Arts and Recreation in
Golf and Golfing
Raking the Husband
Mourning did not look good on Beth. Beth liked colours, and colours
liked her, but she had bowed to convention after her husband had died;
she had bought grays and blacks and had worn them to work and to the
grocery store and to the club, and she had hated every minute of it,
though not as much as she had hated her husband. He had been a bastard,
not physically abusive, but emotionally devastating. Wild mood swings,
fits of yelling, days of dark, brooding silence. As his career had
stalled, Beth’s had blossomed, and he had resented it, resorting to a
diet long on scotch and short on anything else. In the end, it had
killed him in that post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s period. He had driven,
drunk, into the back of a snowplow.
The snow was long gone now. Beth had worn
mourning for four months and more. As spring demanded its place, early
this year, but forceful, Beth decided enough was enough. Except.
Except for one last, cruel gesture, one
last cruel demand made by her dead husband. Bury me, her husband had
written in his will, bury my ashes, in a sand trap, in one particular
stand trap, the trap to the right of eighteen green. Bury my ashes
He’d been a bastard, Beth thought, but
once he’d had a sense of humour. It was just too bad that he’d lost it
in the last few years. She decided he must have put that last thought
into the will before he’d become a bastard.
“Beth,” Kevin Wallace said. “You can
Wallace was her lawyer, stocky,
red-faced, but always calm. When he had gone over the will with Beth, he
hadn’t been fazed by the request for even a nanosecond. Of course, Beth
said to herself, he’d been the one to write it into the will in the
“It’s against the law to bury someone’s ashes in a public place other
than a licensed facility. You can ignore the clause, then. The
provisions of a will are not valid if they violate the law.”
“But I don’t want the ashes,” Beth said.
“What would I do with them?”
Wallace nodded knowingly. “Really,” he
said, leaning towards Beth across his polished, empty desk, “really,
Beth, many people tell me that. They all end up some place. The ashes, I
mean. A mausoleum just for the urns. People care for them, visit them.
Very tasteful. They probably mentioned it at the funeral home. Of course
it’s … a stressful time.”
Beth nodded. Yes, she thought, they
probably had mentioned it, but that whole time seemed blurry to her. It
didn’t matter. She couldn’t explain why, not to Wallace, not even to
herself, but she would keep to the terms of the will. Her husband, her
bastard husband, the ashes of her dead bastard husband would be buried
in the sand trap to the right of eighteen green at the club, and she
would do it herself.
On a cool and drizzly Sunday afternoon,
then, late in April, Beth went to lunch at the club. She climbed the
stairs to the dining room, looked around, was happy to see that only two
or three tables were occupied. She chose a table as far from them as
possible, sat down and placed her oversized handbag holding all the
things a handbag usually does, plus the urn filled with her husband, on
the floor beside her chair. The handles of the bag stood straight up.
She looked around, but no one was looking
at her. People would leave her alone, she knew. Even now, months after
the funeral, people avoided her. They scurried away when they saw her
coming, or if she caught their eyes, smiled wanly as if tiny weights
fought to keep the corners of their mouths pulled down. Then they
scurried away anyway. She was too close to death for them, and she
supposed that they feared death would reach out and caress them, too.
Beth was counting on that fear. She hadn’t counted on Marie.
Halfway through her veggie platter, Beth
“Beth!” Marie exclaimed as she appeared
suddenly at the top of the stairs. She rushed across the dining room
wearing what was clearly a new golfing outfit flapping about her rail
thin body. All peach and white, with shoes to match.
“How nice to see you, Beth. Look!” She
twirled, giggling like a teenager. “Just in this week, and you know
Helena – she just never carries enough stock. Well, one just must get
there early.” She curtsied then plunked herself down on a chair across
“I’m so glad to see you come out.” She
reached for Beth’s hand, which had remained glued to a water glass from
Marie’s first words. Marie grabbed it with both of her hands. “And about
time, too. I was just saying to Cherie that it was time you came out.”
She paused and nodded her head slowly but surely, all the time fixing
Beth with her dark brown eyes.
