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“Memory Lanes” by James Callan

Bowling is like anything else; when you get a little drunk you become much better at it. The rule of thumb is you go with a bowling ball that is ten percent of your body weight. But why would you heft and throw a sixteen-pound weight over and over again when you could do the same with one that is eight? If you wanted a gym workout you’d be elsewhere. You’d have skipped out on those pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the nips of Famous Grouse from your paper-clad hip-flask. And really, had you done that, then what’s the fucking point?

Those shoes. Those fucking shoes! You kind of love them ‘cause you’ve got a kink for jesters. Everyone goes on about feet. And it’s true; shoes are all about feet. But really, you’d pass on any foot job if you could just get your hands around a clown and make the nasty.

What is that shit they spray into those harlequin sneakers? You always wonder. Odor eater? Antifungal this or that? The only thing you know is you like the smell of it, the ritual of the aerosol spray upon the soles, an exchange of fluids from the man who hands you the clown shoes to your lucky little feet, kind of like a foot job.

Your eight-pound ball leaves your hand to glide across the well-polished, wooden byway. It flies like a bat out of hell and by chance the jukebox plays Meatloaf, but it’s a different tune. It’s the one about the two seventeen-year-old kids fucking in the car. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” The Loaf wails away about how he wants to reach home plate, go all the way, get past third base with the girl of his dreams. He gets what he wants in the end but pays for it. Good song.

Strikes aren’t reserved for baseball. You are reminded of this as you fist pump, watching an eight-pound projectile collide with ten pins to obliterate their neat triangular formation, their soldier-like poise. In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out. In bowling, three consecutive strikes is called a turkey. As to why, you have no fucking clue. You know Google will have the answer as fast as you can type the question but you really couldn’t give a shit. Some things are better left a mystery.

You don’t get a turkey this go around. You avoid the turkey on the menu because the bowling alley is not a place to eat beyond safe, simple dishes; hot fries and warm pretzels. You wouldn’t eat turkey anyhow. You are vegan. Besides, you aren’t even hungry.

Your best score of the evening isn’t quite 150. Your best score ever is 161, and you’re sure you’ll make 200 if you just keep at it. A turkey or two and you’ll be on your way from there. But it isn’t really about the score. It’s not about the bragging rights. It’s about the pints of beer, the nips of whisky, the rhythm of your hips as you heft and lift your eight-pound ball, the pendulum swing and release as you watch it skate down that smooth-as-ice avenue towards ten sleeping soldiers, ten erect implements that would be perfect for juggling if only there was a clown.

You decide that the day you reach 200 is the day you leave Memory Lanes behind. You’ll leave the building without returning your bowling shoes. You’ll move on to other things, other hobbies. Maybe you’ll start to take life seriously. Maybe you’ll stop clowning around. Maybe you’ll go in for a career, become a doctor or a lawyer, perhaps an actor. You could join the circus. Become a clown.

Hell, you’ll have the shoes for it.

James Callan grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He lives on the Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand on a small farm with his wife, Rachel, and his little boy, Finn. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Bridge Eight, White Wall Review, Maudlin House, Cardiff Review, and elsewhere. His novel, A Transcendental Habit, is due for publication in 2023 with Queer Space, an imprint of Rebel Satori Press.


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