Monday, August 24, 2015

Sympathy for a Sportsman

—Hae some sympathy for a sporstman —I say, as he dumps my clubs out in the groundskeeper’s shack, the hard-worn sticks clattering at his feet.

—A sportsman, eh? Is that whit ye think ye are?

He’s thinking, I reckon, about the bit of turf on the sixth hole I stepped on to improve my lie. Or the extra reach I gave my drop on the twelfth.

—Aye, an auld one —I say. —With a living to earn yet, who must sometimes take his advantages where he can.

Bad form, I know, for a clubhouse pro to play anywise than according to Hoyle. But he’d wagered a guinea a hole (just to keep the edge on, he said) and the flash of his gold turned my head.

Not that he would miss a pound or two! A stranger on holiday, motoring up in a chauffeured Bentley. Shined-up shoes and tailored sporting suit, a new set of clubs weighting down his caddie’s back.

Watch me take three or four pounds off this fine dandy, I thought as we shook hands. Watch me earn my beef tonight.

—I didn’t tell ye afore, but I came here on purpose to play a round with ye.

So he says, and it’s news to me. News enough that anybody would even remember my name thirty years after I busted out of the circuit. My wee indiscretion ending any chance to make much success or impression.

—I’m very sorry —I say. —And humbled too. Would a fiver make it up then?

Then he snaps my old pitching wedge in half, twisting and pulling until the steel shaft breaks into two jagged points. Glistening cruelly where they catch the light filtering through the west windows.

And the chauffeur tightens his lock on my arms, forcing me forward, old bones and muscles straining at the limit of pain—

All for a poor two pounds!

—My dad is the real duffer —he says. —He’s the one ye’ve been cheating for thirty years.

Then the chauffeur growls a name in my ear, and I freeze hard and cold.

—It’s lies, I swear! —I say. —On Christ Himself, that’s a body I always played fair. Ye can ask him, he knows it!

And it was true. My patron saint, I called him. The man who kept me from the poorhouse after my bust-up. Who gave me odd jobs until I could scrabble halfway back to respectability. (Not very nice jobs, mayhap, but who was I to pick?)

Who vouched for me when this very club thought it too risky to employ me. (Not very honestly, mayhap, but by then he was in a position to know my habit was under control—)

Who still had little jobs for me, all these years running, whenever I needed fifty pounds or so—

No, often as we played, I had never cheated the man at golf. Never took a shilling off him that I didn’t earn by sweat, skill, or luck.

But then the son says: —I’m not talking about guineas or golfing, ye dunderhead.

By God, I suddenly thought, he means the other thing!

The thing I had been at so long that I barely counted it a cheat anymore. The thing that always had come second nature. The thing that had busted me up once before, and looked bound to bust me up again.

The son was still talking: —”He’s as honest as a vicar,” so dad always said. “A man who cheats for a pound will cheat for a penny, and he’s ne’er cheated me once.”

And right enough he was, but it hardly seemed fair to hold a body accountable for what he seemed bound to do. Friend or not, patron or not. They ought to have known I couldn’t be trusted to carry heroin. They ought to have known a junkie never truly loses the taste—

—Please hae some sympathy for a sportsman —I say again as the broken ends of the wedge stab closer. —Oh Lord, hae some sympathy please!