by Jim Meirose
Emerson leapt up from his chair in the golf pro shop and called out to Robert, who worked bagging the last batch of golf balls in the bin.
I’m going out in the range picker, he said. I didn’t go last night after we closed.
Emerson slid on his light blue jacket and went out the door into the six a.m. early October chill. He went to the shed where the range picker was parked. The range picker was essentially a heavy-duty golf cart enclosed in a protective cage and equipped with machinery extending out to the sides to pick up any golf balls it ran over. They used it several times a day to collect balls from the driving range. He went in the shed and topped off the vehicle’s gas tank from a filthy plastic gas can and climbed into the cage, key in his hand. The range picker started with a shudder and he backed it out carefully and as always marveled at how quietly it ran. After getting out and closing the shed doors with a slap, he climbed back in the cage and drove out toward the range where the multicolored balls lay scattered over the dewy green turf. The picker jolted up onto the grass and he turned to begin making its wide overlapping swaths through the grass leaving a wake of ruffled grass and spattered dew. The smooth vibration of the engine and the mild jolting of the machine across the grass came up in the steering wheel and into his hands and arms. The seat vibrated also and the whole thing, man plus machine, was one and alive and running and doing what it was designed for. Everything on earth at this moment, in the light roaring of the engine, was in balance and working as designed. Slowly the machine surged forward up the first ten foot wide swath up the two hundred ten thousand square yard range, the biggest in the state. It would take Emerson two hundred ten such swaths to cover the entire range; he would be occupied for a while; about four hours. And in time, as the machine and the movement and the sound and the sight of the spread out balls coming under the machine soothed him, his eyes would grow heavy, and he was bored in the lightly bouncing moving cage of a machine that would have him for over two hours. He shook his head to get rid of the cobwebs; and in the cobwebs flashed visions; glimpses into what, who knew where. A woman stood by a spinning stone sharpening a great blade; he shook his head, gripped the wheel; he sat erect and alert for a time with the grass and scattered balls coming at him—but they brought up the cobwebs again and the hairdresser was doing his hair—not a barber, a hairdresser—and she said Oh sir—sir I see you have a toupee; and once more he shook his head and came awake. The greens flowed by and she stood there leaning, with a look in her eye, her bright red hair hung down and disheveled and her brown dress flowing.
Hello, she said. Her hand writhed on the stair post.
Hello, he said. Come on up let’s see you I haven’t seen you—
He sat with Robert in the pro shop shed and dumped a bucket of water into the ball cleaner. There were hundreds of filthy grass stained balls to wash, and a million more that were sliced or just plain worn out to pick out and throw away. So you couldn’t just zone out.
—I haven’t seen you in ages—
Their hands gripped one another’s.
Yeah Robert, said Emerson, pouring balls into the machine. What do you think it’s all about?
The whine of the ball washer mixed with the bouncing and purr of the Range Picker and the rattle of the balls being snatched from the grass.
It’s all about this fucking job I guess, said Robert. I guess it’s all about—
They walked hand in hand across the green toward a small domed building in the distance. Emerson’s wife was home unknowing—the bird in the cage spun its toy and the wife was unknowing as they went in the small building and balls began to pepper the range picker cage as the driving range had just opened. The pattering sound of the balls brought Emerson awake and he gripped the wheel harder and jogged the gas pedal and the machine slightly bounced and jounced rattling the black cage. The bird happily leapt from perch to perch and the wife smiled at the bird and then turned back away.
The driving range was filling with people all hitting out toward Emerson. The balls peppered the cage and he went into the domed building after her and they spoke as she sat on a snow white bed.
So what have you been doing with yourself since graduation? she asked.
Not much. I work at a driving range.
What’s a driving range?
The balls peppered the cage; her eyes followed the question.
What difference does it make if we know what it’s all about or not, said Robert, balancing on his stool filling ball bags. Emerson gripped the wheel and answered I don’t know it would be nice to know uh—the meaning of life, you know—
What’s it buy me to know the fucking meaning of life?
