A Tale of a Young Golfer and a Dragon
By Ajax Minor
Not so long ago, a Golf Club on the Monterey Peninsula had its stationery and its golf shirts and golf hats, and even the sign at the club entrance, emblazoned with a pair of pinecones. Logical, of course, since the Monterey pine is a very common, though not terribly attractive, species of conifer on the Peninsula where the Golf Club sits, with its two magnificent golf courses. Well, the pinecones were retired. Here’s how it happened.
One morning, Wanda was out in the garden saying ‘Good Morning!’ to the flowers. It was chilly, as it usually is in the mornings on the Peninsula, so Wanda was wearing her light pink, cardigan sweater. Pink was Wanda’s favorite color, by the way. It was early springtime, and so the sun was shining through a thin, chalky mist, not the dense fog that obscured it during the summer. Of course, except for the months of July and August, it was always springtime on the Peninsula. Her parents were having their coffee in the living room, which faced the garden, and watching her wandering about.
“Bowers of flowers bloom in the Spring”, Wanda’s mother said softly, the words surfing atop a light melody.
“What’s that?” Wanda’s father said.
“Oh, I was just thinking about the profusion of flora here. Something is always blooming!”
“Odd, isn’t it, Mary,” Father said.
“Odd? I wouldn’t call it odd. Exotic, maybe. Yes, Bill, that’s it! California is exotic. The terrain is exotic___”
“No, I don’t mean the flowers, though I agree that the whole damned state is unusual. I meant Wanda. Isn’t it odd, her going around speaking to the plants every day?” Bill said.
“Well, lots of children have imaginary friends. At least hers are a bit more –concrete.” Mary sipped her coffee, thoughtfully. “But, of course, Wanda is a little different.”
“A little!” Bill cried. “She devours books.”
“She is precocious in that regard,” Mary said.
“Precocious? She’s been pulling volumes off the shelf at lightning speed. Why, she’s reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ now. Did you know that?”
“No.” Mary said. “That is a bit advanced.”
“Advanced! She’s on book three,” Bill said.
“Well, that’s only logical,” Mary said, “since it follows books one and two. And Wanda does have a logical turn of mind.”
“Yeah, but she just started the series last week. She’s only eight, for God’s sake!”
“No need to take the Lord’s name, Bill.”
“The Lord’s___Mary, we haven’t been to church in a month of Sundays.”
“Two months, Bill. Christmas Eve before last,” Mary said, with a mischievous smile.
“Oh,” Bill grumbled, planting a kiss lightly on her left cheek.
“But as I was saying, I wasn’t really talking about her being different, as in smart different. Look, she’s talking to the daffodils,” Bill said.
“Logical,” Mary said, “It’s almost the end of their season and so it’s time to say ‘goodbye’.” Mary put her hand on Bill’s arm and ran her fingers up and down. “She just has a vivid imagination. And she devours books. You said so! Maybe she’ll be a writer.”
“It’s not just that, exactly,” Bill said. “Look.”
Wanda was squatting in front of the smallest daffodil and was very quiet, her head cocked to one side.
“She’s listening to the damned flower!” Bill said.
“Look, if she has an imagination she’s not going to have a one way conversation, now, is she?”
“I watched her the other day and the flower actually seemed to be reaching toward her, as if it wanted to catch what she was saying,” Bill said.
“Well, flowers are photosensitive,” Mary said.
“Yeah, but they were in deep shade,” Bill said.
“Oh,” Mary said. “Well, she talks to Tiny here, as well. And he seems to understand her.” Tiny was their dog. A cross between a mastiff and a pit bull. They had rescued him the year before and thought the name appropriately inappropriate. Tiny had a brindle coat and large, deep brown eyes.
“Dogs have brains,” Bill said. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe she won’t be a writer. Maybe she’ll be a monk. Don’t suppose the Franciscans are letting in women these days?
At that moment, Wanda came bursting through the kitchen and into the living room.
Well, ‘burst’ might not be exactly the right word. Wanda limped, actually. Her left leg was withered. An accident of birth. Anyway, she approached her parents, swaying slightly, but very enthusiastically.
“Father, are you playing golf today?” Wanda asked. It was Saturday.
“I hadn’t planned on it. Why?”
“I’d like to drive the cart!”
“At least in that respect, she’s a normal eight year old,” Bill said.
“I know I’m not one hundred per cent normal,” Wanda said, glancing down at her leg.
“No, it’s not that. Your mother and I were just talking about how special you really are. Different. Good different,” Bill said. “You know. The flowers and the birds…”
Wanda smoothed her pink skirt, which was even more pink than her sweater. “They’re very civil. Although I really wish I could understand a bit more of what they’re saying to me.”
“Well, I doubt a bird brained crow could have much to say,” Bill said, chuckling.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Father. Did you know that crows have a ‘vocabulary’ of over two hundred and fifty sounds?”
“Uh, no I___”
“And that crows, like chimps and dolphins and humans, have one of the largest ratios of brain size to body mass?”
“Father, mixing a crow with the expression bird brained is an oxy, oxy___”
“Oxymoron,” Bill prompted.
“Right, oxymoron,” Wanda said.
Her parents exchanged looks.
“That was a very fertile glance,” Wanda said.
“I think you mean furtive,” Mary said.
Wanda frowned and pulled her pink iPhone from a pocket. “Technically, yes. Furtive. But fertile captures the idea, also, since it seemed as if something significant was growing from that glance.” Wanda grinned.
“Jesus,” Bill said, mussing Wanda’s hair and giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Okay, I’ll book a tee time. Nine holes?”
Wanda nodded enthusiastically.
“By the way, how are your lessons coming?” Bill asked.
Wanda chewed on her lip, thoughtfully. “Well, the full swing is coming, slowly. But I can hit the ball pretty straight now. It’s a left sided game, so it’s a challenge.”
“I dunno,” Bill said. “I’d say it’s a right sided game.”
“Not if you have a weak left side,” Wanda said, sighing. “But I can chip pretty well and I can putt, um, like a demon! That’s what Mr. Osmund said.” Grady Osmund was Wanda’s instructor.
“Okay, then. You drive the cart, and we’ll chip and putt from wherever my ball lands near or on the green. Winner take all. Milk shake for you, scotch for me. Deal?”
“Deal!” Wanda cried.
The sunlight fell on the course like bright yellow dust, through a thin vapor. Probably the remnant of ocean spray skimmed, by a brisk breeze, from the surf that boiled on top of the big swells. The waves were rolling in like great, glistening pipes and thundering off of the rocks.
Wanda was enjoying herself immensely and was almost giddy when she sunk a twenty-foot putt on five of the Shore course to put her one up on her dad. “You’re in trouble, pops!” she said.
“I think I should get a stroke on six!” Bill demanded.
“No way!” Wanda said.
But on the sixth green her attention wandered and she missed a three-footer. She was staring off beyond China Rock.
“Better get your head in the game,” Bill said.
Again, on seven, she kept peering out at the horizon and lost the hole.
“Say, what’s so fascinating?” Bill asked.
Wanda shrugged an eight year-old shrug. “Nothing,” she answered, though not very convincingly.
On the eighth green, she took a deep breath, frowned and focused, sinking a ten- footer for the win, tying the match.
On nine, Wanda chipped close and sunk her putt. Bill chipped to two feet for a tap-in. “Well?” he said.
“Not inside the leather, Wanda said.
“All right, tough guy. But I’ll remember this!”
Just as Bill had taken his backstroke, Wanda cried out, “Look!”
Bill jerked the putt, missing left. He stared at Wanda, his forehead furrowed and scrunched into a mass of wrinkles. Not a good sign, Wanda thought.
“Well, you win,” he said, quietly.
“No. I shouldn’t have yelled like that,” Wanda said.
“I shouldn’t have paid attention,” Bill replied. “You win.”
“No. Section 1 of the Rules of Golf deals with etiquette. Section one. We split the hole and the match.”
“Okay. We halved it,” Wanda said. “So, do I get my shake and you get your scotch, or do we just split a bottle of water?” Wanda asked, cannily.
“Hmm. I think your observance of etiquette deserves more than a slug of water,” Bill said.
Wanda smiled and jumped up, as best as she was able. Then, she paused, thoughtfully, leaning on her putter.
“What’s up, kiddo?” Bill asked.
“Huh? Oh. Look way out past China rock toward the horizon. Do you see anything??” Wanda asked.
