I texted Kristy again, and waited, having little else to do. We weren’t supposed to text at work, but it was one in the morning and nobody was at the golf course except me, and I was in the Security Shack, by myself, with only a small lamp and the moon through the window to keep me company. If they complained I would tell them to find someone else willing to work twelve-hour graveyard shifts on a Saturday night in Miami. All of their money wouldn’t mean for shit then. They wouldn’t watch their own exclusive golf club, would they? Trust-fund geriatrics.
Through one window I could see the desolately empty parking lot, and behind it the bright light pollution of party-city creating a festive aureola arching over the top of the dark palm trees; and through another window I could see the gentle waves and dips of the golf course itself, dim in the blue wash of the moon. I could see little else, which was why I was so startled when Buck opened the door suddenly, seemingly coming out of Nowhere.
“Jesus-fucking-Christ, Buck!” I cussed, nearly falling out of my chair. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Had to go to the doctor,” he said, plopping down in his chair. The chair squeaked under his portly body. “I have this knot on my back. It’s the size of a tennis ball. Blue and purple with a white head of pus as big as…”
“I know, Buck, I know!” I growled. He had told me about it five times in the last two days.
“Do you want to see it?” he asked.
“No!” I said, just like the other five times he had asked. “Wait—you said your doctor’s appointment was this morning. Why are you late to work? Did they…?” I couldn’t say anything in regard to the nasty growth on his back. I was sick of hearing about it, and imagining it.
“They didn’t cut it yet,” Buck said. “Doc put me on antibiotics. They’ve gotten me down. Overslept. Sorry.”
“It’s no problem,” I lied. I turned to look at him and saw how sweaty his forehead was, and his neck, and his arms; the wirebrush hairs were smeared with sweat. “Buck, you don’t look so good. You should go home.”
“Nah,” he said, running his meaty fingers over his bald pate. The remaining hair on his scalp half-encircled his head, and gleamed with sweat in the dim lamplight. “Nothing a little walking on the green won’t fix. Clean Florida air.”
He tittered breathlessly, and reeled a little in his chair. I worried he might pass out any moment, smacking his thick skull on the desk and floor and getting a couple of concussions on the way down. I should have known there was something wrong with him as soon as he entered the Security Shack. Normally he would have flipped the switch, turning on the blinding fluorescent lights, which I kept off because, one, they hurt my graveyard shift eyes, and two, they caused every window in the outside world to turn into oddly accurate mirrors. As if reading my mind, Buck lurched up to his feet, with a grunt, and staggered to the light switch, turning the bleach-like lights on. One moment I was looking at the golf course and the next I saw only my reflection, and Buck’s reflection, his corpulent body stuffed into his white shirt, the back of which was distorted with a large protuberance in the center of his back.
“I’ll go on a round,”I said. I hadn’t been on one yet, and I also needed to walk off the image of that thing on Buck’s back, and how it stuck in my brain like a bad dream. A tumescent dream, I thought, and shook my head. “You stay here and rest a while.”
“I can go,” he said, tottering to and fro as if he might pass out any moment.
I stood up and slid his chair to him. He plopped down in it like a dying man.
“I’ll take the radio,” I said, clipping the walkie-talkie to my belt. “If you start feeling really bad, say something.”
As I went to the door, Buck turned toward me.
“Hey,” he said. “Do you want to see my knot?”
I walked out quickly, without another word.
I brought a flashlight with me, and a golf club. We weren’t supposed to have weapons, like guns, but I didn’t trust the areas around the ponds. Alligators were breeding everywhere in Florida then, and pythons, too, and I didn’t want to come across something while unarmed. Or someone. Druggies were bad around there, too.
I looked at my phone to see if Kristy had texted me back. She hadn’t, so I texted her again. It wasn’t like I didn’t know how desperate so many texts looked, queuing up on her phone, but I didn’t know what else to do. I fucked up. I told her she needed to grow up. I told her she was immature, and bratty. She said I was like an old man, even though I was in my twenties. I worked with old men, like Buck, all of the time, and I worked all of the time, so I couldn’t party like she wanted to. I was an old fuddy-duddy, I guess. Slept during the day. Bleary-eyed in the sunlight. Working nights, and being around old people, made me prematurely old. She hated it. Maybe she hated me.
The golf course was a nice one. I walked it a bit, and then took our Security golf cart around, the headlights like puncture wounds in the otherwise sleepy murk of the green. It took about an hour to make a full perimeter sweep, and I always took my time to enjoy the mild night air.
