| Addled |
By JoeAnn Hart
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The Angle of Approach
IT WAS a perfect lie. Charles Lambert handled his 3-iron as reverently as a divining rod, its finely calibrated balance sending a golden hum to his brain. The fairway lay open at his feet, presenting no obstacles between him and Plateau, the elevated green of Hole #14—200 yards away, still well within his capabilities. Still. Up at the club house, he heard fabric slap and cables clank as Old Glory fought the morning breeze, and he made a mental calculation to correct for the wind. If only he could freeze it all, these precious moments before the club made contact with the ball, when anything was possible.
He could even win. He was playing a decent game in spite of not getting out on the course nearly enough that spring. Freedom at the office had been sorely curtailed, what with one corporate scandal and SEC investigation after another. Here it was, the Fourth of July weekend, and he wasn't even tan yet—not naturally so, at any rate. He'd had to borrow bronzing gel from Madeline's bag of tricks for these ambered arms, making him feel like the vigorous youth he was not so long ago. Indeed, his muscles were still firm, his wrists supple and pronated, his hands—properly V-clasped firmly around the staff—as strong as ever. In a nod to authenticity, he'd even kept the bronzer off his left hand where a golf glove would have blocked the sun.
He looked down at the dimpled ball, then back up at the broad fairway. To the right, the wall of vegetation that straddled his backyard threw a purple shadow on the course. When he was a boy, he used to play over there, knocking acorns around with a stick—looking over the gate. How proud he was the first time his father brought him along for a game. He was no taller than a golf bag and yet he'd felt like one of the men, a hunter of balls, a conquering hero. But hunters and heroes did not, as a rule, wear bronzing gel, did they? When had vanity replaced his old selfassurance, his self- mastery—his self? Why was it that when his father turned silver at the temples he'd been called distinguished, but when his own chestnut hair lost its depth he was simply growing old? It wasn't fair to change the rules like that. Slings of flesh—jowls—had begun to round off his chin, once so pointed and cleft. His entire infrastructure was aging. After the game, he had to go see his dentist about a cracked tooth.
He tried to focus, reaching back to a lifetime of lessons: straight arm, bent knee, head down, eye on the ball. Or inner eye on the ball, as Steeve from the Buddha Ball Clinic would say—the double e's in his name like hooded eyes—enigmatically adding that "the hole and the ball have been one throughout eternity." If that were the case, Charles sniffed, then what was the point of going through the motions? And "be the ball" was nothing more than what Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, a movie Steeve claimed never to have seen. What sort of golf pro was that?
But the three days and twelve hundred dollars were not entirely wasted. He did grasp the concept about forging a connection between hand, mind, and club, and the importance of keeping the head still—mentally, not just physically—to make room for abundance in his shot. But stillness eluded him. Steeve told him that it could not be sought, and the best he could do was prepare himself to receive it.
"How do I do that?" Charles had asked.
"You must find your own path," Steeve had said, with what Charles felt was a spiritual smirk. "No one can tell you. Be natural. Let it go to let it in."
"Of what?" Charles had been exasperated. "What do I let go of ?"
"Striving. Trying so hard." Steeve had stroked his severely clipped beard and studied Charles. "And if you can't let go, try loosening your grip."
Finally, some decent golf advice.
Charles waggled his club and breathed in deeply as he relaxed his hands, but then a chunk of air lodged at the base of his throat. How had a moment of peace degenerated so quickly into another opportunity for anxiety? He shifted his weight to his left foot and rotated his shoulders. At least he was tall—not shrinking yet!—and that gave him an edge. Even an inch or two made a difference in being able to assess the lay of the land. He could see, off in the distance, that old duffer Howie Amory disappear into the dogleg of #16, and over there, a stately parade of Canada geese was marching up from Oxbow Lake. The birds acted like they owned the place, posing in their formal attitudes, luxuriously plucking at the green turf. If they could hold a club with those feathered limbs, they'd be better than he was by the end of the summer. It used to be his fortunes that were on the rise; now it was his handicap. But a man's game only improved in proportion to the time available to work on it, and since his fiftieth birthday he'd felt he had no time at all.