“A fog bank,” Bill said. “What do you see? What have you been looking at?”
Wanda shrugged. “Something’s out there. And it’s been staring at me. Two big eyes just above the surface of the water.”
“Boy, you have some imagination or you have one sharp set of peepers.”
“Peepers.” Wanda grinned. “Actually, I have both.”
“Tell me about it!” Bill said.
“Well, anyway, it’s gone now,” Wanda said. “Let’s get those pops, Pops!”
At the Grill, Bill and Wanda sat at a small, walnut table. Bill was spooning a little seltzer into his scotch and Wanda was stirring her strawberry milkshake, her chin resting on her hand.
“Something wrong with the shake?” Bill asked.
“Oh, no! Misael makes the most wonderful shakes on the planet. But I was just thinking about those eyes. They were dark yellow, but yellower than yellow. What would that be?”
“Yes!” Wanda said. ”They were amber. And I know they were staring at me. It, whatever it is, wants to meet me, I think.”
“Okay. We could go whale watching. The greys are here. Maybe it was a whale,” Bill said.
“Maybe. But I don’t think so. It looked a little like a lizard,” Wanda said.
“Little like a lizard. Know what that is?” Bill asked. Wanda shook her head.
“An alliteration. It’s when all of the words start with the same letter.”
“ ‘a’ doesn’t begin with an ‘l’,” Wanda said, with a smile.
“All of the important words, wise guy,” Bill said. “Tell you what. Say ‘little like a lizard’ five time fast and I’ll buy you a sleeve of balls.”
“Done!” Wanda cried. She rattled off four, then stumbled, thrusting her lower lip out in a pout.
“Okay, sleeve of balls,” Bill said.
“But I didn’t say five in a row. And before that, you buy me a milkshake when I didn’t win the match fair and square” Wanda pulled out her pink phone and looked something up. “Gratuitous!”
“Say, what’s on that phone?”
“My vocabulary. I put every new word I learn on it. Sometimes, though, I have to check a new word a few times.” Looking very serious, Wanda began to punch the keypad with her thumbs.
“Whatcha doing?” Bill said.
“Putting in my new word. Does ‘alliteration’ have one ‘l’ or two?”
Wanda stuffed the phone back into her sweater pocket.
“I’d like some pink balls,” Wanda said, bouncing on her chair. But you’re still being very generous,” Wanda said.
“Hey, when you do this___” Bill thrust out his lower lip. “Any guy in the world will give you whatever you want.”
Wanda sighed. “Not with this leg.”
“Hey!” Bill put his palm under Wanda’s chin. “That doesn’t matter. It’s what’s in here,” he said, pointing to her head, “and in here,” he finished, poking her in the middle of the chest.
Then, he gave her hair a tousle and kissed her on the forehead. “Finish up and we’ll go to the Pro Shop.”
The next evening, Bill and Mary and Wanda went to the Shelter, the halfway house on the Dunes course, for dinner. When they’d finished, the Thompkins came over and they all ordered another glass of wine. Wanda seized her opportunity.
“Can I go to the Beach House?” she asked.
“Why, no! It’s closed anyway,” Mary said.
“Oh, that’s okay, I can stay outside and sit on one of the benches on Mr. Timoney’s Terrace.
“It’ll be dark soon,” Bill said.
“Not real soon,” Wanda challenged. “Besides, you guys can enjoy your wine. It’s kinda boring for a little kid, you know?”
“Is that why you always get involved in our conversations? ‘Cause it’s boring?” Bill said.
Wanda shifted gears quickly. “I’m curious. I want to watch the surfers.”
“Is that why you’re carrying ‘The Hobbit’? Say, I thought you finished that,” Mary said.
“I did. But I want to read the part about the dragon, Smaug, again,” Wanda said.
“You think that ‘lizard’ will show up?” Bill said.
“What lizard?” Mary said.
“I don’t know, but it would be pretty cool,” Wanda said. “Can I go? Please!”
“I dunno,” Bill said. “Could be creeps on the beach.”
“There aren’t any creeps around here, just surfers. Besides, I’ll take Tiny. Nobody’ll mess with him!”
“Except maybe the dragon?” Bill said, with a spark in his eye.
“Tiny? Not even a dragon!” Wanda cried.
“Okay, okay,” Bill said. “I’ll be right back, guys.”
“Bill, are you sure?” Mary said, her voice tinged with worry.
“Yup. With Wanda I’m sure.”
Bill hoisted Wanda over the edge of the terrace. Tiny negotiated it in a single bound.
“Okay,” Bill said, “keep your phone on. And don’t go near the water.”
“Father, the water’s freezing and it’s dangerous. I’m not goofy!”
“No, you certainly are not that. Enjoy your read. We’ll be back before the sun hits the horizon,” Bill said.
“Deal,” Wanda said, grinning broadly.
As she heard the tires of her dad’s car crunching the gravel in the driveway, she turned excitedly toward the sound of the surf off Point Joe. The ocean was pretty worked up. She could see that. The swells were coming in toward the point at right angles. It was too rough for surfers, so the beach was deserted. Nothing to frighten him off, she thought. Then, what could frighten him anyway, if he were real?
She settled on a bench and leafed through ‘The Hobbit’, until she found just the passage she wanted. Then, she watched and waited.
And waited. After a while the sun was drifting toward the horizon, though she still had time. Scanning the top of the water, she frowned. Nothing. It was just wet. That was all.
Suddenly, like two lamps in a storm, the eyes came around the point and headed for the Beach House. Wanda held her breath, as her heart began to race. Quickly, she scanned the beach. Still deserted. Nothing to frighten off the ‘lizard’.
As she turned back toward the point, she started, as a head rose through the waves, water pouring off its great, green scales.
Tiny was on his feet, shaking all over, but placing himself in front of Wanda and growling. As the creature opened its mouth, Tiny began to bark.
Wanda held on tightly to Tiny’s tail. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ she remembered her mother saying.
The creature’s mouth was filled with two rows of perfectly white, perfectly pointed teeth. Its eyes bright red.
Wanda couldn’t move. She and Tiny would go down in a gulp.
But the creature, it turned out, wasn’t hungry. It spoke.
“Hello,” it said, simply.
Wanda stood transfixed, and her gaze slid from the serpent’s maw to its eyes. Occasionally, it blinked, an amber inner lid gliding over a glistening scarlet surface. But what lay behind the eyes seemed kindly enough. Wanda relaxed. A bit. Water continued to course over its scales, running back down to the sea surface in rivulets, much as rainwater washes over the bark of a cypress. The image calmed her. She loved the wild cypress of the Peninsula, sculpted by the wind off the Pacific.
The creature’s neck was long, perhaps twenty feet, with a graceful curve and a small fin behind the head, of no particular use that she could see.
Ears pointed at the tips, snout sharply defined with nostrils that flared, it appeared to possess a pair of leathery wings, though its body was submerged.
Cocking its grey-green head to one side, the creature was clearly waiting for something.
“Hello,” Wanda said at last, in reply, feeling a shot of courage. “Excuse me for staring but you are unique. In my experience.”
“And you in mine,” it said.
“How so?” Wanda asked.
“Because you, and you alone, have looked me in the eye and from a great distance.”
“Well, I do have very keen eyesight. I imagine it’s a compensation.” Wanda stuck out her withered left leg.
The serpent, or whatever it was, let go a deep, rumbling sigh.
Stretching its neck, the creature examined Tiny, who, if anything, began to shake more violently, but nevertheless stood its ground in front of Wanda.
“Your dog is very frightened but very brave. He must love you a great deal.” Tiny began to shake less badly.
“Yes. And I love him. I suppose that accounts for his courage.,” Wanda said.
“He has nothing to fear.”
“I’ll tell him,” Wanda said. And she stroked Tiny’s head, while speaking to him in a small, soothing voice. Quickly, the dog stopped shaking altogether and made a few low growling and a few whimpering sounds.
“He’s fine now, “ Wanda said, at last.
“You understand him?”
“Kind of. Better than most people. I talk to birds as well and the flowers and trees. But I’d like to be better at it than I am.”
The serpent nodded thoughtfully.
“But I’ve been rude!” Wanda said. “I’ve not properly introduced myself.”
“Neither have I. The fault lies with me, as well,” it said.
“Well, then, I’m Wanda.”
“Very nice to make your acquaintance. I’m Sea Serpent.” Sea Serpent stretched his neck. “Is that a book you’re holding?”
