There are no dragons taking tea this week. No baking reapers. No friendly monsters at all, in fact. Instead, we have a short fiction regarding the importance of not encroaching on your spouse’s golf time. And certainly on the dangers of not listening to her.
This particular story is absolutely a what-if – the route from home up into the hills often takes us past the golf course in Biot, and I happened to be the passenger one day. There were plenty of people sweating around the green in the late spring heat, looking fairly hot and bothered, and I said to the SO, “What if…?”
He really was a very patient captive audience.
The Water Hazard
“No! You’re doing it all wrong.”
“Am I, dear?” Laura asked wearily.
“Yes. You’re not following through on your swing properly.”
“And your stance is terrible. Maybe you need new shoes. We should get you new shoes.”
“I like these shoes.” Laura rested the golf club against her shoulder and peered down at the footwear in question. They were – or had once been – canary yellow, and were comfortably scuffed.
“We’ll get you new ones,” Saul declared, and gave her a little hurry-up gesture. “Well? Are you going to play, or what?”
Laura had a brief but satisfying vision of smacking the golf club straight into his carping, whinging mouth, but then there’d be blood to clean up, and dentists to go to, and complaining, complaining, complaining. So she settled her stance, trying to ignore her husband huffing and tsk-ing next to her, and swung the club in a smooth, relaxed movement, hearing the satisfying chunk of connection as she twisted in the follow through.
Saul humphed. “I’m amazed you get the distance you do. Your form’s awful.”
Awful enough to know her handicap was one of the best in the club, but there was no point mentioning it. There was never any point mentioning things like that. She took her water bottle from the buggy and had a sip as he fussed, wind-milled his arms to stretch out, set his ball on the tee, moved it half an inch, shaded his eyes to peer down the fairway, moved the tee another half-inch, and finally started to settle himself in position. She swallowed a sigh.
“What was that?” he asked her, straightening up. “Did you say something?”
“I thought you said something.” He peered at her suspiciously, and she wondered if she’d ever actually found him attractive. Handsome, yes – even now, newly retired and carrying a little belly, he was handsome. But attractive was something else entirely.
She waved the bottle at him. “I was having some water.”
“Huh. Well, be quiet. I’m concentrating.”
He turned to the fairway, and she gave his back a mock-salute. Such a pity she hadn’t had anything else to do today, and he’d cornered her before she could come up with a plausible excuse. She hadn’t played golf with him for at least ten years, and she was starting to remember why.
“So, why couldn’t you play at your club, dear?” she asked as they followed the trail of their balls down the fairway. Hers was on the edge of the putting green, she noted with some satisfaction. Even with the distraction of Saul’s comments, she’d still hit further and more accurately than him.
“Well, now that I’m not in the office every day, your club’s much handier.”
“I didn’t know you were thinking that.” She tried to keep a small note of panic out of her voice.
“Well, I also had a falling out with a few members of the committee. They didn’t want me on it. Can you imagine? The skills and experience I could bring to that place, and all I got was, oh, we’re not looking for any more board members right now, Saul. When that doddery old Alfred should have been retired ten years ago!”
Laura made a small, commiserating noise, and wondered where the next nearest club was. She’d miss her regular golf buddies, of course, but it was better that than have to put up with Saul on the green as well as everywhere else.
“And isn’t this nice? Spending time together?” He gave his wife a gentle, one-armed hug, and smiled down at her. “We haven’t done this for years.”
She smiled back at him in spite of herself. It was true, they hadn’t done it for years. Between kids, and work, and just life, time together had been hard to come by. Which, over the years, she’d decided was no bad thing. Saul’s presence seemed to throw her off balance, to undermine her foundations and make things shaky. In theory, he was a wonderful person to be with. Maybe he even had been, once. In practise – well, in practise living separate lives out of one house seemed by far the best option. And divorce just seemed like such a hassle. Especially as her investments had shored up his business for so many years, so the settlements would be complicated, and then there was alimony, and custody, and – no. It had worked. She examined his face as they walked together, his arm snug around her. Maybe it could still work. This – yes. This was nice.
“There’s your ball,” Saul said.
Laura frowned. “That’s your ball. Mine’s on the green.”
He laughed, a hearty aren’t-you-cute laugh, and patted her bottom. “You’re so funny, love.” And he left her there, marching over to her ball. She scowled after him, and swung her club a few times. No. She’d been right the first time. This was not going to work.
