SI Vault
Pete Dexter
September 15, 2003
In the world of a 1950s California country club, the only black men on the golf course are toting bags, but the stakes for a young caddy with a gift for the game could not be higher
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September 15, 2003


In the world of a 1950s California country club, the only black men on the golf course are toting bags, but the stakes for a young caddy with a gift for the game could not be higher

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The air was damp in the shade, and the branches seemed to grab onto his legs. He became conscious of the sounds—his feet slapping against the ground, the brushing of his pants legs as he ran, his own breathing. The cracks of old limbs breaking off trees. He was sweating, and it felt cool and safe in there, being out of sight, and just as that thought arrived, his foot hit a root and he was spinning, deaf with pain, and the next second he broke back into the sunlight, crossing the third fairway just behind another foursome, and noticed his little toe was pointed off to the side, like a thumb, and was bleeding where the nail was torn.

He headed up the long slope of the ninth hole, keeping close to the cart path now, his legs beginning to go soft. He closed his eyes and pictured Florida falling face-first onto the green, the look of confusion that come just before. He pictured the foam spilling out his mouth and nose, and knew he was drained inside too, every plug in there pulled at once. He pictured those things, and willed himself up the hill to the clubhouse, as if there was something up there that could change what had happened.

When he opened his eyes again, the building rose up in front of him, and the sun was blinding off the windows where the white men sat and drank after they'd played golf. To his certain knowledge, there had never been a bleeding nigger without his shoes on inside the clubhouse at Brookline, but he ran directly over the practice green anyway, disturbing a gentleman in orange pants who was practicing one-foot putts, and through the glass doors that led into the lounge.

It was dark and cool inside, the air as still as a cave, and he stopped in his tracks and waited to see what would happen. Expecting they might shoot him. The bartender was a huge, sweet-smelling Negro called Richard, and he was staring at Train, seemed to have stopped breathing. Four ancient ladies were in a comer playing cards, a halo of cigarette smoke hanging over the table. He noticed their hands. Diamonds and bones. One of them looked up at him and smiled.

The bartender was coming around the bar now, looking left and right to see who else might have been afflicted by what just come in the door. He was smiling to keep the ladies from panicking. He came very close to Train before he spoke, and then leaned in so no one else could hear.

"Rooster, I ever see you again, it better be through that door, runnin' the other way," he said. Train could smell the pomade he used to conk his hair. He stepped back a little, needing some space to talk. The bartender glanced again at the ladies in the corner. One of them had her cigarette in a long white holder and picked it up now and had a pull. Diamonds and bones.

The bartender took his arm and headed him back toward the door. It crossed Train's mind that he might not be able to explain what happened, but suddenly the words were right there, as easy as they were for Sweet or anybody else. "There's a man died," he said.

He felt the pressure change on his arm. "What man?" the bartender said.

" Florida," Train said. "Pitched onto the green and died."

"A caddy?"

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