March 8, 2015

FICTION BY STINSON ANDERSON "THE GHOST OF GOODWILL"


 Stinson writes fiction and poetry from his front porch in small town Indiana.   He has a BA in European History from Indiana University, Bloomington.   His poem about growing up during the Nuclear Arms Race appeared in the blog, Are You There God, It’s Me, Generation X. 




SALLY MERCHANT

    “There’s never been a better time to donate to Goodwill.”  
Sally Merchant didn’t catch it--the muffled T.V. commercial behind the sliding glass door seeped into her subconscious while she sat on the patio smoking her second cigarette of the morning.  As she looked along the fairway, she noticed the Technicolor sky, the way it clashed with the neglected green, and she thought how it was a good day for Mel to play, as if he would pass by within the hour.  
Donate it.  That’s what I’ll do.  I’ll take it to Goodwill.  She walked into the kitchen, grabbed a note book and pen, and made a list of the things she’d give away and a separate list of the things she would sell in a garage sale.  There were his clothes, his tools, odds and ends, and that stack of National Geographic Magazines, and of course, his golf equipment.  Five sets of clubs.  “Now you’re cookin’,” she said, just as Mel used to say.      
She inventoried one golf cart, three buckets of balls, five custom drivers and two putters, and an indoor putting green and all of it of the finest quality and in the best condition.   
Later that afternoon, Sally sat cross-legged on the floor of their walk-in closet and started to bring one of Mel’s old running shoes to her nose before her tears and pained smile awakened her to the folly of it all—trying to hang onto even his smelly feet.  
Mel had also been a runner.   He’d begun the night after his 40th birthday after he’d blown out the candles on his cake. As the smoke cleared, she caught his wink, and she knew then he’d finally made his wish, or rather an oath that he would never smoke again.  Since then--two miles a day, five days a week, usually at dusk when the air was less muggy and the day settled.  
But three weeks ago, when Mel made a lengthened stride off a sidewalk curb, he caught his shoe on a patch of uneven pavement.  His ankle turned.  He fell.  He rolled.  And before he could get to his feet, he was squashed by a hurried parcel truck finishing Christmas deliveries.  The residents who lived near the entrance of the Belleview Estates, his one mile turn-around point, would never be the same. They knew all too well the tire marks and the slight stain in the road were not from another flattened nocturnal marsupial, but from one of their own, a long-time resident and club member.  
Sally rose and dropped the shoes into the box.  All day, she walked through her quiet house noticing the things he regularly touched:  his car keys--lifeless on the kitchen counter, the remote control--waiting for him on the arm of his recliner, and his favorite golf shirt--still hanging in his closet apart from the other clothes.  She pulled it off the rack and held it out.  Kelly green with pink horizontal stripes.  
Those stripes would make a skinny man look fat.   
It had been his lucky shirt since he’d worn it at the Belleview Estates Senior Invitational three years ago and won.  She buried her face in it and then placed the shirt, still on the hanger, into the “Goodwill” box.   

 BRUCE “MITCHELL” WAYNE
    Mitchell woke to the morning sun coming through the window and looked at the time and date on his watch still on his wrist.  Nine o’clock.  Tuesday.   The anniversary of the end of his career as he knew it thanks to the burst housing bubble.  No more documents to review, no more follow-up calls to make, no more pretty bankers on the phone—Jenny and Kelly with the soothing voices.  One year to the day.  
Bread sprang from the toaster in the kitchen as he lay in bed thinking of the day he’d received his walking papers, when they’d forced him out of his climate-controlled womb-of-a-cubicle, severed his cord, and left him in the naked reality of what will I do now.  Since then, his off-and-on job search had been as cold as the tile floor of his childhood bedroom.         
    “Don’t you think you should start your day?” said his mother from the laundry room.  “I laid out your pills with some milk and toast.”  
    He reached for his glasses on the night stand and put them on.  