Ten holes down and she had a pounding headache. She’d taken a couple of paracetamol, but she could still feel the tight bands of stress across her forehead, fore-runner of a migraine if she wasn’t careful. And she knew why. The silly sod kept stealing her balls and acting like she was the one trying to cheat when she protested. She wondered if she should just throw her golf club across the fairway, like tennis players sometimes did, and storm off. Only then he’d probably say something condescending about “ladies’ problems”, and she’d end up throttling him with that ridiculous tartan bandanna he was using to keep the sun off his neck. Prison would certainly give her a break from him, but it wasn’t her first choice.
“Are you alright, Laura?” a new voice asked, and she lowered her hand from over her eyes to give the golf pro a half-hearted smile. He had two women in tow, already bright pink with sunburn and effort.
“Hi, Giles. Just a bit of a headache.”
He followed her gaze to Saul, chest puffed out over his checkered green trousers as he fussed on the putting green. At least he couldn’t steal her balls on there. That was going too far even for him, and so far he’d taken three shots and still hadn’t sunk the thing yet. “So I see,” Giles said. “Not helping your handicap today, then?”
She smiled, properly this time. “Not today.”
“Ah, well.” He touched a hand to his forehead in mock-obsequiousness, tipped her a wink she just glimpsed behind his sunglasses, and turned to shepherd his students away.
“Wait! You – you work here, yes?” Saul had straightened up, sweat beading on his cheeks.
Laura resisted the urge to cover her face with her hands again.
“I’m the golf pro, yes.”
“There’s something wrong with this hole. The ball won’t go in.”
Giles looked at him, his expression carefully blank, and repeated, “The ball won’t go in.”
“No. I think there’s a ridge around the hole, or something. You need to look at it.”
“I’m actually giving lessons right now-”
“I pay to use this course! I expect things to be in working order!”
“I see. Well, I can get someone from maintenance-”
“We’re playing now. It needs to be working now.”
“It’s okay, Laura, I’ve got this under control.” Saul glared at Giles with his chest so puffed out in his pale pink polo shirt that he looked like an enraged parakeet. “Just take a look, can’t you? These ladies look like they could use a break, anyway.”
The ladies in question looked slightly bewildered, but Giles nodded. “Fine. I’ll take a quick look, then call maintenance if I find anything.” He selected a putting iron from his bag and crossed to the green, sparing Laura a sly sideways grin as he went. She followed the two men.
“I tell you, the ground’s rough close to the hole. Or there’s a slope.”
Giles crouched down, running tanned fingers over the close-cropped grass. “Huh. Maybe.” He straightened up and looked at Laura. “Care to try?”
“Well, you won’t have any more luck,” Saul told her. “There’s something wrong, I’m telling you!”
“I’m sure you’re right, dear,” she said, lining up the shot. She gave the ball a soft little just-so tap, and it scooted across the ground, hesitated, then dropped neatly into the hole.
No one spoke for a moment. Then one of Giles’ students said, “Did you teach her? Because that’s amazing!”
“She’s a natural,” Giles said, and gave Saul the full benefit of his smile. “We’ve got a lesson to get on with.”
Saul was still staring at the hole, the ball nestled inside like an uninspired Easter egg. “Sure,” he said. Then, when the trio had left – not without Giles tipping Laura that conspirator’s wink again – he looked at her and said, “That’s still my ball.”
“Of course,” she said. “Why not.”
The fourteenth hole, and Laura’s headache was spreading, turning to tight knots of tension in her shoulders that made her swings uncomfortable. She’d run out of water, too, because they’d been out here for so damn long. They’d even had to let four groups play through, and that hadn’t improved her mood.
“Dammit,” Saul snapped. He had sweat stains under his arms, and his nose was painfully red. His ball had overshot the green and vanished into the long grass just before the water hazard. He’d stopped stealing her balls after the fiasco on the tenth, and mostly stopped talking, too. Laura sighed. She shouldn’t have taken the shot. She should have just told Giles to do it himself, but there was a mean little part of her that wanted to rub her husband’s face in the fact that she was a better player than him, that wanted him to feel small for once. She was ashamed of it, but – but. It had felt good.
“Take another one,” she said, her voice mild.
“No.” He gave her a sulky look. “I’ll hit it back.”
“Not from there. Not by the water hazard.”
“Why on earth not? It hasn’t gone in.”
“We just – we don’t. Not within two metres of the water. See? There’s a sign.” She pointed to the neat Do Not Enter placard anchored in the grass, between them and where the ball had disappeared. Beyond it, the water of the mini-lake was placid and dark, a gap in the brightness of the day.
“Why? Is the bank unstable? That’s very unsafe. Health and safety-”
“I don’t know, Saul. It’s just club rules. No one goes in.” Not even the mowers.