“Yes. How do you know it’s a book, if you’re a creature of the sea?” Wanda asked.
“I’ve lived for many, many, many human lifetimes. And I’ve swum all over the seven seas. And I’ve known men, and they’ve shown me their books. What is yours about?”
“Well, it’s called ‘The Hobbit’. It’s very, very good. And so are the books that follow it, but I think I like ‘Hobbit’ best. I told my parents I was coming down here to read it again but I’m afraid I fibbed. I came here to meet you. At least I had hoped I would. Oh! There’s a dragon in the story!”
“What’s his name?” Sea Serpent asked.
“Smaug. Did you know him? Was he real?”
Sea Serpent shook his head. “What did Smaug do?”
“Well, he guards a mountain of gold, and the books are about a magic ring of great power,” Wanda said.
Sea Serpent’s red eyes suddenly lit up. “Like Fafner,” he said.
“Yes, I guess he is. Fafner, who killed his brother Fasolt and guarded the gold of Valhalla and the ring of the Nibelungen,” Wanda said. “You know the story?”
“I knew Fafner,” Sea Serpent said. “Unpleasant fellow.”
“Yes. But tell me, how do you know of Fafner?”
“Oh, that’s easy. He’s in a opera. Two really. Opera is a story that’s sung,” Wanda said. “Fafner is killed by___”
“Yes! How did you know?” Wanda said.
“I told you I knew Fafner,” Sea Serpent said.
“What about the dragon St. George killed?”
Sea Serpent shook his head. “Not so. It is just the story of Siegfried and Fafner embellished and retold.” Then, he lifted his tail out of the water and shook it, calling up a thick mist off the face of the ocean.
“Magic!” Wanda cried.
“We dragons are known to possess certain magical abilities. I simply wouldn’t want passersby to see me,” Sea Serpent said.
“No. I suppose humans have caused dragons quite a lot of trouble,” Wanda said.
Sea Serpent nodded. “But you said you had fibbed to your parents. We wouldn’t want that! Why don’t you read me the story?”
“Oh! Would you like that?” And so Wanda sat down and began to read to Sea Serpent.
Before she knew it, she heard the ‘Crunch! Crunch! of tires on gravel. She looked up and could see the red-orange ball of the sun ready to kiss the horizon. “It’s my father! I have to go.”
“Will you come back and finish the story?”
“I’ll come back until it’s finished.” Wanda heard her father’s footsteps on the flagstones and turned her head toward the sound, then turned back to say ‘goodbye’ to Sea Serpent. “Would you like to meet…” But all she faced was the ocean.
“Did you enjoy yourselves, you two?” Bill asked.
“Yes! Can I come again? It’s a wonderful spot to read,” Wanda said. Tiny barked, as if in agreement.
“Sure,” Bill said.
And Wanda did come back. Again and again, until one evening she finished reading ‘The Hobbit’.
“Thank you,” said Sea Serpent.
“You’re welcome. There are three more books to the story. Would you like me to come back and read them to you?” Wanda asked.
“Very much. But first I’d like to thank you. Is there something you’d wish for?”
Wanda frowned, as she was thinking very hard, not wanting to waste something as valuable as a wish. “Well,” she said, at last, “ since I’ve seen that dragons really do have magical powers…” She stuck out her left leg. “Could you fix that?”
Sea Serpent frowned, if it can be imagined what that looked like. “That is beyond my power.”
“I understand. It’s okay,” Wanda said, trying hard to sound cheerful.
“But!” Sea Serpent’s red eyes flashed. “You said that you wished you could converse more, uh, fluently with the plants and animals?”
Wanda flashed a bright smile. “You mean, oh, like Siegfried, who tasted Fafner’s blood and then could understand the song of the woodland birds?”
“That would be wonderful!”
Sea Serpent lifted his short foreleg out of the water and scraped one long, sharp claw against his chest, drawing a trickle of blood. Extending the claw toward her, its tip turned deep red, he said, “Place your tongue on my nail and taste my blood. A very small amount will do.”
Gingerly, Wanda did as Sea Serpent had told her. Her eyes flared. It didn’t taste of iron, but rather of gold. Of course, Wanda had never tasted gold but she knew that’s exactly what it was.
A crow glided through the mist and settled on Timoney’s Terrace. “My! It exclaimed, with a cackle. “A dragon! I’d heard stories but never believed them.”
Astonished that she’d understood every single word of the crow, nevertheless Wanda said, “His name is Sea Serpent, and he is a real gentleman.”
Dragons, of course, don’t blush, but Sea Serpent turned his head away for a moment, as if in embarrassment.
“Well, pleased to meet you, Sea Serpent,” the crow said. “I’m Crow.”
“Likewise,” Sea Serpent replied.
Tiny barked. But instead of noise, Wanda heard him say to Crow, “Now don’t go telling all of your friends, you’ll draw a crowd. And humans and dragons don’t often mix. Humans can be dangerous.”
“Maybe,” Crow said, but they don’t have the keenest edge, if you ask me. Picking their pockets, or their golf carts, I should say, is just too easy.” Crow let out a great ‘Caw!” and flew off.
“Oh, thank you!” Wanda said. “It’s summer now, and I can’t wait to talk to the Naked Ladies.”
“They’re shocking pink flowers that spring up around the golf course,” Wanda said.
“Golf,” Sea Serpent whispered, almost wistfully. “I remember when humans first began to play the game, in Scotland. I’d watch from the Lochs.”
‘Crunch! Crunch!’ Wanda’s father had arrived to pick her up. “Time to go,” she said.
“Will you come back and finish ‘The Ring’ stories?”
“Oh, yes! Good night, then” Wanda said.
“Good night,” Sea Serpent replied.
“Good night,” Tiny barked.
And what a good, what a wonderful night it was, Wanda thought, as she slid beneath the covers in her own bed. “I’ve never felt so good,” she whispered, as she turned out the light.
But the next morning Wanda didn’t feel wonderful at all. In fact, she felt positively awful. She was listless and ached and was still quite tired, although she’d slept very hard.
Still, she was determined to complete her morning rounds in the garden. Being summer now, the day didn’t have the same snap and sparkle as spring. A great, grey bank of fog had collected around the cypress that bordered the backyard and it made a mournful dripping sound, as it fell from the branches and onto the ground. A shroud covered the eastern sky, where the broad pink band of sunrise should have been.
The day reflected her mood, and she buttoned her cardigan tightly and walked up to an orange clivia, which always seemed to be blooming.
“Good morning,” Wanda said, with a sigh.
For a moment, clivia sat mute. “Good morning to you, Wanda,” it replied. “But is it really a ‘good morning’ for you?”
“No,” Wanda said, “I feel terrible.”
“Then go inside right away! It’s too damp and cold. You might get really sick.”
“Go inside!” the Clivia insisted. Or at least that’s how Wanda heard it, for everyone knows that clivia can’t shout. “I’ll tell the garden what’s happened.”
“Okay,” Wanda said, with a whine, which was not at all her customary inflection.
“Well, you don’t have a fever,” Mary said, handing Wanda a hot chocolate. “Drink this. Maybe it will pick you up. Meanwhile, I’ll call Dr. Pavarta and make an appointment.”
“I’m okay. Really, mom,” Wanda said.
“Drink!” Mary said.
Wanda actually didn’t mind going to see the doctor. If Pavarta had been able to bottle her bedside manner with kids, she could have built her own pediatric clinic. “So, Wanda, tell me what feels badly,” the doctor asked in her clipped, Indian accent.
And Wanda did. Dr. Pavarta examined her. “You’re a bit young for mono, but I’d like to take some blood anyway.” And she did.
“I’ll call you with the results,” Dr. Pavarta said, cheerfully. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Just rest.” Wanda could hear the bright tones in her voice, but she could also see that her eyes were pinched by the slightest doubt. Wanda could see things like that. She could talk with flowers, after all.
When the results came in, Dr. Pavarta had not wanted to give Mary the details over the phone and suggested Mary have Bill fly up from LA, where he worked during the week. None of this sounded good to Wanda, whom you’ll remember was quite precocious.
And the news wasn’t good. Wanda had an aggressive form of leukemia that was, statistically, untreatable. However, Dr. Pavarta said there were a few cases that had experienced good outcomes and she would suggest a course of treatment of radiation and chemo. She knew a doctor at Stanford, who was the best in the field and she would schedule an appointment. She took another blood sample.
Early the next week, they met with Dr. Lastro.
