This story was inspired by a true incident told to me about a relative. A great uncle who had been a local golf professional, now retired and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, was regularly picked up by police whilst lost and out walking, sometimes late at night. This old chap would give the police putting lessons back at the station, whilst awaiting collection by a family member. The issues of ageing and the game of golf’s broad appeal are presented entwined within this short narrative.
Robert Hamilton is a writer, student of history, and a keen golfer. He is currently working on a collection of short stories, inspired by sport, but also dealing with what it means to be alive; to be titled She’ll Be Right Sport. He lives in hope of breaking 80.
THE HANDS OF TIME
By Robert Hamilton
Constable Davis sitting in the front passenger seat noticed the man first. He pointed him out to his partner, Senior Constable Vickery, who was driving the police car. The man was striding down the footpath, which ran adjacent to Stirling Highway. It was not the gait of the man, which drew the attention of Constable Gary Davis, but the fact that he was wearing what clearly looked like pyjamas and that it was nearly three am. The highway and surrounding streets were deserted; Perth was a quiet city after midnight mid week. The police car drew level with the walking man, and Davis could see that he was an older Caucasian white male, winding down his window he hailed the man to stop.
The figure in the blue and white striped pyjamas turned his head and faced the policeman who was leaning his head out of the window. The old man, although bent over a bit, was well over six feet tall and broad chested. His arms hung down by his sides and he looked like a man who had made his living with his hands. His feet were bare, white, hairy, toe nails thick and yellow; there were traces of blood beneath them.
“Excuse me Sir, everything alright? Can we help you with anything? Pretty late to be out and about.”
The old fella was clearly confused. His gaze took in the flashing lights atop the blue and white patrol car, the uniformed occupants of the vehicle, and the sound of the police radio with its staccato blasts of disembodied voices. As his eyes flickered back and forth from face to face, to empty highway left and right, and back to the idling police car time seemed to slow down, stop and start, blinking like the flashing lights.
“Can you give us your name Mister? Where are you going to tonight in such a hurry?”
The pyjama clad man made move to walk away and Constable Davis clicked open his door, and rose out of his seat to prevent the old chap from doing so.
“Steady on old fella. What’s your name? Are you alright mate, can we give you a lift somewhere?”
The words hung in the air seemingly going nowhere. The man squinted his eyes in an effort to concentrate on something fleeting. All these words directed at him and too many shiny surfaces reflecting pieces of light. Where was he going? He knew he had to get somewhere quickly but for the life of him couldn’t remember where.
Gary Davis turned to his partner, Ethan Vickery, and said, “I think that we better take him back to the station, I don’t reckon this old chap knows what’s going on.”
“Yeah Okay Gary I will call it in and let them know we are heading back.”
“Okay Dad we are going to give you a ride back to somewhere nice and warm. Maybe get you a cup of tea or something to warm you up.”
Constable Davis gently steered the pyjama clad man through the now open rear door of the police car and onto the empty seat. A frightened look on the big fella’s face and a raising of his arms caused Constable Davis to increase his hold on the man. The man suddenly spoke for the first time.
“I don’t know who you chaps are but I am really alright…. aah…I really think that I can manage on my own thanks.”
“Well let’s start with your name then Grandad. Can you tell us your name?”
They were back at the station and the old chap, still in his blue and white pyjamas, was nursing a cup of tea, seated at the desk of Senior Constable Vickery. His eyes were red and the large grey skinned bags under them spoke of the late hour, especially under the harsh fluorescent station lights. Nobody looked particularly well under their examining force. Davis thought the bloke must be at least seventy five by the looks of the deeply etched lines on his neck and face. Still had a full head of grey tinged blackish hair though and those arms were well muscled despite the advanced years. His hands were something else again. Davis nudged his partner indicating the old chap’s hands and Vickery acknowledged the tremendous size of the old bloke’s hands. Big hairy mitts with enormous swollen knuckles on each prodigious digit.
The two policemen broke off their examination of their guest’s phalanges, snapping out of their momentary reverie to process this proffered data. Vickery the more senior of the two policemen was first to respond.
“Okay Eric and do you have a last name?”
The elderly figure smiled at the two coppers and basked for a few seconds in the joyous certainty of remembering his own first name. His gaze then took in an old black and white photograph, framed and hanging on the wall of the station. The image depicted Claremont Railway station sometime near its opening, late in the nineteenth century. He remembered being a boy when things looked like that, the horse drawn carts and the early motor cars. The sound of the steam trains and the smell of horse shit.
“Eric. Eric can you remember your surname, your family name?”