The Fire, fiction by Rod Siino

On the day of the fire, my father and I stood in the snowy park­ing lot of my apart­ment com­plex and watched the water from the hoses trans­form my base­ment unit into a wad­ing pool. The smoke escap­ing from the bro­ken win­dows of the four-sto­ry brick build­ing drift­ed upward, stop­ping about fifty feet above the flat rooftop. There it hung–not black, exact­ly, more a char­coal gray–a result of some freak inver­sion effect caus­ing it to hang there for hours after the last flames had been doused, a lin­ger­ing reminder of my cur­rent cir­cum­stance.

The next day, when the thaw hit, every­thing began to melt, and I began to move out. We walked through the foot-high water in my liv­ing room, float­ing paper­back books and record albums bob­bing around like so much lit­ter in a pol­lut­ed lake.

Get those up,” my father said, point­ing to a cor­ner of the room.

Like a corpse doing a dead man’s float, my brand new golf bag with a new set of Tour blades was knock­ing against a wall from the waves we made by mov­ing about the apart­ment. I gath­ered them up, heavy with water and grime, and threw the bag over my shoul­der as a cad­dy does when he read­ies him­self to walk a fair­way. All I want­ed then was to head to a range; hit some balls; swing free and easy and ready myself for the next round, but that wouldn’t come for months. We silent­ly walked out of the mess and into the snowy day­light and free­dom of the park­ing lot, pud­dles and snow melt­ing all around us. I leaned the bag against my truck, shiv­er­ing, cold from wad­ing through my apart­ment. We stood there, an old man and his grown son, and hugged. It was the first time he’d hugged me since I was a kid. It was the last time he’d ever hug me.

That set of golf clubs had been one of many I’d owned through­out my life. When I was a boy, my father had brought me home my first golf club, which he’d found in the bin of used clubs at the pro shop of the course where he played every week with his bud­dies from work. My father was an elec­tri­cal engi­neer, and worked for a defense con­trac­tor. His real love, though, was the game he played once a week, weath­er per­mit­ting. We lived togeth­er, just the two of us, in a small town in Mass­a­chu­setts. This was long after my moth­er had left us and then died in a car acci­dent. His golf day was Sat­ur­day, and on the par­tic­u­lar Sat­ur­day he brought me the club I was twelve and, at that time, was grad­u­al­ly becom­ing aware of his affin­i­ty for the game. We watched the pros on tele­vi­sion often, and he’d speak in rev­er­en­tial tones about their abil­i­ties, as if these were traits every­man should have. “See?” he would say. “Do you see the con­cen­tra­tion? The focus?”

From the moment I first held that junior 7-iron with a fac­sim­i­le of Chi Chi Rodriguez’s sig­na­ture etched into the back, I set out to learn the game of golf. It was a good way to break into it, my father said, hav­ing just the sin­gle club.

Learn it a club at a time,” he said, “if you ever want to be a shot-mak­er.”

I car­ried that club with me wher­ev­er I went. I’d stand in front of our black and white tele­vi­sion on Sat­ur­day or Sun­day after­noons study­ing the pros, imi­tat­ing their swings, in awe of their calm under pres­sure. Some­times I stood at atten­tion, as I would in church dur­ing those times when you’re sup­posed to be qui­et, in total silence while the announc­er whis­pered about Jack Nick­laus look­ing over a five-foot­er for par, or Arnold Palmer on the tee hit­ting anoth­er big drive–always strik­ing the ball so hard it looked as if he’d need trac­tion for the torque he’d exert­ed on his back.

He’s try­ing to hurt that ball,” my father said with a smile.

Back then, Tiger Woods wasn’t even born yet; the best golfers were guys like Nick­laus and Palmer and Gary Play­er, play­ing at places with names that cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion: Augus­ta, Bal­tus­rol, Shin­necock Hills, Winged Foot, The Roy­al & Ancient, and Pine­hurst #2.

