By Christopher Acker
Starting with the deftest of touches from the putter, the ball sails down the green’s narrow straightaway, into the tunnel that cuts right through the bottom of the pirate ship, and emerges from the darkness to ricochet off the side rail at the sweetest of angles. The one responsible for the miraculous shot is so lost in thought that she fails to hear the ting the ball makes as it hits the bottom of the cup.
This is the thought that washes over Winona so completely and so suddenly that it cordons off any enjoyment of the hole-in-one: I’ve turned into a hobbit.
It sounds silly repeating the words back to herself, but the evidence is stacked against her. The foot to the left and right of the putter doesn’t seem human. Winona understands it’s only fluids ballooning her feet, and once she gives birth, the water will simply drain right out. But looking at her sandals pressed to the limit of their stretching capacity, she can’t see how it’s possible for her feet and the rest of her body to return to their normal state without permanent signs of wear and tear.
“Son of a bitch,” her husband groans. James shoves his putter under his arm so that he can make a pencil mark in the scorecard. “That’s your third ace on the front nine. That’s got to be some sort of a record.”
“I guess I’m a natural,” she answers as she bends over to retrieve her ball at the bottom of the cup.
For the second time that day, Winona shoots her arm across her chest to keep her engorged breasts from popping out. In retrospect, the low-cut white tank top, while good to keep cool, was a poor choice for active wear.
The way James crouches to his knees, sizes up the ninth hole, and then deliberates with a few practice swings tells Winona he’s in no hurry to move things along. She can’t take his competitiveness any longer and grabs a seat on a nearby bench to wait for the torture to end.
“Alright, Tiger,” she eventually calls out after taking off her sandals to better distribute the fluids with a thorough foot rub. “People are waiting.”
The teenage couple doting on each other by the eighth hole is no more in a rush to resume their game than Winona is to leave the comfort of the bench. She is particularly drawn to the girl, who is no more than sixteen or seventeen and wears a white tank top that shows as much cleavage as Winona.
As subtly as she can, Winona angles her chin downwards to peek at her pale chest riddled in a roadmap of blue veins. She doesn’t need an intimate peep show to know that underneath the girl’s white tank top stands a body unblemished by the consequences of womanhood.
James regards the teenagers with a half-smile before he cocks back his putter and sends the ball rocketing into the hull of the pirate ship.
“This is unbelievable,” he whines. He requires another two strokes to put the ball through the tunnel. “I’m not normally this bad at miniature golf. I swear.”
Three shots later, James’ yellow ball reaches the lip of the cup and balances on the edge for a nervous second before it topples over. He bitterly enters five hash marks into the scorecard.
The teenage couple—sheltered from public view in a makeshift bubble of anonymity—doesn’t see the vacancy that James’ departure from the ninth hole creates. The boy is too busy clasping onto his girl’s taut backside with the might of a ravenous lover. She makes no attempt to shove his wanton hand away, and from the angle that Winona has, the girl digs every second of it.
“The hole is all yours,” James says, breaking them out of their embrace.
Winona swipes another glance of the teenage girl. Without protest, the girl allows her boyfriend to get behind her, throw his arms around her waist, and guide her hands into the proper putting technique. Something he whispers into her ear prompts her to break his embrace and slap his shoulder playfully. After a few convincing words from her boyfriend, she welcomes him back to her backside for further instruction.
That she finds the girl attractive doesn’t bother Winona. She supposes such an admission won’t gain her entry to certain circles, but truth be told, Winona can’t stop her eyes from probing the girl if only to help jog her memory for when her backside was as lean and enticing to James’ spontaneous grasps.
Winona asks her husband, “What do you think of that girl’s ass over there?”
James withdraws his gaze from the young couple and narrows his eyes in confusion towards his wife. “Are you serious?”
“I’d like to know if you find an ass like that attractive.”
“How old is she?” he asks.
“Forget that. Pretend she’s of age.”
“You are serious.”
“I’m not asking you to fantasize. I’m asking a ‘yes or no’ question.”
He throws his sweaty arm around her shoulder. “Honey, I like your ass.”
“You like mine even though it’s twice her size?”
“You’ve got to stop worrying. Your rump will return to normalcy after Thomas gets here.”
“And my Jerry Lewis face?”
“What makes you so sure?”
“I didn’t know you were a spiritual person.”
“When it comes to my wife’s body, I have nothing but faith.”
By the time Winona slips back into her sandals and follows her husband to the tenth hole, the blood in her feet surges through her constricted vessels with the force of the Hoover Dam.
“Would you mind if we called it quits?” she asks with great reluctance knowing how James normally reacts to sudden changes in plans.
He already placed his ball on the black tee mat and starts analyzing the best approach. “Right now? But I’m only down by three strokes.”
“James, please. I feel like I’m going to pass out with this heat.”
