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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Which was a relief to all concerned.

Once the swing was safely begun, Train went squint-eyed, as he sometimes did to diversify himself when things was slow, and watched the whole scene transmogrified around to Little Bighorn, Montana. (The boy picked up that word off a tote, a retired justice of the peace from someplace down south, who found it himself in the Reader's Digest's "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power," and ever since, every time he hit it into the water or out into the yards and houses and streets beyond the course, he turned to his playing partners and said, "Gentlemen, you have witnessed an officer of the court transmogrified to human s—," and that was surefire material for the regular associates of his, no matter how many times they heard it before.)

The fat man lifted the club higher, pulling himself up with it, and Train saw Custer, all wore-out, fighting to the end in his yellow pants, standing his ground and swinging at the redskins with an empty rifle as they floated past on their war ponies. The last white man alive.

There was a thought.

And then, just like the movie, here come the tomahawk, cutting down through the sky, death on a stick, and then a wet, heavy noise when it hit home. And then Custer was gone as fast as he come, and the clubhead had took a divot half a foot deep, and the ball itself squirted almost straight right, off the cart path toward the trees.

Time slowed down and everybody went numb-mouth at once. The ball ran like a jailbreak, and the boy knew to a certainty that even though it was only a twosome, this round was surely three hours a side, and there wasn't no chance in hell he was finishing in time to carry two bags today. They gone out late in the first place—didn't get on the first tee till 10:22—and as soon as the fat man had hit it once, Train realized that his wet dreams was better organized than his tote's golf swing.

He looked back up the fairway now to keep the fat man from seeing what he was thinking. Not that he would necessarily know exactly what it was, but they were all quick to notice cheek in their caddies.

The fat man, though, was still staling at the spot where the ball gone into the trees, like he was offering it one last chance to give itself up and come out, and then without any warning he wheeled around and sent the club in there too, a sound vomiting up out of him that wasn't in any Reader's Digest, or any dictionary, that didn't have letters to spell it, a sound as old as the ancient game of golf itself. He grunted with the effort and the shaft winked in the sun as it crossed the morning sky.

They must of left the sprinklers on all night" the fat man said after he got back in control of his deportment again. He lifted his shirt to look at the line of mud that had splashed up, and Train saw a patch of wild red hair on the hanging underside of his belly, and the skin beneath it was faintly blue with veins. "It's getting worst than the public courses," he said.

The man he was playing with started to laugh at that, got about halfway home. He didn't make no laughing sound, just the motion, and it was hard to tell what he was thinking. He was a guest, though, not a member, so he know nothing about the situation. Just walked around so far looking like something out here might amused him. What it was, Train couldn't say. The name tag on his golf bag was from Hillcrest, said Mr. Miller Packard, but Train named him "the Mile Away Man" on the first tee, on account it seemed like in all that amusedment, the man was someplace else half the time, like not everything was getting through. It was an old habit, naming his totes; there was five or six he called "the Living Dead." Not out loud, of course, only to himself, behind his expressionless face.

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