My father was like many fathers, apt to point out to his son life’s lessons from the minu­tia of the seem­ing­ly unre­mark­able. He wasn’t big on plat­i­tudes, though. He’d nev­er say a thing like, “There aren’t any short­cuts to suc­cess,” or “If at first you don't suc­ceed try, try again.” For him, golf and the pro­fes­sion­als we watched tran­scend­ed what until then to me were sim­ply clubs and balls and pret­ty pic­tures of fair­ways and greens. I grad­u­al­ly came to under­stand that the expanse of a golf course was more a place of refuge where you were alone with your thoughts, chal­lenged your­self in small ways, where sub­tle changes have pro­found effects on final results.

Walk­ing around my neigh­bor­hood, cut­ting through neigh­bors’ yards with friends or even by myself, I could be seen with Chi Chi on my shoul­der, a twelve year old boy dream­ing of becom­ing a shot-maker—to have the char­ac­ter­is­tics my father found so impor­tant: con­fi­dence, focus, dri­ven by the desire to be excel­lent at some­thing. Noth­ing then, or now, pro­vid­ed more moti­va­tion for me than to make my father proud of me. At first I played in my back­yard with plas­tic golf balls, and then, some­times with my father, went down to the school play­ground with used balls from his bag.

Be a shot-mak­er, Pete,” he would say.

It seemed that I shanked and hooked and sliced a thou­sand shots before I’d move to the next club. I’d spray balls across that field at every angle and tra­jec­to­ry in my some­times futile attempt at mas­ter­ing a club. Even­tu­al­ly, I grad­u­at­ed to a full set, learn­ing each club as my father pre­scribed.

One sum­mer, I was prob­a­bly thir­teen or four­teen by then, my friends and I laid out a nine-hole par three golf course on the play­ground. We used just our 7-irons, a club that typ­i­cal­ly yield­ed shots of a hun­dred thir­ty yards or so for us. The course incor­po­rat­ed a park­ing lot as a water haz­ard, and the woods all around as out of bounds. If you hit the school build­ing, it was a two-shot penal­ty. Giv­en our love for the sound of smash­ing glass, if you broke a win­dow it was only a one-shot penal­ty, even if your ball was lost inside the school. We used the jun­gle gyms, slides, swing sets, see-saws and even a sew­er grate, all scat­tered across the field, as the holes. Hit the tar­get and you were con­sid­ered “in.” Win the match and you’d win the Mas­ters, or one of the Opens or the PGA.

As I prac­ticed ear­ly on and learned more about the game from my father and from the pros on tele­vi­sion, I decid­ed I’d always be a golfer. But I nev­er want­ed to be a pro­fes­sion­al golfer. I would leave that to those on the Tour, the dis­ci­plined play­ers who could get home from a hang­ing lie two-hun­dred fifty yards from a green sur­round­ed by deep bunkers or water. Me, it’s tak­en time, but I’ve devel­oped a ser­vice­able game–one that comes and goes, takes me to the heights of joy as much as it does to the low­est lev­els of frus­tra­tion. I’ve played many rounds, even won a cou­ple local tour­na­ments like my father did, but mak­ing a career out of it wasn’t for me. I could nev­er take up as a pro­fes­sion that which I love so well.

 

Grow­ing up, I spent most of my time out­doors. It’s what comes with liv­ing alone with your dad. When he was at home, he’d give me things to do around the house, and do things with me, help with home­work or talk about golf tech­niques. When he was at work or out with his bud­dies, he gave me leave to do what I want­ed, which usu­al­ly meant walk­ing the neigh­bor­hood streets with my friends, play­ing in the woods, golf­ing on the play­ground. He was there for me when I need­ed him, though. Years lat­er, when Tom Tay­lor set fire to my apart­ment build­ing, caus­ing most of my belong­ings to suf­fer water dam­age, my father was there car­ry­ing fur­ni­ture and sog­gy books out of my apart­ment and into a rental van. It took us two days in that Jan­u­ary thaw, and by then he was near­ly sev­en­ty years old.

