A Loss of Innocence
A golf ball hit me smack on the back of the head. I was in the kitchen, sitting with my back to the window, which I'd thrown open to the summery morning. But for that I'd likely have had a glazier's bill to pay, as if the shock and pain weren't enough. Did I mention that I was eating waffles at the time? That's to say I'd just sat down to them. The whole incident was so upsetting I couldn't stomach breakfast after. Those syrupy waffles were consigned, untasted, to the trash can.
Prior to that, however, as you may imagine, I'd made my way over to the window. I'd even—in retrospect, I'm amazed at my recklessness—poked my head out. And craned my neck to look up and down the street. There were dog-walkers and commuters, a traffic warden and children on their way to school, even a team of scaffolders, but no sign of any golfers. There again, a certain interval had elapsed since the ball hit my head, ample time in which to dispose of a golf club.
Couldn't I have got to the window quicker, you ask, thereby catching the culprit red-handed? Consider that I was at first stunned—if not actually concussed—by the force of the blow. Striking my head, the ball produced a hollow noise, a woodpecker tapping a tree trunk—only I was that trunk. Add to that the racket caused by a golf ball ricocheting about one's hardwood kitchen. Not until I'd risen from my chair to lay hold of it did I make the connection between the infernal spheroid and my throbbing head. It still remained to establish the ball's trajectory: that's to say in through the window.
At any rate, having carried myself to the window, I remained there some time. Need I tell you my expression was not one of amusement? My gaze shifted from one quarter to another, but nobody it lit on seemed any more, or less, suspicious than any other. Aggravation. Especially as I could feel a headache developing, not to mention a tender lump. With a last withering glance up and down the street, I roughly closed my window.
Alas, I am not a man to shrug off an incident like that. Mine is a mind that craves the why and the wherefore. Had this been some freak accident? Or was the deed carefully planned? Considering the former possibility, I consulted my computer. The nearest golf course was 3.5 miles from my downtown apartment as the crow—or dimpled golf ball—flies. I'm no golfer but I was fairly sure nobody could hit a ball that far. Nonetheless, I phoned the golf club. The woman I spoke to was sympathetic, but little help. She said the ball might have fallen from a passing aircraft. She transferred me to the club secretary who evidently assumed he was dealing with a crank. 'Did anyone shout Fore?' he asked. 'That's what you shout if you slice a shot.'
I hung up and considered the alternative: a deliberate attack. Hadn't I, while in line for a movie, once made a disparaging comment about golf? My companion, not a golfer himself, had taken the comment in good part, yet mightn't we have been overheard? The conversation had taken place more than a year ago, but a reprisal of this kind would require planning. The culprit would need to learn my address, become familiar with my habits, scout out the scene, calculate velocities and angles. Having pursued this line of thought thus far, I had to concede it was far-fetched. Golfers aren't some persecuted minority, animal-righters or guerrilla anarchists.
No, more likely my ex-wife had been responsible, either her or the one before her. Neither was a golfer, though they might have taken up the sport. More probably, however, they would have hired an expert. Someone specialized in such attacks because, though I was reluctant to admit it, it must have been one hell of a shot. Of course a specialist like that would command a considerable fee. . . But, again, the more I considered it, the less plausible it appeared. Neither woman lacked imagination, but it seemed not to suit either's style. For my last wife, a golf ball to the head seemed too unambiguous a statement. For the previous one, not clear enough.
Other suspects suggested themselves in due course, but for one reason or another none seemed convincing. I resolved, with my therapist's support, to put the incident behind me. And then, having tried that for the better part of a day, I hired a private investigator. I must say Kenneth was admirably thorough. He spent an afternoon in my flat asking questions and measuring, pulling the window up and down. And there he was the next morning down below looking up. He had a bag of golf clubs on his shoulder and some sort of sextant. I even saw him on the rooftops opposite. It was from there, he informed me later that day, that the shot had been made. He had diagrams to support his conclusion, like for JFK. As Kenneth saw it, the perpetrator had likely been waiting several days for me to open the window. He attached great importance to this matter of the window.
'But why?' I asked him.
'Why would anyone do that? Why a golf ball? Why me?'
Kenneth seemed embarrassed by my questions, but I didn't care. It gave me some comfort to know the circumstances of the attack, but what I really sought was a motive. 'Were they trying to kill me?'
He said he didn't view it as a murder attempt.
Kenneth allowed that this might be so. 'It's certainly a curious case,' he ventured as I wrote out his cheque.
Coming from a man who must have seen his share of curiosities, I was grateful for this admission. But, though the bruise on my head had subsided, I can't say my mind was at ease. Had the shot been a deliberate one? Was it a warning? If so, of what? What lesson was I meant to learn? Though I longed to make sense of the riddle, I was left with only loose ends.
Loose ends, and a golf ball. Three years have passed since that queer, puzzling event and I still have the ball. I keep it in my sock drawer where it can cause no more harm. What else should I do with it? Take up golf? Just the other week a friend suggested I do just that. My therapist, too, says it might be therapeutic, but I don't think so. One abiding consequence of my trauma is a paralyzing fear of golf courses. Everywhere I go of late, they seem to be at work on a new one. I don't complain though—not out loud.
There are other ways in which my life has been altered, probably more than I realize. One thing's for sure, I no longer sit with my back to a window but only to a solid wall. Suffice to say that mine is no longer a world in which a man can sit down to breakfast confident that he won't be struck by a golf ball. Or, if not a golf ball, then . . . Perhaps this was their objective, whoever devised the plan (assuming it was planned): utterly to unnerve me. If so, I regret to say they succeeded.
How does that old couplet go?
'How sweet the savor of innocence remembered,
When once it be stolen forever away'
Paul Blaney is an Anglo-Irish-and-now-American fiction writer who lives in Pennsylvania and teaches at Rutgers. His novella, Handover, was published by Typhoon Press (Hong Kong). His novella The Anchoress has just been published in paperback by Red Button with a novel, Mister Spoonface, to come later in the year. His current work-in-progress is entitled Crown of Thorns. His short fictions, "The Restaurant" and "North & South," appeared in Issue #27 of The Cafe Irreal; "Four Short Fictions" in Issue #40 (as well as in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from the Cafe Irreal); "A Better Place?" in Issue #42; and "Cynosure" in Issue #44.