Beth tried to smile back. Of all people,
she thought. There was no escaping Marie, she knew. She knew that from
years of socials at the club. Beth surrendered to the inevitable.
“Thank you, Marie. Yes. I guess, well … I
haven’t been …”
“You certainly haven’t! But of course,
such a good reason. The loss of the husband. We always talk about that,
don’t we, when we play. What would happen if we lost the husband? Thank
god for insurance! Oh … but that is so insensitive. Forget I said
Beth obliged since she wasn’t able to
come up with a good response anyway. The husband … the husband … yes,
that was the phrase. Not ‘my husband’ and not the so pretentious
‘significant other’ just ‘the husband.’
“Beth. You haven’t said anything about my
“Oh … well, it’s very short. The skirt, I
“It certainly is. Didn’t you hear? But
no, what am I thinking. You’ve been too busy. Well, the etiquette
committee seems to think some of the women have been playing fast and
loose with the dress code. That old harpy, Millie Waters! It’s all her.
She hasn’t been happy since the first skirt above the knee was allowed.
My god, how long ago was that. Did you even know we had a rule about how
long a skirt could be? Well we do! And it’s …”
Beth nodded and nodded, listening only
vaguely to Marie’s excited denunciation of Millie and the rest of the
“old guardette.” A waitress came by and plopped a cup of coffee in front
of Marie, who never lost a beat while pouring cream and dropping two
spoonfuls of sugar into the hot, black coffee, on and on and on. How was
she going to get away from this endless stream of drivel?
Absently, Beth placed her hand on the
handles of the handbag. Something like a shiver rang through her, as if
a cold wind had suddenly run up her arm and across the back of her neck.
She shivered again. Marie didn’t notice, still talking as she leaned in
slightly and picked up her cup for a sip. The world shifted.
To Beth, that was what happened – the world shifted, not much but
suddenly, just a little to her right, and it caused Marie to fumble the
cup. Coffee spilled everywhere, on the table, the floor, and all over
Marie’s new peach and white golfing outfit.
Instinctively, Beth let loose of the
handbag and reached across the table as if to – what? Catch the coffee?
The world shifted back to its normal. “Marie,” Beth started. “What – are
you alright? What happened?”
“My skirt!” Marie screamed. “My skirt …
it … coffee … my skirt!”
Beth’s eyes moved around the room.
Everyone was looking, although she was sure they were all looking at
The waitress came over and then just
stood there. She didn’t seem to know what to do, and indeed, there
wasn’t much that could be done. Marie had started dabbing at the stains
with a napkin, but it was no use. Dry cleaning and hope were all that
would rescue the new outfit. Mumbling apologies, Marie finally stood up
and rushed across the room and back down the stairs from which she had
appeared earlier. The waitress gathered up the cup and saucer, the
napkin, spattered cutlery. Beth asked for the bill.
By now, the excitement over, the
obligatory hiding from Beth in plain sight was back on. While she waited
for the bill, Beth looked at the handles of the bag. Slowly she reached
for them again, touched them briefly with her fingertips, pulled away.
Nothing. She grabbed the handles, picked the bag up and dropped it in
her lap. Nothing. Whatever had happened, it wasn’t going to happen
again. She popped the bag open and fished in it for her wallet for the
waitress who was heading back her way with a small tray and the bill for
As Beth left the dining room, still no
one looked her way, but she could almost hear the collective sigh from the
remaining diners. She ignored it and headed outside and onto the rutted,
gravelly path that led past the practice putting green towards the pine
trees that obscured the eighteenth green from the clubhouse. She knew
that anyone sitting by the windows in the club could see her, at least
until the pines gathered her up. They might stare, she thought, maybe
say something useless like “How sad she still seems,” then look away and
forget she was ever there. She guessed correctly, and her still sad self
disappeared from sight into the pines.
