"I got ears, don't I?"
Her hearing must have been as extraordinary as the rest of her, for I could've sworn that I hadn't made a sound. "I'm sorry," I offered lamely, "I saw you back in town and..."
"I know. I ain't blind neither!"
Her challenging tone momentarily set me off balance and I groped for something to say. Finally, I nodded at the ground around her bare feet and said, "Do you always practice on walnuts?"
She softened some at this and gave me a hint of a smile. "'Course not, silly, just when they're in season."
I laughed and held out my hand, "My name's Adam Nye."
"I'm Mary Ellen Parker," she said, giving my hand a firm squeeze.
"You have a lovely swing, Mary Ellen. Who taught you how to play?"
"She must be one hell of a golfer," I said.
"She died when I was twelve," she replied in a clipped tone.
"Oh...I'm sorry," I stammered.
"No need to be; ain't no fault of yours," she said.
Relieved that I hadn't offended her, I sat down and leaned against the bole of the tree. "Mind if I watch while you hit more walnuts?"
She gave an elegant little shrug of her shoulders and said, "Suit yourself."
A cool breeze floated off the glittering surface of the pond as I studied with rapt attention one breathtaking shot after another, carefully noting every graceful move of her lithe body: the way her hair hung straight down her back as she moved through the swing; the way she cocked her head to one side, like Arnold Palmer, as she watched the flight of the ball; the way her toes curled into the grass just before she took back the club. Each time she made a minor adjustment to her stance or grip I cringed, sure that she would ruin my vision of perfection. But each shot rocketed over the aquatic fairway, tailing slightly left or right to her will. I would have loved to see what she could do with a real ball.
I could've sat and watched here all day long, but Mary Ellen abruptly shouldered the club and began to walk away.
"Wait," I cried, bolting to my feet. "Where are you going?"
"I've got to get home and fix lunch."
Stepping into her path, I gently took hold of her arms, closed my eyes and said, "Look, I know this is going to sound nuts but...I think I'm in love with you."
"You're crazy," she said with a giggle, "you don't even know me."
I opened my eyes and saw her lovely features close to mine. "I've never had a saner moment in my life," I said calmly. "I love you and I want you to marry me."
The girl chewed on her lower lip and studied my face for a moment. Then she said cautiously, "Okay, but you'll have to speak to my Pa about it."
I wasn't sure what response I had expected. Certainly rejection topped the list, followed closely by hysterical laughter. Ridicule, outrage, consternation, and even minor displays of physical violence were not out of the question. But acceptance was the last thing I was prepared to deal with, and what shocked me most was the way she had treated my outrageous proposal as an everyday occurrence.
As I stood gaping at her she casually took my hand and gave it a tug. "Well, are you comin' or not?"
I trailed after the girl in stunned silence. Eventually we emerged from the orchard into a tidy yard between a bright yellow farmhouse and a weathered barn. She paused for a moment to listen, then headed for the gaping barn door. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I could make out barrels and crates and rusting farm tools scattered about the dirt floor. Sunlight seeped through cracks in the walls and roof to expose row upon row of old leather bridles and yokes which hung like rotting laundry from the rafters. Against one wall stood a long wooden bench littered with an assortment of golf clubs in various stages of assembly. The rest of the barn was dominated by a late model tractor and a huge man leaning into the engine compartment. He rose when we entered and gave Mary Ellen a wide grin.
Copyright Gregory G Barton 2001. All rights reserved.
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