Pastures in the Sand by Jonathan Danielson

Monty’s idiot son had to move back in after he got another DUI. After all the fines and fees left him without a pot to piss in.

“At his age, you’d think he’d finally pull his head out his ass,” Monty said to Robert and Arthur, after Monty teed off. He picked up his club’s sock and slid it over his driver, then rolled his shoulder back to stretch out the stiffness in his arm. As he did, he tapped his chest with his fist, at the spot where the heartburn had settled the night before. “He’s 61-years-old for Chrissake,” he said, as Robert bent over to push his tee into the ground. “At this point, you wouldn’t think I’d have to wipe his butt anymore.”

Robert laughed, then swatted the gnat by his ear, the sudden movement blowing his few hairs across his head, his scalp exposed as he got into his stance.

“You know, Janice’s kid had to move back too,” Arthur said, he and Monty leaning on their clubs like olden knights of yore, resting on their swords. With his gloved hand, Arthur took the cigar from his mouth, the tip moist from spit. “Lost her job at the Intel plant in Chandler. Laid her and her entire department off, Janice tells me.”

“Yeah, but those are your grandkids,” Robert said, and he took a practice swing before stepping up to his ball. “This is Monty’s kid we’re talking about.”

“That’s right,” Monty said. “My dumbass is old enough to have dumbass grandkids of his own. When’s it end?”

Arthur lifted his eyebrows in agreement, the long gray hairs raising over the golden rims of his glasses. As if truer words had never been spoken, Robert also nodded, then took a fast and graceful swing.

The three men stayed silent as the ball rose above the gentle curve of the Earth, then sailed over the dry green course, which weaved through the saguaros of the desert. The desert that, until Monty’s company built the course some thirty-five years earlier, had never once even fostered a single blade of grass.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Robert said, after the ball landed with a few bounces.

“Hell of a shot there,” Monty said, and he and Robert headed to their carts.

“Hell of a shot,” Arthur said, following.

At their carts, the men put their drivers in their bags–Robert taking a quick pull from his flask before tucking it away–and grabbed their next club. They drove the path to Arthur’s ball a dozen yards away, cutting across the course in single file, then circling the ball in the middle of the fairway like wagons of the old west.

“So what’re you planing on doing?” Arthur said, getting out of his cart and pulling up his pants, his polo-shirted belly resting on his belt buckle. Robert and Monty stayed parked behind him so they could watch where his ball went.

“What am I supposed to do?” Monty said, and as he shrugged–his gold bracelet sliding down his wrist–his heartburn tightened.

“You all right there?” Robert asked, after Monty grimaced and rubbed his chest, the bracelet sliding back and forth along his forearm. A few feet away, Arthur took a few practice swings, making divots each time.

“Heartburn,” Monty said. He stopped rubbing and shook out the cramping. “Irene made meatloaf last night, even though she knows it gives me gas.” Arthur stepped up and took his real swing, which sent grass exploding into the sky. Robert released his cart’s brake with his toe.

“So why’d she make it if she knows it gives you gas?”

“Because,” Monty said, and he squinted and pitched his voice nasally and shrill. “It’s Dumbass’s favorite,” he said, and Robert smiled as Monty mimicked his wife. “And we have to make him feel welcome.” Arthur pulled out a few blades of grass and tossed them at the divot.

“Good enough for government work,” he said, patting the damage with his foot. Robert and Monty shook their heads, then waited for Arthur to get back into his cart so they could drive a few yards up and let him try again.

“If I was you, I wouldn’t have let him move back,” Robert said, after Arthur hit and they drove the path until they veered off toward Monty’s ball, at the edge of the fairway. Monty got out his wedge and took a few swings. “But that’s just me.”

“Well, thank you for your time machine, Mr. Professor,” Monty said, stepping up for his shot. “Besides,” he said, stepping back. “I already told Irene that, but she asked, are you just going to let him sleep under a bridge, and I said, you’re Goddamn right we are.” Laughing with his cigar in his mouth, Arthur puffed smoke. Robert laughed too, then waved away the air.