Beth found the silence comforting, and
she allowed herself a moment of smugness. Other than Marie, Beth had
been right. People had let her be, and now, in the light rain, shielded
from the clubhouse, she could continue with her plan. She emerged from
the pines and the stopped at the edge of the trap by the eighteenth
green. She looked down and across the fairway out into the lake that
bordered it. There was a chop on the cold, dark water, though not much
of the wind that caused it made it to the edge of the trees. She looked
down to the rain darkened sand.
She took a deep breath and got down to
business. She dropped the bag, popped it open, pulled out the urn and a
very large spoon. Beth had first bought a small, collapsible shovel, but
it hadn’t been small enough to fit into the bag. Ultimately she had
settled on a large serving spoon she found in the set of good silver
that she and her dead bastard husband had rarely used, had never used in
the last few years. The silver had been a gift from his parents. She
smiled when she had first thought of it, smiled at the irony that her
in-laws’ gift was going to bury one of their own, but the irony was
bitter and she didn’t really enjoy it. Her in-laws were generally nice
people. It was her dead husband who had been the bastard.
Carefully Beth stepped down into the
sand, three, four, five steps until she seemed to be fairly in the
center, at the lowest point in the trap. She dropped to her knees,
ignoring the gritty, wet feel of the sand through her slacks, and began
to dig. The sand itself was barely six inches deep, but Beth didn’t stop
at the sand. She jammed the spoon hard into the heavy earth under the
sand, down into what turned into a layer of fine gravel, then into more
clayey earth. The going was tough, and though she tried to keep the
material from different layers separate, she made a mess of it in the
sand around the hole. Still, she kept at it until finally she felt she
was deep enough.
he looked up and around. No one. A small
puff of wind chilled the perspiration on her forehead. Deep enough she
thought and stood up. She reached for the urn, hesitated, dropped her
hand to her side, suddenly unsure. She clenched her fists, balled her
eyes shut and breathed the cold, wet air in deeply. She Would Do This!
She relaxed, unclenched her fists, opened her eyes – and froze.
The dirt and sand, the green, the lake,
all were gone. Instead she was in her living room, her own living room,
in her apartment, the one that her husband had moved into after they
married. The television was off, and the lights down, the windows dark.
Late, she thought … but …when was this?
Her eyes looked down to the coffee table
beside … the couch. She felt the stress rise in her. She hated that
couch. It was there, in the last year they lived in the apartment before
buying a house, there on that couch that he had spent most of his time.
He had taken to sleeping there, leaving her alone in the double bed. He
had always been a restless sleeper, and he had taken to complaining that
she kept jabbing him. “You’re snoring,” she would say, and she jabbed
him. “Turn over.” He had taken that as an excuse to escape to the living
room, pillow in hand, and blanket. Eventually he stopped bothering to go
through the charade of being chased out.
There was a small plastic bottle on the
table, a pill bottle. A hand reached for it, his hand, her dead
husband’s hand, picked it up and brought it close enough to look at. She
read the typed label – a prescription bottle. She read the name: Anglund,
Dorothy M. And then some unpronounceable chemical name. Muscle
relaxants, Beth knew. Her mother-in-law’s prescription to help with a
problem in her neck.
The hand flipped the cap off the bottle;
another hand came into view, palm up, and pills spilled onto the palm,
nearly a dozen, she thought. There was a moment of hesitation, then the
hand clenched and moved up. Darkness, sudden darkness. She could “feel”
her – his – eyes close, feel his mouth open, feel the pills fly in. Then
liquid – scotch – splashed around his mouth, gathering up the pills, and
“No!” Beth staggered and fell against the
side of the trap. She opened her eyes. She was back in the trap, in the
rain and the cold and the dirt. No, she thought, it’s nothing, it’s just
… scared. She stood up, shook herself, breathed the cold air deeply
again, determined to get this done before someone should accidentally
find her. She reached into the bag and grabbed the urn. She had pried
the top off it earlier that day and secured the ashes with a cloth held
in place by a sturdy elastic. She took off the elastic, the wind blew
away the cloth. The wind was stronger now, and seemed to be driving in
directly across the lake. The light rain became heavier.