“Give it to me straight,” Wanda said.
Taken aback, the doctor turned to he parents, who nodded. “Okay,” he said.
Dr. Lastro explained the prognosis. Wanda nodded thoughtfully. “I’d like to try chemo and radiation. There are new protocols___”
“When do we start?” Bill asked.
“Next week. Of course there’s no…” Dr. Lastro paused and bit his lip. Wanda had coaxed the truth out of him.
Hopeless, Bill and Mary and Wanda all thought.
They got back to the Peninsula in the early afternoon. The fog had burned off and the air was soft and lustrous and perfectly golden. “Can we play nine?” Wanda asked.
“Of course,” Bill said, smiling weakly.
“C’mon, dad, suck it up,” Wanda said. “Same stakes?”
“Yup. Same stakes,” Bill said, with a genuine smile, driven by deep wonder, no doubt, at this remarkable little girl of theirs.
“K. You’d better call Misael and tell him to get the strawberry shake ready. I’m actually feeling kind of snappy.”
Boy, was she ever. Wanda closed out the match on the sixth hole and Bill had to press on seven. Again, as they stood on the green, as they had a few months before, Wanda’s attention wandered out toward the horizon. Suddenly, she smiled and raised a hand.
“What is it you keep seeing out there?” Bill asked. “A whale? I know you talk to animals and all.”
“Something like that,” Wanda said.
Wanda sunk her putt, then followed up with another win on eight. “That’s it, pops!” she said. “I can’t drink two shakes, so you order a scotch. I’ll donate my winnings.”
Bill walked over to Wanda and held her close. Then he kissed her on top of her head. “You are a wonder,” he said, his eyes filling up.
Wanda saw this, understood, and didn’t comment. “Say,” she said. “Why don’t we go to the Shelter tonight?”
“Sure,” Bill said. “If you want to.”
“I’d like to go down to the Beach House with Tiny, after we eat. Is that okay?”
“Whatever you’d like,” Bill said.
After he’d lifted Wanda over the wall, and Tiny had leapt onto the terrace, Wanda stared straight out over Spanish Bay.
“See you later,” Bill said.
“See ya,” Wanda said, but didn’t turn around. Bill cocked his head to one side, then went back to the car.
Within a few minutes the fog had rolled onto the beach, and Wanda and Tiny were wrapped in a soft, grey, cool cocoon. Two amber eyes popped up through the gentle swells, then lit up with red fire, as the inner lids drew back.
“I thought you’d forgotten about me,” Sea Serpent said. “I’m happy you’re back.”
“Of course I hadn’t forgotten you,” Wanda said, somewhat indignantly. “But I’ve been sick.”
“I’m not happy about that. Are you all better now?”
“No,” Wanda said. “Here’s how it is.” Tiny hadn’t heard any of this, it seemed. His ears pricked up and he sat at Wanda’s feet.
When she had finished, Sea Serpent asked, “So what is cancer?”
“Well, it’s a disease where little cells become abnormal and kind of run amok. They take over, and your organs can’t function normally. Like you lungs or your liver.
“Or your blood, although blood’s not an organ. Usually, cancer cells collect in a big mass and, once that happens, you may die. But they don’t turn into a big mass in your blood,” Wanda finished.
“Mass?” Sea Serpent repeated, thoughtfully. “So you will die?”
“No!” Sea Serpent roared, and lifted his great, grey-green head. Out of his mouth erupted a plume of orange flame. As his fire lit up the terrace, his scales began to turn from grey-green to coal black.
Wanda and Tiny jumped back.
“I’m sorry I frightened you both,” Sea Serpent said, sadly. “Sometimes I still get upset. But I have a question. Is there nothing to be done?”
Wanda chewed her lip. “Well, they’ll try chemotherapy and radiation.”
“Um, drugs,” Wanda said.
“Drugs?” Sea Serpent shook his head. “I’m sorry, I haven’t spoken with a doctor in a century.”
Wanda folded her arms. Her face brightened. “Like a potion!” she said.
“Ahh,” Sea Serpent said, nodding. “And radiation?”
“Oh, like sunlight, only stronger,” Wanda answered.
Crow had flown in and was perched on the back of a bench. They hadn’t noticed him, but he’d heard everything. “You must do something!” Crow demanded of Sea Serpent, with a throaty cackle. Tiny barked. The sentiment was unanimous.
“Like sunlight,” Sea Serpent repeated.
“Yes,” Wanda said.
“I have and idea,” Sea Serpent said. “Can you come back tomorrow evening?”
“If my parents let me,” Wanda said.
Sea Serpent smiled, if it can be imagined what the smile of a sea serpent looks like. And his scales began to dull and return to their natural grey-green color. “I think your parents will let you. And can you bring them?”
Wanda shrugged. “I guess. But won’t that be a danger for you?”
“Perhaps. But you are in greater danger. And prepare your mother and father,” Sea Serpent said.
“For me.” With that, Sea Serpent slid his snout beneath the swells and disappeared.
The next evening on Timoney’s Terrace, with the westering sun bathing the white stucco of the Beach House in an orange wash, Wanda stood beside her parents. And, of course, Tiny was beside Wanda.
“What do you mean, you want us to meet your friend?” Bill asked.
“You’ll see.” Bill and Mary exchanged a glance. “But don’t be frightened. He’s really quite nice,” Wanda said, in as reassuring a voice as she could manage.
“He?” Mary said.
“Yes. He may have something to help me. With the cancer. But don’t get your hopes up.”
Bill chuckled. “We won’t. They’re already pretty high. You’re gonna be just fine.” He stroked Wanda’s hair.
Suddenly, as always happened, a light brume lifted off of the sea surface. Tiny began to bark and wag his tail. The road, the beach, Point Joe, everything was shrouded in a fine grey spray. Then, Sea Serpent’s head rose through the waves. His red eyes were brighter than usual, Wanda thought.
Mary clutched Bill’s arm. “Oh, my god!”
“Judas Priest!” Bill cried.
Tiny kept barking, but it was a happy bark, and he continued to wag his tail for all he was worth.
“Hello, Wanda,” Sea Serpent said. Bill and Mary’s eyelids were practically stretched over the tops of their heads.
“Hello, Sea Serpent. These are my parents, Bill and Mary,” Wanda said.
“Pleased to meet you,” Sea Serpent said, politely.
“L-likewise,” Bill stammered. Mary stretched a thin smile.
“You have a beautiful daughter.”
“Thank you,” Mary said.
“And I have some encouraging news,” Sea Serpent said, almost eagerly. Though dragons usually tend to be a bit ponderous.
“Tell me, please,” Wanda said.
“When you mentioned that a cancer can be a mass, and that radiation is often used to treat it, I remembered what Old Grey Whale had told me once, long ago. He had felt something odd, foreign, in his lung. Soon, it began to hurt and it was difficult for him to breathe. In fact, at last, he began to cough blood through his blow-hole.
“He is a gentle creature, who feeds on tiny plants___”
“Plankton,” Mary said, with the slightest hint of optimism in her voice.
“Yes, Plankton it is. Well, he has many friends in the deep. A certain colony of very small creatures were distressed, when he told them of his illness. Not knowing what else to do, they crowded around in sympathy and covered his entire body.
“Old Grey Whale began to feel the most remarkable sense of well-being, as the animalcules started to glow and pulse. He said it was even better than swimming in the warm water of a shallow bay in summer. And the light soothed his eyes and clamed his heart. So he said.
“After only a short period of time, he could actually feel the mass shrink and he was filled with the most invigorating and rejuvenating personal energy.
“He thanked the animalcules and they swam away in a school. Old Grey Whale said this was many years ago. As they drifted away, he thanked them and he said their light changed from blue to pink, for a moment. The school had blushed. I know of this because I told a human female once that I loved her, and her cheeks turned as red as the shell of a tuna crab. I asked her if something was wrong. She told me she had blushed at my declaration.”
Sea Serpent sighed, and while no fire erupted from his mouth, the air around the Beach House suddenly grew quite warm and pleasant. For July, that is.
“Bill, Mary, I love your little daughter, Wanda. She tells me there is little hope for her and that she will die. I’d like to attempt Old Grey Whale’s remedy.”
Wanda regarded her parents, thoughtfully. Clearly, they were overwhelmed by Sea Serpent, by the story of Old Grey Whale and by the offer of help. “Mom, Dad,” she said, “I’d like to let Sea Serpent try.
