You could have been going anywhere with this frantic sense of purpose. You could have been
going to work, to lunch, over to a friend’s. As it was you were speeding down the interstate with
a bowling pin buckled into the seat beside you and you were grasping for context. But your
dendrites refused to be tickled into submission, even with all of your panicking.
This was not a scene from Memento. Up until this point, to your knowledge, you’ve been
humming along with the basic level of cognizance of the average adult.
You fondled the bowling pin, conjuring memory with it as if it were a genie-laden lamp.
You were good at swaddling it safely in the seat belt at least. There’s something to be said for
that. The pin was engineered for wobbling and yet it did not budge in the Civic’s bucket seat,
even with the occasional pothole.
You didn’t think you had taken drugs.
You looked out the window and pictured yourself running alongside the car dodging
fences, hopping on top of other vehicles, leaping seamlessly back to the ground at full sprint.
These scenarios were always better than the ones where you pictured getting into gruesome,
deadly accidents. Those made you grimace reflexively.
You had bought the beige Civic because everyone knew someone with a beige Civic. So
you could drive around town honking and waving at strangers and they would actually wave
back, mistaking you for someone else, someone they actually knew.
This was around the time of the empty window display debacle. It started with a teenager in
emotional turmoil breaking into a rundown storefront, what used to be a consignment boutique
on East Carson, and sitting in the display window overnight, plucking out each eyebrow hair
meticulously, one at a time. Then it become a thing that people did. A distraught mother
wandered in talking to passersby through the glass as if they were her children. A man in a
pinstripe vest sat down and picked at his shoe for a couple of hours. A local artist squatted for
two whole days, mistaking it for a live exhibition. She even had food delivered there. The
display was rarely empty these days, and when it was, it appeared cavernous. It looked askew
without a citizen airing his or her grievances within it somehow.
This was also around the time that your father was notably absent. You could say that he had
He was the type to call everyone Bub. You’re still not sure if it was because he couldn’t
remember anyone’s names or if he just liked saying it. Whatcha doin’ there, Bub. You better
watch it, Bub. Not today, Bub.
He was also the type where if someone asked him a favor, he would say things like,
“That’s not entirely within my character.”
The last place you had seen him was at your cousin’s wedding reception at Soldiers and
Sailors Memorial Hall. You cried at weddings, though almost imperceptibly. It was not exactly
an enfeebled cry, more like a vigorous yet brief interlude in the bathroom. You cried not because
you were touched by the public commitment of love two people were making, and not because
you secretly wished it was you up there. You cried because you didn’t want any if it, not even
remotely, and you thought there was something terribly wrong with you because of that.
At your cousin’s wedding, your mother had gotten a little tired and a little sloppy. She
had looked at the glass of ice water at her place setting and played with the beads of water on the
outside of the glass and said, “So much condescension.”
A tuxedoed boy on the dance floor had discovered a cockroach not far from your cousin
and his bride, and he began chasing it, stomping his feet murderously.
“You mean condensation, dear. Condensation,” your father said.
The boy had successfully squashed the bug under one of his rented shoes and shot up his
arms in victory. But the bride and groom had already noticed what was happening and were
rushing away to presumably talk to someone in charge.
You father got up from the table.
“I think he got it,” you heard yourself say out loud, staring at the boy, “I think he finally
Your head was throbbing and you were still confused so you pulled over. This bowling pin had
to have something to do with your father. He owned a bowling alley, along with several other
establishments including a plaza and a bank with offices for lease on the floors above it.
You examined your head in the rearview mirror and there was definitely something
purple and bulgey on your left temple.
You pictured yourself in the bowling alley. You heard someone say, “With these
situations, a pattern has developed. This pattern can no longer go unaddressed.”
Who even talks like that? Only someone your father would know.
But it was coming back, however slowly, the whole thing. You had grabbed the pin out
of spite. It was some sort of shakedown. They were taking it all away. You didn’t know the
details but it involved a deal of your father’s that had gone sour. You didn’t know the details but
you didn’t have to know the details. It was your father’s bowling alley. It was your father. Who
was still missing.
Surely someone had told you before about this deal. Of course they would have kept you
in the loop. But of course you had no idea.
You started up the car, drove over the Hot Metal Bridge. You found an open spot and
parked. You climbed into the display. You tried to find a comfortable spot but there were some
glass shards and cigarette butts and what looked like a partially melted, headless Barbie. You
thought you spotted an eyebrow hair amid the debris from the teenager who had started this
whole thing. The sun was rising and there was some frost on the display near the places where
the glass had been shattered. The frost had a purifying effect on your mind, like an ablution of
You mean condensation, dear. Condensation.
Claire Hopple’s fiction has been published in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Quarter After Eight, Timber, Hermeneutic Chaos, District Lit, Maudlin House, Foliate Oak and others. She's just a steel town girl on a Saturday night. More at clairehopple.com.