She dropped to her knees, tipped the urn
and spilled the ashes into the bottom of it, then rapidly began filling
in the hole, trying to keep the dirt and the gravel and the sand in its
proper order, but when she was finished, there were any number of small
stones and clumps of damp earth and clay around her knees. She ignored
it, stood and smoothed the sand as best she could with her feet. There
was no rake. That would come with the opening of the season.
The rain thickened again, flying almost
sideways as the wind gusted strongly. Beth grabbed the spoon, jammed it
in her bag, clambered out of the trap and headed back towards the club.
She was wet and dirty, but if anyone spied her from the dining room
windows, she never found out. She took the path around the clubhouse,
using her large bag to shield her from the weather as best she could,
making her way to the parking lot. There were only half a dozen cars in
the lot, including hers, and no one was around. She had to fumble in the
bag for her keys, but finally, wet and shivering and scared, she slammed
the car door on the storm. Then Beth cried.
The next day Beth called on her
mother-in-law. The two had tea and a nice chat. Beth told her how Marie
had spilled coffee over a new outfit at the club; she told Beth about a
summer trip she was planning to visit relatives on the east coast.
Before leaving, Beth excused herself to use the bathroom. When the door
was closed, she reached over the sink to the mirrored door that covered
the medicine cabinet, opened it. There it was. At least, its twin, the
twin to the medicine bottle she had seen in the … vision … in the trap.
It was identical, seemingly, down to the faded print on the label and
the long and unpronounceable chemical name. She twisted the top off the
bottle and looked into it. There seemed to be about a dozen pills there.
She put the bottle back, closed the
cabinet door, then stood there, wondering. There had been a time when he
had been sick suddenly. How long ago? Before he had transformed into the
bastard, she thought. After leaving the firm. That was it. He had left
the legal firm he had started with, said he wanted to start his own
practice. He had never said he’d been fired, though that rumour had made
it to Beth. She hadn’t pushed him about it. He had started his own small
office, had a few clients, but he struggled. It had been the beginning
of the slide.
A few months later, Beth had been
promoted to her first supervisory position, while he had still
struggled. It was then, she remembered, or sometime shortly after that,
when he was starting to sleep more and more often on the couch. That was
when he had gotten sick. She’d come in to the living room one morning
and found him, uncharacteristically still asleep. She roused him, but he
was barely coherent. He struggled to stand, to grab the pillow and the
blanket, and staggered away into the bedroom where he collapsed on the
bed. He’d stayed in bed for most of a week, but even as he had
recovered, he had never been the same, not really. It was then that the
long silences began.
Had it been that bad, she wondered? Had
it seemed so bad to him that he tried to kill himself? Beth had no one
to ask. He’d only had two close friends left in the town, and she didn’t
like either of them. What would she ask, anyway? Did he ever talk to you
about trying to kill himself? No, that wouldn’t do. Still, she wondered,
how could things have seemed so bad that suicide appeared to be a good
thing? Then, what must it have been like, what must he have felt that
morning when he woke and realized that he hadn’t even been able to kill
himself properly? What would that do to someone?
There were too many questions, and no
answers. Beth put it out of her mind as well as she could. It was over
anyway, although she started wondering if the accident that had killed
him had really been an accident. Too much scotch, probably, but maybe it
had been deliberate anyway. Again and again she tried to put it out of
Happily, the golf season was underway
now, and Marie had practically demanded that Beth be part of the regular
group on Ladies’ Day at the club. The first one was difficult, but with
Marie dragging her around, Beth was soon back in the group. If people
were still leery of her, they let it show only by never asking her
anything about it. In fact, most of them talked as if she still had a
husband. She suspected that if she had been older, like Millie Walters,
things would have been different. Most of those women were widows, and
she had heard snatches of their conversations, about expenses, and
buying food for one, and why kids and grand kids didn’t visit more often
or visited too much. But Beth was part of a younger crowd, the only
widow in the bunch, and no one was going to bring that up.
On the third Ladies Day, Beth hit a shot
so badly on the last hole that it flew deeply into the pine trees beside
the eighteenth green, hit a tree solidly, flew back out of the trees and
landed in the sand. Beth just stood there, staring.
