Enhanced Forgiveness

Fiction
Brian Coughlan


Photo Credit: Ken Mattison (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo Credit: Ken Mattison (CC-by-nc-nd)

He avoided a head-on collision by swerving, to his side of the road, at the last moment. Multiple horns blaring. Headlights flashing. A driver’s middle digit, pressed to windshield. Receding like last impressions. On the steering wheel his hands tremble with a febrile twitch under matted black hair. The cause of the twitch rests on the back seat: the Encore Destroyer Pro Deluxe—with five percent larger titanium body; in-built ball flight optimization technology, and elliptical sweet-spot providing enhanced forgiveness. A certified fanatic. No other meaning or priority, only the associated feel of cool breeze and smell of freshly cut grass. The putter and the damage done. Always thinking of his next round—everything else, shoved into a tiny corner—sadly neglected.

He has no earthly idea what the term enhanced forgiveness means, but it sure does sound impressive. Enhanced Forgiveness. Repeated like a mantra. So soft sounding to the ear. Enhanced… Forgiveness. His unremarkable car comes to an abrupt stop with a slight skid of bald tyre on loose chippings of the car park associated with Knightsbrook Golf Course, est. 1899. There, with prodigious solemnity, the Encore is lifted from the back seat, held aloft and wiped down with a cloth that came ‘free’ with the club. Nine hundred and forty five pounds and a free cloth. The Encore is added to an already impressive arsenal before his squeezing into a pair of old, and much too tight, golf shoes.

Day one. The Third Annual Trust Corp Pharma® Three-ball Charity Classic. He is drawn to play with Dick-something and Tom-something-else. Back-slapping and wheezy-chested cigar laughter accompany them from the clubhouse. The three men have never met before, are at best only vaguely aware of each other’s existence. Dick is some kind of Vice President of such-and-such and Tom a Senior So-and-So. Not that it matters a damn to him. The Encore has been procured to solve a problem with his game. The problem is a recurring hook, to the left, something that has crept in, just in the last couple of months, something he has identified as originating with his driver, the old one.

What a glorious day for golf: just a very slight breeze coming in from the sea and bright blue skies in almost every direction. Manly uneasiness accompanies the threesome like a stink as they amble towards the first tee. There they wait for the group ahead to finish putting and bask in the greenery around them. His two opponents begin a full-blooded conversation about the refugee crisis engulfing the continent. He wishes they would stop. This is neither the time nor the place. The conversation they are having should be taking place in the clubhouse. Over one too many gin-and-tonics. When the scores are in. Just before the prize-giving is due to begin. When they have all had a bit of grub and everything is finished with, only then should the world be put to rights, in his opinion.

He does his best to nip it in the bud. “Lot of rain last night, lads. Greens could be slower than usual.” His two opponents nod and scrutinize him. Harry does likewise. The older man puffs on a cigar. The younger man pulls on a cigarette. A very clear smoke signal. Two unfit casual golfers most likely lacking in athleticism. Harry pretends to be distracted, produces from one of the many pockets in his golf bag an oddly feminine pink glove which he tries to pull over his slender fingers, with a businesslike seriousness, except the glove is far too small and he makes a meal of the whole thing. His opponents are not slow to notice the overabundance of his zeal. A discrete nod and a wink acknowledged from one to the other and back again. Almost knowingness tennis.

“We could be in for trouble today,” says Tom.

“Yes, but then again, appearances can be deceptive,” replies Dick.

Still trying to force the Velcro strap across the back of his hand, Harry assumes they are talking about the weather. “Chance of heavy showers, but not until the afternoon,” he informs them.

Having removed his driver from the bag and slowly peeling away its sock, Dick edges closest to the tee-off box. The men in the distance replace the flag and wave to indicate that they are finished. “Mind if I go first?” says Dick, as he waddles toward the tee-off box. His two opponents mumble their assent.

Bounded amidst scuff marks and divots exposing the brown sandy soil, the tee-off box is scruffy, ill-kept. Dick exhales massively while leaning over, one hand clutching the top of his club for support. His other hand firmly inserts the tee into an unyielding ground, and then, as if by magic, produces a small white dimpled ball which he balances delicately atop the tee. Removing his hand in a softly, softly manner and by a series of incremental movements, he raises up his considerable bulk—bringing to mind the image of a lorry raising up its load along a thick-with-grease hydraulic shaft. Up and up he goes, slowly, until at the top he clicks into place and his face lightens from dark red around the jowls and chins to a slightly less intense rosiness, i.e. from beetroot to strawberry.

Dick’s hand goes off the golf club for just a moment. The club leans itself against his groin while he grabs hold of either side of his trousers and gives them a good yank upwards so that the crack of his backside is no longer exposed. He is now in a position to address the ball, but first he remembers his practice swing and so stepping backwards places the head of the club on the ground and adjusts and readjusts his fingers over his thumb to get the correct grip. “It’s not solving the problem at its source, is it?” he says to Tom by way of continuation. Tom agrees but wonders how we can refuse them entry—given our own recent history of mass emigration to richer countries.

