Green Pants and Lavender Golf Carts
by Jacqueline Powers
The first golfers were struggling over the canal when Tom sat down on the back porch, eyeing the bowl of cereal and bananas. Grace knew he wanted bacon and eggs, but worried about his heart. That was the least of his worries, but Grace didn't know that. He spread raspberry jam on his bagel. Seedless. He hated seedless. Grace knew that, too. But she hated picking seeds out of her teeth all morning. Hated when he said that gave him something to do.
"What about my gardenia?" Grace asked.
"I'll get to it," Tom said, walking out.
The mailboxes were clustered in metallic pods of twenty-four at various spots along the streets. Tom's box was a block-and-a-half away. During the short trip in his lavender golf cart Tom passed three cars, three other golf carts the color of Easter eggs and two sets of walkers. Reluctantly Tom waved to them all. He hated these obligatory waves, thought about rigging a mechanical arm to the cart. Today he was alone at the mailboxes. That was fine. He wasn't in the mood for small talk. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his key ring. It was the little silver key beside the sterling golf tee Grace had given him last year, engraved with his initials. He riffled quickly through the pile of mail, which was thicker than usual. Junk. A couple of bills. Something from the census. That was it. He checked again, more slowly. Nada. Zip. Knees weak, he breathed a sigh of relief. Glanced left and right. The sand hill cranes, two of them, were headed toward him down the middle of the street, but that was all. He put the mail on the seat of the cart and drove home.
Tom watched Bill fix himself a second scotch and water. Bill mixed a strong drink. Deep amber. Grace was in Bill and Vera's bedroom, admiring her new drapes. Bill was recovering from triple bypass surgery. He'd lost weight. His clothes looked like they belonged to someone else, someone more robust. Tom wasn't the kind of man who usually noticed much about the way other men looked, but he noticed this. Bill wasn't a big man, but he had always carried himself like one. He walked with his shoulders pulled back and his chest puffed out, almost with a strut. Well, he wasn't walking like that now. Tom thought he walked easier, his shoulders a bit stooped.
Bill had confided to Tom that the sharp edge of the surgeon's knife had cut more than his chest. Bill hadn't figured out what to do about that, but he felt he was on the edge of something, some kind of understanding, and while he waited for it to come to him it had heightened his powers of observation. He had told Tom he saw things differently now, whatever that meant. Tom wondered if it meant Bill felt more in control now, or less. Cut loose, somehow.
Bill covered a Ritz cracker with cream cheese and red pepper jelly and handed it to Tom. Tom shook his head.
"Look, Tom, don't push it. Cut yourself some slack."
"I'm alright. Just a little tired."
Grace and Vera walked back into the room, ready to head to The Pub. Tom set his glass down with a clunk and stood up. He swayed, reaching out to brace himself on the edge of the table. His gray face turned white. Sweat slicked his forehead. The bags under his eyes looked bruised.
"I'm going home. I think I need to lie down. Grace, can you drop me off?"
It was dusk when Tom startled awake in his recliner, the sand hill cranes demanding dinner next door. He looked at his watch. 7:30. Grace was still at The Pub and Tom was grateful for that. He knew just what he wanted to do, and walked to his golf cart with a sureness he hadn't felt in weeks. If he didn't know better, he'd almost say he felt good. He felt lighter, as though some of the excess weight that had slowly mounted in soft ridges around his middle had suddenly dropped away. He looked down and patted his stomach, below the white belt on his navy shorts. Still there, no question about that, but it felt lighter.
He got into his cart and quickly drove the few blocks back to the path that led to the lake. He hoped he didn't pass anyone, not tonight, and he didn't. He parked by the gardens, which looked strangely bereft in the gloom. Tin pie pans, dangling from strings to keep the birds away, glimmered like Christmas tree ornaments, reflecting the light of the moon. Tom looked up. The moon was huge and hung directly over the junction where the side canal met the main canal leading to the lake. The moonlight made a path along the dark water, past the tall reeds and rushes that lined the canal on either side, leading into the swampland beyond. Something howled, maybe a bobcat. A bird screeched.
Tom thought he saw a pair of eyes and a distinctive angled forehead jutting from the dark water near the far bank, directly under the moon. It looked big—bigger than the ones he was used to seeing. He wondered if female gators ate their young. He thought about stepping off the bank, into the warm, shallow water. He thought about sinking slowly into the muck, up to his belly, bobbing like a buoy, then sinking to his shoulders, letting the warm water and mud close over him. He thought about setting out from the bank and swimming the length of the canal, arms and legs splashing in the dark, along the moonlit path, toward the mama gator, which he saw now wasn't a gator at all, just a tree branch cutting the surface of the water.
Tom sat down on the bank and took off the white rubber shoes Grace had laughed at. Old man shoes. He dipped his feet into the water, knowing it was foolish, knowing he was tempting fate, and gators, and water moccasins and cotton mouths and every other damn predator in central Florida, including doctors. But then, he didn't give a damn. He thought about his daughter in New York and his sons in New Jersey. He thought about his grandchildren, scattered around. For a minute he couldn't breathe, like a golf ball was lodged in his throat. He wondered about the turns people took. He'd started with nothing and had worked hard, head down, eyes trained on the distance like a laser, the present reduced to a dot. Now it was green pants and lavender golf carts and Bloody Marys at noon. Unless. Unless what? He thought about Bill with his gray face and his swagger subdued, yet feeling nonetheless that he was on the edge of something.
The water was beginning to feel cool. The skin on his feet started to shrivel. He got up and threw first one shoe, then the other, into the canal. Slowly one filled with brackish water, then sank. The other floated, drifting down the canal. Then it, too, sank. Sand crunched between his toes as he walked barefoot back to the cart. The lights were on when he got home. Grace would be worried. He bumped his sore knee climbing out of the cart and winced. He stood beside the driveway for a minute, looking up into the night sky. The moon looked smaller hanging over the fourth green. It hung low, and he imagined it dropping onto the green, shattering into a million shards. He caught a whiff of something in the air. Something sweet, pungent. The gardenia sat waiting beside the stairs.
Copyright©2004 Jacqueline Powers