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He walked, bowling pin in hand, his breath a hot fog in the dim light of the bowling alley parking lot. Alley Oops was the name stenciled on the side of the black and glossy company van, their logo a personified bowling ball throwing another bowling ball at the tiny perspective-painted pins behind him. He blew a layer of fog on the windshield and in the fog he drew a target with his finger, a simple sniper’s crosshairs.
He stopped while two boys walked past him, toward the entrance, there to shoot pool or play video games.
“Hey Ted,” one of the boys said. He hated being known. Hated being the college dropout who worked at the bowling alley, imagining everyone was aware of his hometown boy makes bad status.
He waited ’til he heard the glass doors slam behind the boys and scoured the lot for anyone else. Alone again, Ted raised the pin above his head. Brought it down. Raised it up. Brought it down. It felt like part of his arm, natural. And in the windshield reflection, Ted saw the first of his line to pick up such a tool. A tree limb, a bone, blunt and savage. One-hundred thousand years of evolution. And he smashed the reflection before it could ask why a grown man was wasting his time with petty vandalism.
It was the only tool he had left.
And like a million truths of a million bad poets, it had to do with a girl.
Connie was a beautiful thing: late thirties, sandy blonde with dark roots, eyes lined raccoon black and lashes mascaraed to stilettos. Even more than the pay, Ted would miss her.
Earlier, even though his shift had been over for hours, Ted had hung around the bowling alley. Sat on a stool in the arcade while two kids shot pool behind him. Peered around the arcade console, looked across the alley. And watched Connie behind the snack bar.
Watched Connie lean over the counter. Watched Connie tossing her hair with a flip of her head. Watched Connie showing her smooth neck in some evolutionary act of submission, exposing her most vulnerable, delicate places. Ted had never seen her do that before, not for him. She was talking with one of the guys who’d just finished installing the new pin setters. “Marc” was the asshole’s name. Marc the asshole and his god damn new setters. Greasy, muscled, frat-boy Marc. Each of the setters came with the Brunswick Ten Year Jam Free Guarantee. Before, Ted had spent at least fifty percent of his day with his arms tucked up inside the old girls, feeling deep inside for the breached pin. Now he was obsolete. He’d heard Dave the boss, on the phone earlier, talking about freeing up some cash, letting someone go.
“I hate to do it,” Dave had said. “But it’s time.”
From his perch in the arcade, in front of the ancient Tekken fighting game, he watched Connie touch Marc’s arm, tracing her finger over the cheesy barbwire tattoo. Ted groaned. He shook his head and the vision decayed into dust like the dandruff on his shoulders. He used his key to open up the arcade console’s game’s guts and tripped the coin lever to give himself a freebie. He went to work, kicking ass in 32-bit land where each blow was a kill shot that blasted Marc through the fucking masonry each time Ted’s palm mashed the buttons.
Outside, Ted huffed, the last of his anger floating away with each visible breath, stripped of its heat by the night and the cold of the dark void. And grunted as he threw the pin across the lot, watched it spin across the sky in the glow of the lot lamps. It landed with a thud in the vacant lot next-door.
What Ted needed was a drink.
A drink. And perhaps a plea to Connie.
If he got drunk enough.
published 6 May 2013
click below for more stories in this series:
• Recovery Period (#3)
• Fire (#4)