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Best of the World 2018

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88 so uncannily true. "Too proper" was exactly what his college friends had said of Sylvia, but he had imagined that her physical beauty had been the significant thing, and her propriety a pose she would outgrow, whereas 35 married years had revealed the propriety as enduring and the beauty as transient. As to leaving her, this thought would never have entered his head until recently; the mergers-and-acquisitions branch had recently taken on a certain Irma Finegold, who had heavy- lidded eyes, full lips painted vermilion, and a curious presumptuous way of teasing Farrell in the eddies of chitchat before and after conferences, or in the elevator up to the boardroom. She had been recently divorced, and when she talked to Farrell she manipulated her lower lip with a pencil eraser and shimmied her shoulders beneath their pads. On nights when the office worked late, there had been between him and Irma shared Chinese meals in greasy takeout cartons, and a joint limo home in the dawn light, through the twinned arches and aspiring tracery of the Brooklyn Bridge. And on one undreamed-of occasion, there had been an invitation, which he did not refuse, to delay his return to Long Island with an interlude at her apartment in Park Slope. Though no young buck, he did well, it seemed to him, even factoring in the flattery quotient from a subordinate. T he eight-iron pinched the ball clean, and the Atlantic gale brought the soaring shot left-to-right toward the pin. "Laift edge, but dinna gi' th' hole away," Sandy advised of the putt, and Farrell sank it, for the first birdie of the week. Now, suddenly, out of the silvery torn sky, sleet and sunshine poured simultaneously. While the two men walked at the same tilt to the next tee, Sandy's voice came out of the wind, "An' steer clear o' th' MiniCorp deal. They've laiveraged th' company tae daith." Farrell studied Sandy's face. Rain and sleet bounced off the brown skin as if from a waxy preservative coating. Farrell pretended he hadn't heard. On the tee he was handed a three-wood, with the advice, "Ye want tae stay short o' th' wee burn. Th' wind's come around beheend, bringin' th' sun with it." As the round wore on, the sun did struggle through, and the thick rainbow planted itself over the profile of the drab town beyond the tracks, with its black steeples and distillery chimneys. By the afternoon's 18, there was actually blue sky, and the pockets of lengthening shadow showed the old course to be everywhere curvaceous, crest and swale, like the body of a woman. Forty feet off the green on the 14th ("Whinny Brae"), Farrell docilely accepted the caddie's offer of a putter, and rolled it up and over the close-mown irregularities within a gimme of the hole. His old self would have skulled or fluffed a chip. "Great advice," he said, and in his flush of triumph challenged the caddie: "But Irma loves the MiniCorp deal." "Aye, 't keeps th' twa o' ye taegither. She's fairful ye'll wander off, i' th' halls o' corporate power." "But what does she see in me?" "Lookin' fer a father, th' case may be. Thet first husband o' hers was meikle immature, an' also far from yet own income bracket." Farrell felt his heart sink at the deflating shrewdness of the analysis. His mind elsewhere, absented by bittersweet sorrow, he hit one pure shot after another. Looking to the caddie for praise, however, he met the same impassive, dour, young- old visage, opaque beneath the billed tweed cap. Tomorrow, he would be caddying for someone else, and Farrell would be belted into a business-class seat within a 747. O n the home stretch of holes—one after the other strung out beside the railroad right- of-way—Farrell begged for the last scraps of advice. "The five-wood, or the three-iron? The three keeps it down, but I feel more confident with the wood, the way you've got me swining." "Th' five'll be ower an' gone; ye're a' poomped up. Take th' four-iron. Smooth it on, laddie. Aim fer th' little broch." "Broch?" "Wee stone fortress, frae th' days we had our own braw king." He added, "An' ye might be thinkin' aboot takin' early retirement. Th' severance deals won't be so sweet aye, with th' coomin' resaission. Ye kin free yourself up, an' take on some consults, fer th' spare change." "Just what I was thinking, if Irma's will-o'-the- wisp." "Will-o'-the-wisp? Ye're a speedy lairner, Goos." Farrell felt flattered and wind-scoured, here in this surging universe of green and gray. "You really think so, Sandy?" "I ken sae. Aye, ye kin tell a' aboot a man, frae th' way he gowfs." •

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