Live Large

BILLY CONSTABLE hadn’t been sleeping soundly and at four o’clock one June morning he found himself prowling his living room with a cup of coffee clutched in an unsteady hand. His wife, Marva, and their two teenage twins, Troy and Jesse, had gone up to the cottage so there was no one to disturb when he flung open the drapes, switched the CD player on, and set it to repeating one track over and over, Richie Havens singing “Here Comes the Sun” at such ear-splitting volume Billy could almost trick himself into believing the tremor in his right hand was a consequence of the sound waves battering him.

The sun finally did come up, flushed by Richie from below the horizon, a burst of extravagant light that torched a strange, bird-shaped cloud holding fiery wings uplifted. It reminded Billy of the cover of a book assigned in his first-year university English course over thirty years ago. A novel by some famous writer. Stubbornly, he tried to recover the name to forestall thinking about how bad business was. It didn’t work. Worry about Jenkins’s upcoming phone call was swelling a tender blister on his brain.

Business was so shitty that even clueless Marva seemed to sense trouble was pressing in. Why else had she suggested they resign from the Fairview Golf and Country Club? Ordinarily, Billy, who adored golf, would have protested, but feeling he deserved punishment he acquiesced. Besides, the annual dues were steep, so with the club’s approval he sold his membership to Herb Froese, bolstering a cash flow that had dwindled to a feeble trickle.

What Marva hadn’t learned yet was that Billy was looking for a buyer for the cottage. The dock, altar of his wife’s tanning sessions, the sleek powerboat with its triumphal roar, the quaint log cabin, all appeared doomed. Even the house he stood in now, his gut slumping forlornly over the waistband of his jockey shorts, was in jeopardy.

He needed a nicotine jolt. That was something else Marva didn’t know, that hubby was back on the booze and cigarettes. Two years ago Billy had awakened to an elephant squatting on his chest, a crushing coronary. In the hospital, a teary Marva had begged him to mend his ways and, contritely, he promised he would. But in the last desperate months he had turned into a sneaky, slinking backslider.

Billy killed the music, put on his tar-tan housecoat, collected a pack of du Mauriers he had cached in the glove compartment of the Lexus and circled around behind the house. Only by keeping to the great outdoors could he prevent Marva from sniffing out the stale stench of his fall from grace. There the towering blue spruces shielded him from the prying eyes of any early-rising neighbour. Lately Billy sensed friends and acquaintances were checking him for signs of failure and finding them.

He lit up, greedily tugging smoke into his lungs as he roamed the property. He was a big man of fifty-three with the fleshy, corroded body of the former athlete, but his bare feet still moved with nimble assurance through the dew-drenched grass. Sunshine was strafing the backyard. The evergreens flung spiny swatches of black shadow across the lawn. A mob of sparrows scattered from the birdbath at his approach, flecking the blank blue sky with their panicked flight. The jay in the neighbour’s tree jeered at him, mocking his disgrace.

Still, Billy began to take heart. After all, summer was his element, a season as hot-blooded, aggressive, and optimistic as he had always been. Summer fit his nature like a glove. Things were going to be all right. He would survive this. Jenkins had promised to phone by five p.m., and whatever else might be said about the flinty-hearted prick, he was a man of his word. If Billy could land the contract to install plumbing in the condos Jenkins was building, the bank could be held at bay. With mortgage rates at an all-time low, construction was booming and there was more work to nab. He just had to think positive, correct past errors of judgment, and everything would be fine. The trouble was waiting for the goddamn phone call. Jenkins was certain to keep him hanging by his fingernails until the last second. A power trip, as Billy used to say in the misty, faraway days of the sixties. But, he told himself, maybe this was all to the good. Maybe this situation was a lesson for him, a reminder of where impatience and recklessness could land you. Hugging this comforting thought close, he headed back to the house.

At seven-thirty the phone rang and Billy’s unstable ticker gave an anxious lurch. It couldn’t be Jenkins, not at this hour. Had the boys flipped the powerboat? Wrapped Marva’s Volvo around a power pole? To his relief it was Herb Froese calling, the man who had relieved him of his membership in Fairview. Herb apologized for the early-morning call, explaining he had a tee time for 12:30, but one of the original foursome had ducked out. Did Billy want to play? As his guest, he added tactfully. At first Billy was inclined to refuse outright, feeling this invitation to his old haunt was meant to humiliate him, but as he listened to Froese ramble on, he relaxed. Herb was a hacker so apologetic about his game that playing with strangers gave him fits. On a busy Sunday, there was a chance some hopeful single might attach to the threesome and Froese would run the risk of an afternoon spoiled by scarcely veiled condescension. Once Billy understood he was being asked to do Herb a favour, he graciously accepted. At least now he had something to occupy his mind until five o’clock. Maybe his luck was turning.

Billy arrived at Fairview early. So far this year he had only squeezed in three rounds on public courses; his game was rusty and hitting a bucket of balls would work the kinks out. As he toted his bag towards the driving range he felt his heart soar. It was a beautiful, warm, brilliant day. Fairview looked in great shape; add a flock of woolly lambs to all that rich green pasture and it would be a shepherd’s wet dream. Suddenly Billy halted dead in his tracks. Malcolm Forsythe was on the driving range, “working on his game.” The evil little turd was always spouting hackneyed golfing clich├ęs that sent Billy around the bend. “Keep it in the short grass,” “It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive,” “I don’t have my A-game today.” Everything about the man irked him. That abbreviated, granny backswing mechanically dinking out balls straight as a plumb line, that stupid tweed cap Forsythe had brought back from a trip to St. Andrews sitting on his head like a weathered cow pie.

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