I stop the car on the way home, slip on a jacket on and head out along the cliff top.
Across the bay, the little lighthouse on the headland flashes its beam of light across the sea. It’s red. The same colour as poppies and blood. And eyes when someone has been crying. A man walks his dog along the path and I try to avoid eye contact. I look out to sea and the white horses smudge.
“You ok?” he said and I have no choice but to answer.
The day had started much as any other. The kitchen had not suffered from overuse during the trip to the moors. The fridge still contained the same milk cartons. But the milk was in the transition stage from liquid to solid. The bin was full of take out containers and remnants of half eaten meals. The Golf Police had been wined and dined and carbonized suppers and odd socks had been put on the back burner. The hanging baskets were more Hiroshimo than Babylon.
“Shame no one watered the hanging baskets”
“No time” said the Golf Police, listening out for traffic reports. The shower and world began its relentless daily routine.
I took my place in the shower queue. Last. The first shower was hot. Second tepid. Third cold.
The Golf Police banged on the bathroom door.“Don’t worry about me”.
The barb and irony fell on ears full of shampoo lather and hot water.
Daughter No. One took her time before she reached for the soft fluffy towels.
“Eight minutes” said the Golf Police. “In parts of Australia you have to shower in three minutes”.
There is no answer from the steamy bathroom.
The tank drained down. The water was cold, the towels less fluffy.
By the time the dishwasher was empty and the next load of washing was spinning around, trains had been caught and another car had joined the traffic. There was a note on the kitchen work top.
Please replenish the milk and honey.
Leave me your petrol receipts and ring about the date for the burglar alarm maintenance check
Please pay cheques into bank and buy two birthday cards and one get well card
Shirt stocks are low and socks are odd
Have a good day
I scan the note and a text pings through from the swindle.
Dont forget we are playing away today. Meet up at the clubhouse. You have been missed. Big Rich
I hit the reply button.
Will see you for coffee. No club whacking. Broken knuckle from canoe collision x
I take the pillow and teddy out of the boot and put the putter in.
“Sure you won’t join us” said Sid. “We’ve missed you”.
“Like you miss a wasp at a picnic” said Big Rich.
“At least we get a look in for the swindle pot” said Pancake.
I wonder if the Foot Prof is good with fingers and watch them leave the car park for new unexplored fairways.
“Have a good one” I whisper as Big Rich roars off.
But their destiny is not mine. I try the putter but pain and the knuckles win hands down.
I turn the car toward the coast and find the familiar front door and smiles.
Rain is forecast and we make the most of the day. A windswept cliff top where kite surfers ride the waves and white horses gallop toward the sand blown shore.
“You warm enough?” I ask and wrap the figure in my waterproofs.
“ I’m fine my sweet. So how is your golf?”
We share a love of the fairways and the dimpled ball. Kneehigh to a daisy, I remember being taken to the little course on the headland. Swinging the club, almost catching my mama’s head on the back swing. I remembered listening to tales of matches. Winning and losing under the watch of the lighthouse. But now the fairways are too long, the wind too strong, and an extra set of clubs sit in the garage.
“ I would like you to have them” my Ma said one day. And the Golf Police knows they are beyond price. No discussion. No compromise. No Ebay bids. I drew the line in the sand when they were tucked in by the other golfing paraphernalia.
“Touch them and you are dead. I will break both your legs”.
I snuggle closer on the bench and make a shield against the Force 5 wind.
And how is your writing?”
“Fine” I said. “The family still want a wizard block buster. A Harry Potter mark Two written in a little cafe. Anything but golf”.
“Promise me you won’t give up on it?”
I turn to take the brunt of the wind. I don’t mention the hits from the weirdos out in cyberspace. The spammers and robots. The malicious and the mean.
“I keep all your stories by my bed. I know them by heart” said my Number One fan. I look out to sea and can’t find the words to reply. I change tack.
“Never did inherit your culinary skills did I?” I tell about the soggy cabbage and burnt sausages for last night’s supper.
