The grey morning sky trembled with a light drizzle, and I, at the ripe old age of nine, was surrounded by a host of frothing orcs who’d made the long march from Mordor to the backyard of my childhood home. I held aloft a silver war hammer, though to an onlooker with the dreary mind of an adult, it might have looked like a brand new Titleist 1-wood golf club.
The orcs snarled, and banged their curved swords against their rusty shields. They were taunting me. Their heavy steel boots squelched on the wet ground. I took a few steps back until I brushed up against a wall of tomato vines climbing up the stakes in the vegetable patch. I was cornered. I gripped my hammer’s rubber handle, and swung, crushing an orc’s head, and knocking his corpse onto the grass with a crash of metal. The others looked at his body, then roared and rushed at me with their swords aloft. I stepped to the side, dodging an orc, and leapt onto a rock that looked an awful lot like a trampoline. It acted like one too, and I bounced from the springy rock right into the middle of the pack, knocking over several of them. Then, I fought for my life. One orc dead, then another. Thwack. Clunk. Crunch. The orcs screamed, and blood and fluids sprayed in the wet air. One of their swords nicked my ear, and I winced, before breaking his arm with a vengeful swing. Soon, corpses were piled all around me. I was on one knee, breathing heavily. Then I felt a presence behind me, and heard the laughter of their leader, the orc chieftain. I found all the strength I had left, then spun and swung my hammer.
Dad’s new golf club hit the washing line and the head broke right off, landing on the empty grass where a pile of orc’s had just been. My blood ran cold. ‘Oh no. No no no no no’, I thought. I held the golf club handle, which was now a long pointy spear, headless, and disturbingly light. It would have been good for stabbing the orc chieftain, but he was long gone now. In a way, he’d won. By breaking Dad’s new club I’d ended my own life. He was surely going to kill me. And yet, the world continued on. There was no foreboding rumbling of the earth, or lightning whipping a warning lash in the sky. Just the light, fluffy rain, and some quiet chatter from the neighbour’s over the back fence. Then, I heard the door open.
Mum came out to investigate the suspicious clang, and her face dropped when she saw what I’d done. I stood stunned, and did the only thing that seemed to come to mind. I cried. I cried, and cried. I mourned the club, but even more I feared the consequences of what I’d done. Clubslaughter. What was the punishment for such a heinous crime? I didn’t know, but I knew it would be bad.
‘What have you done?’ asked Mum, kneeling over the corpse. She, of course, had bought him the club for his birthday, and we were not a family who could afford regular trips to the Pro Shop. And so, a third victim lined up to be heartbroken by my crime. Mum, Dad, and the poor club itself, having lived without ever hitting a ball.
She was angry, but she consoled me, and held me in the middle of the battlefield. Even with my head pressed into her torso I heard the unique coarse timbre of a Ford Falcon ute pulling into the driveway, punctuated with the thud of the door. This was followed by the front-door, then a silence, then the back door slid open, and out walked my father. He stopped in his tracks.
‘I’m so, so sorry,’ I wept. I ran and hugged him, perhaps trying to stop him from getting too close to the crime scene. I pressed tears into his jumper, and he held me tight, and when at some point in this chaos I looked up at him, the world warped through snotty tears, his face was a mixture of confusion and amusement. ‘It was an accident,’ I begged him to believe.
He laughed, and said ‘It’s okay.’ He comforted me. Perhaps he thought to himself, ‘why am I the one doing the comforting?’ as he faced the head of the shiny new club he’d never gotten to use, lying cold and dead on the ground, shielding me from having to look at my victim. But all he said was ‘don’t worry, it’s just a thing,’ although he didn’t say it in words. But that was the sentiment that shone through his actions, devoid of any anger or even disappointment, as he held something more important to him than a golf club.
He picked up the head of the club and took it into the garage where he had a workbench, then came back out, and we all went inside, and I hurled ‘sorry’s at him until the word lost all meaning.
A week later perhaps, on a cold evening when the smell of garlic frying was doing the rounds of the house, gently visiting each room, and just before my appointment with The Simpsons at 6 o’clock, I went outside to visit Dad in the garage. This was where he went to smoke, and often I’d follow him out there, bored out of my mind, interrupting one of his few moments of peace. He’d never let me enter until he’d finished his cigarette, protecting my lungs in place of his own. So I’d wait outside, with the door cracked open, bothering him with mindless questions. Then he’d squash his cigarette into a long-tortured ashtray and I’d step into the dusty chamber. ‘Why does he hang out here?’ I’d think to myself as I stood on the cold, concrete floor, toying with a decades-old steel red toolbox or a burnt CD, looking around at the chaotic assortment of old wooden furniture he’d patched together into a workspace. Inside we had a TV, a stereo, a couch, a heater. What could he possibly have been wanting to get away from? I ambled around the workbench, picking things up and looking at them like I always did. Then on the window-sill, paint peeling around it, glass cloudy and cracked, I saw the head of the golf club resting, and I felt a black wave of guilt toss me in the surf of a sunless ocean. I went back inside.
After dinner, he went out for another smoke, but stayed out there for a long time. Eventually he called me out to come and take a look at something. The sun was gone now, and the garage was dark and it smelled like chemicals. A single fluorescent bulb buzzed in the night, and he revealed the head of the golf club, spray painted gold, and mounted on a piece of wood. He explained it was a trophy, something for him and golf-mates to compete for.
A few years later, I myself briefly took up golf. I could chip the ball, but I was skinny and my arms were weak, so I couldn’t drive it very far. I also didn’t have the patience for nine holes, let alone eighteen. But I followed Dad to the course anyway, dragging my little bag of clubs up and down hills, hearing it rattle over my heavy breathing. Plus, he’d always buy me a Mars bar. And wouldn’t you know it, he let me win the trophy too. There I was in the carpark holding the head of my old war hammer with a wide smile. And I kept holding it on the drive home, my little hands clutching it proudly. Although I’d won it, he still insisted he keep it in the shed, and there it sat on the windowsill, and he’d look at it while he smoked. What did he think about when he stared at it? It sat by a hole in the glass, carved out recently by a wayward backyard practice shot at my hands. Another thing broken, another test of fatherhood. Another moment where he must have taken a deep breath, and chosen not to be angry. He never taped up the hole or replaced the glass, and when he went out for a cigarette, the smoke would pass over the trophy, and into the outside. Even with the new ventilation, I wasn’t allowed in there until he’d finished.
I’m an adult now, older than my Dad when I was born. For better or for worse, I don’t get angry very often. I sit looking out my bedroom window and wonder if that’s just the way I am, or if it was a gift from my father, given to me when I snapped his golf club. I imagine having my own child, and I imagine them breaking something of mine. I try to picture the scene, to see if I’d have my Dad’s patience- if I have what it takes to be a father. The idea feels so distant that I can’t hold onto it, and it wafts away like smoke.