While Willie watched football on a Sunday afternoon, Annette went to the grocery store because they were both on a diet and there was nothing safe to eat in the house, “Life is a diet,” Willie said.
“It is if you want to keep your spindle shanks,” Annette said, patting him on the butt; “Busy week, so I’ll go to the store now. Have to miss football.”
Willie came up from the lower level at halftime to make a sandwich from leftover roast beef and to get a beer. He didn’t often drink beer because it was fattening, and all that beer fat went straight to a man’s stomach. He had self-deluded golf buddies who still wore size thirty-four pants which they hooked under their size fifty-two bellies. Annette eyed his heaping sandwich disapprovingly and said, “Beer, too?”
“Left from Christmas.”
“I bought it for the boys. They can afford the calories. You’re off the leash,” she said as she left. In response to her voice in his head, he added potato chips and two chocolate chip cookies to his plate. He turned from the kitchen to the stairs just in time to hear the television announcers yelling. His fixing the sandwich had made him miss the start of the second half and whatever spectacular thing had just happened. There would be replays, of course, but replays were nothing like seeing a great play as it actually happened. He went down the first nine steps, plate and bottle held high so he could see where he was putting his feet. He made the turn to the second landing and steadied himself with an elbow on the wall. Another roar came from the crowd and the announcers started yelling again. Only seconds into the second half and he had missed two big plays.
“Damn,” he said to himself and, his usual athletic grace deserting him, he stepped right off the midway landing into space. He landed at the bottom of the next nine stairs on the hard ceramic floor in a pool of beer and broken glass with roast beef flopped everywhere and his right ankle broken in three places. He watched the two kickoff-return touchdowns—the closest together in NFL history—on ESPN in his hospital room the next day following surgery.
Annette sat on the edge of the hospital bed and held his hand. What a pretty woman I’m married to, he thought.
“What an idiot you are,” she said.
“How did I get so lucky to have a girl like you love me?”
“Girl. I’m only two years younger than you.”
“Look, they’re playing the two touchdowns over and over.”
“There you were, on the floor in a pool of beer, surrounded by broken glass, potato chips, roast beef, and ciabatta roll. Carbs everywhere.”
“It was low-carb beer.”
His ankle didn’t heal the way the doctors hoped it might. He went to rehab all winter, but his first three rounds of early spring golf confirmed that his swing had been ruined. Annette had driven him to rehab until they got the SUV modified. On an early April morning shortly after opening day, the doctor’s office canceled his appointment. So, the fourth time out, a cold but beautiful day that required a sweater and jacket, he knew Annette didn’t have a class, and he asked her to go with him, “To look at my swing.”
“I think I need my earmuffs.”
When they arrived at the public course, he went into the clubhouse to pay, and Annette went with him to see if they had let the golf pro’s wife pick out any of the ladies’ clothes, “All just men’s stuff in smaller sizes,” she said. And then, raising an eyebrow, “A frosted jelly-filled donut?”
“Everyone’s a critic,” he said, putting the remainder of the donut on a napkin on the cart seat so he could strap their clubs to the back. He picked up the remains of his donut. Annette was way too ironic for golf. Because of the weather, no one was ahead of them on the first tee. “Watch,” he said, then took a mighty swing and shanked the ball thirty yards ahead and to the right into a row of grapevines.
“Head down, eye on the ball,” Annette said. She hit her ball, not far, but straight down the center of the fairway.
“I know that, “Willie said, searching through the vines and leaves with his driver, “You were supposed to watch my ankle. My foot, damn it.”
“Do you need help over there?”
“Why hasn’t the grounds crew cleaned out all these leaves?”
“I suspect they will when spring comes.” She bent over, picked up his golf ball from the winter debris among the vines, and tossed it onto the fairway; “Good bounce.”
“Watch this time, will you?”
“There’s jelly on your lip.”
“Watch. This is important.”
So, she did then said, “Aw, Willie, we need to sue that surgeon.”
“That bad?” He let the club drop.
“Let’s do it again.” They played the front nine. Willie’s swing didn’t get better. Annette always picked up her golf ball when she got tired of hitting it, then dropped it on the green. At the turn she said, “Let me buy you a good bottle of wine and some salmon at the Ridge House.”
“I’m too young to have this happen,” he said.
“I love golf.”
“And I just bought these expensive new clubs.” He flung his putter at the cart with such force that it dented the fender.
“Maybe it’ll get better.” The wind had come up. She wrapped her scarf around her neck; “Maybe your swing will adjust.”
“We need to sue the surgeon.”
On the way home snow began to fall, big wet flakes that quickly blanketed the ground and covered the forsythia with white cotton balls. “At least there’ll be no more snow shoveling,” he said.
“You shoveled snow?”
“The path to the garage.”
“You know I don’t expect you to shovel. That’s why we live in a condo.”
Willie came home early on a warm day in May, several hours before his award dinner, “Annette?” He put his coat on the back of a dining room chair, loosened his tie, and leaned his cane in its home next to the refrigerator. “Annette?”
