The summer sunny day with its cooling breeze released my mind from pessimism about the serious project my staff and I had to attend to. For the DuPriest family, we hosted a shotgun-start benefit golf tournament. The few clouds in the sky, which seemed motionless and unchanging, nodded to my imagining a painted dome. The breeze blew the scent of the mock orange shrubs—I love them—that define the west side of the number one fairway. I thought that if green is the calming color, the Vista Golf Club’s fairways and greens were better that day than a swim in warm water.
But the cold mud of reality spattered on us. Gillette Fleer, Petal DuPriest’s classmate, had a crush on her, stalked her for weeks, and, when she rejected him, murdered her. When you add the hours Gillette watched and lived in electronic-game-puppet-people violence, you get enough to pulverize a soul. He had the kind of guns meant to explode people’s identities, plus thirty-one sharpened knives, all with blades at least six inches long. As he fell easily into the role, people demonized him. Devils call forth angels. I felt I was meeting one when I read quotes in the newspaper from Petal’s classmates, friends, teachers and principal—“Always cheerful. I felt good when I was in a room with her.”
“Gave everyone a warm smile, not just the in kids.”
“A good person but never goody-goody.”
On that tournament day, I felt as cheerful as Petal was reported to be.
I heard the word closure a number of times as if saying it and doing what supposedly created it would assuage the pain from a child’s murder.
There were seventy-two golfers present who had each paid the price of a week’s groceries to play eighteen holes of a two-person scramble tournament. The doctor Rosalee DuPriest worked for initiated and pushed the outing for weeks. Besides recruiting sponsors, he also paid for prizes: giveaway golf balls, towels and caps with a Petal DuPriest tournament logo, a long-stemmed rose with PD in calligraphy under it.
Given our generous benefit competition, how grateful the DuPriest family would feel come twilight. They would probably shed tears.
Played on our golf course, worthy of being pictured in a magazine, the tournament had been underway an hour and a half when my course marshal, a high school physical education teacher, whose muscular body is half again as big as mine, whose sergeant’s voice sets knees trembling, returned to the clubhouse in her golf cart.
“Sybil,” she said, “Rosalee DuPriest is drinking whiskey out of its bottle. In another ten, fifteen minutes, she’ll be ready to tee off on seven. A concern for the boss.”
I found Rosalee DuPriest waiting on number seven’s tee box. She, and other women, were standing close to the hole’s picture made of stained concrete in which the designer had hidden a baby playing golf. Every hole’s unique picture has its hidden golfer.
In addition to Rosalee, seven other golfers waited to tee off. Rosalee had the roundness of someone who was probably heavier before her daughter’s murder. If not, she had to push against the pull of food. She had thick black hair, part of which came out the hole in the back of her red golf cap. She wore aviator-style sunglasses crooked on her face, a white golf shirt and red shorts. Varicose veins had made doodles on her legs. She made no attempt to hide her pint of Jim Beam.
I asked her to walk with me down a bank away from the tee box. She weaved as she did so. Standing close to each other on level ground, we stopped to talk. She was, as most women are, taller than I.
“Mrs. DuPriest, I’m Sybil Oaks, the course manager.” I want to think I saw her nod. “It’s against our course rules to drink while you’re playing.”
She moved her face too close to mine. “First time I’ve done any drinking for eleven years.” I smelled the candy-like odor of alcohol. Like too much Lysol in a public toilet, it repulsed me. “First time since Petal’s murder I’ve laughed.”
“You could hurt, even kill, someone with a golf ball.”
“My forty-yard shots that run along the ground? ‘Worm burners,’ my partner says. Get real. Someone may kill me for how fuckin’ slow I play.”
“You could get a ball in the air,” I said.
“I could win the lottery.”
“Look, I know you’re hurting—“
“Try dying. You read the stuff in the paper about Petal?”
“Yes,” I said. “She talked about learning, never grades,” said principal Derald Schneider.
“Made her sound like Ms. Teenage Mother Teresa.”
I nodded. “If there’s a heaven, she’s queen there,” said her father, Avery DuPriest.
“More than anything,”—Rosalee’s eyes filled with tears—“I needed to have a future with Petal—the present sucked. Every day shouting matches over the slut clothes she wanted to wear to school. The day she was killed, I slapped her just before she got on the bus.” Rosalee used the liquor bottle like a pointer to emphasize her words, as if her sentences were written in the air.
“Monster Boy said he loved Petal, but the only things he really loved about her were her face, tits, and ass.” Rosalee dropped her head, pushed a finger on one side of her nose and blew mucus out the other nostril. “Petal and I were friends until she went to high school.
“I often wished she were gone. Now that wish—” Rosalee’s open mouth trembled. “I never thought of her dead. I just wanted a rest from her shit storms. I dreamed we’d be friends again.”
“Maybe that awaits you,” I said.
“I wanted it here.”
“Can you talk to your husband?”
“I can, but he fucking lies. He’s made Petal into better than any kid alive. ‘This bullshit isn’t going to help,” I told him.
“‘Where’s your heart, Rosalee?” he said.
“‘Gouged out,’”I told him.
“We’ve got to lead it back inside you,” he said. “We’ve got to move on.”
“Move on to where? To some place where I forget that Petal teased Gillette Fleer—pointed at him with a tube of lip gloss and told him his thing was no bigger than that. How the hell did she know?” With her elbow pressed into her side, her arm at a right angle to her body, she held the whiskey bottle with thumb and middle finger.
“Go to somewhere where I can forgive the legal system for refusing to control a kid who tried to rape another girl and stuffed her in a trash can?” She slowed her speech.
“Somebody must have told the little bastard he stood a better chance in court if he showed emotion. So show emotion he did. Only the little shit’s a terrible actor—fake concerned looks, hang his head and do it silly instead of sorry—sneaking looks at the jury.”
Murderers are the best; they’re so polite, I thought and wondered where those words came from.
I took a deep breath and put my arm around Rosalee. I felt her relax her muscles. “You’ve been through hell,” I said and pulled her closer to me. “Please pour out the liquor.”
“Sure.” She uncapped the bottle, bolted the remainder of the whiskey and gagged as she lowered the bottle and let it swing like a pendulum at her side. She opened her mouth, seized an audible deep breath, stopped gagging, and handed me the bottle. Should I have ordered her off the course?
I rode back to the clubhouse, the empty bottle rattling behind me in the golf cart’s basket when I hit bumps. Forty, fifty yards away, at the fifth hole’s tee box, I saw the flower bed I’d made, a four-foot high rust and brown stone structure in a putter head’s shape. Ornamental sweet potatoes with their green and purple leaves spilled out of the bed and hugged the sides. Petunias grew there; marigolds; red, orange and yellow nasturtiums; gazania—like daisies—yellow with red stripes. Gazania only opened on sunny days like that one.
I saw perfection, no weeds. I stepped out of my cart, lifted flowers’ leaves and found weeds just sprouting, their twin leaves no wider than a pencil’s eraser. I always hope I’ll find no weeds. I let the flowers’ leaves fall. I would return tomorrow to tend them. Maybe they’ll be no need. The gardener elves will eliminate all. I laughed—it gained momentum until tears ran down my face. I felt the emotions that come with what’s awful flatten out losing their sharpness, their ability to wreck long periods of one’s life. I was enjoying a belly laugh, the kind that can save an ugly episode and turn it away from burying itself deep inside you.
Eugene H. Bales has published fifty-nine stories including a volume of humor and satire by Washburn University’s Press.
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page