“Animalcules?” Bill said, his voice squeaking.
“I think he is talking about ostracods,” Mary said.
“Hmm?” Sea Serpent whispered.
“Tiny shrimp, about the size of a pebble, that are bioluminescent.” She stole a glance at Sea Serpent, who was listening intently. “They can give off their own light,” she said, addressing the dragon directly.
“Yes. Radiation,” Sea Serpent said.
“Uh, Mary is a marine biologist by training,” Bill said, a bit reticently, still stunned by the whole experience.
“Maybe the wavelength is just right to treat cancer,” Mary said, now with both confidence and a hint of authority that seemed to demand that they accept the offer of help.
Bill shook his head. “Perhaps,” he said quietly. “But how___”
“I will take her down to the school myself. Old Grey Whale has agreed to call the__ ostracods,” Sea Serpent answered.
“Yes, but how will you take her. I’m not sure…” Bill said, his voice tinged with worry.
“Father, please!” Wanda cried.
“Yes,” Mary said to Sea Serpent, “we’d like you to try.”
“Oh, thank you, Mother!” Wanda said.
Bill sighed, in resignation. “Okay, but still, how will you –do it? Bring them here?”
“No, it’s too shallow and too turbulent near the beach for them. I will take her to them.”
“Explain,” Mary said, with the demanding tone of a scientist.
“We will weave a basket of kelp, and I will carry her down to the colony between my wings” At that, Sea Serpent lifted his shoulders and two gigantic, leathery wings, massive and grey-green, drove through the surface of the sea, water spilling down their sides.
“You can fly?” Mary said, incredulous.
“My given name is Winged Sea Serpent, but Sea Serpent is a bit more, economical. But to answer your question, yes, I fly, but rarely now. Once, long ago, I was in the air on a beautiful, clear morning, near the great chain of islands to the West. Suddenly, out of the sky, came hundreds of metal birds. I saw humans inside and realized men could now fly. What followed was a horror of fire and noise, as death rained down on the boats anchored in a quiet bay.
“As great as my power is, I realized then that I was no match for the fire of men and have kept my distance ever since.”
“Pearl Harbor,” Bill said softly.
“If that was the name of the bay,” Sea Serpent said. “But my story isn’t important here.”
“No, but it is informative. So how will you both carry her and propel yourself,” Mary asked, arms crossed.
The corners of Sea Serpent’s mouth could be seen to turn up. “I can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
“Where’d you hear that?” Bill said.
“A human friend. He teased me once, then explained the metaphor. It was rather droll. But to answer your question, Mary, my wings are doubly hinged.”
“Okay,” Bill said, more steadily now, “why don’t we just lower her to the right spot in diving gear?”
“The ostracods. They are very shy,” Sea Serpent said.
“Then why will they help Wanda?” Mary asked.
“Because Old Grey Whale will prevail upon them.”
Bill and Mary were quiet.
“Oh, please,” Wanda begged.
Their silence was affirmative.
“Alright, then, the kelp—basket?” Bill asked.
Sea Serpent flipped the tips of his wings in the water. Within seconds, a small tuna crab, bright red, sidled up onto the beach.
“Hello, Sea Serpent,” it said.
And Sea Serpent explained that he wanted the crab colony to collect a mass of kelp tendrils and weave them into a basket, and why it should be done, and precisely how
it should be done so that it would be watertight but could open and close at the top, like a purse. “That is Wanda,” he said, at last, pointing his snout in her direction.
The tuna crab wheeled about. “Pleased to meet you. My name is Oscar. And I’m pleased to help, as well.”
“Likewise and thank you!” Oscar smiled. And if it’s hard to imagine a dragon smiling, it’s even harder to imagine a tuna crab doing such a thing. But Oscar smiled, nevertheless.
“She talks to crabs,” Bill whispered to Mary.
“Speed is of the essence,” Sea Serpent explained to the crab. “She is very ill.”
Oscar clicked a claw, in understanding and agreement. “We’ll be expeditious but not hasty,” Oscar said.
“Expeditious! Wanda cried. “You are very smart Oscar.”
Oscar merely blushed. Of course, it was hard to notice, since tuna crabs are bright red to begin with.
Sea Serpent and Oscar conferred. Sea Serpent nodded.
“Tomorrow, then?” Wanda said.
“So, you can understand them?” Bill said, tranches of amazement continuing to pile themselves, one on top of the other, in his mind, like a layer cake.
“Yes. That’s another story. I’ll explain later,” Wanda said.
“Bill, Mary, please bring Wanda here late tomorrow afternoon. There will be a strong, warm south wind by then, and the fog should be dense enough to provide protection from prying eyes.”
“We’ll be there. Oh, and what should Wanda wear?” Mary asked.
“One of those small costumes bathers wear,” Sea Serpent said.
“A swimsuit. Yes. But how will she stay warm?”
Again, the corners of Sea Serpent’s mouth turned upward. He exhaled, lightly, and the air around the Terrace grew quite warm. “My furnace will be sufficient to heat the water around her,” he said. “She will be quite comfortable.”
Mary nodded. “Tomorrow, then.”
“Tomorrow,” Sea Serpent said.
As Bill and Mary and Wanda were leaving, they heard a clicking, like a thousand castanets, and saw that the beach was swarming with tuna crabs, already busy hauling kelp out of the water and snipping it to size.
“Jesus,” Bill swore softly.
The next afternoon, Bill and Mary and Wanda stood on the Terrace of the Beach House, swaddled in a cool layer of dense fog, as Sea Serpent had promised.
Between his shoulders sat a basket of kelp, just large enough to hold Wanda, with some room to spare.
“But how will she breathe?” Mary asked.
“If I understand correctly, when I exhale, my breath will be converted by the kelp to enrich the air in the basket,” Sea Serpent said. “They’ve been asked to speed up the process. This is a group effort, you see.”
“Carbon dioxide to oxygen. Photosynthesis,” Mary said, matter of factly, nodding.
“You are the reason I always enjoy meeting humans,” Sea Serpent said. “I learn so much. But we should be going. Old Grey Whale is waiting with the—ostracods.”
“Now we’re talking to kelp,” Bill said, absently.
Wanda kissed her parents and walked across Sea Serpent’s outstretched neck, which was plenty wide for her to keep her balance and, when the crabs had opened the top of the kelp purse, she climbed in.
Wanda waved to her parents before she disappeared and could see their eyes filled with tears. “Don’t worry,” she said, then settled herself onto Sea Serpent’s shoulders.
“Be back before the sun sets,” she heard Sea Serpent call out, and she could feel his voice rumbling in his core and through her feet. It felt good and it gave her a sense that she was safe with him.
Out to sea they rushed, then down they descended. As they did, she could see the kelp twining themselves more tightly together.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“You’re welcome,” the kelp said, in a chorus. Wanda, of course, was not at all surprised that kelp could speak.
At last they slowed and stopped, under a hundred feet of water. But she was as dry as could be and, as Sea Serpent began to exhale, slowly, she could feel warmth seep into her bones.
Suddenly, Wanda could sense a presence and turned to look over her shoulder. She started when she saw a large eye staring back at her.
“Don’t be frightened,” she understood, as the high squeaky tones of whalesong struck her ears.
“Oh, I’m not! Just startled. You must be Old Grey Whale. I’m Wanda.”
“Yes, I am. And happy to meet you.”
She noticed then that Old Grey Whale was glowing with a strong, bluish light. The image of him wasn’t entirely clear, for the kelp were opaque, but she could make out his eye and sense the glow.
Then, Wanda heard Old Grey Whale speak to the ostracods and to the kelp. At first, the tiny shrimp covered the basket, then, as the kelp opened the top of the purse, water began to fill it, carrying the school along.
Wanda was a little scared and drew a sharp breath. The water wasn’t cold, but she was suddenly frightened of drowning.
“Don’t worry,” Old Grey Whale said. “The basket will seal itself when the water is up to your shoulders, so that the school can cover most of your body. The details have all been arranged, Sea Serpent has assured me. The sensation will be exquisite!”
“Okay,” Wanda said simply.
When the water, warmed by Sea Serpent’s breath, had hit the tops of her shoulders, the basket sealed itself, just as Old Grey Whale had promised. At once, the shrimp covered her skin, the interior of the basket began to glow with a blue light, and she felt tingly and warm. In fact, she had never felt so good! Wanda could never say how long they cloaked themselves around her body, but at last they began to loosen their grip. Wanda did not want the feeling to stop but she understood it was time for them to leave.