So, hands correctly gripping the club, feet equidistant from the ball, head down, knees bent, concentrating, Dick brings the club back behind his ear and swings mightily, with an audible grunt, as if this grunt were an integral part of the movement. The swing continues to an indeterminate point on the upward arc and is then abandoned in midair with a look of surprise on the otherwise grimacing face. A mobile phone is ringing…

Loudly. A well-known and overplayed tune that still lingers somewhere in the charts. The mortification is instantaneous. Running over to his golf bag Harry tries one zip and pocket after another and the tune dribbles into the second verse. “Sorry. I was sure I turned it off. Just find it and…” But the phone is buried somewhere deep and the tune is really beginning to grate on everyone’s nerves when, wait, hold on—yes, Harry locates it below a rain-jacket. Off. He waits for the power to drain from the screen, is repentant.

Dick returns to the careful business of taking his first shot. Heartened by the swishing sound the club makes as it swings through the air, he steps forward gingerly to finally face the moment of truth. But first he must adjust his trousers, again. Yanking them right up under his belly—his pink-and-black interlocking diamond socks becoming visible—he ensures his fingers are right and adjusts his footing ever so slightly while looking off at the flag, billowing mightily in the distance. He leans backwards and is about to bring the club head down with thunderous capacity, when the ball, disturbed by something, a gust of wind or an underground tremor, topples off the tee and trickles off across the tee box.

Let us skip forward to the ball sitting back up on its little cup ready to be smashed to kingdom come. Focusing his full attention on the ball, Dick swings the club back behind his head, stumbles slightly as he brings the club down and so, off-balance and with his head flicking up at the point of connecting. They follow the flight of the ball for all of its fifty or so yards down the fairway, where it hops skips and finally jumps behind a shrub.

“It could have been a lot worse,” remarks Tom, drily, but Dick is not interested in critiquing his shot because he has espied the Encore which has been unzipped and lies panting at the feet of its master. “Is that the…?” asks the old man.

Harry nods and twirls the club under his forefinger to show off its curves.

“She’s a real beauty,” says Dick.

With a slow wolf-whistle Tom approaches, reaches out his hand to have a feel of the Encore. Harry cannot bear to hand her over but has no choice. Dick takes a practise swing that makes Harry wince. Not nice to see his club in the arms of another man.

“Bit on the heavy side don’t you think?”

Harry does not dignify this dumb comment with a verbal response—he shrugs his shoulder, rubs at a shirt stain and coughs into a cupped hand.

Regarding the question posed by Dick: How does the Encore IV differ from the Encore III?Harry merely rhymes off the sales pitch. In case you have forgotten it: a 5% larger titanium body, in-built ball flight optimization technology, and elliptical sweet-spot to provide enhanced forgiveness. And when asked what enhanced forgiveness means, he smiles and tells them that enhanced forgiveness is exactly what it sounds like: enhanced forgiveness.

“Mind if I give her a test drive?” asks Tom.

Yes, he does mind. He really minds a lot. But he can’t say so. Instead he just nods and looks away to hide his annoyance.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle with her,” teases Tom.

He sticks his tee into the ground without much ceremony, places a ball on top of it and casually takes a practise swing. With a bright metallic ping his ball is swept from the tee and delivered high and long into the greying sky. Harry loses the flight of the ball entirely but Dick swears it landed dead-centre in the middle of the fairway: a magnificent shot. For a moment Tom remains frozen in the attitude he had assumed with the follow-through: the Encore IV still hangs around his neck, body twisted and toe pointing into the ground. He nods his head. “Not too shabby, not too shabby at all,” he proclaims. His cowlick billowing in the breeze is the only clue to his non-statue status.

Suddenly relaxing from his pose Tom brings the Encore IV to his lips and places a tender kiss on the sweet-spot before handing the club back to its owner. Just as Harry takes back custody of the club he feels a heavy drop of rain bounce off the tip of his nose. Within thirty seconds the three golfers are forced to take refuge under the branches of a nearby evergreen. They burrow deep into the shade as the rain comes down in a torrential downpour. After a few minutes there is a momentary pause, as if for breath, before it spills again, with even mightier force and greater ferocity so that the three are forced to press closer to the trunk, to cower in the scent of pine needles. Tom cannot help himself: “Of course on a purely humanistic level I couldn’t agree more, but the point I’m making is…”

The rain brings a relieving freshness and the release of elusive fragrances to the course. Puddles begin to form in the fairway. He is confronted with the prospect of a dull weekend, full of obligations: the fundraising barbecue and that bloody Christening. No hope of getting out of either. All he had wanted was to take his new golf club—a club he had spent a considerable amount of money on—and hit golf balls off into the distance. That was all he wanted. Was that reason enough to be punished, repeatedly, and stopped by other people and obligations and by excuses from doing what he wanted to do?

“Down for the day, I’m afraid,” says Dick.

And it is this dim statement of the obvious that does it. Harry staggers into the lashing rain, howling wind, his hands tightly clenched into fists. Some smart remark, passed behind his back, does not bother him. His progress through an ankle-deep puddle toward the first tee is unwavering. They watch him from the shelter of the trees, as he brushes back the sapping-wet curly hair whipping into his eyes, blows up into his nostrils to remove the drops forming under his nose, and pulls up the sleeves of his fully-saturated sweater. In a completely unhurried manner, he places his ball atop a tee and putting his gloved hand up to his eyes—stares off into the distance. His practise swing has the look and sound of a Japanese swordsman practising a fatal thrust. Ready now, he pulls the Encore IV back over his shoulder. With a primordial grunt, club head whipping upwards, eyes rising gradually, he watches the silent flight of dimpled white plastic ball over the heads of a mass of men, women, and children who flinch, duck or cower in a ripple effect at its rapid and violent approach.

pencilEmail: briancoughla[at]gmail.com

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