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Just Golf Clubs - short story


It wasn’t spilled milk that worried me. I knew she was going to slosh it from the way her hand, unblemished and tan, shook as she talked on her cell phone. I could clean up the milk, but she had travertine floors and held a fragile glass. 
While making a pot of decaf, I tried to decipher the conversation from just her side of it, but she kept stepping out of the room. She gestured with the glass as she talked. The milk slopped on the floor. She walked right through it. Had she spiked it?
The phone call heated up. I was getting the gist. Whoever was on the other end couldn’t have been saying much. She paced near the stove as if anchored by a landline. Maybe she’d decided I should be in on this. Framed in blonde, her face went red. I was afraid she'd start stomping her feet. She could slip. She glanced at me as if making sure I was getting all this. I could have heard it on the lawn. Lots of cussing and name calling. 
I should have made regular coffee. It was past time for her alcohol. She was one of those, ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere,’ drinkers. One dared not criticize Mary--for anything.
 I walked over to take the glass, but as I reached for it she threw it. It crashed against the wall and shattered. The milk ran brown down the wall, laced with a brandy liqueur, by the smell of it.
She stabbed her cell to end the call, jabbing as if to make one final hard point. She stomped into the living room and threw the phone, overhand, toward the couch, then went to the liquor cabinet and fixed a real drink. 
I stood in the doorway with a rag in my hand. "Why are you throwing things? Calm down."
She put a finger to her lips, made her eyes go wide, gave me a fake smile and said, in her most sardonic manner, “Whoops.” She glared at nothing in particular, her hands maybe. She was particular about her hands, and had noticed a ‘liver spot’ yesterday. She slung ice cubes, one by one, into her new brew, began pouring bourbon. 
I cleaned up the broken glass in the kitchen. I could feel her steaming in the absolute quiet of the next room, the kind of quiet that if you said anything to break it, the roof might cave. I went to the front door and opened it for air. The lengthening days of spring had melted the roads to mud. My car was splattered with it. The redbuds had buds. A robin sat under a leafless tree, pecking at dead grass near a reluctant bit of snow.
 As I stood observing the struggle of seasons, too warm for one, too cold for the other, I realized there was something I wanted to tell Mary, but I couldn’t put my mind on what it was, like something I couldn’t unpack--not today.
The urge to comfort her overtook my fear. I wanted Mary. She had the body, the face, an attitude for the bedroom. Except for the witch in her, she’d be perfect, even drunk, especially drunk. I wondered what had caused the outburst? Maybe it was Joe. Could have been Alex. Maybe it was Ted. Ken, perhaps?
I shut the front door and went back into the living room. I took a seat, gingerly, in the huge leather chair the size of a throne that no one ever used. I folded my hands in my lap like a schoolchild. She sat sideways on the couch with her skirt hiked. In her sleeveless blouse she looked as if she was posing for Playboy.
“Was it Joe?” I said, thinking thighs.
“You know damn well it was Joe. Don’t play games, Mike.”
“What’s wrong with us, Mary, that you can’t forget Joe?” I said.
“You’re talking in riddles, Mike. Spit it out. I hate Joe and you know it.”
“Fine line between love and hate, Mary. Clearly, you’re not over Joe. If I was a better man for you, maybe you’d be over Joe.” I'd entered risky territory, but acting pathetic sometimes worked.
“You just want to know why he called, don’t you? You’re afraid to ask it straight. You dance around it. You’re afraid of too many things, Mike. Fear is your problem. You’re weak." She took a sip, looked at me and shook her head with disgust. "I hope your going to shave before tomorrow. That’s an awful shirt.” She shook down the bracelets on her wrists and took another pull on her drink.
“Why'd Joe call?”
“He wanted his god damn golf clubs. After six fucking months, he calls for his golf clubs. When I answered the phone. Joe said, ‘Hello, Mary, how are you?’ He sounded all sweet and forgiving. Then, he said he wanted his golf clubs. Just like that. ‘I want my golf clubs, Mary.’ Said he had left them in the garage. Said he would be in town Saturday and wanted to drop by and pick up his golf clubs.”
“Sooooo, why'd that piss you off?”
“I don’t know, Mike.” Again with the sarcasm. “No wonder you’re so lonely. Sometimes a woman just explodes.”
“So I’ve noticed.” 
She paused and looked at me. One of her harder looks. “He thinks he can drop in on my life any time he wants. Such an asshole.” She flicked at her hair with her fingers then shook it back off her face. She sipped and scowled and muttered. I didn’t dare ask what it was she muttered. She repositioned. Her skirt shifted.
Her drink drained, she began to eat and crunch ice. She looked at me while she chewed. I felt her assessment. Saw the roll of her eyes. I'd gained a few pounds, but she liked my income.
The way she displayed herself there on the couch had my courage up. You might find it hard understand how such things can affect a man. Sex dripped from the couch. Lust and allure mixed with alcohol and hatred is daunting brew for a coward like me, and there’s only so much you can take.
“You haven’t heard from him in six months. That’s what you said. Half a year. How is that dropping into your life any time he wants? Once in six months? Just give him the golf clubs, Mary. Why throw your drama fit?” I cringed at what might come next.
Instead of throwing her glass at me, she’d started to cry, but without any tears. More a craze or a rage. Her whole body shook with it. She stood and walked to the liquor cabinet. I went over and stood behind her and began rubbing her shoulders. She may have growled. I bent forward and kissed the top of her head. Her fragrance. I suggested into her hair that we get out of the house, go to a movie. A matinee of Zero Dark Thirty was showing. Something we'd talked about. Seemed a reasonable idea. I was wrong.
“You expect me to go to a movie? Just like that? Can’t you see I’m a wreck? You men take the cake sometimes, you know that?”
“Golf clubs, Mary. Just golf clubs.”
She tossed back the rest of her drink like an actor in a western. She turned toward the cabinet to fix another. She mumbled something about an anniversary gift and the golf clubs. I stepped in front of her and opened my arms to hug her.
That’s when she slapped me. She slapped me again. 
I was thinking it was about time I should go.
As I backed my Mercedes from the drive, I saw she had thrown the golf clubs, bag and all, onto the lawn. Joe had his woods in head covers, but I couldn’t see the driver. The robin was gone. The irons were name brand. Good set, but I didn’t see the putter. I needed a better putter. Then, I saw Mary between the curtains watching me. In one hand she held his putter. Her other hand was pulling her hair. That’s all I could see.

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