awkwardly

Sunday

Suburban Lanes

Suburban Lanes is a set of connected scenes I wrote in 1992 or 1993 that I thought would be my first novel but wasn't that long. Instead of chapter titles, I listed lane numbers that correspond with each set of characters, and frame numbers to indicate how they were connected in time. If you read all the scenes for "Lane One," you'd follow the same characters through their part of the story. All of the scenes in the "First Frame" would show events of different characters happening at roughly the same time. If you like what you see below, you can read the rest in my short story collection Dungeons and Dayjobs in paperback or hardcover, Kindle edition and other ebook formats.









First Frame.
Lane One.

Tim listened to the conversation being held on the opposite end of the table from him.  The magazine in front of his face had been open to the same page for the last ten minutes.

"The way I know about it," the woman with black hair continued, "is a friend of mine, Jenny Crenshaw, she had a problem like that."

The woman facing her across the table, a red-head, nodded.  This was the one who commanded most of Tim's attention.

The air rumbled for a moment, then clattered and returned to normal.

"This was when she was a carpenter.  Anyway, she was using a nail-gun, halfway up this ladder.  She was holding the one  board-" here the talker pantomimed what she was describing, "-and stuck the nail-gun up against it between her fingers.  But the nail hit a knot in the wood, so it came up and around through the board, and back through her thumb.  Her thumb was actually nailed to the board."

The red-head cringed.  She leaned towards the table, listening intently.  Her movement did wonderful things to her shoulders and light reddish-blonde curls.  In fact, Tim thought, the movement did wonderful things to her whole torso.  Her face, bright and expressive, set off happy gears inside Tim's head.  He could see the profiles of both girls from where he sat at the end of the table.  He nudged his glasses back up his nose and peered over his magazine.

A softer rumbling spread for a long moment, followed by a quiet knock, the sound Larry and Curly's heads make when Moe cracks them together.

"And the nails they use have barbs so they won't pull out easy.  So she couldn't pull the nail out and slide her thumb off.  She had to cut the head off the nail and jerk her thumb back the rest of the way."

"Eeeuw," the red-head said.

"Only her cutters were on the ground next to the ladder.  So this guy that's been watchin it all comes up and picks up the cutters and starts laughin at her.  Well, she grabs the claw hammer from her tool belt with her free hand, hooks the 
claw under this bastard's collar, and lifts him off the ground.  (She was the Southeastern California Women's Weightlifting Champion.)  So the asshole stops laughin and she drops him and snatches the cutters out of the air.  Then she cuts off the nail-head and yanks her thumb off it."

"Jeez," the red-head added.

Another loud burst of rumbling sounded before an explosion of clattering.

Content with finishing her story, the talker grabbed some M&M's off the table and popped them in her mouth.  The tattered ends of her black hair fell onto her faded denim jacket.  A black patch on the shoulder of her coat read, "MEGADETH."

"Tim!"

The girls both turned to face him.  Tim looked back at them 
in shock.  Then a hand clapped on his shoulder and the girls 
turned back toward each other.

"How the Hell have you bee?" a familiar voice asked.  Tim 
couldn't place the face right away.  The crew cut was 
different, but the round, boyish face and beady brown eyes 
reminded him.

"Perry?"  A few images played through Tim's mind before he 
could remember whether to be glad to see Perry.  A fist-
fight in third grade.  Lazy games of baseball in high school 
gym class.  Laughing through English.  "Uh, what's up?"

The smiling hooligan flipped a chair around backwards beside 
Tim and leaned his chest over the back of it.  "Not much, 
man, not too damn much."  The hard plastic chair was an old 
contoured style, with a wide, curving seat that dug into 
Perry's thighs.  But comfort wasn't his concern.  "How 'bout 
yourself?"

"Oh, uh, not a whole lot, just hanging out after work."  
Tim set the magazine on the table.