“Jesus, how do you still smoke those things?” he said, and he got out of his cart to get away from the smell. He pulled out his flask from his bag.

“How’d you ever quit?” Arthur said, and he blew on the smoldering tip. Robert took a drink then laughed at how Arthur had him there. Monty also laughed, and when the smell reached him, he took a deep breath of it. He had never smoked cigars but always liked the smell. He liked even more that he had never started the habit, or Robert’s little hobby either–Robert taking another pull from his flask–and that he was stronger than that. Better. That his self-control made him better. Here he was, a decade older than Robert and fifteen years on Art, and he looked better than them both. He golfed better too. He took another breath because he liked to know what he was missing, and know he was better for missing it. He raised his arms above his head and circled his club behind his back, then rolled the ache out of his shoulder.

“Anyway,” Robert said, after Monty chipped it for an easy setup to the green. “He’s got to learn sooner or later.” He took another pull. “It’s not like he’s getting any younger.”

The three men nodded and finished the hole, Monty getting to the green on the next shot, then putting for par, Robert hitting the next three to get on the green, then putting for boogie, Arthur losing his ball and taking a drop, then another drop, then another, then scooting the ball into the hole with his foot for what he also scored as a boogie.

“Only three things in life are certain,” Monty said, putting back the flag. “Death, taxes, and Art’s bullshit golf scores.”

At the next hole, the tee was on top of a hill that overlooked Mesa and Scottsdale, the parts of the Valley Monty had built with his own ambition, back when he still owned the construction company. The business he had built from the ground up, and without any help from anyone else. The business that was supposed to be Dumbass’s one day to own, until Monty realized that day would never come. Until he sold it during the Clinton boom and his homes and neighborhoods got choked out by all the cheaply made knockoffs, built by some conglomerate from California.

When Monty was in charge, he had used brick and stone; materials that stood the test of time. Now everything was stucco sprayed on by the lowest bidder. Everything was half-assed and done without an inkling of integrity. Deteriorated like all before it, Monty thought, tightening his grip around his club, the Valley sprawl before him. Like the copper mines of his youth after they got mined out and their towns vanished, like the town where he was born before his father moved them to work the cotton fields of Phoenix. Like the desert where he had hunted quail and coyote with his brother before it turned into parks and schools, neighborhoods and million dollar homes. Homes his own company had built. Like the summers he had spent swimming in the canals before there were laws against it, and before he stood by helplessly as his brother got pulled into an undercurrent and never came up. Like when he rode in the sheriff’s car with his father, the pickups and horses of his father’s friends caravanning behind, and they pulled his brother out at the gate a few miles down. Like when he watched his father never get over it, blame him for it, and after all the fights with his mother–and the one time Monty defended her–how he watched his father hitch a ride to Roosevelt’s workers project in Sedona and never come back.

He had lived through twelve other presidents and their projects so far, from the putz Warren G. Harding to this new putz promising the same hope and change as every one before him. He had learned never to trust those promises. To rely on no one but himself. He had seen his friend Barry make those promises and lose, then forty-years later saw the same damn thing all over again with John. He had two other friends get impeached as governor after their pledges and guarantees. He had fought in a great war and watched his son go off to a war that was supposed to be great, but turned out to be a mistake. He had seen other wars become mistakes. He had eaten breakfast at the Goody-Goody for a dime before it was renamed the Coffee Pot and the food cost a quarter, and before they tore it down. He had met a girl, fell in love, had a miscarriage, met Irene, got married and had a family. Had Dumbass as his legacy to the world.

Monty pushed his tee into the dry, dead ground, and when he stood, the heartburn turned his chest into fire. He went to get into his stance, but his chest pulled tight, and he had to step away and rub the heat out of it.

“You sure you’re all right?” Robert asked. He and Arthur watched with a concern that annoyed Monty.

“I’m fine,” Monty said, and he wiped the sweat from his face. “Just a little hot air is all. Art, you know about that.”

Robert and Art laughed, then Robert coughed and waved the smoke out of his face.

“Jesus, Art,” he said. “Blow that somewhere else.”