“These clothes of yours are so ragged,” she said as she walked down the hall and into his room with a full laundry basket and put away his socks and underwear.  She pulled a crisp one hundred dollar bill from her apron pocket and put it on his dresser.  
“Go out and get yourself some clothes--some decent shirts and slacks, something you can interview in.”  
    She walked out.  He sat up and glared at the money.
Three hours later, he was in front of a shirt rack at Goodwill not sure where to begin.  The air was heavy with the staleness of other people’s clothes.  He looked around and watched people picking through lifeless shirts and slacks, women mostly and a guy looking at shoes.  He walked down the aisle of less than white shirts, changing to uninspiring blues and then greens. And there it was at the end of the rack:  a Kelly green golf shirt with pink horizontal stripes, hanging apart from the others as if it wanted to be by itself.  He reached for it and a sharp stick of static met his index finger.  He jerked his hand back like a dog on first exposure to underground fencing.  He reached for it again, and with a quick grab and jerk, he picked it off of the rack, held it out in front, and then brought it to his chest to gauge the fit.  As he pulled it forward, tiny bolts of lightning leaped from the shirt to his chest and back again, pure energy dancing through his clothes and over his skin, speaking binary to his mind, whispering, Outta here.
Mitchell looked around then once more held the shirt to his chest. Again, it clung to him.  And as he pulled it off, its static repeated the voice in his head, Get me out of here.   
    He bought the shirt along with a few other white Oxfords, and with the rest of the cash he treated himself to a slice of pizza at the mall and to his third viewing in two weeks of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.  
    As he drove back to his mother’s house, the plastic Goodwill bag slumped beside him in the passenger seat.  Every few minutes he looked over distracted by the rustling sound it made in the breeze of the car’s air vents.  
    Turn right, he heard.  Mitchell made a hard right into Belleview Estates and the bag slid off the seat and onto the floor.  He slowed by a garage sale and looked up the lane.
Stop! said the voice.  He looked at the bag on the floor and put the car in park.   Golf clubs.  He walked up to the lady sitting in a plastic resin chair reading a romance novel.  Her yard looked like a golf pro shop--bags with clubs, shoes, balls, gloves, tees, a golf cart, and a putting green.  Also plenty of tools--power tools, hand tools, a weed eater, and a lawn mower, which she said had never been used since her late husband always paid a neighbor kid to mow.  
    “All the good stuff’s here,” she said.  “The rest I took to Goodwill.”
Mitchell stared at a particular bag of clubs.  Their form was as peculiar to him as an Xbox game controller would be to someone like her.  Yet, somehow they were familiar.  
“That was Mel’s favorite set,” she said walking over and brushing her hand over the driver sock.  “I’m Sally.  Do you live in Belleview?”  
“No.  I’m out on the bypass.  With my mother.”  
Neighbors walked up the lane and she greeted them half-way to receive their ongoing concern and condolences.  Mitchell watched them as they shuffled around the drive with their hands in their pockets looking over and admiring the equipment.  They looked at him like he was misplaced or lost.  
“Sixty dollars for the clubs and the bag,” she said
The gloves and shoes fit him perfectly so he took those, too.  He paid her and placed his like-new equipment in the trunk.  As he opened the car door, he blew a kiss back to Sally, causing her to stop mid-sentence with the neighbors.  
“Gook luck.” she said with an uncertain wave.  
Mitchell sat in his car and stared for a minute at the oddly familiar house and people before starting the engine.
Till death do us part.  She looks good.  But hey, we’ve got clubs!  Now we’re cookin’.  
“Now we’re cooking,” Mitchel mumbled along with the voice in his head.
He started the car, looked up, and braced himself at seeing the sack perched on the dash, remembering it had earlier slid onto the floor.  
“I don’t remember picking you up.  What am I doing here?”  