“Too busy chasing rainbows and sunsets. Taking on the ocean or cleaning the Augean stables.Cooking skills were not on your radar”.
We talk of childhood. Wave chasing and exploring caves. Tales of smugglers and sea weed fights. And then I know I have to say something. Square the circle and use a big word.
“Sorry” I said.
I want to say for all the times I should have been there. All the calls I should have made. The games of golf I could have cancelled for a trip to the seaside, a hug and a smile. Instead I change tack.
“For the day I let you down”.
We trade smiles and a squeeze of the hand.
“You never let me down. You did your best”.
We talk it through and make things better.
“You can’t change what has gone. No regrets. Let it go”.
The kite surfers whizz faster across the bay. The falls are more spectacular. And frequent. A low weather front moves in and cars put their wipers and lights on. Time to move on.
“Let’s go back to the car” I said. “But first we’ll walk to the other seat.
“It looks a long way” said the figure, small against the wind.
“Pretend its first base”. We make it a game and beat the rain back to the car.
After lunch we look at the vegetable patch and the cross word. Lettuce grow in neat rows, interspersed with bright marigolds. The tomatoes plants are laden and neatly tied to bamboo canes. The beans have scrambled up the poles and the red blossom matches the colour of the rose.
“Ten down. Four letters. Pearls and Pomegranates can’t buy it?” said the small figure from the armchair.
Outside the red rose catches my eye. And somewhere a half snatched memory. A story told on the way home from the beach. The Nightingale and the Rose. The little bird who sang all night and stained the rose red.
The word is love. We tick the clue and move onto the next question as the rain smatters on the glass and blows through the rows of beans.
And far away the Swindle have finished lunch, the balls are thrown up and they walk new fairways. Tread on different greens. And find sand traps. The rain holds off and Big Rich bags a birdie and an eagle. The Sheriff and Ruggy get taken to the cleaners on the Surrey fairways and Sid and The Busman ride shotgun in the buggy.
Time marches. The shirts are calling and I have missed the bank. The cards have not been bought and the socks are still odd.
One last clue.
“ She built it out of music by moonlight. Eleven letters. Begins with ‘n’”. We say the word together.
“Nightingale”. It fits neatly into the blank squares.
One last hug and it’s time to find the motorway. A smile which catches my heart. A hand squeeze, too gentle to hurt the canoe knuckles.
Before the motorway I turn the car away from the road and find the cliff top. The same cliff top where I played the final and a tiny figure walked each fairway with me. Walking in my mother’s footsteps.
I could see the day in my mind’s eye. The sun shone and the shades were firmly on. The opposition would not have disgraced a front row. She meant business and would take no prisoners. The gauntlet was thrown from the start.
“I have played in four of these finals” said The Opposition.
“Never lost one of them”.
I picked up the gauntlet and ran with it. The strike was pure and the putts found the cup. And beneath the summer sun the match ran with the ebb and flow of the tide. Level. One up. Level. One up after fifteen.
And always the small figure on the side of the fairway. Throwing a smile and willing the win.
And as we played away from the cliff top. I made a cardinal mistake on sixteen. I went for the half. Lagged the putt and missed the par. The Opposition rattled in a monster putt on the eighteenth and it was game over. She had become a self fulfilling prophecy. Five finals. Five wins.
“Sorry” I said to the figure by the side of the green. She took my hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I will always love you” she whispered.
The words came back on the cliff top and the wind blew the white horses into the bay and smudged the lighthouse on the headland. The bay of childhood. Caves, waves and memories.
“You ok?” said the man walking his dog.
We make eye contact and exchange pleasantries. He is a golfer. But I don’t tell him about the little figure on the morning windswept cliff. I don’t mention about the sixteenth and the lagged putt. I don’t mention about love which can’t be bought by pomegranates or pearls.
We talk about weather fronts and high tides. Global warming and cliff erosion. But we never mention love or nightingales. Or a final played by the lighthouse on the headland. Walking in my mother’s footsteps.