Martina paces in front of the club at the golf course waiting for her father to arrive, like she does every morning. She fakes a smile and waves at a regular who heads over to the driving range before work. She’s even more irritated than usual at her father’s tardiness. She’s trying to help him damnit! The least he could do is bother to show up somewhere near on time. It’s this kind of irresponsibility that got him into this mess.
Her father is the mess. Aging rapidly, his Alzheimer's has nearly run the golf course into the ground. For the past several years he'd forgotten to pay the taxes. Just forgotton. That was why she was now attempting to get him out of debt. He'd staunchly refused to walk away from the business. She had degrees in marketing and hospitality, not to mention the fact that she'd grown up on this small course. She knew all the regulars plus the ins and outs of running this particular course. Still, it wasn’t enough to convince her father to turn it over to her and just enjoy retirement.
She'd come to help with the business a few months ago, after finding out that her father was facing jail time for failing to pay taxes. He must’ve received notice after notice but failed to act. She didn’t hear a word about it until a week before the court date. She’d ranted and raved with her brother over the phone about it, but he was out of the country most of the time on business so not able to intervene in any meaningful way. They’d agreed to try to talk their father into turning business matters over to Martina, but he’d refused. Still, she’d packed up and flown home immediately to see if she couldn’t do some amount of damage control.
Dressed in a stiffly-starched pants suit with a pink button-down and serious shoes, she'd pled with the judge to consider her father's mental incapacitation from the Alzheimer's. She’d asked to the courts to grant her Power of Attorney to handle his estate. Since it was against her father’s will, and he was still considered competent, she’d gotten nowhere. Apparently, in Wisconsin, all you need to be “competent,” is a pulse. The courts could not force him to give up any control or accept any help that he would not voluntarily go along with. He was ultimately responsible for the back taxes and could still spend some time in jail, the judge reminded him. It was likely the reminder that persuaded her father to accept her help. While it was only a tiny step, barely noticeable to the naked eye, her father had agreed in court to accept his daughter’s help. To her eyes, earth had shifted.
In light of the help Martina would be offering and her father’s Alzheimer’s, the judge waived the jail time. But he emphasized that they would have to come up with a repayment plan to present back to the court in six months. The judge also made it clear that if no payments were made over that six month period, it would not mean good things at their next court date.
“So, get cracking you two.”
Martina set to work doing some “creative” book-keeping to gain them access to some cash for the courts. She threw herself in and wrote marketing plans, tried to organize paperwork, staff, and tasks. All while her father arrived late, chatted with customers, and generally thwarted her efforts. Her work still managed to sneak a little more money into the business. It was enough to keep him out for now. For now.
Her father had never been especially organized or business savvy. But he'd managed to start the business from scratch and keep it for all these years, even so.
Where was he anyway? She felt the fury rise in her, bubbling just below the surface. She could feel herself ready to scream like when she was a kid and they’d stayed too long at one of her father’s friend’s houses. She built a case of anger. She could get up and get here on time, why couldn’t he? She wasn’t the one facing courts and jail, he was. She didn’t even stop to get coffee because being on time was important. He should damn well be here by now! She was moments away from stomping her feet in a literal tantrum.
When she was little, she and her brother spent their summers coming to the course. They’d hunt in the woods for who could find the most balls and race barefoot over the greens. She loved the feel of well-nourished, perfectly-manicured grass on her bare feet. Sometimes her dad would get a break and take her to walk a few holes. They’d strut over patchwork hills, limes and emeralds cutting diamonds across the vista. Other times she and her brother were left to entertain themselves and would spy through fences at the people whose homes neighbored the golf course. They’d be making sun-tea on the deck while kids raced across a slip-and-slide falling in thuds of laughter. Martina and her brother dreamt up elaborate plots to explain what they saw. Obviously the children were fronts for what was really going on inside. Martina and her brother would protect the golf course from the Russians or aliens, depending on who chose the enemy that day.
One time they’d come in early on a Thursday morning. Their father got the winning bid on holding the Milwaukee Amateur Open on his course and so he dragged them along to get the course ready at the last minute. Martina was too small to help, so lazed about on Green Three while her brother and father worked. She looked for lost golf balls at first but her father had been clear that she was not to wander away from Hole Three which had no water traps or woods. Without woods or water, there weren’t many stray balls to locate, just grasses of various lengths depending on whether you were on the green or the fairway or not. Bored, she caught as many grasshoppers as she could in the tall grass on the side of the fairway. She’d capture a grasshopper, tear its back legs off so she’d be able to tell if she’d caught it before or not, then chuck it as far as she could back into the grass, making sure to rotate her hips like her brother had shown her so her throw would get good distance and no one would tell her she “threw like a girl.” She lost count, attempted to count the legless grasshoppers, got frustrated, and gave up.
