My hands were stiff from gripping the steering wheel.
This is insane. I must be crazy.
The steep hills of the Delaware Water Gap blazed with fall colors, but I couldn’t look at them. I wanted to turn around and go home.
It had started with that weird little ad: DM @10QRolly for true answers to any 10 questions.
I don’t know why I had responded to that ad. Well, maybe I do. Late at night, a little drunk, and full of anger at what my life was becoming. I would do almost anything for answers.
My phone was clipped to the air vent of my beat-up old Ford. I gripped the wheel tighter every time I glanced at that last DM:
I am compelled to tell you something. She wasn’t apologizing for complaining about her pain. She was apologizing for leaving so early in your life.
I shook my head in disbelief. In my gut I knew Mr. Jones was talking about the last words my mother had ever said to me. But I had been the only one near her hospital bed when she had said she was sorry.
I remember not understanding why she was apologizing, and then I was slow in responding as the beep turned into a steady, horrible tone. “It’s okay, Mom,” I was saying, “It’s okay.” Whatever it was. But by then, she was gone.
I exhaled in shallow breaths. My eyelids drooped, and I blinked repeatedly to pay attention to the truck in front of me. I nearly missed the exit in Stroudsburg.
On the short drive to the golf course, I started fidgeting. I had no idea who this mysterious Mr. Jones was, but I was going to meet him anyway. At least the golf course was a public place.
“Okay, relax,” I said out loud. “If the guy’s a nutcase, I can just drive away.”
Where two roads diverged, I saw the sign for the Glen Brook Golf Club. I took a long deep breath and exhaled slowly. In my rearview mirror, I saw an antique car coming up behind me.
I parked in the lot between a small pro shop and an old limestone clubhouse. I noticed that the antique car also pulled into the lot and parked.
I got out and opened the trunk to get my golf bag. Nearby, two older men strapped their clubs into the back of an electric golf cart. They wore nice clothes, and their fancy spiked golfing shoes clicked and clacked on the asphalt. I looked down at my sneakers, jeans, sweatshirt, and paint-stained windbreaker.
“It’ll have to do,” I muttered.
I leaned over the trunk and turned the visor of my Orioles baseball cap to the front. I didn’t want people to worry that their nice little golf course was being invaded. No gangsta golf today.
I set my clubs down to close the trunk and glanced at the man who had stepped out of the antique car. He wasn’t very old, maybe in his late-thirties. Tall and trim, with short dark hair. He was wearing a light brown sweater vest with a pastel pattern of diamonds, a long-sleeved yellow button-down shirt, and loose brown pants with cuffs like a character from The Great Gatsby, but in living color.
Our eyes met briefly. The man smiled and nodded. I nodded back but looked away. I hoisted my clubs onto my shoulder and walked under the portico on the side of the clubhouse to a small practice green. I dropped several golf balls a few feet away from the fringe of the green and got out my pitching wedge.
I checked my phone. Of course there were more frantic texts from Amanda, the kid sister from hell. But nothing more from Mr. Jones.
I took a few small practice swings. I clipped the top of the grass, I chunked into the ground. Nothing consistent. I looked around, breathing deeply to calm my nerves.
I saw the dapper man walk into the pro shop, back to his car again, and then remove an old canvas golf bag from his back seat. The bag held only a handful of clubs. He walked under the portico toward the practice green.
I watched him without looking directly. As I lined up my club to hit a ball, the man took out a golf ball and removed a putter. All the clubs were ancient, with wood shafts. Yard sale specials. I tried to keep from grinning.
“Jake?” said a quiet voice.
I jerked in surprise and looked up.
“Hello,” the man said. “My name is Rolly Jones. Please, call me Rolly.”
“Oh, hi. I’m Jake Novak.”
We shook hands.
I immediately felt dizzy and bent my knees to maintain my balance. A beckoning kindness in Rolly’s blue-gray eyes seemed to draw me in. I was nervous, so there was no good reason for how relaxed I felt, almost peaceful. I couldn’t look away.
Finally, Rolly looked away. He dropped his ball and putted it close to a hole across the practice green. Then he looked back at me.
“I’m glad to see you’re willing to give this a try. I know it’s an odd thing to claim, being able to answer any question truthfully.”
I frowned. “Anything? Really?”
“Yes, any question.” He rested his hands on the top of his putter and continued, “Here’s how it works. You get ten questions, one here on the practice green, and then one after each of the nine holes we play. After I sink my putt, you step near and ask me a question, clearly and calmly. The answer will come to me. You must remain quiet for the entire answer.”
I looked away, not knowing what to say. It was so weird.
“Wondering if I’m on the level?”
“I assure you I’m not pulling your leg, but there’s only one way to know. Give it a try. Are you ready for your first question?”
I looked back at him for a second. “Sure,” I said, almost whispering.
He walked over to his ball. I followed him, from a distance.
“Okay, here goes,” Rolly said. He took one practice swing, stepped up to the ball, then smoothly tapped it into the cup.
I took a hesitant step closer. He put both hands on top of his putter and stared down at the grass.
I noticed from the corner of my eyes that everything in the distance was getting blurry. Again, I felt dizzy. Despite the discomfort, I decided to try it, to accept the challenge. “Okay, if you know so much, what were the last words my mother said to me?”
Rolly took a slow breath and began:
She said: “It hurts JayJay. Oh, I’m so sorry.”
I gasped, but held my breath when I heard Rolly still talking:
But while you were sobbing, you did not hear her whisper her final three words: “Love you kangaroo.”
Something exploded inside me. I didn’t know what to think first. It seemed like I had forgotten how to breathe.
"How the—?!” I choked on the words. “How could you possibly? Who are you?”