He pulled the bag back into the passenger seat.  As he drove away, he thought about the golf equipment in his trunk, wondering about his strange, somewhat unconscious impulse buy “Golf?”  He’d be the first to admit that he was far more comfortable with the dystopian landscapes of Halo than with the green links of a golf course.  At a traffic light he looked to the bag, riding in the front seat.  Its creases gave it a smiley face, like Jabba the Hut holding a bikini-clad Princes Leia on leash and chain, he thought.    
For a week, the shirt hung in his closet while he spent his mornings applying to jobs online and his afternoons and late evenings honing his first person shooter skills.  After one particular evening of making kill after kill with online “friends” and finally becoming too tired and too slow to stay alive, he made his way to his room and fell into his bed.    
He woke late the next morning to his mother’s standard mantra about sleeping the day away.  After emptying his bladder in the bathroom, he washed his hands--something he normally neglected—and after drying them on the hand towel, he looked in the mirror.  
“Whoa,” he said, looking down at his sleeves and chest.  He touched the moisture-wicking fabric.
“I don’t remember putting you on.”  
But he couldn’t help admiring himself in the mirror, noticing that he looked as if he belonged to something, to a golf club perhaps.  
That’s right. You do belong.      
“Mitchell?  You in there?”
“Yes, Mother.”  
“Did you get yourself some nice shirts?”
“I did.”  
“Can I see.”
“In my closet.”  He heard her walk the hall to his room and open his closet.
“These?  They look worn.”
He walked out of the bathroom and into his room.   
“What is that?”
“It’s my new golf shirt.”
“You don’t play golf.”
“I’m thinking about it,” he said deadpan.  
Damn straight, Kid.
“Well, if it gets you out of this house, I’m all for it.”
Later, in his new shirt and underwear briefs, Mitchel stood for four hours in front of the television practicing his Wii golf swing.     
Hips.  Power through it at your hips.  Keep your head down.  
The next few days he spent practicing in the back yard, chipping and putting on the section of grass he’d cut short like a golf course green with a cup fashioned out of PVC inserted flush with the ground.  
Believe you’re going to sink every putt.  
“I will sink this,” he said trance-like.   The ball curled around the cup and went in.  
Atta boy.  Now we’re cookin’.  
“Now we’re cooking,” he said to himself.  
Later that evening, Mitchel sat on the living room couch, opened his laptop and began to type as instructed.  Click search.  Type: Belleview Estates Golf Club.  Check scheduled tee time.  Select Saturday 8:30 a.m.  First Name:  Melvin.  Last Name:  Merchant.  Member Number:  0714.   Click Confirm.  
Mitchell was up at six the next morning, brewing coffee for the first time in his life and frying two eggs over easy with a pan of grits on the stove.  When his mother walked in she found him at the table reading the newspaper with his breakfast.    
“You’re up early,” said his mother shuffling into the kitchen in her robe.  “When did you learn to cook?”  
He didn’t answer.
She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the opposite end of the table.  “I always thought you were a cereal and toast kid.  Looking for a job today?” she said, assuming he was looking at the classified section.  
“Golf scores,” he said with the paper obscuring his face.  
“What’s with you and golf all of the sudden?”
“I like it.  I like the grass, the clubs, the little white dimpled ball, the ping it makes when you hit it, the sound of it dropping in the cup.  I like this shirt,” he said, lowering the paper to look at his mother.  She looked at him and rolled her eyes.  It was the same green and pink shirt he’d worn all week.  
“At least take it off long enough for me to wash it.”
“I have to go.”  
“Where?”  
“To the club”
“To a real course?
“Sally, you know I have a standing 8:30 tee time with the boys.”
“Who’s Sally?”
“What?”  
“You just called me, Sally.  Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m Fine,” he said.     
“You seem different.  Taking up new things.  Golfing.”
“I try new things.”
“Almost never, Dear.” she said taking their plates to the sink.
He thought about this and recognized how he had lately seemed to be missing chunks time during which he had watched himself do unexplainable things, like swinging a golf club.  He examined callouses on his thumbs and finger and over the heel of his hand.  I’m not a golfer.  Am I?  He thought.     