And so, I grew to be most com­fort­able out­doors. I love the smell of fall­en leaves, the greens and yel­lows of the grass dur­ing sum­mer, and the sun on my shoul­ders year-round. Land­scap­ing just seemed to hap­pen nat­u­ral­ly. Not a glam­orous career, as my father often remind­ed me, but I’m out­side most of the year, and I know every­thing there is to know about lawn care in this part of the coun­try. The north­east presents chal­lenges for grass because the weath­er varies to extremes between the cold win­ters and the humid­i­ty of the sum­mers. When a cus­tomer wants to know about blue­grass­es, fes­cues, rye­grass­es and bent grass­es, and which ones are best adapt­ed here, I’m your man. I tell them I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of Ken­tucky Blue­grass for its excel­lent recu­per­a­tive and repro­duc­tive capac­i­ty. It devel­ops a dense turf stand, has excel­lent col­or and mows more clean­ly than tougher-blad­ed grass­es such as peren­ni­al rye­grass. It also has greater cold tol­er­ance than either peren­ni­al rye­grass or tall fes­cue.

True, I spend win­ters doing oth­er activ­i­ties to keep me finan­cial­ly afloat, like snow plow­ing. But win­ter doesn’t mean that I stop think­ing about golf. I still prac­tice my swing indoors, where I can also do my visu­al­iza­tion exer­cis­es. I close my eyes and see myself mak­ing shots, hit­ting fair­ways off the tee, drop­ping a 3-iron soft­ly onto a postage stamp green from two-twen­ty, mak­ing a thir­ty-foot ben­der for a par. Some­times I imag­ine I’m at the tee of the 12th hole at Augus­ta, my father in the gallery, look­ing at a hun­dred fifty-five yarder with a nar­row, cant­ed green guard­ed by Rae’s Creek. A shot-maker’s hole. Hit it too high and the wind can get hold of your ball and knock it down into the water or move it away from tar­get; too low and you can skip it into the rear bunker, set­ting your­self up for a come-backer with the water wait­ing on the far side of the green. I pic­ture myself drop­ping a 7-iron right next to the pin–every time.

 

Although the smell of the fire clinged to every arti­cle of fur­ni­ture, cloth­ing and oth­er fix­tures and acces­sories I owned, we dried it all out as best we could, packed up what was sal­vage­able and moved me here. This was three years ago. I think the smell is gone now, but maybe I’ve got­ten so used to it that I just don’t notice it any­more.

Were it not for my liv­ing room being in a state of dis­ar­ray, it would be a pleas­ant set­ting for qui­et sum­mer nights like this one. I have proof. Pho­tographs, cur­rent­ly in a safe deposit box, were done for insur­ance pur­pos­es at my father’s sug­ges­tion. He pho­tographed this entire apart­ment, each and every sur­viv­ing item, and pack­aged them all up in a pho­to album. He looked hag­gard that day after we’d fin­ished mov­ing, a lit­tle more hunched over than nor­mal, his skin tone grow­ing paler by the moment.

I told him to be care­ful, that he’d exert­ed him­self more than nec­es­sary, but he scoffed at the idea of slow­ing down and said, sim­ply, “Next time you’ll be ready.”

The pho­tos he hand­ed to me show a room that is more than just liv­able, no ques­tion; it was to be envied. But since I moved, I’m not a good clean­er. Except for nar­row paths from the liv­ing room to the kitchen to the bed­room to the only bath­room in the apart­ment, the hard­wood floor has gone miss­ing. Scat­tered around the apart­ment is my album col­lec­tion of near­ly a thou­sand, some with­out their orig­i­nal cov­ers, lost in the fire. The albums aren’t the prin­ci­pal com­po­nent of the clut­ter. Books and mag­a­zines, some in piles, some scat­tered, are every­where. There’s unwashed sil­ver­ware, unopened mail, opened mail, pock­et change, soda bot­tles and cans, a piz­za box, a few golf balls, an over­turned table lamp bro­ken from an errant prac­tice swing, a Wil­son per­sim­mon head dri­ver, a leather-gripped Tour blad­ed 7-iron and, of course, the record albums. All of the albums were once alpha­bet­ized with­in their respec­tive gen­res: rock, jazz, clas­si­cal, etc. Now none are alpha­bet­i­cal and most are unplayable.

Tom Tay­lor was nev­er arrest­ed for start­ing the fire. It was gen­er­al­ly agreed, though, by those of us who were affect­ed by the fire, that he’d done it. We’d heard the apart­ment com­plex, which he owned with a part­ner, was in the way of a larg­er devel­op­ment they’d want­ed to build. Accord­ing to the police, though, noth­ing could be proven. To what I’m sure was Tom’s great dis­ap­point­ment, one of my neigh­bors report­ed the fire before it could do per­ma­nent dam­age, so it wasn’t a total loss for insur­ance pur­pos­es. I’m guess­ing that at this point Tom has found oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties in real estate.