He humphed. “Well, I’m not losing a ball for an ‘I don’t know’. It’ll be fine.” He stomped off towards the water hazard, his posture very clearly that of a man hot, thirsty, and fed up with Nonsense.
“Saul, wait!” She jogged after him, catching his arm just before he stepped off the shorn grass of the green. “Don’t. Just get another ball and go from here.” This close, the water seemed to be watching her, and she didn’t want to look at it directly. Reeds formed strange shapes on the edge of her vision.
He shook her off, mouth twisting into a sneer. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Something else to laugh about with your golf crones and that creep of a golf pro?”
“No, I’m not stupid. I know you don’t want to be out here with me. Think you’re some hot shot in your pathetic little club, don’t you? All special?”
“Saul, don’t go near the water.” She could smell it now, boggy and stagnant, and she imagined the corpses of birds sinking into the thick mess of mud and silt somewhere in the depths, nesting among the lost balls.
“Don’t go near the water,” he mimicked her in a sing-song voice. “I thought we could have a nice day, but no. You and your eternal superiority, your headaches, your sighs. I don’t know why I bothered.”
“Just leave the ball,” she said. “It’s a game. It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters. Everything matters.” He pulled away from her and strode into the long grass, then started digging through it with his hands. “Where is the damn thing? And I’ll hit it out from here, Laura. See if I don’t.”
“Saul, please! We don’t go in there!” She hovered on the edge of the long grass, on the edge of safety, smelling that festering stink, seeing the way the still water refused to reflect the sky.
“’We’? Who’s ‘we’? You and your girlies making up stories and simpering about some over-the-hill golf pro who wouldn’t look twice at any of you?” He was still digging through the grass. “Where is the damn thing?”
“You’re not going to find it. Just come out.” Her headache was well into migraine territory, and she couldn’t even muster the energy to feel offended over being called both a crone and a girlie in the space of one conversation.
“Jesus, it stinks in here. No wonder they don’t want anyone going anywhere near it. They can’t have done any maintenance on the bloody thing for years.”
“Saul, just listen, would you? Come out!”
“Oh, shut up, Laura!” He straightened up, and they stared at each other in shock. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m being an arse, aren’t I?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Look, I’ll just get the ball-”
“Leave the goddamn ball!” The smell was so strong she was gagging on it, and she backed away, trying to find fresh air. God, her head hurt. And her eyes were swimming, even behind her sunglasses.
“Well, there’s no need to talk to me like that.” The old Saul, glimpsed for an instant, was gone again, and the sulky lip and furrowed brow was back. “But if you’re going to make such a bloody fuss – wait. It’s there!” He waded through the grass to the edge of the water. “It almost went in.”
“Saul!” The shout made pain splash across her forehead, but her vision was clear enough now. The ripples in the lake, arrowing towards the shore, spilling off the movement of something unseen in the dirty water.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got-” He straightened up, waving the ball at her, then stopped and stared at the water with a frown. “What – is there something in here? Laura, I think there’s an alligator in the water hazard!”
“It’s not an alligator,” she said wearily, and too quietly for him to hear. He’d know soon enough.
“Laura? Laura – on my God, what is that?”
She turned away and walked back to the golf buggies, away from the stink. “We don’t have alligators here.”
“Mine,” something said, the word raspy but unmistakable, and Saul’s voice rose into a scream that was rapidly cut off by a splash. Just the one. Then there was silence. There were no frogs in the pond, but there were plenty of birds to fill the quiet. Laura took Saul’s water bottle and had a sip, rolling her shoulders. The tension seemed to have eased somewhat.
Giles slid onto the bench seat next to Laura. “Did you survive the game from hell?”
She smiled, and sipped her G&T. “I did.”
“No more trouble with faulty holes, I hope.”
“Only with the Water Hazard.”
“Oh. Oh dear.” He gave her an uncertain look. “Um – condolences? Felicitations?”
“He should have stuck with his own club. There was never any trouble when he was at his own club.”
“Well.” Giles drank from his water bottle and laid his forearms on the table. “Retirement changes relationships, they say.”
“So they say.”
They drank their respective drinks in companionable silence for a little longer, then Laura nodded to Saul’s clubs, propped up next to her own. “Can you put them in the shop? No point having them lying around, cluttering up the garage.”
Giles nodded. “Sure. Then do you fancy a late lunch?”
She gave him a disapproving look. “The Water Hazard just ate my husband.”
“Maybe tomorrow.” She got up and went to check Saul hadn’t left his house keys in his golf bag. That would be just like him.
So what do you think, lovely people? Would you have left Saul to the tender mercies of the Water Hazard? Are you a golfer? Would you be more of less likely to play if there was this sort of entertainment to be had? Let me know below!