She wandered over to the green and took her shoes off. She curled her toes into the smooth grass, tried to grab some and pull, but it was too short. She wanted to dig into it until her nails were muddy and her toes grass-stained. It was short, yet so thick and soft it was like grass and moss had gotten together and agreed to make a perfect, green plant that lacked the slimy, creepiness of moss, while retaining its short, even, velvety surface. They’d keep it in the family of grasses so it could claim all the pedigree due a find, upstanding-grass. She lay back and watched the clouds, making animals out of them, rolled over, and fell asleep with the grass against her cheek and chest.
“MARTINA KATHERINE LYNCH! You cover yourself up this instant, young lady!” Her father had seethed at her through gritted teeth.
She jerked awake. Shame flooded her and she grabbed her white t-shirt and held it against her bare chest. She flushed and tried to pull her shirt on over her head as modestly as she could. She’d probably been only five or six and had seen her brother take his shirt off hundreds of times. He’d casually toss his shirt aside, later forgetting where he’d left it. She’d just wanted to feel the mossy, even grass on her bare back. She knew, of course, that she’d never done it before. But this did not convince her that she wasn’t allowed to take her shirt off. The humiliation she felt from her father taught her never to make that mistake again.
Now, a grown woman in her thirties, she showed up early to work neatly-dressed and freshly-showered, wearing polo shirts and tennis skirts with ankle socks. Her hair was done and a touch of makeup added before the sun was up. She resented that, even though she was on time, early morning golfers arrived before her, ready to tee off. If she was early, they were earlier. And if she was late, her father was later. All she wanted was to arrive, have a few calm moments to unlock doors, read her email, and collect herself with a cup of coffee before facing customers.
Her emotions were set before she even arrived. She was angry. She knew he would be late. She knew he would forget his prescription sunglasses or a license or a tool he'd brought home that they really needed to do work on the grounds that day. And she'd be disdainful of his condition and the results. Downright pissed at the thing he'd forgotten and the necessary trip back to his apartment to get it. He'd be the object of her anger over a condition neither of them could do anything about.
It’s chilly out this morning. The dew on the grass flirted with frosting overnight, but instead the dew is simply stickier than usual: less condensed droplets, more evenly-glazed-over with liquid. She sees puffs of condensation sprawl when she exhales. She’s wearing a cream colored v-neck sweater over her purple polo, but a sweater and bare legs aren't enough to protect against the chill. She stands next to The Barn. The Barn is a giant aluminum-sided, utility building with a four-car-width, manual garage door where they keep the golf carts and the riding lawn mowers and ladders and all other manner of equipment. She squats down and rubs her fastly numbing calves, wishing she'd gone in earlier to get a cup of coffee for the wait, coveting its paper-cup warmth, when she notices the cat.
A haggard thing, its fur alternates between standing up in slick brown tufts, and lying in smooth, orange-tabby spots. Puss and putrefaction waft toward her from the cat. Its pathetic-ness is directly matched, if not surpassed, by her compassion and the flood of caretaking she feels. She reaches her hand out and kisses at the animal.
"Here, kitty. Here kitty, kitty. I'm not gonna hurt you. Come on over here." she coos, kiss kiss.
It slinks toward her. Its nose meets her fingertips for a quick sniff test, and she sees that it is missing an eye and sections of its face. Upon closer examination, the brown tufts are really injuries slick with blood and cat saliva. She cautiously strokes an uninjured patch and it purrs. She is afraid to pick it up. And afraid not to. She doesn't want blood on her clothes or grow attached to this scraggly mass. She doesn't want to deal with the three steps ahead her mind has already traveled to where she will incur veterinary bills and have a cat that pisses on her stuff. But she feels compelled to help it. Instinctually forced, even.
She picks the thing up as gently as she can and carries it into The Barn. Inside, there is a small office with unclaimed lost and found items. She digs around until she finds a beige cashmere shrug and some knitted golf booties. She makes up a cardboard box for it and adds a thermal wrap from the gift shop to keep the thing warm. Then she starts making contacts.