Three strokes down with nine holes to go isn’t unsurmountable. In fact, James feels a resurgence of confidence. But once he takes once glance of his incapacitated wife, his whole body deflates like a dying balloon, leaving him bereft of the poise he thought took root. His comeback will have to wait.
After they drop off their putters and golf balls at the unattended kiosk past the eighteenth hole, Winona spots a Dairy Queen across the street. Her mouth immediately floods with saliva.
“Want to get some ice cream?” she asks.
The disappointment at his performance still stings. James tries not to sound too pathetic when he answers, “Works for me.”
Haze radiating off the asphalt makes the front of Dairy Queen waiver like a desert oasis. To make matters worse for Winona, a passing truck traps them inside a cloud of stale diesel air. She holds her breath and pinches her nostrils shut to protect her baby from choking on the noxious fumes.
The pain that was isolated to her feet now works its way up her legs. Winona barely makes it to Dairy Queen when she jumps into a hypnobirthing exercise.
“Are you okay?” James asks after seeing his wife retreat into herself.
In-2-3-4. Out-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. And again, her instructor guides her through the peaks and valleys of an imaginary contraction. In-2-3-4. Out-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.
“Winona, talk to me.”
The pain doesn’t completely disappear, but it does stop from spreading any further.
“Sorry,” she answers after opening her eyes. “Just get me a Misty.”
“Do they have extra-large?”
James consults the menu again. “Just large.”
“Large cherry Misty,” James repeats before giving the order to the attendant behind the window.
The bench Winona snags is covered in a thin layer of dried ice cream. Her thighs stick to the bench, adding to the list of reasons why she should’ve just stayed home. When James arrives with her Misty, she wastes no time digging in. The flow through her straw is steady and strong. The beads of sweat dripping from the newly-sprouted hairs by her sideburn region start evaporating. So, too, does the sweat above her upper lip.
She takes a break from her straw to ask James, “How have you been feeling lately?”
“Me?” he asks with the upside-down spoon still inside his mouth. “I feel great.” He extracts another spoonful of his Blizzard, but before devouring it, asks, “Wait. What do you mean?”
“I want to check in with you to see how you’re feeling. What with Thomas being here soon.”
“Oh, I see.” James stops to think and then goes on, “To be honest, I’m relieved my script is finally done. I was worried I wouldn’t finish it before you go into labor.”
Winona’s next effort with the straw is so overzealous that some of the Misty trickles down her chin and lands on her shirt by her navel.
“But do you think you’re ready for Thomas?”
“Of course. I can’t wait.” James scrapes the bottom of his cup. “By the way, you never told me how you liked my script.”
“Yes, I did. I told you I was a fan.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I distinctly remember finishing your screenplay, putting it on the coffee table, and telling you I liked it.”
He adds, “I think I would’ve remembered you saying that.”
“James, I did,” she pleads.
“Whether you did or didn’t, what did you like about it?”
Some warmth returns to her body, which she quickly quells with another deep sip. “Let me preface this by saying you know how I feel about Ghostbusters.”
“It isn’t your cup of tea. I know that.”
“Right. But I still thought your version of a third movie was well written and very funny.”
“Which part did you find the funniest?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the scene where all the turkeys jump out of the ovens and start terrorizing everyone during the Thanksgiving Day parade. That was pretty clever.”
“What was funny about it?”
His persistence for her editorial eye makes her uneasy. All she wants right now, other than her Misty, is to return to the conversation about Thomas.
“What do you mean?” she sighs.
James shoves the last bite from his spoon into his mouth before he tosses the cup into the trash can. He goes on, “If I know what you, the reader, find funny, then I can use that to improve other scenes.”
“I’m sorry, James, but comedy writing isn’t my thing. I really don’t know how to answer that question. But what I can say is that I’m impressed you wrote a movie.”
He can’t even look his wife in the eye. He says, staring at the golf course, “Sure you are.”
Winona has nothing left to deal with her husband’s insecurities or his one-track mind. This was supposed to be her moment to reflect. Her conversation about their future wasn’t supposed to be hijacked.
She says once and for all, “James, you wrote a movie. A movie. None of my other friends can say that about their husbands.”
Her comment lifts James from the depths of despair that miniature golf left him to claw his way out of. He then adds, “I don’t even want there to be a third movie, but if there had to be, it should be written by a true fan and not some writer-for-hire who knows nothing about the heart and soul of Ghostbusters.”
An elderly woman with a small cup of vanilla stops shuffling her feet towards an unoccupied table across from the parents-to-be. “Oh, look Bill,” the woman says to her husband, who can’t seem to decide where to start with his strawberry shortcake. “She’s pregnant.”
“What’s that, Betty?” Bill asks.
Betty inches closer, and without permission, places her hand onto Winona’s stomach. “It’s a girl, am I right?” she asks.
Winona puts on a forced smile. “Boy.”
The incorrect guess brings out a more vigorous rub from the elderly woman instead of the gentle pat that started it all. “Are you sure? It feels like a girl.”
