Sometimes you never see things coming.
It had been a day much as any other. The daily routines and rituals which make up our lives. Burnt toast and unwashed coffee spoons. Toothpaste squeezed in the middle. Odd socks and wet towels on the bathroom floor.
The relentless rush hour. Crowded commuter trains heading to the city as passengers checked emails or shouted on their smart phones. Motorways, with flashing matrix signs and speed restrictions, gridlocked with impatient drivers running late for meetings, deliveries and flights.
And set in stone, the Monday meet for the Swindle at the golf club. The usual tee time booked, bets placed and banter traded over coffee. The usual stakes. Front nine. Back nine and overall. Nearest the pin on seventeen. Ball drop on the first tee, allegiances and alliances formed within fourballs. Secret side bets placed.
The sun shone as tee shots headed down the fairway to the first green. Bunkers caught wayward shots and pitch shots landed on receptive greens. The pins varied from evil to moderate. Lady Luck rode with some, and on others turned her imperious back, and left them to their fate and the rough.
When the points were tallied up, Big Rich won overall and nearest the pin and had to cut himself.
“About time you did some self harming”, said Gus
“I’ll try playing off ten for a month” said Big Rich. “See how it goes”.
“Generous” said The Busman.
An early tee time was booked for later in the week.
“See you Wednesday” said Sid.
“About time you bought some new shoes” said The Sheriff, looking in my direction.
On the way home, I stopped off and tried to get some new spikes.
“Forget it” said The Pro. “They should be binned,”.
“Looks like you have hiked to China. And back”.
He was a good salesman.
I bought some new shoes. White, with a slash of colour on the side. Size Five.
“Should knock a few shots off your handicap. Amazing what a difference spikes will make to your game. How do you want to pay?”
“Cash” I said. “No paper trails for The Golf Police”.
We traded smiles. There is complicity in secrets and shared smiles.
And still it was just an ordinary day.
The clubs were put away in the garage. The shoes were hidden in the back of the wardrobe.
It was time for supper. The fridge was empty, except for some tired tomatoes, dried cheese and limp celery.
I goggled pasta recipes, lobbed in some garlic and onions and opened a bottle of wine.
“That smells good”, said The Golf Police.
The lights were dimmed, olive oil coated the apricots liquid gold and long stemmed glasses were filled with wine, from grapes warmed on the slopes of Italian vineyards.
“So, how was golf?”
“Fine” I said.
I did not mention Sid’s chip in or the new shoes.
And then there was the phone call. The last supper before everything changed. Forever.
Life and loss. Loss and life.
I turned my back on the fairways and the clubs stayed in the garage gathering dust. The shoes never came out of their box. They remained hidden in the bottom of a wardrobe.
The Swindle rang and sent texts.
We know how you feel x
When are you coming back x
We miss you on those fairways x
You need to wear those shoes x
Don’t give up on the game. Or us x
In the end they stopped sending them. Just the one.
We are here when you need us xx
I put an ad on ebay local.
One pair of golf shoes, never worn. Size Five.
I posted them to the highest bidder and we got on with our lives.
Seasons passed. Pink blossom fell from cherry trees. Spring gave way to summer with its’ pollen laden bumble bees and parched fairways. Autumn came, stole the long summer evenings and hid the wayward tee shots under gold and russet leaves. Winter blew in, with an arctic blast as intrepid golfers shivered on frosty fairways.
The Old year crept away to the pages of history and a new one took its place.
And one evening, after supper, the Golf Police asked the question.
He waited until the plates were in the dishwasher and the sugar from the apple crumble was bubbling in the dish. The custard was being stirred on the stove.
“Why don’t you play golf anymore?”
I stirred the lumps harder, until the spoon made a metallic sound on the sides of the saucepan. The radio was playing softly in the corner. Take That was singing ‘What Do You Want From Me’ and the custard lumps collided with the silver spoon.
And it all came back. The call. Memories. A match played on the chalky cliff top, by the lighthouse guarding the headland.
A scorching hot summer day, when the fairways were hard and the drives ran forever. The greens were fast and true and the only sounds were the dimpled ball being struck and the skylarks. The ebb and flow of a tight match and a tiny figure almost lost in the long, linksy grass. Level at the turn, one up after twelve. Then the miscued lagged putt, trying to play safe and go for the half. Level on the fifteenth. One fortuitous, monstrous putt on the last green and the fairy tale ended. The putt rewrote the script. The victory, within sight of the bay of childhood, snatched away.
And the little squeeze of the hand and the soft voice whispering:
“It doesn’t matter. I will always love you”.
And we would never walk those fairways again and hear the putts drop. No more smiles. Just memories and the sound of the skylarks, on lonely cliff tops.
The question hung in the air and remained unanswered, as the custard coated the apple crumble.
In the garage, the clubs gathered dust, half hidden under bikes and the garden hoe. And in the wardrobe, a space just large enough for a pair of shoes.