"You workin here?  I didn't know you were big into bowling."  
As he spoke, Perry drew a pack of cigarettes from the pocket 
of his flannel shirt.  He poked the pack toward his face and 
caught a stubby, brown cigarette between his lips.

"No, no, I'm an assistant librarian downtown.  I don't bowl 
much."  Tim crossed his arms and added, "No thanks," when 
Perry held out the pack.

A ball thumped and rumbled down a lane, then slid into a 
gutter.  Someone grumbled, "God-" and trailed off muttering.

Perry fumbled a book of matches from his pocket, nodding.  
"That's cool.  You got a consistent gig there?"  After 
lighting his cigarette (or is that big enough to be a cigar?, 
Tim wondered.  Do cigars come in packs like that?), Perry 
rose from his chair and appropriated an ashtray from half-
way down the long table.  "You're not using this, are ya?" 
he asked the girls.  They shook their heads and Perry 
returned to his backwards chair.

"Yeah, it's a real job.  Maybe a half step up from flipping 
burgers, but I like it."  Tim closed the magazine on the 
table.  It was the library's latest copy of Newsweek, with 
an article about the next Star Trek movie.  He hadn't read 
more than two paragraphs of it in the last fifteen minutes.  
"Yeah, I come by here after work sometimes before heading 
home.  The coffee from their vending machine here is better 
than the scum they try to serve at the diner."

Perry leaned his forearms on the table, leaving the stogie 
in a corner of his mouth.  "I thought you lived the other 
side of town, out past the mill?"  The stick of brown pulp 
in his mouth slurred his words a little, so it sounded more 
like "-out paft the miw?"

"Oh yea, I use to, but I'm renting a room from my uncle now.  
His place is another couple blocks this way from downtown."  
Tim took a sip from the paper coffee cup and set it back on 
the table empty.  "I had to get away from my parents.  I 
guess living with one relative is as bad as another, but my 
uncle's okay."

"Hey, if you're making enough to get out of your parents' 
place, you're doing better than a lotta the people we 
graduated with."  Perry tapped ash off his cigarette (or 
whatever it was he was smoking) and stuck it in the corner 
of his mouth.

"That's what I figure."  Tim folded his arms.

Perry nodded.

Tim glanced at the girls down the table.  He returned his 
gaze to the magazine lying on the table.

Perry blew smoke.

Tim asked, "So what have you been doing the last few years?"

"Fixing toilets in freight airplanes."

Tim laughed, but Perry smiled and laughed.  Not deadpan 
enough for it to really be a joke.

"It's funny but not that funny," Perry said.  "I swear to 
God, I'm a plumber for the federal government.  Figured I'd 
be a big-time pilot in the Air Force, right?  Nothing 
physically wrong with me, right?"  Perry leaned back from 
the table and spread his arms out to show himself.

Tim shrugged.  "So what stopped you?"

"I didn't even have to finish the whole physical.  They let me 
leave right after the eye exam."

"They can't be too bad if you don't wear glasses.  Or do you 
wear contacts?"

"No, they're 20/20.  But I'm color-blind.  Evidently there's 
something crucial about distinguishing colors for flying.  
The controls, or identifying enemy aircraft or whatever."

Tim nodded.

"Yep.  That's how it goes.  So I've been dumping Liquid 
Plumber down sinks in Air Force bases and pulling pens and 
combs out of clogged johns for two years."  Perry tapped off 
more ash and switched the cigarette to the other corner of 
his mouth.  "I was thinking about going all the way and bein' 
a Lifer, retire at 44, all that.  It's not as physical or 
restrictive as I thought it'd be.  But I don't want to be 
fixin' toilets for the next thirty years."

Tim nodded, looking at the magazine.

"I'm surprised you didn't go to college," Perry said.

"Oh, well, I am, kind of.  I'm taking a couple classes here 
and there at Kensington Community College."

"Ahhh," Perry said, making the connection of what Tim meant 
when he had said, "kind of."  "So what are you goin for?  
Business degree or something?"

"No.  For now, I'm just taking some music classes.  Symphony 
and Music Composition and Poetry.  Just screwin around, you 
know."