“Thank you, Old Grey Whale,” Wanda called, as they began to ascend slowly to the surface.
“You’re welcome, Wanda,” she heard him say.
As they broke into the open air, the kelp loosened their grip on one another, and the water inside the basket poured out, along with the ostracods. Wanda’s body felt brilliant. Somehow she knew that her blood was free of disease. ‘Oh, thank you!” she cried to the shrimp. “Our pleasure,” they said, in a high-pitched chorus. As Sea Serpent approached the Beach House in the fog, he was covered by an army of tuna crabs, who loosened the basket enough for Wanda to crawl out.
Her parents, now close enough to be visible through the brume, cried out, “Wanda! Wanda!”
Smiling, she ran down Sea Serpent’s outstretched neck and leapt onto the Terrace. Bill caught her to keep her from falling onto the deck.
“I feel wonderful! I’m better! I really am!” Wanda shouted.
Bill wrapped her in a towel, then a blanket.
“We’ll get a blood test tomorrow,” Mary said. “I’ve scheduled it. Then we can be certain.”
“Ever the scientist,” Sea Serpent said to Mary. “But your mother is right,” he continued, speaking to Wanda. “You know how you feel, but it’s best to confirm these things. You’ll come back to let me know?”
“Of course,” Mary said. “It’ll take a couple of days, but we’ll be back.”
“Thank you, again, Sea Serpent,” Wanda said. “And thank you, Oscar, and thank you again, kelp!”
The crabs clicked their claws in reply, but returned quickly to free the kelp to return to the water to do whatever it is kelp do.
As promised, the family returned a few days later and met Sea Serpent, right before sunset. While the beach was hidden in fog, the horizon was not and the sun slipped its yellow-orange light beneath a bank of clouds and set Sea Serpent’s scales on fire, shining green-gold.
They were all grinning.
“Well?” Sea Serpent asked, anyway.
“Cured,” Mary said. Tiny was jumping up and down.
Sea Serpent stretched his neck skyward and from his mouth erupted a great plume of flame. And his scales turned pure white.
Clinging to one another, they all drew back. Even Wanda.
“Are you angry?” Wanda asked.
“No,” Sea Serpent said. “I breathe fire when I’m elated, as well as when I’m upset. You can tell how I feel right now, since my scales have lost their color. When I’m angry, as you’ve seen, they turn black.”
“Oh,” Wanda said. She opened her arms. Sea Serpent understood and stretched his neck out even further, so she could hold onto it. “Thank you.”
“Yes,” Mary said, “thank you,” planting a kiss on his cheek. Sea Serpent closed his eyes for a moment.
“Um,” Bill stuck out his arm and offered a hand. Sea Serpent rose and, gently, let Bill squeeze his clawed fist.
“I hope,” Sea Serpent said, “that other children might be helped.”
“Oh, yes!” Mary said. “We told Wanda’s doctor, Pavarta is her name, all about it. She found it difficult to believe at first, but agreed to keep the details secret. However, she is going to collect some ostracods and thinks that the specific wavelength of their bioluminescence may be the key. She’s pretty excited.”
“That is excellent,” Sea Serpent said. “And now, Wanda, you can come back and finish the story of the Ring?”
“Oh, yes, every day!”
Bill had been quiet. “Sea Serpent,” he said at last, his voice thick, “is there anything we, I, can do for you?”
Sea Serpent blinked, then settled back, thinking. “Why, yes,” he said.
“Name it,” Bill said.
“Ever since the game was first explained to me in a Loch in Scotland, long ago, and for the past several years, as I’ve watched you and Wanda, and others, I’ve been intrigued by the sport you play. Hitting a small, white ball with sticks.”
“Golf. Yes,” Bill said.
“I’d like to play golf,” Sea Serpent said.
“Golf?” Bill shot a glance in the direction of Mary and Wanda. He was clearly anxious, but his wife and daughter simply stared back at him impassively.
Bill sighed, realizing that he was without allies. “Okay, but you’ll be just a tiny bit conspicuous.” Tiny barked at the mention of his name, sounding almost as if he could see through Bill’s tactic. Which, of course, he could.
“I appreciate your concern. My discovery by humans could be problematic. However, I have both the means and the magic to make myself invisible.” With that, Sea Serpent’s body began to shimmer, then evanesce, into the brume. Within a few seconds, he put himself back together.
“My, you are talented,” Bill said. “Um, so, alright. Good! “ Bill smiled broadly, for it was obvious he had hatched a great plan. “You and me, then. First tee time. Seven o’clock. No one will see us. Well, they won’t see you, anyway. But the sight of a driver swinging itself could be unnerving. I’ll figure that out. What do you say?”
Sea Serpent was quiet. Clearly, he was considering the suggestion. He sat quietly for several minutes, the waves breaking against his great, graceful neck. Dragons, as mentioned, can be ponderous when it comes to thinking.
At last he spoke, rather softly, for a dragon. “You know, I’ve always been as intrigued by the social aspects of the game as the game itself.”
“Social aspects?” Bill sounded confused.
“Yes. There are usually four humans together. Although my hearing is not as keen as my eyesight, I can always hear a lot of noise. Sometimes laughter, sometimes shouting. I’m intrigued. And sometimes I see a golfer fling his club high in the air. Is that a celebration?”
“Uh, not exactly,’ Bill said. “It’s usually when they’ve made an especially bad shot or, more often, when they’ve made a lot of bad shots during a round. It’s frustration. Golf can be very frustrating.” Bill saw an avenue of escape and dashed for it. “You wouldn’t really want to get frustrated, would you?” Why don’t we all go on a picnic instead? What do dragons eat anyway?”
Sea Serpent ignored the question. “I would like to play the game and get a sense of the social experience.”
“Oh, Father, there’s a member-guest coming up! You could play in that,” Wanda said.
“Member-guest?” Sea Serpent said.
“Yes,” Wanda said. “That’s when you invite a good friend, who isn’t a member, to come to your club and play a match against other members and their friends.”
“Ah,” Sea Serpent said, eyes flashing, “now that would be great fun. I am your friend, aren’t I, Bill?”
Bill regarded Wanda, pulled her close, then turned back to Sea Serpent. “Yes,” he said firmly, “you certainly are my friend and I’d love to have you come as my guest.”
“Thank you,” Sea Serpent said, the corners of his mouth stretched almost to the base of his pointy ears.
Bill sighed, again. “You’re welcome. It’s a week from Saturday.”
“That’s ten days from now,” Wanda said, since dragons don’t use calendars.
“Excellent,” Sea Serpent said.
Bill frowned. “I’ll just have to explain my invisible partner. I’ll think of something.”
“Bill,” Mary said. Mary, as has been seen, was very clever. “I have an idea. You work in Hollywood. You make movies.”
“So? Are we going to make one a week from Saturday? The Invisible Sea Serpent?”
“Don’t get smart. No. But something like that. Hollywood is a place where magic is made.” Sea Serpent leaned forward at the mention of magic.
“So, you’ve been working with holograms, as a supplement to digital graphics, right?” Bill nodded. “Okay, so I’ll get a golf cart and fill it with a bunch of amps and maybe a PA system and you get me a hand held camera.”
“And you tell everyone you’ve invented a new technology. The reverse hologram. It makes people invisible and beats the heck out of voice-over and stop action shots.”
“Oh, that’s ridiculous!” Bill said.
“No, it’s fantastic. And Hollywood is the land of fantasy. If you tell them you’re testing a new technology, they’ll buy it. When it comes to entertainment, remember what P.T. Barnum said. ‘There’s a sucker___”
“Born every minute. You’re right, Mary. We’re cheap hucksters in the Land of Make Believe.”
“And people know it, and can’t get enough of it!” Mary finished.
“You’re a genius, Mary.” Bill kissed her on the cheek.
“I don’t know what you’ve been talking about, but it sounds to me as if the matter’s settled,” Sea Serpent said.
“It’s settled,” Bill said, smiling.
“And I’ll explain it all to you,” Wanda said to Sea Serpent. “I’ll bring my laptop down and we’ll watch one of dad’s movies.”
“Laptop?” Sea Serpent said.
“You’ll see,” Wanda said.
“There’s so much to learn. But I enjoy it,” Sea Serpent said.
“You and Wanda have a lot in common,” Mary said.
