Route 7 Review

Issue #  2015

 

Donna Girouard is an Assistant Professor of English at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC, and faculty adviser of the college's literary-arts magazine.  Her essays can be found in Florida English, Embodied Effigies, Apeiron Review, Sugar Mule, The Oklahoma Review and Border Crossing.  Her essay, "Doppelgangers," was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize.

DONNA GIROUARD

 

Gentleman Bill

            In North Carolina, golf carts may be driven on roadways with a speed limit no higher than 35 mph as long as the carts have the required safety equipment installed (like lights and seatbelts) and are registered and insured.  The drivers of these “street legal” golf carts must be licensed and are subject to the same rules of the road as drivers of other street-worthy vehicles.  Bill’s golf cart did not meet the legal requirements and neither did Bill.

            After we bought an older house badly in need of updating, my husband Scott drove down from Massachusetts to North Carolina with the first truckload of our belongings in order to begin the kitchen renovation while I stayed behind to wrap things up.  Only a couple of days after his arrival, Scott told me over the phone that he’d already met a few of our new neighbors.

            “Andy and Kitty Hartley live across the street.  He rides.”  The previous fall, Scott had upgraded from a Honda 250 to a Harley Softail.  “And I’ve been invited to a little neighborhood get-together in a couple of weeks.”

            “Already?”  I tried to downplay the surprise I felt.  Usually my husband kept to himself and had little to say.  I knew better than to assume he’d gone looking for friends.  Clearly, Southern hospitality was not just a cliché.

            “Yeah, old guy a couple houses up drove into the yard on his golf cart to introduce himself.  Bill Williams.  What a character.”  Scott chuckled.

 

            I hadn’t been in our new home but a couple of days when a golf cart rolled into our yard.  Tall and lanky and wearing a baseball cap, Bill offered a calloused hand when I met him at the door.  I couldn’t see his eyes behind the gargantuan sunglasses, but the smile on his deeply lined, tanned face emanated warmth.  “Welcome to North Carolina,” he said.

            Bill was a talker and seemed to know just about everything about the neighborhood, past and present.  He told me how our house had sat empty for months and filled me in on its former owners.

            “They were nice people,” Bill slowly shook his head.  “First she died of cancer, then him.  A real shame.” 

            He turned to face me.  I had stepped outside to join him in the front yard after he introduced himself at the door.  I hadn’t thought to ask him inside.  The house didn’t yet qualify as being fit for company, and, anyway, the warm May breeze felt good after the miserable New England winter - happily, the last I would ever have to endure.

            “It’s as if the house was just settin’ here, waiting for you and your husband,” Bill said and smiled, “like it was supposed to be yours.”

            I smiled back, wondering how much he could actually see from behind those dark glasses.

A few weeks later, Eleanor Williams and I visited in my front yard one afternoon, and I watched her as she gushed on about Bill, about how they had met and how he had courted her, and, as she spoke, this genteel Southern lady seemed to shed her many years.  Smiling, not really at me but at her memories, she tossed her head and batted her eyes, revealing the smitten, young girl who had fallen so deeply in love some sixty-odd years earlier.  As a woman twice divorced, I marveled at the resilience of their marriage.  When Bill arrived to collect her, I smiled at his deference to her and the gentle touch with which he helped her into the golf cart.

            Over the next several months, Scott and I got used to hearing the golf cart whirr by as Bill made his rounds, and, often, we’d see either him in the cart rolling along our road or just his cart parked at Andy and Kitty’s house or at one of his other stops in the area as we drove through the neighborhood on our way somewhere.  Sometimes, Bill brought us a few vegetables from the garden Eleanor tended but usually he just swung by to chat.  Unfortunately for Scott, an avid NASCAR fan, Bill’s favorite time to drop in was on Sunday afternoons while I worked at the part time job I’d taken in addition to my full time teaching job to bring in a bit more renovation money..

            “I feel bad,” Scott said one Sunday when I returned and asked why the bamboo blinds on the sun porch windows were down, “and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I want to watch the race.  Sometimes he shows up just as it’s about to start and he TALKS.  This way, I just won’t answer the door, and I won’t worry about being seen.”

 

            The number of browsers had already dwindled when the golf cart rolled into my driveway somewhere mid-morning one early August Saturday.

            “How’s it going?”  Bill drawled as he extended his hand.  “Thought you might like some early zucchini.”

            After thanking him for the produce, I introduced Bill to my friend Betsy who had partnered with me on our joint yard sale.  Bill walked among the tables of odds and ends as we three made small talk.  When a couple of cars pulled off the road and stopped, Bill turned his head toward the road at the sound of their slamming doors.

            “Guess you got customers,” he chuckled, settling himself behind the wheel of his cart.  “I’ll just be on my way.”

            The cart rolled back up the drive and barely hesitated at the edge of the road.  As Betsy and I watched from our lawn chairs, it lurched out onto the asphalt, crossing over the solid line to turn left.  Only seconds later, a car whooshed by, headed in the same direction.  I realized I’d been holding my breath.

            “Damn . . .” Betsy mumbled.

            “I know,” I said.  “I don’t think he can see.”

 

            Despite being in the middle of a faculty meeting, I could no longer ignore the vibrations from inside my pocket.  Third missed call from home, and, though Scott had the day off, he knew I was working.  I stepped into the hall and called the house.

            “What’s wrong?”

            His reply sounded choked.  “It’s Bill Williams.  He was killed on the road the other day.”

            My husband was not in the habit of regularly checking his email and so had just read the message sent by Andy Hartley a couple of days earlier.  Bill had apparently pulled out in front of a nineteen year old who was driving his mother’s van.  Perhaps a more experienced driver could have avoided the golf cart on the two-lane highway that has no shoulder, but at the legal speed of 55 along that stretch, probably not.  Andy would later tell Scott how he’d happened to be passing the scene on his way home and actually seen, beyond the flashing lights and uniformed officers, Bill’s broken body lying like a sad rag doll several yards from the mangled golf cart, having been tossed there by the force of the van’s impact.

            I heard shock in Scott’s voice as he told me about the arrangements, but I also heard something else.  I wondered if he was regretting the drawn blinds, the unanswered knocks.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask.

 

            One day the following spring, just as the leaves began to bud and the mild breezes begged for open car windows, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as I cruised around a corner on my way to work.  A golf cart, just barely off the asphalt onto the grassy strip that borders the road, headed in the other direction, driven by a tall man wearing dark glasses, tufts of his white hair poking out from a baseball cap.  My first thought was that Bill had strayed a bit far from the neighborhood this time.  It took a moment for the realization to kick in that Bill could not be driving this or any other golf cart. 

            Or could he? 

            I reflexively glanced in my rearview mirror, but I’d already rounded the bend.  I considered doubling back, just to see if I’d imagined the resemblance, but decided against it.  I prefer to believe that Bill is still out there, somewhere, doing what he loved to do and that, if I’m lucky, the next time I pass him and toot, he’ll wave.

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