Perry nodded as he inhaled.  "That's right: you were in Band, 
weren't you?"

"Yep."  Tim wondered if Perry would mention the term he used 
back in school: "Band fags."

A rumbling ball smacked into enough pins to make the bowler 
and his buddies cheer.  Tim watched the red-head throw back 
her head laughing at something.  Somehow even the bland 
fluorescent lights here made her hair flash.  She had gray-
brown eyes that complemented her light reddish hair, and 
vaguely reminded Tim of Hobbits.  Not that she was 
particularly short, and he couldn't imagine tufts of fur on 
her feet.  But the colors of her hair and skin and eyes made 
him think of Fall and trees and the Earth, the elemental 
images associated with ground-dwelling Hobbits.

On the other hand, she was sort of stocky, with the kind of 
soft, pudgy-looking muscles that always hide surprising 
strength.  She had the build of a volleyball or softball 
player.

Perry took the stogie from his mouth and blew smoke audibly: 
"Whewww."  He clapped his free hand on his knee and asked, 
"Know where there's gonna be any parties tonight?"

Tim shook his head and shrugged, looking down at his magazine 
for the umpteenth time.

"You nerd!" he recalled Perry yelling at him in what must 
have been a sixth grade Science class.  He remembered a time 
when he had hated Perry, but that feeling mellowed into 
nothing after a pile of years.  They had become, if not 
friendly, at least tolerant of each other in the years since, 
eventually talking and joking in some high school classes 
where the only people they had known were each other.

"Know where there's gonna be any parties tonight?" Perry 
repeated.

Tim started to say, "No," when he realized that Perry had 
asked the girls at the other end of the table.

"Actually, yeah," the black-haired girl said.  Then she just 
looked at him coldly.

Perry looked back at her for a moment without saying anything, 
then said, "But will it be any good?"  He frowned at her 
seriously, then raised one eyebrow like an inquisitive Vulcan.  
His magic worked on both girls, gradually infecting them with 
smiles, and triggered a boomerang effect that carried a smile 
back around to Tim.

More pins clattered, more people cheered for the strike.  The 
metallic voice of a robot announced, "Countdown intruder," 
from a video game.

The thin woman with black hair leaned back in her chair and 
crossed her arms.  Her smile became a cynical grin.  "Yeah, 
it should be pretty good."  She resumed her purposeful 
silence.

Perry slouched back in his chair and crossed his arms to 
mimic her.  "Well, what do I have to do to coax it out of 
you?"

"I don't know," she said.  "How do I know you aren't going 
to be some trouble-maker that'll puke on the hostess and 
pass out?"

"He can vouch for me," Perry replied, hooking a thumb over 
his shoulder at Tim.

Tim grunted, "Ha!  Until today I haven't seen him in two and 
a half or three years, but I can vouch for him: if you got a 
clogged john-"

"What he means," Perry interrupted, "is that I have a 
reputation of honor and dignity, and a character that is 
untarnished.  Right?  So he vouches for me and there you 
go."

Tim said, "I would have used the word 'character' 
differently."

The red-head laughed and joined in, "And who's going to vouch 
for you?"

Perry said, "I vouch for him!  So, what time does it start 
and where's it at?"

The black-haired cynic tapped her teeth with a red fingernail 
and said, "I don't know. . ."

Perry cocked his head sideways like a puppy dog.  Tim sighed 
with real sadness, feeling this chance slip by.

"If nothing else," the red-head breathed, sitting up 
straight, "they'll keep us amused up until the time they puke 
and pass out."

Tim was giddy, smiling hugely, not quite restraining giggles.  
Going to the same party as the red-head would be wonderful 
enough, but "keeping her amused" would require close 
association.  Tim wanted to associate with her as closely as 
possible.

Still tapping them with a fingernail, the cynic now sucked 
air through her teeth.  She squinted in mock concentration, 
then raised her eyebrows.  "Okay."

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