“I have an ultrasound to prove it.”
“What did she say, Betty?” Bill asks after the first stab with his spoon causes some of the syrup to spill over the edge of the plastic container.
Betty’s entire demeanor soon changes. No longer does she look like the excited onlooker reliving the days when it didn’t hurt so much to get out of bed. Seriousness descends upon her, and then she warns, “You be careful now. Boys”—she says the word with so much scorn that it sounds like she despises the gender altogether—“they can be so much trouble. Don’t let him out of your sight.”
Once the elderly couple finds their seats at the other end of the sitting area, Winona continues with James, “As I was saying. What are you looking forward to the most once Thomas gets here?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that.”
“You haven’t thought about what it’s going to be like?”
“Of course I’ve thought about it. It’s just a weird question to ask.”
“No weirder than asking what makes something funny.”
“What am I looking forward to the most?” With his ice cream finished, James has nothing left to occupy his hands. To resolve this dilemma, he slips his thumb into his mouth and chews off a sizeable sliver of nail. “I’m looking forward to everything. I can’t single out one thing.”
“What about it?”
“I’m looking forward to nourishing Thomas. But I’m also nervous I won’t be able to do it.”
“If a chimp can figure it out, then I’m sure you’ll be fine. And if not, that’s why they invented formula.”
“You don’t get it. I don’t want Thomas on formula.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Antibodies, for starters.”
His fingernail habit is revolting. She doesn’t know what’s worse: shoving his dirty fingers into his mouth or picking at his toenails until a trickle of blood gushes out. She yanks James’ hand out of his mouth and prays the habit skips a generation.
She goes on, “Formula does nothing to build up an infant’s immune system. Only my milk can offer that.”
“Then what’s there to worry about? Thomas will drink nothing but your milk.”
“It’s that simple?”
“As long as you put your mind to it. Isn’t that the whole philosophy of hypnobirthing? Mind over matter?”
In a way, she envies her husband. To be that simple-minded about life’s complexities is a feat to behold. It runs counter to every neurotic brain cell that makes her stay up at night imagining all the afflictions she can pass onto Thomas.
“I’ll try to take your advice,” she tells James, “and stop worrying about everything.”
“Great. In the meantime, I think I’ll give Gordon a call when we get home.”
Perhaps she was deluding herself when she thought she had heard the last of Gordon Greenhut, talent agent for the unfortunate few who believe he can take their meager talents—in James’ case, a Ghostbusters impersonator—and launch them into stardom.
“What for?” she asks.
The next nail he clips off jettisons out of his mouth with a flick of his tongue. Winona catches a glimpse of its flight path before it lands, like a mosquito, on the top of her foot.
“I want to give him my script,” James says. “He might be able to do something with it.”
Her first impulse is to ask what that hack can possibly do with a script for a third Ghostbusters. But Winona decides to go against instinct and instead injects a more supportive tone to her voice when she adds, “It bothers me to see you get so worked up when Gordon has done little more than feed you table scraps.”
“Despite what you think, Gordon does know people with influence. And besides, you don’t get to drive around in a Mercedes without doing a thing or two right. He’ll come through for me.”
“If that’s what makes you happy, don’t let me stop you.”
A smile slowly grows on her husband’s face. “Maybe Thomas will want to read the script someday.”
“Maybe.” Her voice trails off into nothing.
“And maybe he’ll find it funny. It can be my legacy.” James then turns to Winona. “What do you think?”
The sudden gush of hormones comes out of nowhere and leaves Winona to mop up a deluge of sweat cascading down her forehead. She sucks on the straw of her Misty with so much force that two small dimples appear on her cheeks.
“Slow down there, partner.”
No sooner does James finish offering his advice than a brain freeze takes Winona’s agony to a whole new level. The pain shooting through her head immobilizes her. She can do little more than smack her temples to break up the ice inside.
“I told you you should’ve slowed down,” James says with little concern.
Across from their bench, Betty becomes aware of Winona’s distress. She hands Bill her ice cream and hurries over to the mother-to-be. “Oh my God,” she proclaims. “Are you in labor?”
“She’s fine,” James answers.
Betty adds, “Don’t worry, sweetie. We’ll get some help for you.”
The woman’s misguided theatrics brings on further spectators, whose presence, in turn, attracts more attention.
“Is your wife okay?” someone asks James.
Another hollers, “Shouldn’t you be helping her?”
The teenage couple previously enamored with each other on the eighth hole shoves their way to the front of the crowd. The look of curiosity on the girl’s face quickly turns to alarm once she sees the red stains on Winona’s shirt.
“Is that blood?” she cries.
Betty shouts, “Did anyone call 911?”
To appease the bloodthirsty crowd, James starts to rub his wife’s back awkwardly, as if this is the first time he has ever offered her solace. But the display of affection isn’t merely enough. The crowd wants much more.
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