September 29, 2002
The girl behind the counter was busy not paying attention.
The boy tugged the man's sleeve and smiled.
The girl turned another page of her magazine.
It had to have come to this.
The man remembered that once, the alleys had stretched as far as the eye could see. Rolling forever, amber waves of hardwood, polyethylene balls, proud white pins. And now they were underground.
"Yeah, 9 1/2. And a pair in 6."
The girl -- her hair pinned up, a retro look -- got the shoes. The boy thought she looked like one of those women in old-time magazines.
They put their shoes on. The boy had trouble picking up the ball. It banged on the floor. The other players looked around. Someone laughed nervously.
The man had forgotten how heavy the balls were.
It rolled down the lane; slowly, ponderously, as if it had all the time in the world.
The man watched it. It thudded into the gutter and rolled harmlessly past the pins.
"It's OK. We can do it again."
The boy smiled again, and picked up another ball. He put it back. He waited for the first ball to come back on the return.
Sirens suddenly sounded outside. Everyone inside froze. Then the sirens faded away to the accompaniment of squealing tires. The tension inside eased.
The girl slid back on to her stool. She watched the man and the boy. It looked like it had been a long time for the man.
The boy pushed the ball down the alley again.
The man thought back. Cotton candy days. Maybe he could have made the girl. Maybe. That was a long time ago. Days of cakes and balloons and ribbons. Those were, those were.
The ball rolled down the lane again, but with more purpose this time. The boy stood at the end of the lane, watching it, eyes wide. It hit the three pins at the right end.
It was coming back for the man. That was the six pin, and that was the 10 pin, and that must be the nine pin behind.
They high-fived. The girl looked at them. She thought that a piece of pie would be nice.
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