The house was quiet. He went down the stairs to the TV room in the basement. She was curled in a ball on his leather couch. She had put a towel over her head even in the darkened room. He sat on the wooden coffee table next to the couch and gently touched her hair, “Did you take a pill?”
“No,” she said softly; “I’m an idiot.”
“I’ll get you one.” He went back up to the kitchen and got her bottle of pills from the Lazy Susan in the kitchen cupboard. He was filling a glass with water when he heard her behind him.
“A horse, a horse,” she said, grasping the door frame; “My kingdom for a horse.” She looked pale and held her hand over her eyes; “I’ll be ready in time.”
“Dear girl, you will not.”
“Your dinner. Your award.”
“Take this.” He handed her the pill and the glass of lukewarm water; “Now off down the hall to our wonderful new bed.” They had bought the bed, soft and comforting, for his ankle.
“Here;” he turned down the bedclothes and settled her under them.
“You go,” she whispered as he darkened the room. “I’ll want to see the pictures.” When he got home she was just as he had left her. He slid in beside her and listened to her quiet breathing. In the morning, she put her side of the bed up in the still darkened room; “Where is it?”
“Just barely. Let’s see it.”
“On the kitchen table. I’ll get it.” He went to the kitchen and got the small silver plaque.
“Nice,” she said softly; “Not for golf or softball, but nice.”
“So little is,” he said, and he knew she was feeling better.
“Did you see that little shit hit the ball right at my head? Three times.”
“You did a good job of getting out of the way.”
“Shorty’s Tavern is their sponsor. They bring a keg to the game, for Heaven’s sake.”
“You’d think they’d be warned when the slow-pitch pitcher had a cane back on the bench. You were armed and dangerous.”
“We need to go for a beer,” he said, sitting sidewise on the driver’s seat to pull off his cleats and put on his shoes.
“I thought we were going home to watch the game.”
“I’ve been asked to manage the fall ball team.”
“Short ball, long ball, fall ball.”
“The Tigers’ game will be on in the bar.” He turned on the ignition; “I had an email from the surgeon. He has an opening in two weeks.”
“Nope, nope, nope.”
“Seven a.m. on a Tuesday.”
“I’ve been doing research on the Internet.”
“They always seem to schedule surgery on Tuesday. Do they need Monday to recover from wild weekends?”
She shook her head. “I did research. The best ankle doctor in the country is only three hours away.”
“I thought everything on the Internet was junk.”
“Undergraduate research is junk. Although some Shakespeare stuff isn’t too bad, general stuff, but students need more primary sources. For doctors and clinics, it’s a good place to start.”
“Good place for baseball statistics.”
“A good place for ankle repair statistics.” She touched his hand. “A horse, a horse, my dear.”
“You’ve been saying that for years.” He pulled into the parking lot of the micro-brewery.
“I go to the primary source. Anyway, this clinic is only good before you start shaving and fusing bones.”
“It’s more than three hours.”
“They have a list of motels. And it’s farther south, so it’ll be warm enough for swimming. A mini-vacation. An adventure.”
“An expensive adventure.” He turned off the car; “They don’t want me to be a player- manager.”
“That’s why you’re being good sport about going out for a beer,”
“I thought we might finally win the league if we kept improving.”
“The county over-forty slow-pitch soft ball league championship? Your only hope for a championship is the clinic.”
“Or a hole in one?”
Willie and Annette spent the fall at the ankle clinic or in a motel or on the road to and from. As they drove south along the Interstate, the leaves on the trees along the highway were a color tour of reds and oranges against a true-blue sky. As they went farther south, back into late summer, the foliage became deep green. The ankle doctor was tall, cheerful, kind, and even seemed to know what he was talking about. There was no guessing or hoping. There were tests, procedures, rehabilitation.
“No more downhill skiing. No more slow-pitch,” Annette said as they drove home with no new appointment needed for three months. She held up a warning finger and turned it into a fist. “And keep that cane close.”
“Of course. Don’t you worry your pretty little head.”
“Don’t you worry about my pretty little head.”
“I do, you know. I wish there was a genius doctor for you, too.”
“Nope, nope, nope. This is a celebration.”
“Dear Boy.” They drove in silence for a few minutes. “And you’ll walk for years and years.”
“And maybe golf.”
“Maybe. That’s what he said.” There were nights that winter when, even in their good bed with his foot elevated, he couldn’t sleep. One night, to tempt sleep, he thought about his golf swing and figured it out. Early in the cold spring, as soon as he saw the first white flags on a golf course, he went out to try his new swing. Annette went with him, wrapped in her winter coat, and watched from the cart. He pushed his tee into the grass, placed his ball on it, took a practice swing, then swung for real and followed through.
With Annette cheering, the ball took off into space, starting low, then rising up and arching straight down the fairway.
Deborah Ann Percy (Johnston) lives in Kalamazoo and South Haven, Michigan. Her published short fiction is Cool Front: Stories from Lake Michigan, and Invisible Traffic. Her plays, and those in collaboration with her husband, Arnold Johnston, have won awards, publications, and over 200 productions nationwide.