Like me, Tom was a golfer of some mer­it, and more than once the two of us had casu­al­ly dis­cussed what it would take to own and oper­ate a golf course. He’d not been a mem­ber at a pri­vate club then, pre­fer­ring to accept the invi­ta­tions of those who were mem­bers. He often said he admired my turf knowl­edge and my abil­i­ties as a land­scap­er, and that one day he hoped he’d be able to offer me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to use my tal­ents on some­thing, in his words, “more sub­stan­tial than just cut­ting and seed­ing lawns and doing yard clean ups.” Now, this, of course, was before the fire, and if Tom has sim­i­lar aspi­ra­tions now, I haven’t heard. He took golf seri­ous­ly, though, and had a par­tic­u­lar source of pride that he seemed to take great care in nur­tur­ing: Tom had an uncan­ny resem­blance to Gary Play­er. The only thing miss­ing was Player’s South African accent. A golfer well known for being in great phys­i­cal con­di­tion, Play­er wore black almost exclu­sive­ly. He had a cer­tain appeal among fans and stature among his com­pe­ti­tion as some­one to be admired, if for noth­ing else than his excel­lent sense of style. Nobody looked bet­ter in a pair of black slacks, a black short-sleeve Per­ry Ellis but­toned to the top, and black pullover vest than Gary Play­er. Tom, who like Play­er was short and slight, wore only black, even in sum­mer. Just the way the pant leg fell off their knees and down to their feet, with the crease bend­ing at the ankle; and their shoul­ders, broad as they were, accent­ed per­fect­ly by the ubiq­ui­tous vest. These were golfers with style.

 

After years of being a land­scap­er, I’d grown used to my father’s occa­sion­al polite­ly neg­a­tive com­men­tary about my career choice. Although he said he was proud of me a num­ber of times, he did express his con­cern about the inher­ent pit­falls of being a small busi­ness own­er.

A guy work­ing out of his truck with a cou­ple lawn mow­ers and a two-man crew is not a viable busi­ness long-term,” he would tell me.

Sure, I strug­gled for a while—all with the unstat­ed aim of mak­ing him proud of me. It took me years to under­stand how to man­age the costs asso­ci­at­ed with equip­ment upkeep and pay­roll. Not to men­tion the lit­tle things like billing cus­tomers, pay­ing for sup­plies; and then there’s just deal­ing with cus­tomers, which in my case is more of a chal­lenge because, for bet­ter or worse, my clien­tele have always been what I would con­sid­er wealthy – anoth­er way of say­ing that they’re know-it-alls with noth­ing bet­ter to do than tell me how to do my job. Just because a guy’s a doc­tor, he fig­ures he knows every­thing. I have debat­ed turf types with sur­geons who don’t know the dif­fer­ence between a Bermu­da grass and a fes­cue. One guy thought a rhi­zome had some­thing to do with the atmos­phere. Then there’s the finan­cial side of deal­ing with cus­tomers. Ever try to get fifty bucks out of the pres­i­dent of a bank? Or from some thir­ty-year old mil­lion­aire? Let me tell you, there’s a rea­son rich peo­ple are rich. I main­tain my cool, though. I’ve nev­er come to blows with a cus­tomer. If they begin to piss me off, I smile and think of some­thing else. Not a par­tic­u­lar­ly healthy habit, I know.

All this, of course, val­i­dat­ed to some extent my father’s argu­ment in the first place. But I’d hoped he would even­tu­al­ly come to under­stand that I was hap­py stay­ing small and play­ing golf, some­thing I would ask him about now if he were still alive. I wish he hadn’t exert­ed him­self so much dur­ing my move. I just wish he could be here now so we could talk some more about it; so he could see that although it’s been dif­fi­cult, it’s also been reward­ing.