Biomechanically, you’re gifted.  Power, precision, fluidity.  Everything I never had.  Turn right.  
Mitchell turned right into the parking lot of Belleview Estates Golf and Country Club.  
“Hey, I know that shirt,” said the golf pro behind the counter in the pro shop.
Tell him you’re my nephew.
“I’m his nephew.”
“We miss him around here.  So, you inherited the lucky shirt then?”
Say yes.  
“Yes.”
Our tee time?  
“I have an 8:30.”
“Strange.  I still show Mel down.  What’s your name?”  
“Mitchell.  I’m not a member, but I was hoping to play today.  Maybe join for a season.”  
“As long as I’m here you’re always welcome, membership or not.  Eighteen and a cart?”
Of course.
“Of course.”
“Hey, you know what?  Mel’s foursome.  It’s a threesome now.  You know.  They’re next to tee off.  Just outside there,” said the pro nodding out the shop window as he ran the credit card.  “You should play with them.  Come on. Let me introduce you.  What’s your name again?”
“Mitchell.”
“Merchant?”
Say yes.
“Yes.”
“You look like him,” said the pro opening the door, the attached sleigh bells jingling a somehow familiar sound.  
“Guys, do you know this gentleman?”
“I don’t believe so,” said Bob.  “But I’d know that shirt anywhere.”
The pro laughed and said, “This here’s Mel’s nephew, Mitchell.  
“I thought you could use another player today.”
“We haven’t had the heart to ask anyone else to play since your uncle passed,” said Al, the one with sunscreen on his nose and ears.  
“We’d love to have you.  You can ride with me,” said Mick slapping Mitchell on the back.
“Thanks,” said Mitchell shaking Bob’s hand, then Al’s, then Mick’s.  “You’re sure?” he asked, his voice squeaky.
“You bet.  It’d be like having your uncle back with us,” said Al
“A real honor,” said Bob.  
“Here, I’ll load your bag,” said Mick.  “These Mel’s clubs?  He left them to you?”
That’s right.  And don’t scuff it.  
“That’s right.  And be careful.  I don’t want scuffs,” said Mitchell.
“Ha!  That’s just what the old man would’ve said,” laughed Bob.  “I like you already, Kid.”
Bob tee’d off first and drove a long ball with a slight arc stopping just to the right of the fairway.  The hole was a par 4 at 355 yards.  Al drove next hitting a line-drive, straight and safe.  Mick hit a similar shot and they watched it bounce and roll to the left of the fairway in the rough.  
Then it was Mitchell’s turn.  He took his time, lining up over the ball, just as he’d practiced.  Mel was with him, coaching him through every motion.  
Head down, eye on the ball, bend at the knees, deep breath, swing.
Mitchell swung hard.  The head of the driver dug into the green and the shock of it buzzed through his hands and arms and the ball dribbled off the tee and rolled three feet in front of the tee box.  
Son of a bitch!
“Son of a…,” yelled Mitchell.  
“Don’t worry about it, Kid.  Hit again,” said Bob.
“We didn’t nickname your uncle Mulligan Mel for nothing,” said Al, laughing.  Mitchell shot him a look that was quintessential Mel as he bent down and placed the ball back on the tee.  
“I don’t remember seeing you at your uncle’s funeral,” asked Bob after Mitchell hit it off.
Mitchell looked long at the ball bouncing down the fairway.  Bob stood behind waiting for his answer.
Now we’re cookin’.
“Now we’re cooking.”
“Nice hit,” said Mick. “Looks like you found your swing.”  
Mitchell turned and stared at Bob not yet knowing how to answer his query about the funeral.  He put his driver back in the bag.  
Flight was delayed.  
“My flight got delayed.”  
“So you live here now?” asked Al putting his ball on the tee.  
“With my mother.”  
Later at the clubhouse over beers, the three friends told Mitchell stories about Mel that started with, “I bet you didn’t know this about your uncle,” and they all laughed and remarked how they missed him.  Bob commented how much Mitchell resembled him in his swing and walk.      
