by Rebecca Jones-Howe
Richard squinted when he looked up from the leaf-clogged water wheel of hole sixteen. The sun was setting beyond the highway overpass, tracing turret shadows of the castle and its antiqued chipping paint. The faded afternoon light made all the torn segments of the greens look artistically intended, as though the trail around the medieval golf course was some sort of patchwork wonderland instead of just falling apart.
Somewhere outside of the grounds, a female voice was calling. It wasn't his wife, though. Her voice was always nagging, telling him that he never spent enough time at home.
“Hello?” This voice was soft, a siren song calling from the ocean of ambivalence that extended beyond the chain link fence.
When he looked out at the For Sale billboard in front of the property, Richard noticed the girl standing at the gate. The wind pulled at the curls of her hair when she smiled.
“Can I help you?” He tensed when he walked up to her. She couldn't have been more than twenty-five, but she stood there in her forest green tank top and her cut-off denim shorts, her curious expression reminding him of the female students he'd taught in his earlier years, the students who blushed whenever they asked him a question in class. He wound his fingers together in front of him, twisted at the ring on his left hand.
“I just noticed you from my hotel room.” She nodded at the Accent Inn across the parking lot.
“You looked lonely.” Her eyes were brown, earthly.
“I'm just doing some maintenance, really.”
“Well, I'm not really interested in buying, but maybe you could give me a tour?”
“I'm sure it can't be in that bad of shape.”
He couldn't think of anything to say when she slipped her fingers through the diamonds in the chain-link. Richard swallowed, stepping forward, the apple bobbing so hard in his throat that he was sure she noticed. When he dug into his pocket for his keys, he felt he felt the tension tightening in his chest, beating like a heavy knock on a door. He opened the padlock to let her in.
Her name was Evelyn. She picked the red ball for their round of golf. Richard picked blue. They took their time through the front nine, Evelyn taking her turn after Richard. She seemed like an intruder when she started asking him questions, personal ones. They were questions that Richard hesitated to answer, but when she dug, prodded at him until the words ended up slipping past his lips like relief. He told her what it was like when school let out for the summer, what it was like to not have to spend all his time marking an endless pile of high school essays. He told her how great it felt to sit in the office with a beer under the counter, and how when nobody was paying attention he'd lean back in his chair and put his feet up on his desk, acting like he was twenty-four and still working at that call centre.
“What about your wife?” Evelyn asked.
He felt her gaze on his hand when he lined his shot in front of the castle drawbridge. “We're kind of in a rough patch right now.” He pulled the club back, skewed his putt. “It's been that way for a while, actually.”
The blue ball coasted into the left pocket hidden behind the iron gate. It emerged out of the pipe on the other side of the castle, stopping several inches away from the cup.
“Is that why you're selling the course?” Evelyn paused before she tapped her ball straight up the drawbridge. When it slipped out of the pipe, it rolled straight in line for the hole. A hole in one. She was winning.
“It wasn't really my choice to sell it.” He was lacking the guilt he should have felt when he watched Evelyn bend down to retrieve her ball. His gaze traced the deep V-neckline of her shirt. He swallowed, feeling his blood rushing down.
“Did she make you?”
He paused. “She just...she wants me to spend more time at home...just to keep up with everything.” He cleared his throat as they walked to the next hole.
“But...what about you?” The wind caught her hair again, and he noticed her shadow when she tucked the strands behind her ear. The uneven surface of the ground roughened her silhouette, making it look worn and jagged, almost broken.
“It's just easier being here,” he said. “I never know what to say.”
Evelyn didn't respond. She smiled, her lips a softened pastel pink. She smiled as though noticing that he was still handsome despite the weathered look of his face and the outgrown layers of his hair. Richard noticed the feeling, the internal sensation of her manicured fingers running over his ribs, tickling him in his chest, deep down. The pace of his heart started to throb when she nudged him.
“You should just fix this place,” she said. “I like it. It's charming.”
They walked over the bridge spanning the course's stream. The water wheel at the end was spinning freely, unclogged. They never finished their game.
He still had a case of beer in the office fridge. He shared it with her as the sun set, expanding the shadows over the golf course. Richard recalled the way his wife had reacted when he showed it to her the first time, how she'd pointed out the ant infestation in the castle and how she'd kicked at the widening cracks in the pavement. While he talked, he felt his nerves growing uneasy, shaking with his fingers when he opened another can of beer.
“I don't want to sell it,” he finally said. He felt the alcohol pulling him, cracking his voice. “I don't know what to do.”
Evelyn slid her hand over his knee. She kissed his jaw. She kissed his cheek. She kissed his mouth with her soft pink lips. He hesitated, pulling back. When he breathed in he caught the blossom scent of her perfume. It was light and airy and relieving. He eased his hand up her arm and over her shoulder. The curls of her hair slipped through his fingers, cutting at him, opening wounds that made his eyes wet when he blinked.
“It's okay,” she said. Her words were a whispered breath, slipping against his ear. “She's not here, Richard. It's just us.” She eased him back on the grass. Her lips tasted sweet, like fruit.
Richard said nothing when she undid his pants. She pulled off her clothes and slid her hand down his chest, sending a rush through his body, a gasp out of his mouth. He looked up at her and watched as the shadows shook like tree branches over her flesh. The twigs were thin, like blackened veins of living thing reaching, breathing, beating with her chest while she rode him.
Her breaths grew heavier as the sky darkened, turning a deeper blue before turning black. The lights in the parking lot flickered on, a spotlight. Richard reached for the ripeness of her, cupping her breast in his hand. She leaned forward. Her hair slipped over his face like curled leaves.
“This is our place,” she said. “Look at it.”
It didn't look the same after he walked her to the gate, after he noticed the way the night veiled her face when she disappeared into the void of the empty parking lot. He went back to the patch of grass and picked up the empty beer cans, the numbness tightening in his chest. He looked at the course in the darkness, at its blackened spots of age, its weathered greens, it's crumbling foundations and chipping paint.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. When he pulled it out, his wife's picture was on the call display, her face looking bright. He didn't answer. He let the phone reverberate in his palm, up his arm. The shakes twisted through him, snaked through his ribs. His heart ached.
Rebecca Jones-Howe dropped out of university in order to pursue her dream of writing dirty short stories with "literary" merit. She lives in Kamloops, British Columbia and can be found online at: http://rebeccajoneshowe.com/
This story originally appeared in issue 1.