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Waiting to Hit

By J.T. Bushnell

For my twenty-seventh birthday my dad takes me golfing, and on each tee-box we catch the next group, three frat guys wearing baggy shorts and backwards caps, swinging from their heels, slicing shots deep into the woods. On the back nine my dad starts to simmer, makes growling noises, but then says he can't get very angry at anyone wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap. He's always liked Reds caps, he says. They're good-looking caps. Then he's silent for a moment. He gazes down the fairway where the frat guys are skidding their carts on wet grass, and he says he used to have a photo of my mom wearing his old Reds cap and cutoff jeans and a little tube top, just sitting on the floor and smiling at the camera, twenty-four, twenty-five years old. Just so cute, he says. As pretty as they come. From the look on his face I can tell how much they were in love then, I can see my mom in the photo as just a young girl in love, smiling at a camera, wearing the cap that belonged to the boy she would marry, and it brings tears to my eyes, because it makes me imagine photos of the girl I'm in love with, twenty-five now, twenty-four when we met, our faces pressed together, deep contentment in our eyes, and it strikes me like a blow to the stomach how beautiful she is, and how tender and fragile and special it is to be in love at this age.

I feel these things because I've lost her. Her ex-boyfriend from Massachusetts has just driven across the country to claim her, and she's with him now, visiting the cafés and restaurants we used to visit, introducing him to our friends, sleeping together between the same sheets we've slept between. That's why my eyes are wet, for my own pain and self-pity, for the knowledge that I'll never have a photo like the one my dad described, or the special feeling of remembering it.

The frat guys are searching for their balls, dropping new ones, hitting their second and third shots when my dad asks if I've seen the photo with the Reds cap. He says my mom, who divorced him eleven years ago, must still have it, and I understand what he's really asking is if the photo still exists. All I can tell him is I haven't seen it. And I realize that my father doesn't have his photo, either. He only has his precious memory of it, and probably pain and regret for what followed. Like me.

We sit in our cart until the frat guys top a ridge and disappear. Then, one at a time, we go tee up.

J.T. Bushnell lives in Corvallis, Oregon, where he teaches writing and literature at Oregon State University. His fiction has appeared in The Mississippi Review, among other places, and is forthcoming in The South Carolina Review. He earned his MFA from University of Oregon in 2007.



photo by Dinty W. Moore