He came back to the cup in his hands, lifted it, and finished the coffee. Then he took the yellow check to the cash register at the end of the counter. He dug in his pocket and brought his hand out; in his palm was some change and two white golf tees. He picked out the amount of the bill and handed it to the girl. Then he turned and left the restaurant.
He walked on the crunching gravel past the two cars and toward his own. It was very hot and still, the sun at its apex, and he could see that the two men across the road had quit working and were drinking liquid from a gallon jar. They were talking with the women, who had turned halfway from the road and were looking at them. One of the men saw him looking and nodded. The two women turned to look but gave no sign.
The light on the trunk lid made him squint, and when he opened it it took him a few moments to focus on its contents. There was a suitcase, a garment bag, and a couple of blankets in the bottom. On top of the blankets was a wide-brimmed plantation hat. He took it out and put it on. Shielded from the sun, he felt much cooler. He lifted the blankets and put them on the suitcase. Under them were the heads of four golf clubs sticking out of the canvas mouth of a narrow, white Sunday bag.
He pulled the bag free and leaned it against the car's bumper; it had been resting on a canvas tarp that covered the odds and ends of clothing and household goods which filled the trunk's bottom. Tucked in the fender well was a gunny sack with a number of golf balls in it. He took the sack out, glimpsed the bulk of the two matchboxes in a pillowcase wedged up behind it, and put the sack on the gravel beside the clubs. He felt somebody behind him and turned around.
“Hi,” said the Indian from the restaurant. “You like this place?”
He was not sure if there were any layers in the question,
but the Indian had a very open face and his smile was not forced, so he answered him directly.
“Not much,” he said.
“That's good, I don't like it either. You play golf?” The Indian was eyeing the clubs and the gunny sack. Close up, he looked older than he had seemed in the restaurant. His face was heavily lined from the sun, and he looked well worn. He was about mid-fifty. His teeth were uneven but very white, and his eyes were clear and sharp.
“Yeah, I play a little.”
“I have a relative in golf,” the Indian said, “name of Frank Bumpus, back East, but they call him Wingfoot. He owns a golf course. You headed back East? I see your plates.”
“This is a rental car. Where is your relative? “
“Name of Seaview Golf Links, on what they call the Cape there, in Massachusetts. You headed back East?”
“If I get there,” he said. “If I get there I'll look him up. What's your name?”
“Right, look him up. Bob White, relative from out West. What you gonna do now?”
“Well, I thought I'd go over across the highway and hit some balls out in the desert.”
“I don't play golf,” the Indian said.
“Right,” he said. He reached down to pick up the two bags, but the Indian was not finished yet.
“Tell you what,” the Indian said. “How many balls you got in that bag you gonna hit?”
“About a hundred.”
“Tell you what, who's gonna get those balls after you hit âem?”
“I am,” he said.
The Indian looked off across the highway at the two men who were back at work and the two women. A car had stopped, and the women were showing the jewelry to an old couple who were standing together in front of the blankets. The working men had shed their shirts; their bodies were lean but rounded and not
muscular. They were sweating heavily, the bands around their heads very dark with moisture. Their shovels shooshed in the heavy sand. Their hands spread along the shovel shafts as they cast it out. They were up to their thighs in the ditch.
“I could use just about two dollars and fifty cents,” the Indian said, still looking off across the road. “Tell you what, I'll get those balls after you hit âem.”
“Fine,” he said. “You want the money now?”
“Nope,” the Indian said, and he moved to the trunk of the car and picked up the clubs and the gunny sack. “Where you wanna go? “
“Over there, I guess.”
The Indian walked a little behind him as he crunched across the gravel toward the highway, heading for a place about a hundred yards from where the men and women were working, a place that would put the restaurant windows out of eyeshot. Though the highway was empty for miles in both directions, they stopped at the near side of it before they crossed. He had seen a place on the other side where the desert started a little below the shoulder of the road, a spot that would be protected from the vision of any cars that might pass.
“Is that you in that picture in the restaurant?” he asked.
“May be,” the Indian answered. “Don't remember it though.”
HE HAD BEGUN TO REMEMBER THE PARTICULAR TEXTURE of the Tea Dream often recently. When she was sitting or occasionally standing beside some structure, holding it for support, he'd feel himself slide into a kind of awakening, a clarity that rendered most of the rest dreamlike. That she was dying before his eyes, and would certainly do so soon, were the words; and that he might stay alive beyond her was another consideration. But the experience, the flavor of the dream transition, had to do with immediacy, and it did something for him, though he couldn't say what that thing was. He couldn't say he liked it, but he thought that might be a good, if trivial, way to put it. He would
be sitting beside her on a couch in some place or other, and he would begin to feel, in small increments, the intricate mechanisms of her body working with the cancer; he'd feel it in her skin temperature, the brush of hair tips against his arm, the tentative rhythm of her pulse, but mostly it was her breath that got to him. It had a smell, not jasmine, but sweet and close to that, like subtle exotic tea anyway. And when she dropped her head to his shoulder and he felt her breath pushing against his cheek, he'd smell and feel it at the same time. And then her smell was touch to him, and when he'd get up to get her water or something, and they were in different parts of the room or in other rooms or she was in the backseat of the car and he was driving, he felt that in smelling her he touched her, was attuned in some way to her. The alveoli in her lungs, the small wet sacs, were the place where blood, breath, and cancer systems joined. He imagined them as little sacred chambers in which, like intricate arguments, the elegant battle took place. It was a systems battle, an attempt, in those small globes, for the three energies to dovetail and link, and with each small failure a small accommodation was made. And she was running out of accommodations, so that each new one became more crucial. She knew the result would be her death, but this, in its way, freed her to live in the elegance of the struggle. At least, this was the way he saw or imagined it at times. She was very much alive now, all the time, and he was jealous of her. And yet he was grateful to her, for the inhaling of her. He wanted her often; he had great lust for her. He didn't want to cure her. She seemed the healthy one.