“Bad luck, Beth!” Marie said brightly.
Marie clearly didn’t think it was bad at all, judging by the sound of
her voice. Their group played for nickels, and Beth was thirty cents up
on Marie. “No good just looking at it, sweetie! Better in the sand than
in the trees!”
Beth looked at Marie, who was trying not
to smile too obviously, then turned and put her club back in her bag,
grabbed the handle of the pull cart and trudged up the slight hill to
the trap beside the green. As Beth looked at her ball, sitting neatly in
a small, raised circle of sand in the center of the trap, Marie called
“Do you want me to mark my ball to the
right or the left?”
Beth looked over. Marie’s ball wasn’t in
her line. “It’s fine there, Marie,” she said. “It shouldn’t be in the
“Well,” said Marie doubtfully, “if you
Beth turned to her bag, pulled out her
sand wedge and stepped down into the trap. She took her stance beside
the ball, wriggled her feet a bit to set them in the sand, stopped
suddenly. Not too deep, she warned herself. She looked around her feet
but couldn’t see any sign of her digging. It was all sand. There’s lots,
she told herself; there’s lots of sand. She wriggled her feet more
deeply in the sand and then lowered her club so it hung close behind the
ball, just barely above the sand, was just about to swing when a sudden,
vicious gust of wind swept through the trap.
The gust came from nowhere, the day until
then having been mostly still. It snapped the bottoms of her pants and
swirled around her feet kicking up sand and dust high enough, hard
enough to sting her face. Beth cried out, dropped her club and covered
her eyes. The wind died as suddenly as it blew up. Carefully, Beth
opened her eyes.
She wasn’t blind, but the bright daylight
had become full blown night. She was cold, too, from a chill breeze that
started as soon as she opened her eyes, and she was no longer in the
trap. She was, instead, standing on the top step of a short set of
stairs leading to a wooden, wrap-around deck at … her home. Her parents’
home, where she had grown up. She had been living there still in the
early years of university, when she had first met her husband to be. But
more than just a place, this was a moment, too, a particular, important
moment, that one, special night that once, when her marriage had still
been good, her husband had recalled for her.
She had asked him, “So when did you know
your were in love with me?”
He had looked at her, smiling slightly,
or frowning slightly, she wasn’t sure which. He had never liked talking
about things like that. But this time turned out to be an exception.
“School, we were still in school,” he had said. “October, late October I
guess. We’d come back from the pub, back to your place, on Bloor Street.
We took a bus from the campus to downtown and walked up from there. It
was cold. We got to your place, but we stayed outside, on the porch. I
can remember the sound of it, all that old wood creaking under us. We
were lying on the porch. You were on top and your jacket was sort of
open and trying to cover both of us, but it was still cold. I could see
up through the trees.
“The moon was out, a quarter moon, and
there were high clouds racing the wind across the face of the moon, and
the wind was blowing the branches of the trees around. I could hear them
clicking, the branches and the few leaves that hadn’t fallen yet.
“We were making out. It was so cold. You
were lying on top of me, but I was shivering anyway. Except that,
everywhere we were touching was like fire. You’d look down at me, and
then kiss me, and your lips would be cold for second, and then get hot,
and sweet. You tasted so sweet.
“I fell in love with you right there,
Beth looked down the porch to her right,
shivering at the memory more than the cold. This was that night. She
peered into the darkness, past the slight, yellow edged rectangle of
light that seeped out around the edges of a blind, peered into deeper
shadows where the porch passed under the huge, old elm trees in the
yard. The branches clicked in the wind, she could hear them. She peered
up and saw a quarter moon, silvery, almost haloed, but appearing and
disappearing as high, thin clouds flew across the face of it.
She looked down into the darkness again,
deeper into the shadows, and as her vision adjusted she saw … herself. A
young woman again, lying on top of a young version of her dead, bastard
husband, kissing him and pulling away only to bend her face back down
and stare into his eyes, then droop suddenly to kiss him again.