 

I pick up the 7-iron now, from its rest­ing place on top of an album stack, and take a sniff of the blade. No sign of smoke, just the sweet smell of sum­mer grass. I’ve been think­ing about some­thing late­ly. Why not bring the play­ground golf course con­cept to my cur­rent neigh­bor­hood? My con­cern, of course, has been how my neigh­bors will react to this, but giv­en that my golf game is far supe­ri­or to that of my youth, I’m hop­ing my improved shot con­trol will ease their con­cerns. I now live in an exclu­sive­ly res­i­den­tial area of the city, at the inter­sec­tion of five streets, cre­at­ing a diag­o­nal span between the far­thest house from mine of about a hun­dred fifty to a hun­dred six­ty yards, the cur­rent length for my 7-iron. This open space across pave­ment is espe­cial­ly appeal­ing because it will give me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to work on the height of my shot, which late­ly has inex­plic­a­bly flat­tened.

In addi­tion to that, I’ve found it increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to make a con­fi­dent club selec­tion. My father, I’m sure, would sug­gest that I just keep at it. Go to the range, he’d say, and prac­tice. Even on the day he died, it’s one of the last things we talked about before I final­ly con­vinced him to go home and get some rest. When I got the call that he’d been rushed to the hos­pi­tal, I’d been putting the fin­ish­ing touch­es on orga­niz­ing my new home. This was dif­fer­ent from when my moth­er had died. Back then, I wasn’t old enough to appre­ci­ate any of it. I didn’t under­stand that my father’s griev­ing for her, despite the fact that she had left him, was an ongo­ing process that was wrapped up in every­thing he did and said. All he ever told me about her leav­ing was that she’d left to find some­thing that she hadn’t ever found with him. Know­ing the man as I did, I could see that his pen­sive demeanor might have been hard to live with. It was all in his head. As I was sit­ting next to him in the Inten­sive Care Unit, watch­ing the machines keep him alive, I thought about how he was leav­ing me, and knew for the first time how he must have felt all those years about my moth­er hav­ing left.

He died that evening. The doc­tor said his heart gave out.

 

I prac­tice address­ing the ball now as I con­sid­er my ever-evolv­ing plan. After reflect­ing on what I thought would be my father’s advice, I approached the local pro the oth­er day at the dri­ving range and had him watch me hit a few shots.

You’re stiff on the back swing,” he said.

You would be too,” I said, “if you raked, plant­ed, seed­ed or cut fifty lawns a week dur­ing the sum­mer.” Clear­ly he was more a stu­dent of swing mechan­ics than of the men­tal game of golf, which I’m bet­ting is the real issue. This guy's got it easy, I thought, and I told him so. Out in the real golf­ing world there are greens to hit, not just ply­wood signs with num­bers paint­ed on them like at the range. Did he think Gary Player’s game got bet­ter by aim­ing at the per­son inside the lit­tle cage of the trac­tor retriev­ing balls at the range? Play­er could choose the right club at the right time every time, and always be in style. Until Tiger, golfers every­where didn’t ful­ly appre­ci­ate the com­bi­na­tion of style and sub­stance. For me, although I appre­ci­ate and admire style, I don’t have any. I can’t match a smart pair of slacks with a nice­ly fit­ting shirt. Even if I did, I don’t have the right body type to do it jus­tice. Although my shoul­ders are nice­ly square, my legs are too short. I’ve got to be a shot-mak­er. If I can’t choose the club to get home with, I’m dead.

For­get my back,” I said to the pro. “Get into my head. Help me get home. I need to pick a club!”

But he was unre­lent­ing, insist­ing that if I was seri­ous about my golf game, I’d con­sid­er a career change. This, I thought, sounds too much like my father talk­ing to me about the land­scap­ing busi­ness. Although he nev­er would have sug­gest­ed that my game would improve if I changed careers. Still, it res­onat­ed with me enough that I imme­di­ate­ly ter­mi­nat­ed my rela­tion­ship with the pro. With my plan for a neigh­bor­hood golf course, I won’t need him any­way.

The log­i­cal next step, then, is to speak with all those neigh­bors whose front yards will serve as the holes, and espe­cial­ly speak to the own­ers of the house a full 7-iron away. There’s a young dog­wood that’s per­fect for the pin, cen­tered as it is between a dri­ve­way and a flag­stone walk­way. And, more good news: these neigh­bors are new, hav­ing moved in just last week. All I need to do, I hope, is to become friend­ly with them, and maybe offer them free lawn care.