With the heat subsiding, Monty stepped back to his ball and aligned it with his club. He dropped his shoulders and let the handle rest in the crook of his fingers. He focused on the muscles of his neck–keep your head down, his trainer had screamed thirty-five-years ago, his voice now pounding in Monty’s head with his heartbeat, stop ruining everything–because Monty had the horrible habit of delivering a perfect swing, a perfect drive, only to blow it at the last second with the inevitable need to look up and witness his shot. His success.

Monty put his eyes on the ball, on the black letters that were supposed to spell Ping but were fuzzed, blurred, and when Monty blinked during his backswing, the letters disappeared entirely. So did the ball. Instead, there was only a face in the green grass of the tee. His son’s face. With the club over Monty’s shoulder, Dumbass gawked right up at him.

Monty blinked again–the club barreling through gravity toward its target–but Dumbass’s dopey face remained, only now it was when he was sixteen, when the officer brought him home after smoking dope in the park with the Carter’s kid. It was when he flunked the 12th grade, not a class or two but the entire year, and Monty had to make a deal with the principal just to let him graduate. It was that summer when he woke up Dumbass before sunrise so he could help the crew dig the swimming pool in the principal’s backyard. It was when he came home after dropping out of U of A, then ASU after Monty made him enroll, then Phoenix College when he couldn’t cut it there either. It was after he was fired from the first job Monty set up for him. Then the next. It was the day Monty hired him to his birthright, and the day he fired him from it. It was after Dumbass’s first divorce and then his second. It was at each-and-every failure. Each-and-every disappointment.

It was in 1947 when his son was six-years-old and they were at the Christmas Party for Monty’s foreman, Tom Weaver. The year the company took off and Monty had an entire workforce of returning GI’s. Disciplined workers. It was after his mother gave their son a glass of egg nog and sent him to go find wherever his father had run off. It was after he went through Tom’s home, making sure to not spill a single drop on the newly laid carpet. After he came to the office in the back. It was when he pushed open the door with his little hand–Irene and Tom and the other guests singing carols around Tom’s mother’s piano in the living room–and his father had Barbara Weaver on her back on Tom’s desk. It was when Monty rushed over and slammed the door in his face. When Monty opened it seconds later, his shirt tucked back in and Barbara behind him, smoothing her dress against her body. It was when he yelled at him for dropping the glass of egg nog, the glass having shattered when it hit the ground.

It was his face every time Irene made Monty take him to little league when Monty didn’t want to, and how every time he had to drop off papers at his secretary’s home along the way. It was every time he left him in the car, in uniform and cap, and every time he came back out fifteen minutes later. It was those nights around the dinner table, when Monty and his son sat silently across each other, and Irene happily told about her day.

It was his son’s face from the night before, when he knocked on their door after getting released from Tent City and had nowhere to go. It was when Monty showed him to his room, and he sat on his bed with his one and only bag. When he bounced gently on the springs. It was after Monty told him he knew where the blankets were in case he got cold. When he went to leave and his son said, “Dad–” and Monty turned to him. To that look that was always unconditional of anything else. Monty again turned to the leave, but before he could his son said, “I’m sorry,” and then, as Monty was trying to close the door, “I love you.”

The club’s face connected with the ball and the sound of the strike echoed over the course. The ball launched off the tee and Robert and Arthur dropped their clubs–Arthur’s cigar falling from his lips–as they rushed to Monty on the ground. Their friend, who stared up at the sky, but who could not focus on one place. One cloud or bird or plane. Whose arms rhythmically curled in on themselves with a burning beat that diminished with every repetition.

And although the three men couldn’t watch the ball’s flight, couldn’t stand in silence and nod in approval, if they could they would have witnessed a ball fly straighter and farther than any of their drives before it. Like a bullet, the ball traversed the course, its flight perfect, but then, before it landed, its path began to curve. It obtusely hooked, and when it hit the ground it bounced into the rough, stopping at the place where the grass met the dirt. Where the course became flush to the desert, which had once sprawled over everything. Which was once the dominant force around them, but which had slowly been choked back by the movement of growth. By the seeds that blew and sprouted wherever they landed.

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