When I returned to the Security Shack, it was vacant. The bright lights were still on, but Buck was nowhere to be seen. He probably went to use the restroom, I told myself. I checked my phone again to see if Kristy had texted me back. She hadn’t. She was too busy drinking and dancing in a rave club somewhere. I turned the fluorescent lights off.
Buck returned, then. He did not bother to turn the lights on as he entered the Shack. Instead, he plopped down in his chair and wheezed as if he might die. I really hoped he didn’t. I would have hated the paperwork that would have entailed.
“You all right?” I asked him.
“Just winded a bit,” he said. “Needed something to eat. Blood-sugar dropped.”
Even in the dim light from the lamp I could see how awash with sweat he was. His white shirt was drenched as if he had went swimming in one of the ponds.. Something glistened around his lips. It almost looked like blood. Before I could ask him about it, he raised his fat arm and wiped it away. I told myself it was just jelly from one of those nasty doughnuts he was always eating. Buck was suicidal in his treatment of his diabetes.
“Guess it’s my turn to go on a round,” he said. He tried to stand, groaning as he leaned his upper body forward to drag his butt out of his chair. His body remained in the chair, though, and his mouth gawped with fatigue. Every sweat pore in his forehead was dripping like a leaky faucet.
“I’ll go on another round,” I said, standing again. I really didn’t want to, but I also didn’t want to witness an old man go into cardiac arrest. “It’s no big deal.”
I went to the door, and paused. I almost told him to take it easy, but he spoke first.
“Hey…” he said, his forehead a mass of sweaty wrinkles and his eyes lolling. “You wanna’ see my knot?”
I opened the door without a backward glance.
I was walking, the flashlight in one hand and my phone in the other. Using my thumb, I called Kristy since she had not replied to any of my texts. To my surprise, she answered.
“What?” she said, tersely.
“I was just calling to check on you,” I said. Behind her peevish voice I could hear the din of a dance floor flooded with music and twenty-somethings enjoying life.
“Aren’t you nosy,” she said, not unkindly. “Just out with Beckie and Sarah.”
“Well, I won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “One of the guys called off so I have to work a twelve. Split his shift with Gary.”
“Uh huh,” she said, not really listening. “Have fun.”
She was ready to hang up— it was always easy for me to anticipate her— so I said her name, loudly.
“Kristy!” I said. She paused. “I…I love you.”
There was a long, impatient sigh on the other end. “That’s not really true, Brian,” she said. “And you know it.”
“I do know it,” I said, frantically searching for the right words. “I think we could work this out. I mean, it’s never too late…”
“We’re growing apart,” she said. “We should take a break. You know, for personal growth.”
She was just repeating whatever bullshit she had read online. Nothing she said was genuine, except when another background voice— male— asked her who she was talking to.
“Nobody,” she said.
I hung up and shoved my phone into my pocket, foregoing the impulse to throw it into a nearby pond. It was difficult. I stared out at the moon-shimmering water and really wanted to drown my phone—and Kristy— in its dark depths.
But it was as I was scowling at the pond that I noticed a head grinning up at me from the water. As soon as I recognized what it was, I leapt back, afraid the alligator would come shooting off the bank and grab hold of me, dragging me into the shoals. Instead, it just sat there, grinning into the halo of my flashlight. It had a blank stare and, after staring back at it for a few seconds, I realized that it was dead. Very dead. Its body appeared to have been gnawed by something even bigger than itself. Probably tried to mate with a female alligator that outsized him in every way. That was what happened when you attempted to mate beyond your depth: you were eaten alive. Kristy, I realized, was my own cannibal alligator. My galligator. I must have been very sad to be making such a bad joke.
I returned to the Security Shack. Buck seemed to be doing better now. He wasn’t sweating anymore. I sat down in my chair and unpacked my lunch. I was half-finished when I realized I didn’t have an appetite. I started to put everything back in my lunch containers.
“Not hungry?” Buck asked.
“Not in the mood for food,” I said.
“Girl troubles, huh?” he said.
I looked at him, frowning. Buck was shrewd, in his own way, and knew some things, having lived so long. All of the old men that worked with me were the same in that regard. But instead of inspiring reverence in me for all of their “wisdom”, it only made me irritable.
“There’s somebody out there for everybody,” he said. “It took me a long time to find a good woman, but I found her. God rest her soul. I wish she was still alive so she could be a part of my life again. We were inseparable, you know?”
Buck was a widower, and I really didn’t care about his sob-story. I didn’t care about anyone’s sob-story, at that moment, except my own. He misinterpreted my silence as a need for wisdom, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want his advice, or anyone’s. I just wanted to brood in the dim lamplight.
