It was early afternoon on a hot Christmas Day. Inside a million houses across the country you’d be deafened by the roar of ripping paper, popping corks, slamming oven doors and everyone talking at once. But outside in the heat, it was so quiet you could hear a dry gum leaf scratching along the street in the breeze.
I got the car out and we drove east on an empty freeway to where the suburbs are green and leafy. Twenty minutes later I took an exit ramp, crossed over the freeway, turned right into a side street and a kilometre later, turned right again back over the freeway along a narrow bridge road that ended at a steel gate. The gate slid open. We drove through.
Someone – one of Tracy’s cousins - had had the brainwave of organising Christmas lunch on a golf course. Christmas lunch on a golf course makes sitting at an over-sized dining table for three hours in a too-small inner-city terrace house dining room with twenty other people on a hot day feel like a prison sentence, especially when the only alternative is to join the smokers in the cramped back courtyard, where you sit your drink on the switched-off water feature and they butt their cigarettes in the agave pot. How have you been? How was your year? Hot, isn’t it?
A dozen tables sat under shady umbrellas outside the clubhouse, on a rise of lawn overlooking the fairways. That’s where we ate lunch. While we did, a boxer dog bounced around with the kind of playful smirk that only boxers can make. I won’t go into details about the meal except to say that it was enough for about five hundred mouths, although there were just twenty-five of us. We seemed to get through a large part of it. Go on, have another drumstick. You’ve only had six. Think of the poor people in Africa.
Later, the boxer dog was asleep under a table, snoring. It probably only ate a side of beef. Monty, my old brittany, would have done better. He would have eaten six chickens as well. I’ve heard Labradors also have large appetites. The things you talk about over the Christmas meal.
Several of the human guests were looking sleepy as well, but others were looking forward to finding out what happens when you try eighteen holes on a stomach full of scotch whisky, turkey and cranberry sauce, plum pudding and brandy sauce and a litre of red wine. Half a dozen sailed off for the first tee, golf bags in tow equipped with extra provisions in case of starvation or death by thirst out on the eighth hole. I went for a walk in the opposite direction for safety, taking the boys.
A golf course is a great place to go for a walk when there are no hordes of golfers on it. William and Thomas wore wide-brimmed hats to shade their faces from the hot sun. Together, they tottered along a fairway that sloped northwest up a rise towards a stand of old gum trees. Then they sat down on a green that was in the inky shadow of some acacias.
The air was still and the acacias were motionless, so that the shadow’s edge seemed to be etched into the close-cut deep green. The boys had a small toy car in each hand, and they played with them on the lawn, and muttered to each other and smiled. I didn’t catch the words. We look back on the past so often that we forget that, sometimes, we exist in a future past where two small children can make a conversation that no-one will hear and no-one will remember, not even themselves.
I had no idea of the hour. Once in a long while, time seems to stand still. Then some cool air came from somewhere and the wattles moved just a little.
The boys grasped their cars and we walked on. Way down the fairway in the distance was a straggle of figures. One, farther from the rest, made a sudden circular move: the rapid swing of a club. The figures drifted on, probably to look for lost balls. The boys and I wandered through more fairways and greens and bunkers and stands of trees and then we were at the base of the hill below the clubhouse. The acrid but welcoming aroma of hot coffee drifted down.
Now the tables held mountains of shortbread, plum puddings, Christmas cakes and bowls of sticky substances incorporating combinations of cream, egg white, jelly, fruit, sponge cake and shaved chocolate. The boxer dog was awake and smirking and leaping again, just a little slower this time.
The sun had dropped but it was still hot. The golfers appeared over the hill, red-faced, and called for beer.