He copulated with his wife in the big queen sized bed. He copulated with his wife and she moaned and the moaning wound round the bird on its perch.
You can’t have a bird in the bedroom, he had said—allergies—
Oh nonsense, she had snapped.
Nonsense. The balls noisily clattered into the bins of the jouncing range picker as Emerson and his wife continued copulating and the bird came awake and chirped loudly as Emerson also came awake in the range picker and a good thought struck him; amidst all the chaos he had managed to file his taxes last night, one week before the deadline, and he was glad because he expected a refund. A smile came on his face in the jolting range picker. His name was Emerson and he had been in the army and he lived on a street called Walnut. The tax people know this; the tax people know everything, so you better file, said his wife, and they finished copulating and each went in the bright lit middle of the night bathroom to clean up. What time was it? It didn’t matter. What mattered was it was done and it was time to go back to bed with the bird, head tucked back gently into its wing, sleeping already in the dark silence knowing as well as they did that it was all over.
Many more were at the range now, of all ages and sexes and races. The driven balls peppered the range picker and they lay atop the snow white bed now; two bare live wires touched together make a spark, whatever time you get up to do it, one a.m. to six a.m. it will make the same spark being inanimate it does not know time they did not know time the balls hit the jouncing range picker and the snow white bed lay in the domed building with the people starting to go in and out in and out to pray. The soothing stillness prayer brings spread over them where they lay moving on the snow white bed two bare live wires connected the unseen power flowing freely through; no sparks; the connection was made; the connection was tight.
The range was bumpy here, this far out; it was not a true golf course, with the required smoothness and flow; it was just a range. The grass grew in rough clumps out here jouncing the picker cage and Emerson’s seat and hands. But there were plenty of balls. Robert told them as they sat on small stout stools bagging balls into bags of a dozen. Markie the owner came to them.
It’s a busy day. Keep the balls coming,
We’re almost out of balls keep it up!
Markie turned away and went back in the door to the pro shop. Robert shrugged working.
They charge two dollars a bag for these. I wouldn’t pay two dollars a bag to hit balls out into nowhere. What a stupid business. It’s a wonder he can stay open at that price.
He sells shit in the shop too. Expensive golf shit.
Yah that’s true.
The rustling of the bags came all around them the soft sound of supple cloth filling.
It’s hard to believe they make enough to pay us though, said Robert.
Knotty pine wood was all around. The bare bulb hung hot.
Anyway Robert, said Emerson—it buys you a lot to know the fucking meaning of life. I wish I knew it.
What’s it buy me?
This, said Emerson, waving a wad of money he’d pulled from his soft wallet.
How so? asked Robert, tossing another bag of balls onto the pile. How does it buy me money?
Money, said Emerson. And with money you can have so many other things.
Yeah like what?
Family. Kids. Cats and dogs.
But what does the meaning of life got to do with that?
The pile of bagged up balls filled the corner of the room.
I thought he said it was a busy day—look the balls are all piled up in here. It can’t be much of a busy day, said Robert.
Guess he lied.