THEY CROSSED THE ROAD AND THE SHOULDER BEYOND it and moved over and down to where the desert floor began. They moved to the left a little, locating a place that was fairly flat: slabs of shale, with a thin layer of sand blown away from them in various places and some seed spill from the road's shoulder that had sprouted into feeble grass. The Indian put the gunny sack and the clubs down, leaning the clubs against a low rock so that
the heads were elevated slightly off the ground. He stood back a little and looked out into the desert. The sun was still high but a little over their shoulders now; the hard lines of their shadows had begun to cast shade to their left. There were a few giant saguaros staggered out in the distance ahead of them and a few barrel cactuses in the spaces between, some clustered and some loners. This and the very spare brush and the sand was all there was from there to the distant mountains.
“I mark that one at about two hundred yards, that big one almost three,” he said, not looking back at where the Indian stood.
“You know, this will take a while.”
“Big one's two city blocks, about,” the Indian said. “I got a while.”
He glanced back sharply, and then he shrugged at the Indian's way of measurement and at his resolve. He reached into the gunny sack and took out a small grasslike mat, a piece of Astroturf. In a corner of it, a small one-inch length of thin hose stood up. He found a flat place and spread the mat out. He reached back to the gunny sack and pulled it over to the right of the piece of turf. Then he lifted the closed corners and let the balls flow out onto the sand. The balls gleamed in the sun. A few had red stripes around them. Some were cut. Others were marked with black paint. The clubs in the Sunday bag were only of fair quality. There was a driver and a fourwood and two irons, a three and a seven. The woods had black, composition heads with red inserts and gold screws; their grips were dark red.
The irons had black grips, were noticeably step-shafted, and came from another set. He took a light-blue golf glove from his back pocket and put it on, pushing between his fingers to snug it up. Then he took the four-wood by its head and pulled it free of the bag. He turned it around and used it to poke one of the balls onto the middle of the piece of turf.
He took his stance, his feet square to the ball, toes slightly outward for stability, knees bent. With his right hand he pushed his hat down on his head. He looked out across the desert, and then
he addressed his attention to the ball. The club head rested on the turf; his hands, at crotch level, held the grip. He moved his hands slightly to the left, bringing them an inch in front of the ball. Then he began. The club head moved back from the ball as the shaft came up in the sun and lifted; the shaft paused for a moment, hanging parallel to his shoulders in the air above him. Then it moved over and downward, coming through to the ball and back over his shoulder from the other side. There was a small sharp click a moment after he had hit. The ball lifted in a low trajectory from the mat. It kept rising until it peaked about forty yards above the desert, and then it gradually sank, and then it hit into the sand. It rolled about ten yards and came to rest on a straight line out from where he had hit it, about halfway between the two large saguaros. It was very easy to see against the desert floor.
“ Two-fifty,” he said and put the four-wood back in the bag and took the driver out.
“Long game,” the Indian said from where he sat on a low rock behind and to the left of him.
He placed a ball on the rubber tee in the corner of the piece of Astroturf and addressed it. This time he started the ball out to the right, but it did not stay there. He had put a slight draw in it, and near its peak it began to bend back left. When its roll had stopped it was twenty feet to the left of the first ball. The third ball hooked even more than the second, but he had started it even further right, and it came back also. When it landed it formed a triangle with the other two, equally close to them. He hit about twenty balls with various degrees of draw in them. They gathered together in their small space in the distance. Then he began to start the balls off to the left, slicing and fading them back in so that they gathered with the others. Some of the time he would come off the ball, dropping his left foot back off his stance after he had hit it, even stumbling occasionally. The balls continued to drop in the cluster. About five times he topped his shot, squirting the balls out only thirty to forty yards; these balls formed a cluster of their own.
He liked to let it come in this way, very casually, and not to force it. He was halfway through the bag and working with the seven-iron when he knew it. He began to be able to feel the club head in the tips of his fingers through the shaft and grip and the difference in his right hand and in his gloved left. When the club face struck the ball, he could feel it in the hair on the inside of his thighs. The swing he had to take to hit the ball seemed very perfunctory, a kind of ritual movement only, and even hitting the ball seemed unnecessary. He simply put the ball where he wanted to put it, and the thing was that no matter how far away he put the ball, or how he got it there, he still felt connected to it. The balls constantly changed their tight pattern in the desert, the pattern he felt he held in him; the balls were out there as a part of the way he was. And he toyed with it. He hit the balls in slightly different places, almost imperceptibly altering their trajectory and final placement.
Behind him, the Indian sat on his rock watching. “Short game,” he thought, as the head of the seven-iron put the balls to rest at the side of a barrel cactus a hundred and seventy yards out in the desert. He took a folded post card from his shirt pocket, opened and studied it, listening to the sharp clicks and the occasional sounds of birds. On one side of the post card was a photograph of a road leading up to a lighthouse. On the left of the road was a small building with two figures standing in front of it. To the right was a brief golf course fairway, with a green at the end of it; a flagstick with a red flag stood up from the center of the green. The lighthouse was prominent and white in the background. In the sky to the left of it a small, precise arrow, pointing downward, had been penned in. At the top of the arrow were the words
. On the other side of the card, beside the address and stamp, was the message:
My dear Relative, thisis my place.I am doing well. You can send my best regards to all.
You can enjoy this view of my place on the other side of this, under my arrow. I wish you well out there. I remain yours truly Frank Bumpus