She emails friends and friends of friends to see what to do about the surely dying cat. She would call but it’s only 6:15 am. In the process putting the cat in the snugly lined box, she notices a flap of skin slap open, then shut again. It makes her stomach lurch, and she thinks maybe it’s a good thing she hasn’t had any coffee.
She leaves the cat and peeks to see if her dad is here yet. He isn't. Jerk.
She compulsively checks her email for a quick-responder who will surely have a perfectly free, simple answer. She hits refresh a dozen times. Nothing. 6:31.
“The truth is, this is a barncat,” she reasons. Which means, you don't grow attached to it. It is part of the scenery like the gravel in the parking lot or the pansies hanging by the entrance. Only this barncat has been attacked by something. Maybe another cat, or a coyote (she’s not certain whether there actually are any coyotes around here or whether there would be anything left of a cat that was attacked by one.) Maybe it was raccoon. There were often juicy trash bags left outside the kitchen that a raccoon would enjoy. She really needed to talk to the kitchen staff about not leaving those bags out. They attract vermin. Another problem is the last thing they need.
She thinks about what to do about the cat. Her mind wanders over the possibilities. A scenario plays out in which one of the early birds is a kindhearted veterinarian who offers to take a look. He cleans the cat's wounds and gives Martina some ointment and some instructions. The cat gets better and moves in with her. It becomes her devoted companion that curls up in her lap while she reads books. She knows this is only fantasy and that healing this cat would be more work and money than she can expend right now. Still, she enjoys the comfort of the idea.
In reality, this is a barncat. And you don't get attached to such things. Plus, she has enough caretaking to do with her father and the golf course. She doesn't need another thing to need her. The expense is no small thing to consider either. She’s basically working for free right now. She can barely afford her student loans and cell phone bill. She certainly can't afford vet bills. Especially for a barncat isn't hers. Not really.
Still, she can't do nothing. It’s not right to let the thing suffer.
She remembers seeing her father hit a mouse over the head with a shovel when a barncat got hold of it when she was a little girl. She'd cried and cried. Her mother had tried to explain about suffering then. Shovel to the head. That's what people sometimes did. It was more humane than leaving things to suffer. She shudders, and disregards the idea. She doesn't have such a brutal, close act within her.
The cat has to be put down, though. It’s obviously suffering. And it trusted her to take care of its suffering. So her options are to incur a vet bill that she can’t pay, or to shoot it.
She thinks about shooting it. Shooting it is fast. It’s less close-range than the shovel. It’s quicker. With the shovel there’s the possibility she lacks the fortitude for the requisite amount of force which would not be putting either of them out of their suffering. There is no such risk with shooting. She's only shot a gun once and visibly startled every time a shot went off around her. But what other option is there?
She knows where the gun is. At 6:49 she goes and gets it.
She loads the clip. She frets about the bullets jamming or missing the shot. She can barely handle the idea of firing once, much less multiple times. The suffering is already just too much.
She stalls another fifteen minutes by stroking the cat who gently purrs its thanks. She offers it creamers from the mini fridge. It politely declines the offer.
She strokes it. It. She is about to kill an it. She doesn't know how to tell a male cat from female. She peeks at its butt and there is some sort of cottonball-looking lump but she doesn’t know how to interpret the cottonball. Somehow this makes it worse. Why would the universe entrust the suffering of something to her when she can't even determine its gender?
Purrrrrrrrr. It looks up at her and she feel its suffering, its plea for help. The cat is not purring because it is happy, it’s purring to calm itself. She raises the gun.
"Tina?" calls her dad.
Her father takes the gun, tells her to wait outside.
Just like that, he is her big, powerful dad again and she is just a scared, little girl. Relief releases her shoulders down and she clods outside. She slumps down, crumpled in the gravel, no longer caring that her skirt is white. She waits, ears straining not to hear.
A shot breaks through and she is bawling, bawling, bawling.
He comes out to her, leans over and kisses the top of her head.
“You don’t get attached to such things, T.” He reminds her.
She suddenly desperately needs him to explain why she shouldn’t get attached. Needs him to hold her while she bawls and he tells her it’ll all, all be ok. Needs him to be her dad forever.
The sun is warming the day. The first golfers are a few holes in, swinging away, blissfully unaware of the suffering going on in the background. Her anger is gone, evaporated with the dew. Now, she is grateful. For once, her father got there right on time.