Marlene glared down the alley at the two pins in their corners, her eyes narrowed over the ball like a snake’s before it strikes. She stood tall and still and substantial, in her black pants and the white shirt with pinstripes and Marlene stitched in red over the left breast.

Then she moved, power under grace, just the barest hitch to her step, and this being only the sixth day out of the hospital. Today there would be no fat-ass comment to upset her four-step sequence. Today was about the clarity of the pins.

Between steps two and three she began to lean and lower, torso approaching horizontal, right arm back with the ball, left forward for balance, and if she felt the bruised ribs you couldn’t tell to look at her.

On step four her right arm swung forward and she didn’t so much roll the ball as release it—opening her hand as you’d free a bird. Marlene slid to a stop just short of the line and hung there, balanced on her left leg, her right raised behind her and folded in a delicate ‘L.’ The ball rolled straight until the english she’d applied took hold and curved it left, a pin-seeking missile. She liked to call it that: english. Most just said spin.

The ball kissed the inside of the seven pin and sent it caroming into the left wall and bouncing back and across in an arc, where it took out the ten and both pins dropped from sight into the back-alley abyss.

The sound it made was sharp and satisfying: de-ba-cle.

“Nice shot, hon,” Candace said.

Marlene blew cool air on her fingertips, then turned back toward where Harold used to score her and said, “Take that, motherfucker.”


by Richard Bader


Richard Bader’s work has been published by National Public Radio and by the rkvry Quarterly literary journal.

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