A journal of narrative writing.
Bowling Shoe Diaries
Page 2

“I might be wrong, sir,” Phil says as he fills my cup, “but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you bowl better.”

“Nothing helps the competitive spirit like a little sex at the butt-crack of dawn,” I laugh and slap my chest. Phil chuckles, avuncular.

“Things must be good, then? You sound like you’re surprised” Phil takes a handful of beard and tugs at it abstractly, then pulls harder, till his mouth opens like a gargoyle’s stone-hinged maw.

“Surprised? I’m happy,” I force myself to say, then stop before I say more. “Surprised? I don’t know. Should I be surprised?”

“Phil!” somebody shouts from behind us. “You’re up!” and someone else wolf-whistles, so Phil has to turn around and bow deeply to the assembled women who by now switched to blowing raspberries. He rests his hand on my shoulder and says, “Hold that thought.”

But I can’t, it’s from me, heels on fire. Two weeks ago you called to say you were moving to Chicago to follow work. I was exhausted when I hung up the phone and wrote an email to thank you for kicking the boat over where we were still in close enough to swim to shore, and then sent it hurriedly before I’d think better of it. For my haste, you arrived early this morning, unannounced, on a Greyhound bus from Austin. That was a surprise, but where are you now? I want you beside me, but I won’t jinx my luck by forcing you to do anything, even to come back inside the bowling alley.

Phil walks back towards me, hips swinging loosely like they hang from a hammock, his hands above his head: another strike.

“I mean sure, her being here. You know that wasn’t planned,” I say before Phil can even sit down. Usually Phil gives me a ride to the bowling alley, but today she and I took the bus because we didn’t want t leave my apartment. “I have a good life,” I say, and realize maybe that’s what’s bothering me, just how good it can be. “It’s hard to not look around and feel ashamed of that, you know.”

“I do.” Phil is the one who travels, to strange places like Delcambre, and Santiago, places where Habitat for Humanity or Jimmy Carter will be in twenty-four months. He brings back these photographs, etched into the knots and scars in his fingers, the way he holds his body looser than a body from Ohio was meant for. “I do know.”

“I’ve worked hard for this," I say, and rush up to the alley, legs swinging and loose and ready to bowl a perfect frame.

Do you ever feel guilty? Of course you do. You've lived in these two parallel worlds for I don’t know how long. You here in Lafayette with me: we’ve got Phil and my fellowship, bowling and etouffee. Crawfish and Cajun dancing. And in Austin you have him and whatever he drags in his train. I don’t know, because I don’t know him or even that he exists. But then, one morning, one email maybe, and you realized that it wasn’t worth it. That whatever it meant, to have one world at the end of it, that was what you wanted.

You think. You’re here, after all, because you haven’t decided. Sometimes, like it’ been scoured by the breeze from an open window, your skin prickles. Other times, heat breaks through to the surface of your skin, until you want to shout “make it stop.” Even here, in your strange protected corner of my life, there’s no protection. Rachel drives past streets lined with miniature Victorians and Spanish mission ranches, an affluent suburbia nestled just off Lafayette's main drag. You try to remember what I might have said about Kelsey and come up with nothing. The details multiply like lies, each one contingent on another and impossible to shoulder.

Rachel stops tapping the steering wheel long enough to turn down one of the quiet streets. "Curtis' grandmother, she lives down there," she says, pointing down another street, and the lace around her neck jumps. Curtis, her son's name is Curtis.

For me, there is one world only, imperfect. I saw the way he looked at you, and then believed you when you told me he was gay. Maybe you believed that yourself, then. It’s not important. When things go right, like you at a phone booth down the street instead of hours away, it’s a surprise, and I celebrate my good fortune. Rachel pulls in behind a Land Rover in the driveway of a mock Tudor, ivied brick and red trim on shutters and the front door.

"God, I hope Molly's home," Rachel says, and stretches her neck around to look in the windows for a second. “Tell me you pray Molly is here,” she says, turning to you intently for the first time since you got in the car: she does need other people. And it’s easy enough for you to play along.

“I pray to the Virgin that Molly is here,” you say, trying to ape that particular striving tone people use in church when they are asking for the most unlikely things.

“Good. That was really good,” Rachel says, and she takes a large box out of the backseat. She throws a gym bag on top of the box and walks to the door and you follow. She holds the screen door open for half a minute before she knocks on the doorjamb with her free hand.

"Hello!" she shouts as she pushes the door open and steps inside. "I know you're in here, I can hear you breathing," she laughs, but not loud enough to fill the space. Beyond the front door is a large sitting room. A couch against one wall pointed at a home entertainment system, and a recliner kitty-corner to that. A subway style poster for some local festival hangs behind the long couch. There's another frame, with smaller, inset pictures hanging next to the door to what must be the kitchen. The windows are covered by blinds and those by sheer red curtains that trap the light and color the room like the inside of a heart. "Hello? Rachel? Is that you?" A man’s voice yells from upstairs, and a second later you can see him coming down to join you in the living room.

"Yeah, David, it's me. Is Molly here? I wanted to drop off some stuff for Molly and to see Kelsey.” It’s hard to tell from a glance of him you see on the stairs why Rachel doesn’t want to see David. He's a little wrinkled, but handsome in a chinos and button down kind of way. But when he gets close enough, he practically lunges for Rachel and hugs her like a fugitive hangs on a chain link fence. You look away, because these are the kinds of details you’re trying to forget.

Rachel steps back from David, and with her shoulders thrust back asks, “Do you have any cigarettes?”

"Yeah, sure," he says, and draws a pack from his pants pocket.

"Is there one in there for me?" you ask, and cross one foot over the other demurely, making the bowling shoes do the work of saddle bucks.

"Oh David," Rachel starts, like she'd forgotten you were even there. "This is Nico. She's visiting. From Austin." You nod with the cigarette bobbing from your lips, and then follow Rachel through the kitchen to the back patio. David follows a few steps behind. "Do you mind if I join you ladies?"