Dad shows me the ropes at the driving range. I am a grown woman so he doesn't do a weird thing hunching behind me and making me part of his swing, but he tries to get my hands to stay situated on the spongy black of the club. He wants victory more than I do. I blame my lazy eye but my arms aren't winning any prizes. They do whatever they want.
Supper with my parents is quietly fattening me up. The city is gone and ancient and filled with puddles and high-heeled shoes. I open the shutters for the view, like the mountains, of thin pine trees and sloping space cut out in the middle. Every once in a while we'll spot a golf ball from the window, round white in the dusk, plopped in the pine straw behind the deck. Dad wonders about the brand, wonders at the wall above my head. I am only sitting there chewing. I'll go! Clank a spoon, shove a chair, return bug-bit and grinning with a muddy Nike. Not bad, he says. What's the best? Titleist, he says. The Nike becomes smaller, less golf-like, maybe not even round. I put it on a napkin next to the butter. Dad keeps a red bucket full of strays in the garage, cleans them all up on Saturday mornings.
I scoffed at the golf course, the pre-meditated shapes, the green, the transported sand. I scoffed at everything when I moved to my parent's Mississippi town. But animals bustled when I roamed at the right time between night and day when the golf balls glowed in the leaves. I discovered huddles of trees, raccoons and rabbits at twilight. And golf balls. Stray golf balls under pinecones, in gutters, and sitting patiently on the green like nestless eggs. I brushed them off. Wiped them down my leg to uncover the names. I stowed the Callaways and Pinnacles in my pockets and held them while I walked. Another Pinnacle. Pinnacle's okay my dad says when I show him the bundle in my hands.
Dad comes with me after dinner next time and we pass through the close shrubs where the dragonflies glitter and the course opens out to the pond. We leave the cart path and hit the tree clumps behind houses where maybe wild animals bite. Dad doesn't say don't go in to the brush. My eyes adjust. See any? He asks. He would never do this secret scraping work.
I am exhilarated by the hunt in the sudden cluster of wilderness, by the way my ears buzz and by the warmth of the branches in my fingers. I wear heavy shoes and kick vines from my shoelaces. Not yet, I tell him. I discover short passageways that seem like progress, get quiet, as if I'll hear special Titleist noises. I breathe and I hear myself breathing, find a Pinnacle in the twigs. I bend, scoop, spot another, my eyes jerking through the brown tangle. I pluck the ball up out of the dirt, a Nike, and tumble out into the grass with my winnings.
My mother worries over our new hobby and West Nile and forces bug spray on dad and me, if we are going out again hunting for golf balls. We grumble together but let her spray us before we march down the wooden stairs, both of us already squinting at the darkening groundcover. We've learned where the golfers usually hit wrong. My dad bought a gadget, a pole with a loop on the end, for the water balls. We were hoping for a couple of floaters, to test the thing out. The repellant has no odor but there is an air of invincibility, a force field surrounding my skin as I walk through swarmy speckles of gnats.
Dad wanders way off in his dark slacks, intense strides, and the pole over his shoulder. I stand on a hill by the sand, notice a flutter in the grass, a bird, injured, maybe hit by a golf ball earlier in the day. A man from the cart path jogs over to where I am crouched down. My dad walks toward the ninth hole, walks fast and straight like my brother. We crinkle our brows, our heads close to our knees. His hair is gray and I trust him. He reaches out like the bird is not something he loves but something he would not care to lose.
Maybe it'll heal on its own, the man finally says and stands, slaps his hands on his shorts. I stand with my arms folded, nodding my head, as the man jogs off, away from our hill. Dad moves at the edge of the trees like a prowler. He cannot see where I am pointing, doesn't know why I cannot move from where I am standing as the sky streaks pink and orange, the dark lump of a bird with jittery feathers and breath and spastic legs pushing in circles and one eye staring sideways, up. I wipe at the grass on my knees but the blades are stuck to my skin. The jogger is gone but maybe home now peeling off his shoes, his eyes on the white tile of his kitchen, wondering if he let me down.