And the next night, after dark, Bill and Mary and Wanda slipped over the wall and onto Timoney’s Terrace. They even brought popcorn, but they didn’t need to use the stove in the Beach House. They had Sea Serpent. And they discovered that dragons not only like movies, they like popcorn, as well.
“Thank you,” Sea Serpent said, when they had finished.
“You’re welcome,” Mary said.
“It was great fun. But we really do need to get Wanda to bed. She may be cured but she still needs rest.”
Sea Serpent nodded.
‘Crunch! Crunch!’ Suddenly, Bill stopped and wheeled around. “Say, Sea Serpent, when you were in Scotland, you never played?”
Sea Serpent shook his head.
“Mm. So you’re a 36, then. Have to register us tomorrow,” Bill said.
“36 what?” Sea Serpent asked.
“I’ll explain,” Wanda said.
“And the format is a horserace, so if we lose on the first hole, we’re out of the tournament. And even if we do go on, the match might not go a full eighteen holes.” Bill had explained enough about golf that Sea Serpent knew what he was talking about.
“That will be fine. Even if I play only one hole with you, Bill, it will be great fun. It’s about the experience,” Sea Serpent said.
“And we can follow the winners, until there’s a champion!” Wanda cried.
“Right,” Bill said, nervously. “Um, I’ll come around with Wanda next week and show you the equipment, explain some of the rules and maybe you can make a few practice swings. Stuff like that.”
“Stuff like that would be very nice,” Sea Serpent said. “Good night.”
“Goodnight,” Bill said, but he didn’t sound entirely sure of that.
The next day Bill went into the Pro Shop and signed up for the tournament. “It’ll be fun. It’ll be okay,” he kept mumbling to himself, as he filled out the form.
“I’m sorry,” David said. David was the head pro. “Did you say something?”
“No. No. Talking to myself. Working on a script,” Bill said. Then he went into the Men’s Grill. It was almost lunchtime, but he wasn’t hungry. He wanted a beer.
“Bill!” he heard a voice boom from a corner table. It was Dick and few of his buddies.
Several heads snapped around when Dick hailed Bill. There were a lot of Bills at the Club. In fact, legend had it that before the 50s, the name Bill was a requirement for membership. The claim had never been verified.
“That Bill, “ Dick said, pointing.
Bill had really wanted to go to the bar and be alone. He was feeling poorly, conflicted, because he was so grateful to Sea Serpent and yet so anxious about the match. But Dick couldn’t be denied. Not ever.
“You’re what?!” Dick cried.
“That’s right. He’s never played before and I’m trying out a new, uh, cinematic technique. Reverse holography,” Bill said.
“Let me get this straight, you’re going to play with a partner who’s a 36 handicap and who’ll be invisible?” Dick said.
“Yes,” Bill said.
“You’re a 3!” Dick said. “That’s too much of a spread in handicaps!” Mary had been right. They’d swallowed the whole ‘invisible’ thing.
“Not in this tournament,” Roger said.
“Yes, even in this tournament. Let’s go talk to Dave,” Dick said.
Turned out to be a ‘yes, even in this tournament’. “So what’s my option?” Bill asked Dave.
“Never played? He plays scratch,” Dave said.
A small flicker of hope tickled Bill’s brain. They’d be knocked out on the first hole. Bill felt a little guilty, but Sea Serpent had said he understood and wouldn’t mind. So…
Back in the Grill, Bill took a sip of his beer, which somehow tasted a bit better now.
“Bad luck, Bill,” Roger said. “You’ll get knocked out pretty quickly. But, hey, it’s a horserace. Who plays in a horserace to do anything but cut up and drink, anyway?” Sea Serpent didn’t drink. Bill was pretty sure of that.
“Besides, it’s as much for the spectators as for the players. The gallery has cocktails and gets to hoot at all the teams that lose. Then everybody goes inside and drinks some more! It’ll be great fun!” Roger said, encouragingly.
“Yes,” Bill said, “it will be great fun.”
The day arrived and the weather was unusual. Unusual for August, that is. Clear, blue skies had been rubbed to a matte finish by a fine scrim of morning mist. Soon, the sun, rising bright above the hills to the east, would burn off even that fine haze.
And it was warm. Warm enough, that is, to play in a light sweater, rather than the usual mittens and ski cap.
A nice crowd had gathered. Families of players and their guests, as well as some interested members. Interested, that is, not in the match but in an excuse for having a Bloody Mary for breakfast. There were, perhaps, a hundred to root on a field of forty teams.
It turned out Bill and Sea Serpent and Dick and his partner had drawn the last two tee slots. And it should also be mentioned that Wanda had demanded to fore-caddy. As they waited to go off, Wanda spoke softly, but encouragingly, to Sea Serpent, who seemed to be a bit nervous. When he admitted as much, she told him that was a good thing. It showed he was emerging as a true golfer, since besides ridiculous coordination of every unconnected part of the body, when hitting a shot, anxiety was at the core of the emotional experience.
When it came time for them to tee off, at last, someone in the back of the gallery yelled, “Where’s your partner, Bill?”
Bill was ready for that. He crossed his fingers. Actually crossed them. “Let me explain.” And he did. There were skeptical looks when he said his partner was invisible, along with a few ‘C’mon’s. But when he said he was trying out a new technology, reverse holography, there were, suddenly, nods of understanding. As Mary had claimed, the word ‘technology’ clinched unquestioning faith and total acceptance. After all, as everyone knows, technology is capable of anything. Especially Hollywood technology.
Mary grinned a broad ‘I told you so’ grin. Bill explained her part in the experiment. Again, a murmur of assent was heard, along with a call for another Bloody Mary.
Dick teed off for his twosome. The format was Scotch. He hit a respectable drive. The first hole was a Par 5, by the way. They were playing the Shore course. The Dunes was more recently renovated, but during construction the Shore had borne the brunt of play, so it had been decided to hold the tournament in honor of the Shore’s yeoman’s duty for the better part of two seasons.
Sea Serpent had drawn the tee for Bill’s team. There were a few looks and murmurs of amazement at the ‘new technology’, as the gallery focused on a driver floating along the tee box.
Everything was going pretty well, Bill thought, at which point something opened the gate to his competitive juices and, as they began to flow, he found himself rooting for Sea Serpent and hoping they might survive the first hole.
His hopes were realized, as Sea Serpent striped a drive almost four hundred yards down the center of the fairway.
“Say,” Dick snapped, “thought you said this guy___what’s his name anyway?”
Bill froze. He couldn’t remember what he’d put on the entry form. “Um, SeaSer,” he said.
“Huh. Caesar, what?” Dick demanded.
Caesar sounded pretty good to Bill. “Um, just Caesar. He’s from Brazil. One name. You know. Pele, Nene.”
“Oh, well, some drive, Caesar.” Dead silence. “Hey, is he mute, as well as invisible?”
“It’s in his contract. Can’t say a word, until we introduce him at his press conference. He’s gonna be big,” Bill said, now crossing four fingers.
Bill breathed a sigh of relief. Hollywood. They’d believe anything.
With a wedge, Bill put them on in two, within ten feet. Dick and his buddy were on in three but had a tap-in.
There had been no eagles, so Bill and Sea Serpent could clinch if they made their putt. A one hole horserace would be kind of a bummer, but Bill would take it.
As it turned out, Sea Serpent’s proficiency with the flat stick was about as bad as his driver was good. He blew his putt six feet past the hole. But Bill saved the team. And he was glad of it. He actually wanted to win.
Now, the reader could be offered the details of the match, as it progressed. However, everyone who plays has had the misfortune, on a Monday morning, of having a colleague nonchalantly ask if they had played over the weekend, in hopes the question would be returned. At which point, the listener is treated to a hole-by-hole, shot-by-shot history of the round.
The reader will be spared. Suffice it to say that the holes continued much as the first had. Sea Serpent hit prodigious drives, as well as respectable approach shots, and Bill drove the ball well, and his short game had never been better. Saving their bacon every time. In other words, they bacon and egged it. Wanda tried to both console and instruct Sea Serpent, concerning his putting stroke.
One incident was noteworthy. On the long, par 5 twelfth, Sea Serpent hit another ‘monster drive’, if the reader will excuse the expression, carrying the small creek at 225 into a south wind and landing some hundred yards farther down the fairway.