As one, the two entwined lovers turned
their heads so that both of them, their faces barely visible in the dim,
silvery moonlight, were looking straight at Beth. As one, their mouths
opened and they said, “Scotch.”
Beth cried out in fear, covering her eyes
against the vision, but the word struck her like a physical blow,
knocking her back off the top step so that she stumbled down the steps,
tripped and fell backwards, landing hard enough to jar her teeth.
For a few moments she just sat there,
breathing. Fearfully, slowly, she finally opened her eyes to see –
“Beth! Oh my god, sweetie! Are you okay?
Marie was in the sand leaning over Beth,
her hands grabbing at Beth’s shoulders. The two other members of the
group stood on the edge of the trap and looked down, quiet but with
concern clearly on their faces.
“Beth! Are you alright?”
“I …” she struggled to get up. “I’m
fine,” she said. She grabbed Marie’s arm and pulled herself up. Trying
to clear her mind, she tried to smile, failed, but then said, “A bee, I
guess. I thought I saw a bee, and … well … I don’t know. It just
Marie didn’t say anything to Beth’s
remark, and the others just looked at her blankly. They weren’t buying
the bee excuse, but they kept quiet.
“If it’s okay,” Beth said, “I think I’ll
pick up. It’s your hole.”
“Oh, sweetie,” forget the hole,” Marie
said, still unwilling to let go her grip. “It’s only a nickel.” There
was a pause. “Besides, I had the hole anyway.”
Beth just nodded. She started to reach
for her club in the sand, but Marie snatched it up, and the ball, too.
They all picked up then and walked in through the pine trees towards the
clubhouse. Marie insisted on pulling Beth’s cart as well as her own,
even though Beth insisted she was fine. But she wasn’t fine, not yet
anyway; she was still trembling when they pushed through the swinging
door to the locker room. It was only after several minutes in the
shower, with hot water pouring over her as she leaned against the wall
of the shower stall, that she finally stopped shaking. It was in the
shower, too, that she decided what she had to do.
That afternoon, after finally escaping
Marie’s continued concern, and ignoring the whispered conversations and
sideways glances that worked through the entire locker room, Beth drove
straight to the liquor store to buy a bottle of scotch whiskey. Johnnie
Walker Red, she decided. His favourite drinking whiskey. He – her dead
bast … the husband, she finally said to herself … it was the brand the
husband preferred. Black Label he had saved for company, but there
hadn’t been much company in the last few years.
She considered buying a mickey at first, but thought better of it. The
husband had never bought a mickey “when a twenty-sixer would do.” A
twenty-sixer it was.
Late that night, when Beth was sure that
no one would be around, she drove to the club, walked around it to the
path that led through the pine trees to the eighteenth green. She had
told herself not to hesitate, just do it. Get it over with. She stepped
quickly down into the sand trap, down to the middle of the trap, pulled
the bottle from the same, oversized purse she had hidden his ashes in,
twisted the cap off the bottle. She fumbled the cap, and it fell to the
sand. She ignored it. As close to the spot as she could remember, she
tipped the bottle and poured out its contents into the sand. When the
last of the scotch had fallen, she dropped the bottle into her purse,
peered about in the darkness until she found a rake and pushed the wet
sand around until as much of the alcohol soaked sand was buried as she
could manage, wondering if any of his ashes had worked their way up into
the sand to greet the offering. It had been a long time between drinks
for him. There was a soft sound in the air, like a far-off whispering,
and she guessed the answer was yes. She continued pushing and pulling
the rake through the sand.
Only once as she raked did she wonder if
the whole exercise was a waste of good money, but she pursed her lips
and pushed the thought aside. If it kept her dead – if it kept the
husband quiet in his secret grave, a bottle of scotch was a small price
The late night offering seemed to work.
Several times over the summer, usually while taking more nickels from
Marie, Beth found herself in the trap to the right of eighteen green.
Never once, however, no matter how bad the lie, no matter how deeply her
ball was buried, never once did she fail to get up and down from the
- John Waltersson, Sudbury