He readjusted his grip and felt the scorecard in his pocket dig into his groin. He could sense his partners shifting uneasily as they ran out of small talk, waiting for him to take his shot. Gregg, Neddy, and Andrew, all friends and colleagues, had only a two-minute reserve of conversation, even among themselves. That is, unless they were involved in some sport so they wouldn't have to look at one another, but only look at the ball, and discuss the ball, what the ball did, why it did it, and what could be done to either encourage it or keep it from doing it again. It could be a golf ball on Saturday morning, or it could be a baseball tuned in to the radio in an air- conditioned Land Rover. It could be a football on a home- theater screen as they fended off another sleety New England winter on tufted- leather sofas. They could even be entertained by a Day-Glo tennis ball soaring over the heads of their wives in mixed doubles. The ball made them happy, but it had to keep moving. It made them nervous when it stopped for too long, foreshadowing the inevitable day when it—and they—would stop moving altogether.
Charles wrapped himself in a tight cocoon of concentration as he raised his club high, determined not to hesitate at the apex, hesitated anyway, and swung. The contact reverberated through his body as if he were sending a piece of himself into the universe, soaring. Up and up—the small white voyager sailed through the blue sky as through a heavenly sea, and his mind's eye followed along, looking at the course from high above, down at the giant amoebas of putting greens, the luxurious tops of trees, the reflective gaze of water hazards, all fitting together like pieces of a master puzzle. Then the ball—and the vision—began to fall from flight, plunging down, and down again, until the pieces broke apart. Neddy gasped in an asthmatic wheeze, simultaneous with the distant squa-a-ak. A grazing Canada goose fell over in a violent gesture, then went still.
The golfers, too shocked to laugh, stared at the inert body in the distance and waited to see if maybe it wouldn't decide to get up and shake off the whole affair. When they realized that such was not going to be the case, they walked over in trepidation, stepping over the divot.
Charles got there first and squatted by the goose spread in supplication on the flawless grass. He was about to touch it, until Andrew, slight and sandy, put his hand over his mouth and shook his head. Holding his 3- iron like a harpoon, Charles prodded the feathered body until it rolled over, causing the head to settle at an unnatural angle. Blood appeared at its nostrils.
"How disgusting," said Andrew, scrunching up his face, an act that made his Adam's apple protrude even more.
"Well done, Charles," said Neddy, laughing. He lowered his fireplug of a body and tugged at a wing feather. "What a pity hunting season doesn't open for another six months."
Gregg, a massive hulk of a human, bald and bubble- gum pink, got his best club out of his bag: The USGA's Rules of Golf. "You can't play the game without knowing the rules," he always said. He began to pace, digging his cleats into the turf with every lumbering step as he turned the pages, searching for an answer. Andrew, abnormally upright by orders of his doctor and chiropractor, who catered to his tight, fl inching spine, stepped away from the body and pulled a cell phone out of his pants pocket. Phones were forbidden on the course, but then again, as he often pointed out, so was foul language. And besides, he kept the phone on vibrate and only made outgoing calls when he had to. He dialed the grounds crew to clear away the mess.
Charles collapsed to a one- legged kneel, using his club as a staff to balance himself. He pressed his lips together and tasted blood where his cracked tooth had rubbed at his inner flesh, and he stared at the bird. The feathers of one wing were spread open like a fan, the tip pointing up, beckoning him. The bleakness and terrible reality of existence seeped into his very being, all on this fine blue day, played upon this smooth green grass. He'd been aiming for the other side of the fairway altogether. How was one to go on with the game?
"Is there a penalty?" asked Gregg, stabbing a finger in his book. "What do I look under?"
"Augury," croaked Charles.
"There's nothing here about that." Gregg paced in wider and wider circles with every rotation, not looking up from the Rules.
"Is a goose a natural obstruction or an outside agent?"
"Augury?" Neddy snorted, then stood with a groan, straightening the crease of his butter- yellow pants. "Charles, we should never have let you go to that wacky clinic this winter. Soon you'll be playing golf and buying bonds by examining the entrails of birds."
"Entrails!" Andrew turned his back to the men and shouted into the phone, his hand over one ear. "You'd better hurry."
Charles stood up with great effort, trembling at the joints. "I can't say we wouldn't all do any better if we did." He wiped his forehead with his arm, smudging his skin-deep glow, and looked up in time to see a lone crow sweep over them to inspect the carnage.
Excerpted from Addled , by JoeAnn Hart . Copyright (c) 2007 by JoeAnn Hart . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top