Dick was not so lucky. He hit a huge duck hook into deep rough, a mess of brown seagrass and low scrub. Since the shot began to quack almost as soon as it left the tee, Wanda followed its flight with intense concentration. But she failed to find the ball. They all spent the better part of four minutes scouring a large section of field. Wanda explained the situation to Sea Serpent. She had also been instructing him on the etiquette of the game. A stiff breeze came up; or at least that’s what Dick and his partner thought. At a point, a small dust devil swirled. Wanda ran to the spot and cried, “I found your ball!”
Sea Serpent, with an aerial perspective and keen eyesight, had saved Dick’s team stroke and distance.
“I’m very proud of you, Sea Serpent,” Wanda said, as they walked off 12 green, halving the hole.
“Only sporting, I thought,” he replied.
Wanda grinned. “Exactly! You’ve suffered anxiety, self-doubt, self-abasement, and now have exhibited sportsmanship. I’d say you’ve pretty much covered the entire golfing experience. Pretty good for a rookie.”
“I’ll explain on the next tee,” Wanda said.
After twelve, Dick and Bill’s teams had dispatched the rest of the field. It certainly had become quite a Horserace! In fact, the gallery had begun to swell. The intrigue of the match, and the fact that one player was invisible thanks to a ‘new technology’ out of Hollywood, had caused people to begin calling other members to come and have a look. Of course, everyone knows that the use of cell phones is prohibited on the course, but somehow everyone had conveniently forgotten to leave their phones in the car.
By the time they reached eighteen, the crowd must have numbered five hundred. Food and Beverage was going to hit it out of the park! Mary continued to drive alongside the competitors, displaying a very serious demeanor, as she kept her camera pointed in the direction of the levitating golf clubs. It should be mentioned that she did video the entire match, and it has become a treasured addition to the family archives.
Bill had the honors on eighteen and hit a nice power fade to the preferred, flat landing area, just beyond a large fairway bunker on the right. Dick’s partner caught the near edge of the landing area and had the misfortune of watching his ball roll some twenty yards back down the fairway. Groans were heard. Money was changing hands at a furious pace. It appeared that there was action not only on the match, but on each and every shot. Tequila expedited the flow of funds.
Dick redeemed his partner with a nice 4 rescue, but it caught the false front and trickled back into the fairway.
“Reverse!” Dick wailed. “We’re playing the damned hole in reverse!”
Sea Serpent hit a nice wedge, but was characteristically strong and ended up in the difficult bunker behind the green. Both teams had their work cut out.
Dick’s partner hit a good chip, but it rolled about eight feet past the hole, leaving a slippery downhill putt.
Bill hit a terrific sand wedge, and the ball rolled only a few feet past the flag, leaving Sea Serpent with a straight, uphill putt.
No one had noticed, but the match had not only swelled the gallery of people, but the trees were loaded with birds. Crow had brought a few hundred of his buddies and seagulls were circling. The cackling and screeching grew noticeable when Dick missed his putt. Sea Serpent had a four-footer for the win.
The birds grew quite still.
Wanda walked up to the putter, dangling in mid-air. “Okay. Just make the same smooth stroke you make with your driver.”
“Shhh! You can do this. I’ll point to the spot you should aim at. The putt looks straight, but it has a slight break. And it’s uphill, so hit it firmly.” Wanda, as will be recalled, knew a thing or two about putting.
“As you say.”
Wanda pulled the flag, as a good caddie should, and pointed the tip at a spot just a few inches to the right, from behind the hole. “Left to right,” she said. “And remember it’s uphill.”
“Say!” Dick said. “I’m calling a penalty! You can’t show him the line.”
“I certainly can, as long as I don’t touch the line of the putt,” Wanda said. “Rule 16-1.”
“I’m not having some little cripple tell me the Rules of Golf!” Dick said.
Bill dropped his putter and clenched his fists. The birds began to screech and caw. But before Bill could take a step, a mass of grey-green began to swirl around the levitated putter. As the scales turned black, a very angry looking dragon was found to be sitting on eighteen green.
The crowd gasped, but no one spoke, no one moved.
Suddenly, Sea Serpent lifted his head and a jet of raw, orange fire erupted from his mouth. Slowly, he lowered his snout, until it almost touched Dick’s nose. “Apologize,” he whispered.
“I, I’m sorry__”
“I’m sorry, Wanda,” Dick said.
“That’s okay,” Wanda said, cheerfully. “Your apology is in the spirit of etiquette, which, as we all know, is at the very front of the Rules of Golf. Besides, cripple is an accurate, if antiquated term. Did you know that the Hospital for Special Surgery, where I was examined in New York City, was originally named the Hospital for the Crippled and Ruptured in the nineteenth century? You can Google it.
“Okay, Sea Serpent,” she said, calling him by his real name, “sink it. I have a strawberry milkshake riding on this.”
Not a word, not a caw, not a cry was heard. No one dared breathe. Sea Serpent drew back the putter blade and with one, smooth stroke sent the ball precisely along the line Wanda had indicated and into the hole.
The crowd exploded, seagulls sailed in circles, Crow outcackled all of his friends, and then an even stranger noise was heard. Like a thousand castanets. Filling the fairway was a mass of bright red tuna crabs, madly clicking away.
Shyly, Dick walked up to Sea Serpent, with his partner, and they both extended their hands. Sea Serpent reciprocated, as well as a dragon could be expected. Mary came up and hugged him around the neck, and Bill gave him an affectionate chuck on the shoulder, which Sea Serpent seemed to appreciate.
Sea Serpent turned to Wanda. “I have to go,” he said.
“I know, it could be dangerous for you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I wish I were a Sea Serpent,” Wanda said.
“I wish I were human,” he said. He sighed. “But I have to go on a long journey.”
“Will I see you again?” Wanda asked.
“Yes,” Sea Serpent answered, “but not for a very long time.”
“I understand,” Wanda said. “Thank you, again. For everything.”
“And thank you,” Sea Serpent said. With that, he spread his wings and flew up and off of the green toward the ocean, followed by squadrons of birds and an army of tuna crabs.
The crowd was buzzing. A few turned to leave. “Hey!” Bill yelled, loudly. He clapped his hands, as well. “Nobody, nobody is to know about this. It could be dangerous for Sea Serpent and he’s our friend. I’ll explain later. But you understand, first it will be the police, then the army, then the scientists. Putin might even want him for the zoo of exotic creatures he’s starting.”
“Bill!” someone shouted. It was Eric. Bill’s buddy. “I think we all understand. But this is a unique experience in the history of the Club. It ought to be remembered, even if it is our secret. I have an idea. I’d like everyone to come to a general meeting at the clubhouse two weeks from today.”
Eric said he had an idea. Since Eric had had plenty of them, and most of them were pretty good, he drew a crowd.
At the meeting, he unveiled a proposal for a new Club logo. Gone were the pinecones. Sea Serpent was sketched, rampant, in grey-green, holding a bright red golf flag.
The logo was adopted by overwhelming voice vote and displayed on each and every flag of every hole of both courses.
When members were asked about the significance of the sea serpent, they would only smile, point toward the ocean and say that one course breathed fire and the other had teeth.
And Wanda did not see Sea Serpent for a very long time. But she thought about him every day. The years passed, and Wanda met a wonderful guy at college and they were married. He loved golf and he loved the Peninsula and, most of all, he loved Wanda. So when Bill and Mary decided that they preferred the heat of the desert to the damp Monterey summers, Wanda and her husband moved into her old home.
By that time, Wanda had had a daughter. She named her, cleverly she thought, Circe, and explained the reason for her strange name, in confidence, to her husband. Circe didn’t think her name strange; she liked it very much.
One day Circe came in from the garden. She had been saying ‘good morning’ to the flowers and the birds, as Wanda had. Wanda’s blood had flowed to Circe during pregnancy, so she already had the gift with plants and animals.
She seemed reserved and even diffident, which was unusual, since Circe was a very extroverted child. Apparently, Circe had picked up more than the language of birds and flowers from Wanda!
“What is it, honey?” Wanda asked.
“Well, I hope you don’t think I’m crazy or anything, but yesterday, when Dad and I were having a match, this head with a fin sticking out from behind it and two red eyes seemed to be staring at me. Is that a little crazy?”
Wanda could barely contain herself. She thought she’d burst with excitement. “Sit down, Circe,” she said, “and let me tell you a story.” And she did.
That night, Wanda and Charlie and Circe snuck down to the Beach House and climbed over the wall of Timoney’s Terrace. Oh, and they’d even remembered to bring the popcorn!
© Paul Sinsar 2016