But he didn’t lie. Every lane was fill of people hitting, and the balls peppered the range picker incessantly—the people aimed for the range picker. It was a badge of honor to hit the range picker. But Emerson just jounced along in his cage, amused; until he thought of something that made him bite his lip. Tomorrow was election day, and he planned to vote. Stopping to vote in the morning would make him two hours late to work. He had to tell Markie, Markie must know; Markie must know and approve. He hit a rough patch and all the collected balls started to rattle. Markie will let me go—the rattling mixed with one or two hits. It’s all in how you approach Markie. The balls hit the cage rattled—Markie had told him the range picker had cost nine thousand dollars, used—but he had not told Robert this. Robert had been surprised at the price when told by Emerson but was more surprised that he had not been told this too when he was first shown the range picker. The range picker rolled along roaring as it turned around at the three hundred yard marker. Emerson gunned it. Not many balls reached this far. Robert claimed to have hit a ball once past the three hundred yard markers into the woods. Robert believed it was all in the mind. Robert believed Emerson could do it too, if he would only try. Emerson drive back toward the golfers teeth into the wind and he took it like a man; pow; pow; pow; pow pow pow—but he felt safe in the cage. Robert was annoyed that Emerson had been told the price; but he was safe in the cage time and space away from Robert; supposed to rain heavy tomorrow. They would sit in the pro shop; why had Emerson thought about the rain? He had zoned out, he had. The machine kept moving and did the dirty work, went fairly straight all by itself but it wouldn’t do to doze off up at the end of the range where the golfers stood and possibly not make the turn and run someone down or close to it. After all they were all members of the human race even though he was in a cage and they weren’t—being all Homo Sapiens gave them reason to close ranks and defend themselves from the threat. He turned successfully—only to be peppered by a dozen ball drives all multicolored and seeming to bathe the range picker in a deep glow of the combination of colors of the balls all in a hail around it blended with the blue sky and the snow white bed on which the two lay in the domed building the current flowing the juices pumping and they both wonder at the same moment what force had shot skyward to shred the netting stretched between the tall poles at the edge of the range—the poles one by one thrust up in a line and the stretched out netting all torn waved as flags in the heavy heat that blew through them in the bed and left them spent in the snow white and cool under the dome.
Why does having a family kids cats and dogs come out of knowing the meaning of life, said Robert.
It’s called happiness, said Emerson. Somehow, it will lead to happiness—doesn’t a family kids cats and dogs equal happiness?
Sometimes maybe, said Robert.
Emerson jounced along the course. Robert sat at breakfast with his fine wife, his children and his cat and dog by the table seeking scraps.
Down, he told the dog, the pushier of the two.
Are you planning on voting tomorrow? he gently asked his wife, his fork poised.
I suppose, she said. I’ll have to bring the kids with me, unless you’re going.
Got to clear it with the boss. It’ll make me late.
Emerson rolling along in the cage cart range picker knew he also had to clear it with the boss—how would the boss react if both of them were late—but there would be rain tomorrow, thought Robert. No one will be at the range. People will go to indoor places, like to great stone buildings to see museum displays, like the man of soap he had seen at one—the man had been buried and some chemical reaction in the ground turned him all to soap. It was part of living on a planet with all of its phenomena. A planet spinning, whirling around the sun that’s also spinning and whirling through space, and from the sun, if a man could be there, he would see blugreen earth beyond the close rocky Mercury and the cloudy wet humid Venus—
Emerson jerked awake not one foot from the three hundred yard marker. He had almost run it down. That would never do.
Markie—we got a marker to rebuild out there—out at three hundred.
What happened, said Markie, hands on hips, the script above his white shirt saying Markie suddenly seeming hyacinth silly, of course that was his name, do you care to know the person who had a cowgirl party with her friends, with brandy bottle overflowing ashtrays and in black and white—and in the domed building she rises from the snow white bed but will not give him a kiss, though he wants one—no kisses on the first date, had said Mother, regardless of whatever else may have been done on the first date.
Can I kiss you, he asked the prostitute.
No, she shook her head soundlessly busy—and they left the domed building
No kiss no not on the first date at the front door in the dark by the glowing window so he turned and went back to the range picker and continued driving over the balls, now fully awake, almost done; getting peppered badly with driven balls, with about twenty minutes more to go. And then suddenly, he was all done. What’s it all about, he had asked. What a stupid strange question to ask in the range picker cage—all the work was done. He looked through the gaps in the cage and saw the bins were full of balls; the objective had been met; job, family, citizen, universe. That current wave of Malaise left him, he drove to the door of the shed and he opened the door of the cage and stepped out. And there was nothing outside the cage. No slapping flapping shed doors, no driving range; not even blackness not even a void; nothing just like the nothing that’s before you’re born. Emerson is back there; he’s back there again.
Jim Meirose’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Collier’s Magazine, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and his novels, “Claire”,”Monkey”, and “Freddie Mason’s Wake” are available from Amazon.