I’m a plan­ner by nature, and although this may seem like an over-sim­pli­fi­ca­tion for the task at hand, I’m also a firm believ­er in meet­ing things head on. I look out my sec­ond sto­ry win­dow now across the expanse of pave­ment toward the house in ques­tion, a 1920’s vil­lage colo­nial with white clap­board and new­ly installed ener­gy-effi­cient dou­ble-hung win­dows. A red SUV sits in the dri­ve­way.

I hold the leather grip of the 7-iron, inter­lock­ing my fin­gers as I would on the golf course, and swing the club in slow motion, imag­in­ing the ball drop­ping soft­ly onto my neighbor’s grass with­in inch­es of the dog­wood tree. This, I think, is some­thing I wish my father could be here to see.

Stuff­ing three golf balls into the pock­et of my shorts, I walk down the stairs and onto my front porch. The smell is of humid city air mixed with cut grass, as a neigh­bor down the block mows his lawn. I stand on my own grass look­ing down at my feet, still clad in work boots. Although I rent, my landlord’s allowed me to exper­i­ment on this lawn as long as I take care of it. I plant­ed creep­ing red, a fine fes­cue, before last win­ter and then tried over-seed­ing with Ken­tucky Blue­grass. The turf is per­form­ing quite well, and will make an excel­lent first tee. I con­sid­er get­ting my golf shoes out of my golf bag, but instead I drop the golf balls onto the grass and begin to take prac­tice swings in earnest. My back is sore as usu­al, and as I stop to stretch I see some­one walk­ing across the des­ig­nat­ed first green.

He’s far enough away so I can see only that it is a man and not a woman, and that he’s dressed well, if not unusu­al­ly, for this humid sum­mer night. It being dusk, col­ors are some­times dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish, espe­cial­ly dark ones. I remem­ber once buy­ing what I thought was a black shirt only to find it was dark green, so I don’t want to be quick to judge. I stand com­plete­ly still, and squint.

He walks from the SUV to the dog­wood, drag­ging some­thing behind him what appears to be a hose and sprin­kler. Good lawn care is an admirable trait in any­one, and I’m delight­ed in this case for obvi­ous rea­sons. At least as far as the lawn care goes. Grad­u­al­ly, though, it’s reg­is­ter­ing with me: not only is this guy wear­ing black, long pants and all, but he’s some­what short with short hair and an excel­lent sense of style. My back begins to feel worse as I think about short golfers in good shape and the peo­ple they resem­ble.

There's very lit­tle traf­fic in the neigh­bor­hood tonight. The sky dark­ens as the sun begins to set, so I need to act fast. Who­ev­er my new neigh­bor is, he's gone back into the house. I’ve aban­doned my orig­i­nal plan, the one that includ­ed me endear­ing myself to these new folks. A new plan begins to take shape, but before I imple­ment it, I need to be sure who I'm deal­ing with. I pick up one of the golf balls and stuff it into my back pock­et. With the Tour blade on my shoul­der, a grown-up ver­sion of that lit­tle kid who long ago toured the neigh­bor­hoods with a junior Chi Chi Rodriguez on his shoul­der, I walk the expanse of pave­ment toward the house. I silent­ly count the paces from my house to the neighbor's as I walk, three feet to a step. I'm think­ing: why not con­firm the dis­tance?

I keep my eyes focused on the yard in hopes of see­ing this guy again, in hopes of mak­ing a final deter­mi­na­tion that it is not Tom.

Eighty yards so far.

Noth­ing would make me hap­pi­er than to dis­cov­er that I've made a ter­ri­ble mis­take. Chalk it up to a long day in the sun. Maybe my new neigh­bor and I will laugh about it over a beer. Anoth­er guy dressed like Gary Play­er, that's not unusu­al. Good style is always “in.”

I imag­ine any­one see­ing me now assumes I'm just tak­ing a pleas­ant stroll, maybe head­ed the sev­er­al blocks to the field down the street to prac­tice chip shots. I’ve done it before.

One hun­dred and twen­ty-three yards.

A car dri­ves by as I get clos­er to the house. The sprin­kler pass­es back and forth on the lawn.