“You know,” he said, “when I went to see the doctor for the first time about my knot, he said it would be an outpatient procedure. I told him that was great. I would get Judith to drive me home.” He chuckled lightly. “But then I remembered Judith had been dead since last Spring and she couldn’t drive me anywhere anymore.”
He had told me his sob-story about a hundred times by now. I really did not want to hear it anymore. It wasn’t that I was a heartless, callus prick; I just didn’t have the emotional energy for sympathy at that moment. I felt disconnected from everything and faraway; on a dance floor in a club in Miami, somewhere just over those dark palm trees.
“Are you lonely, Brian?” he asked.
“Everybody’s lonely,” I said.
“Well, that’s why we got to look out for each other.”
He put his meaty hand on my shoulder, and I leapt to my feet as if I had been struck by lightning.
“I don’t care about you or anybody!” I growled.
Buck looked up at me with a stern, piercing gaze. “Hey,” he said. “Do you want to see my knot?”
I walked out of the Security Shack, slamming the door, and went on another perimeter round.
Without Kristy, I felt as if I was coming undone. Unstrung. The disentanglement of our lives began slowly, and then accelerated with Kristy’s busy, picking fingers. We lived in the same apartment, but were more like roommates than lovers. Actually, I had seen so little of her lately that she was more a rumor than a roommate. As I walked across the shadowy green, I was as far from her as the man on the moon. Whatever threads of life ran between us had been severed by her meticulous, clinical scissors. We were like two spools of thread thrown together in a cabinet’s drawer, loosely touching at best, but not at all entwined.
I returned, reluctantly, to the Security Shack. Buck stood, without a word, and held up his hand. It took me a moment to understand that he wanted the radio. I handed it to him, and the flashlight. He then walked through the door. As he left I thought I saw something odd happening within his shirt. It looked like it was wiggling.
I sat down, sighing, then rubbing my hair angrily. I was stressed out. I was tired. I hated my job. I hated my life. Everything was squandered now, it seemed. All was spoiled. Maybe Kristy was right: maybe I was just an old man. Maybe I belonged here, working with all of these old people until my age finally caught up to my lifestyle. I had tried to compromise with Kristy. I had tried to go out with her to party scenes and clubs and the densely populated bars. But the music gave me headaches. The flashing lights hurt my eyes. Being shoulder-to-shoulder with people stressed me out and made me anxious. I always left early, whereas she stayed behind, eye-fucked by ten guys on the dance floor. It was obvious, even then, that everything between us had been frayed. Maybe nothing had been entwined in the first place. We were mismatched strings, slipping away from one another.
I sighed again, and looked at the computer monitor, its screen sectioned by various camera angles. Most of them displayed poorly-lit areas of the green. One showed the door of the club complex itself, where we were not allowed to patrol since the yuppies feared we would sully their expensive Persian rugs. What was strange to me, however, was that the door was open. At first, the alarm bells went off in my head and I reached for the phone to call the police. But then I saw Buck walking out of the door, carrying armfuls of food from their kitchen. They kept racks of ham and lamb and everything else that yuppies liked to eat in between golf games. Buck was eating at them as he left. I didn’t call the police because I didn’t want to get Buck in trouble. Instead, I waited until he returned to the shack, hoping he had a good explanation for taking all of that food that belonged to those yuppies.
It was an hour or so before he returned. He was wheezing again, and sweating all over.
“Buck, what is wrong with you?” I demanded. “Why were you in the club building?”
“Had to…eat…” he said. “Have…to…grow…connections…”
He toppled down into his chair, head lolling as if he was having a stroke. I reached for the phone and called 911.
“911 dispatch,” the woman answered. “What is your emergency?”
“It’s my coworker!” I said, feeling myself lost in a frenzy of fear and concern. “He’s having some kind of attack…!”
I realized, then, that Buck was standing over me. I looked up and saw that he was shirtless, the largess of his gut spilling over his belt, slick and hairy like a fat pig’s. His eyes rolled up behind their lids, the whites sallow and sickly. The dispatcher was asking me questions, but I couldn’t comprehend them.
“Do you…want…to see…my knot?” Buck asked.
“No,” I whimpered.
“IT WANTS TO SEE YOU!”
He turned his back toward me.
I needed to find Kristy. I wanted to see her. To reconnect with her. Buck agreed. We went to see her together, running awkwardly at first, still learning how to move together, but soon we reconciled ourselves with the change. We would never be alone again, and neither would Kristy, or anyone. All would be connected. No one alone. Knotted together for eternity.
Do you want to see our knot?