, her wrists resting at her shoulders on the shaft of a putter she'd slung around the back of her neck.
Cartigan boy's eyes dilate as she kneels in front of him and rotates the ball to show the Mickey Mouse.
"You gonna hit or are you gonna stand here and talk to your tiny-little-yellow-bald-old-hairy-eared friend, here," Carrie says to me. She blows him a kiss and I pick up the ball. He flinches when I shove it under his nose.
"If you had touched this ball," I say, "this woman would have pulled your dick off by the roots and unwound your intestines through the hole." I tell Carrie I'll take a drop, pocket the ball and leave the guy staring at the ground, stuttering insults at his own feet.
When we get back to our fairway Carrie drops a golf ball in front of her. It rolls a couple of inches and I can see the imprint. It's sweater guy's Titlist.
"Don't ask," she says when I choke on a couple of words. "If you're gonna play golf, you gotta play golf. You owe me a beer. Now hit. That's three for you by my count." And she walks toward the green where Rick and Jim are already holing out.
After cheating I'm still triple and quadruple bogeying most of the holes. Carrie's only a couple over. Jim and Rick are neck and neck, heading for an even fifty for nine holes.
At the seventh hole I'm searching for my ball in a thicket of brambles, swearing when I scratch myself on the thorns and draw blood.
"Gotta love a muni course," Rick says, scaring me as he comes in silently from behind. He's holding three beer bottles. Two are opened. He shoves a closed one in my golf bag, "for later." He says, "Carrie schmoozed the beer cart guy into giving us a couple each. It's against course rules, but she whispered something to him and he started giving us beer. I wonder what she said to him."
I tell Rick I don't wanna know. We stand and drink for a minute, talk about work. Talk about my dad. Talk about the game of golf.
"I really hate this game," I tell Rick. "I only ever went out on a course to make the old man happy."
"Aww. Come on. You know what you're problem is? You're too worried about playing. Think, fool. What could be better than this? We're out of work in the middle of the week. We got ourselves a beautiful woman. We got beer. And we got golf. I posit, dear Socrates, that all things a man can conceive to desire fall into one of those categories: women, beer, or golf. You have to be into the zen of it, my dear fellow. Feel the flow. The flow of golf. Oh look. Is that your ball over there?"
Sure enough, ten feet from the brambles is a Mickey Mouse 1 I never saw before. Because I'm not proud I line up over it and slice it into the trap beside the green.
We hole out, have a few drinks, go to our cars in the parking lot. I thank them for taking me out. Appreciate their company, skipping out on work with me, doing those stupid things that seem like nothing but wind up being important.
When we say our "see-ya-laters" we're not thinking about life's ways, how you never really know when something you do is bittersweet because it's the end. That anything, however incidental, becomes magnificent in memory when you can never have it again.
As true as birth and death, there is a last time for everything.
It isn't long after our little golf excursion that three of us find ourselves sitting on a stiff church pew, staring at a mahogany casket in which lies the likeness of our own quarter foursome, Rick. The story was he'd been heading to meet Jim at a meeting in Los Angeles. He was driving to the airport when he suffered a massive heart attack and died behind the wheel at 60 MPH. His white SUV collided with an articulating tanker truck and rolled off the road. No one was hurt, but doctors were saying Rick was dead at the ripe old age of 36.
We sat in that pew wondering if it wasn't a joke. Would Rick get out of the casket laughing about how we'd all overreacted to the news? There was no part of us that could comprehend the reality we were witnessing. We saw him two days ago. Played golf two weeks ago. He was happy and healthy. That silly game couldn't be the last time.
Carrie cries. Jim and I keep from crying by comforting her and searching for boxes of tissues for her. Rick doesn't get out of the casket. Ever. Never feels or explains the flow of golf again.
A couple of weeks later I suggest we cut out of the office for a round of nine holes, but there was no enthusiasm from my two companions. And a couple of weeks after that, Jim and I sit in the same pews at the same funeral home staring at something that looks like Carrie. Her story is she'd been shot by her estranged husband. We wonder in whispers what it was like to be shot, and what evil we could perpetrate on her killer that wouldn't be enough. If we could have him alone, Jim and I, then all this fire and crying would have an outlet.
Without Carrie to need tissues, Jim and I can only stare at the casket and wipe the tears off our cheeks, pretending they aren't there. We sit in the funeral home parking lot staring out the windshield of my car, watching them load the casket into the hearse.
"I can't..." Jim says, choking. "Do you really want to..."
Carrie's being buried next to a golf course. Her father knows that's what she would have wanted.
And I can't either, and I don't. I can't stand on a golf course thinking of her now.
So we drive to a bar in town and drink until being drunk becomes the excuse for two grown men crying their eyes out remembering how beautiful she was, what good friends they both were, and how fucking alone we feel. How afraid.
Jim and I wait, certain our turn will be soon, afraid to see each other for fear that meeting will be our last.
It will be two years before Jim and I go back to the muni with our clubs. We pay for a foursome even though the management can only see two of us and fight the attempts the course personnel make to put two other guys into our group.
When Jim hits the ball goes where it always does. A hundreds yards out and thirty to the left. My ball slices right with a ferocity I've reserved for the occasion. My best ever.
Even though our shots lie on either side of the fairway, Jim and I walk straight up the middle to where we know Carrie and Rick would have their lies.
"If you're gonna play golf, you gotta play golf," Jim says.
"To the flow of golf," I say, dropping a ball in the middle of the fairway.
Life, as always, is good.