I'm less than a chip shot away now and I see move­ment in the house. A light is on in one of the first floor rooms. Sil­hou­ettes of a man and a woman behind a drawn cur­tain move around. The front door swings open and Tom Tay­lor walks out. He doesn't see me at first. I stop.

One fifty-one to the curb.

Hel­lo,” I say, and he turns. There is no recog­ni­tion in his face.

Hi.” He looks at the 7-iron on my shoul­der. I think he’s scared. I like that.

I take the golf ball from my pock­et and toss it up and down. I con­sid­er doing a Tiger Woods, using the club head and golf ball like a pad­dle and rub­ber ball, but I'm not in the mood to show off. I don't know what to do now, but I do know I don’t want this guy as a neigh­bor, espe­cial­ly in the house that was to have been the first hole in my neigh­bor­hood golf course. And there’s no way I’m going to give him free lawn care.

I don't say any­thing else. I turn and walk toward my house because I know what must be done. It's almost com­plete­ly dark now, so I'll need to rely on street lights and light from the sur­round­ing hous­es. When I reach my house, I lean the 7-iron against my truck, and go to my stor­age area in the base­ment. There, beneath more clut­ter, is a three gal­lon plas­tic con­tain­er filled with used balls I've accu­mu­lat­ed over many years. I nev­er can bring myself just to throw them away.

Call it an adren­a­line rush, I don't know, but my back doesn't both­er me as I car­ry it out of the base­ment and onto the lawn. Next, I retrieve my golf bag from the apart­ment, set it up next to me, and then tilt the con­tain­er of balls enough so that about fifty balls fall out. I’ll need all of my clubs tonight.

 

The first shot, a 7-iron, is lost in the dark­ness. I hear it thwack against some­thing sol­id, prob­a­bly the side of a house, but cer­tain­ly not Tom's. The next shot, though, is per­fect. It's a big 7-iron, a majes­tic 7-iron, a Tiger 7-iron, high and far. Although I nev­er see it in flight, from the moment I hit it I know it's on tar­get. The shat­ter­ing of glass from Tom's sec­ond sto­ry win­dow con­firms it. That’s a one-shot penal­ty, I think. But I shake that off and con­tin­ue. I prac­tice dri­ves and fair­way woods. I prac­tice draw­ing the ball with my 3-iron, and slic­ing it with the 5-iron. His SUV is the unfor­tu­nate recip­i­ent of an errant shot when I fal­ter a lit­tle, my 6-iron tra­jec­to­ry flat­tens, and the ball careens off the pave­ment and into its tail­gate. The thwunk from hit­ting the roof of the house, though, is espe­cial­ly sat­is­fy­ing. Tom's yells grow loud­er now, as he stands next to the dog­wood.

Neigh­bors watch the com­mo­tion from their doorsteps and yards. That last 7-iron was pin high, ten yards right.

I'm in a groove.

I can feel it now, Dad.

I’m a focused shot-mak­er tonight. I could hit any tar­get: swing set, jun­gle gym, see-saw. I could be on the 12th at Augus­ta and I would have no fear. That tiny green is mine. The water haz­ard? Not even in play. I’m out­side at work and the club selec­tion is spot-on. A lit­tle to the left and I'll be home.

Rod Siino grew up in a small Rhode Island town, and now lives in Mass­a­chu­setts sur­round­ed by horse farms and trees. When he’s not writ­ing or earn­ing a liv­ing to sup­port the writ­ing addic­tion, he’s being held hostage by his 2-year old twins, Ben­nett and Maya, who are con­vinced the world and every­one in it are here to serve their every desire with­out delay. He is con­tem­plat­ing a research project to deter­mine the valid­i­ty of this notion. Mean­while, he is work­ing to com­plete his first short sto­ry col­lec­tion. His work has appeared in Inkwell, The Prov­i­dence Jour­nal and online at Zoetrope All-Sto­ry Extra, among oth­ers.

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2 Responses to The Fire, fiction by Rod Siino

  1. Maryellen Hurwitz says:

    This is a beau­ti­ful sto­ry. I look for­ward to the com­plete short sto­ry col­lec­tion. Kudos!

  2. George M says:

    The sto­ry was great enjoyed the glimpse into Pete's life and the end­ing was sweet. Look for­ward to more sto­ries, keep up the good work!

    p.s. where were the pic­tures of the kids this year?

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