A journal of narrative writing.
Bowling Shoe Diaries
Page 3

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Smoking out on the patio, it’d be easy enough to disappear completely, to take up with a cloud of smoke and blow away. Because she’s trying to ignore him, Rachel can’t bodily push David away. Because she doesn’t respond, he steps in closer, and she steps back till she’s reached the porch railing. When she turns her back, to face the yard outside, he stops for a second, unsure what to do, and then deflates.

“Can I see Kelsey?” she finally asks, and that seems to bring David back to life. “I wanted Nico to meet her.”

“Of course,” he says, and you notice that he’s holding his cigarette cupped behind his hand like he’s at boy’s school.

"Then I'm going to go in now," Rachel almost shouts and tosses her twist of filter over the porch railing.

"I, um, I think I should go in too," you say, and lean over to scrape your cigarette against the brick, then palm the filter.

"I'll be in in just a minute," he says, and waves his cigarette idly. There's a door open off the kitchen, so that when you walk by you can see Rachel in there. She's on her knees beside the bed, talking almost in a whisper.

"And Curtis's going to be there, and Dicky. And maybe Michael, you remember Michael. He was asking about you." Rachel is kneeling over the bed, holding the little girl’s hand as you walk in. It looks like any adolescent girl’s room from TV, cream colored walls with flowers from a stencil pattern painted near the ceiling in yellow, green, and red. There's a dresser by the closet, and next to the bed is a little table holding up a lamp and some picture frames. Kelsey from this angle is tiny stick legs wrapped in white tights and capped by a pair of white maryjanes with appliqué flowers on the straps.

Kelsey doesn't answer Rachel, or acknowledge her at all. You take a step closer to the bed, where Rachel is standing now, pulling at the puffed sleeves of Kelsey’s frilly bo-peep dress, brushing shiny bangs out of the little girl’s eyes. Most of Kelsey’s face and parts of her arm are covered in swaths of tacky pink residue, like she was caught in a bubble gum factory explosion. The skin at her neck folds in long creases under her jaw like a brown paper bag; hair juts out from her head, brown and shiny and enough different lengths to be all little girl hairstyles at once. Her eyes and mouth are closed; blackheads erupt from one side of her face. Rachel keeps talking when you kneel beside her, right above the colostomy bag snug against Kelsey’s hip.

"There's going to be crawfish, and music, and all kinds of people. And the dog's gonna be there, you remember Doggie." David's penny loafers stop outside the door to the bedroom for a second, then move away. "And this is Nico," Rachel says, turning to you at last. "Kelsey, I'd like for you to meet Nico."

Rachel lets go of Kelsey's hand for a minute and stands, hovering over both of you till you take Kelsey's hand. It’s cold in your palm, and any pulse of warmth is buried under unsculpted little girl fat.

"Hello, Kelsey," you say, more for Rachel than anything else, but she's not even paying attention.

"I need to talk to your daddy." Rachel brushes off her knees. "So I'll leave you two to get acquainted. I'll come back to say bye before I go." And she walks out of the room.

"How are you doing?" you ask. "You know, my name's not really Nico." You try a smile, maybe a little laugh and look around the room, notice the long mirror on one wall, beside the open closet filled with David's shirts on hangers, neat as pins. "I wish I knew a little more what to say to you. I mean, I don't even know if you're in pain, or anything.”

This close, Kelsey has a medicinal smell, and you move your face into it, unsure what you're doing. Do you just want to see if her chest rises and falls, or to feel her little breath against the curve of your ear?

In close enough, you can hear her breathe, a low whistling almost beyond hearing. Occasionally it rises to sound almost like words. If you waited long enough, maybe the breaths would form themselves into statements, if you were sensitive enough to really listen. But what would she say, this burned six year old? You ask her anyway, because you want to know the answer: “Is this enough?”

“Does it get to a point where this is enough? Or do you always want something more?” You rock back on your heels to kneel beside the bed and watch Kelsey breathe. “Do you play games to keep yourself occupied? I don’t mean like hopscotch or bowling. In your mind?” You wish there were some sort of external sign, that she was enjoying this or that she was in pain. Either one would be fine, just as long as you knew. “Could you teach me some?” you ask, and your voice surprises you, like it always does talking to your brother’s kids, when you sound like an aunt. You reach up and stroke the side of her neck, stippled and rough.

You can’t help but see that her lips are chapped to the point that they are all breaks and fissures, cracked by the heat of idle breath and you’re opening the top of the small bag you always carry before you know what you’re looking for. You pull out the pot of lip balm. “I shouldn’t do this,” you say as you twist the lid off into the palm of your free hand, and then dip two fingers in. “This stuff’s so addictive. You’ve got to promise me you won’t tell who it was that got you hooked.”

You have to lean across and over her to draw your fingers slowly over her cracked lips. They feel like dry leaves, a little, and like the shells of crawfish left on a picnic table to turn white in the sun, or snake skin. But you don’t want Kelsey to have gone away like that, so you keep smoothing the lip balm in, bending your thumb to smooth it in, to fill the cracks in her lips, to smooth them out, to bring them back from the way they’ve gone to hell. You rise up from your knees, and you raise your arms from your sides like the television preachers you could never trust and say, “What would you do? Would you say something?” The grease smeared on Kelsey’s mouth makes a broad shiny path.

Kelsey doesn’t say anything, lays there, stern, decided, implacable.

It's dim in the bowling alley. The school kids have left in their special bus and the house lights are back up, and they turn every surface a dull yellow. I'm a little drunk, three frames into the second game and I'm bowling one ball and the beer bowls the second. I strike a pose, Plato as bowler, then race to sit beside Phil before my ball clatters into the gutter.

"I love bowling!" I shout, and Phil covers his mouth, laughing. "And I love you." It occurs to me how strange that sounds, but just a little. “All of you. There’s just so much, and it’s all so rich. It’s like you could really make a life. I love that.” I could go on, if I only knew what to say. Instead, I try to drape myself over Phil, like I expect him to carry me out of the bowling alley on his back.

"Whoa, champ," Phil sputters. He doesn’t move till I let myself down from his shoulders. "Watch that," and he points to Michelle sliding perfect as an ice sculpture to the line, then the wrist-flicked release and the crash of pins, nine falling back. “You were robbed!” he shouts, ready to fight someone for her honor.

"Kee-yaw!" she yells. "That's some shit!" But it sounds like it’s what she expected.