“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” said Bob.  “Hey, we’re playing in the club tournament next week, and well, you know, we’re down a player.  What do you say?  Want to go in with us?”
“Are you kidding?  I’ve been looking forward to winning that thing with you scoundrels for years,” said Mitchell with Mel’s exact facial expression, intonation, and body language.
“Excuse me?” said Bob.
“Uh, I’d love to play. You’re sure I won’t hold you back?”
“No, we’re not sure,” said Al with a laugh.  “But I’ll tell you what--you wear that f-ugly shirt of your uncle’s and we’ll do just fine.”  
On the morning of the tournament Mitchell warmed up at the club’s driving range.  
“This kid’s all right,” said Mick to Al as they also warmed up a few boxes down from Mitchell.  
“Yeah, kind of a nerd though,” added Al.  
Mitchell drove the ball after ball hard and long causing everyone at the tee boxes to glance his way.  
For someone who’d only been on a golf course twice in his life, Mitchell was playing out of his mind.  For Mel’s ghost, having Mitchell’s bio-mechanics and pliable mind, meant that he, too, was having the match of his after-life.  It was magical--the way he swung and made perfect contact with the ball each and every time, never shanking or slicing, and shooting three under par for the whole eighteen.  It was as if his ball was possessed.  But Mitchell knew and had accepted that it was he who was possessed.  And he didn’t mind.  He liked the company and the help, he liked being good at something, and he liked having an agenda, even if it wasn’t his own.  He liked the feeling he would get when he lined up over the ball--as if he had two sets of arms, two sets of hips, two legs, two feet, and two heads--better than one.  
“That was the best round of golf I’ve seen played here.  How long did you say you’d been playing?” said Bob as they sat at in the bar with their winning trophy towering in the middle of the table.  
“I started last month.  After Mel…”
Say, “my uncle.”
“After my uncle passed.”  
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.  You’ve got a future in this game, Kid.  What is it you say you do?  For work I mean.” said Bob.
“Oh, I’m unemployed.”
“Well, keep playing.  If you can play like you did today, consistently, you’ll get noticed,” said Bob.  
Other players came in and gave out congratulations.  Bob and the other two introduced Mitchell as Mel’s nephew, and then the other team members went on to mention how nice it was for his nephew to step in, and how sorry they were not to see Mel, because “he would have loved it out there today.”  
Over the next year and a half, Mitchell entered tournaments, and was even known to hustle games on some of the public courses, that is, until he became the new pro at Belleview.  
Mel’s personality had taken over and Mitchell became someone new.  He took up running in the evenings and over the course of a year he saw his physique improve.  No longer did he live with his mother.  He also gave up video games.  No longer did he slouch or sound robotic when he spoke.  He walked tall and fast, shoulders back, head up.  He even thought of himself as cool.  
But one South Florida evening in July, Mitchell laced up his running shoes, adjusted the heart rate monitor strap around his pale chest, inserted ear buds in his ears, and bounced down the steps outside of his apartment.  Upon hitting bottom, he trotted to the sidewalk and quickly side stepped around a couple pushing a baby in a stroller pulling a small dog on a leash.  Momentum carried him off the curb.  His ankle to turned, launching him forward into the street.  The woman with the baby screamed.  Tires screeched, and all heard a thud of bones and metal.  The dog barked.  
A man ran into the street and knelt by Mitchell’s twisted body.  He touched Mitchell at the shoulder and a small shock of electricity nicked him on the finger.  
“Call for help!” yelled the man back to his wife and the others.  
Days after the funeral, Mitchell’s mother cleaned out her son’s apartment.  She opened the closet and saw that awful shirt hanging apart from the other clothes.  A tear ran down her cheek.  She pulled the shirt off the rack, held it long against her bosom as if it was Mitchell himself, and then gently placed it in the box designated for Goodwill.     
~Stinson Anderson

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