'49 Was a Bad Year (Part III)


Why can’t we ever have normal faculty meetings?


Stepping in from the harsh cold, I stomped the snow off my feet. I could already hear the crash of pins and bowling balls across the room, along with the chattering of my fellow coworkers. With a sigh, I went up the stairs. Christmas garland wrapped itself around the handrails, despite January already being half over—as if the holiday wasn’t already gluttonous enough.


I should’ve came late, I thought. At least I’d bypass this small talk before we get to business. Making my way towards the bar—Stop that! Just get the damn shoes and be done with it!


Making my way towards the shoe counter, I watched all the professors mingle: squabbling over points, clinking glasses together, and yammering about their winter break.


Slipping on my rentals, it wasn’t long before someone was on my case. Erickson crouched down, meeting my eyes with a mouthful of chips and a dish caked in salsa.


“Boyer! I’ve been waiting for you!” he said.


“What now?”


“Try this! Tell me how authentic it tastes!”


Tilting my head, I eyed the sauce. My sinuses squirmed at the mere smell of it. “I’m not eating that.”


“Why not?”


“I don’t eat spicy food.” Laces tied, I got back on my feet.


“But you know what real salsa tastes like, right?”


“As opposed to what? Counterfeit salsa?”


“You know what I mean! Just try it!”


“No—”


“Willy!” Is that a headache coming on? That twiggy prick Sampson wandered over, still insisting on that full suit with that cheap smile. Did he not understand casual wear?


“Can you believe this guy?” said Erickson. “Won’t eat spicy food!”


“You should make those pumpkin bars next time! I’m sure he’s got the sweet tooth for that!” Grin widening, he jabbed me in the stomach. Before I could act upon my desire to snap that pencil neck of his, Sampson wrapped an arm around me and yanked me towards the bowling alley.


“What did you do on your break?” he asked.


“Nothing of importance.”


“Come on! How was the family?”


“I didn’t see anyone.”


“You can’t just not do anything on holidays!” Sitting near the scorekeeping table were Turner and Mullins. Turner eyed us, fingers drumming against his thigh while Mullins stared off into space, oblivious of our arrival.


“It’s fine—”


“Didn’t even celebrate New Years?”


“No—”


“Come on! It’s finally good ol’ ‘54! A perfect chance at a fresh start!” Pulling up a chair, Sampson peered at the score pad. “Didn’t you two get started?”


“Why didn’t you grab Erickson?” asked Turner. Of course those two had to sit evenly on the damn bench. No matter what spot I pick, I’m huddled up next to someone.


“Willy’s a better bowler.”


“No one’s taking this shit seriously. Pick someone less weird!”


“I already invited him!” The twig grabbed his ball.


Turner groaned, sprawling himself onto more of the bench with his gangling limbs. I took my chances near Mullins, who only then came back to reality. She grinned at me, her bug-eyes swiveling around in her oversized head.


“Good evening!” she said. “I’m glad you could join us!”


“It wasn’t voluntary.”


“How was your birthday?”


My insides frosted over. How does she know my birthday? I’ve never told anyone! She must know more than she’s letting on—That’s ridiculous! There’s no way she does! Lucky guess? Must be—No, she sounds confident! Who is she working for? Why is she doing this? Is she toying with me—


“Mr. Boyer?”


“How did you know that?” I asked.


“Know what?”


“That I just had a birthday!”


She waved her hand, rolling her eyes. “You’re such a Capricorn.”


“Huh?”


“Your sign. You just scream Capricorn.”


I stared. “That’s the most arbitrary reason I’ve ever heard.”


“As your kind would say.”


“Myra! It’s your turn!” Sampson jotted down his spare.


She stood up, wandering over to the lane. As she selected her bowling ball, there was that nagging feeling that I was being watched. It was only when Turner coughed did I notice him much closer than he was before.


“What do you want?” I asked.


“You weren’t even watching her bend over!”


“Why would I?”


He leaned in. “Do you like girls?”


If this isn’t a loaded question, then I don’t know what is. “Sure.”


“‘Sure’?”


“What the hell are you getting at?”


He flicked my hair—my curls rested halfway down my back now. “What kind of man lets his hair get that long? There’s something wrong with you!”


“I’m sure there’s a good reason he grows it out!” Sampson said behind a forced grin, eyes darting away from the topic.


“Like what?” Somehow, I don’t think, “It keeps me from screaming at my reflection,” is the answer they’re looking for.


I groaned. “How uneducated do you have to be to not realize that it’s part of my culture?”


The prying bastard paused, glancing at Sampson for confirmation. Met with a shrug, he turned back to me. “It’s—I knew that! It’s just strange is all!”


“Lay off the pills,” I said. “They’re warping your mind.”


“They’re for my heart!”


Glaring at the snickering twig, Turner folded his arms and fumed. Mullins returned to her seat, exasperated at the split pins she left behind.


“Your turn, Mr. Boyer.”


Giving myself distance from the conversation, I staked out a ball—one with holes big enough to accommodate my gloves. Five years already, and not a soul knows anything of what I’ve done. Either I lucked out or everyone I’ve met has loose change for brains.


I walked to the isle. How long will this last? Someone must’ve figured this out by now. Was it just a matter of finding me? I don’t want to run again. I never knew stability could be so comforting.


The ball rolled down the lane. Kind of wish I had someone to talk to—Don’t be dense! That’s what got you in this mess in the first place!


Strike.


Keep to yourself. It’s safer.