A few nights ago, on her fortieth birthday, Janelle was drunk from absinthe at the Beachside bar, lit like an oil lamp from within – ready to hit the water in the dark and swim.
Two men were kissing sweetly and playfully by the door. Her eyes felt stuck. She wanted to join.
Today at the ocean the sun feels half-cocked and crazy, clouds covering and then uncovering her.
Women on the beach should have silky fresh-pressed child's skin. Janelle's skin is wrinkled, lasso lines around her eyes, orange-tinted from tanning fluid.
At night she feels twenty. The heat is something awful, she has cotton-mouth…
Her father is walking toward her on the sand – limping because of his bad toe. He's dead and so she smiles, it is good to know him. He looks annoyed, as though she's still a child with the flu, vomiting.
He says, "Janelle, stop retching. There is only so much liquid."
She betrays her husband with the dog... by adoring the dog, by kissing his glossy ears. In the kitchen a flood of pain, two aspirin and her ears twitching from explosive sounds of party fun up the street - drunk, tired couples hip bumping, laughing about how someday they will be too tired to do this... She imagines the street opening, a man gazing into her window, stroking a red cigarette. Her husband is up on the roof trying to patch things with crazy glue. He reads up there, insists it's safe, even at night with a flashlight. The kids off at college and she's letting the dog out to pee on the lawn in her bathrobe and slippers, makes quiet noises to the dog like "coo coo coo... " She pulls at her hair, thin as thread from corn, and wants to tell her doctor about the grass she can't walk on anymore because it is uneven, the black way she feels about that, and how she imagines herself in a movie. She betrays her husband by holding the cat to her lips.
The sky and the wind and the birds suck. I hate the low sound of the wind. Everything tells me to look out of my eyes. The child in me is still open to play, I am always so. He took me to the other side of the playground, and in our minds, we were beautiful together. We talked about how he would let me see his smile in the dark. We had something missing but he said that I was part of his everything. The world was a chain. Laughing about cereal boxes, always, something to say. I am a sucker. My name is Prudence. Now, birds make me sad, knowing he loves pigeons like I do. Knowing he loves mice, and cats. Chains bind him to a chair he once joked about. Not fighting anymore.
Her favorite bowling balls are purple and light. She approaches the few available sparkly lightweight balls – fingers tall, graceful, and ready to test the feel. She is the worst bowler of all the non-threatening women, and she loves how little that seems to matter.
The guys laugh in a Jeeves and Wooster-ish way, in a discreet way... when her ball bubbles over into their lanes. She is that bad, yes.
What matters are the fancy drinks and the soft lighting – the sound of her husband's growling stomach and his lectures far from her mind.
The friendliest guy in the group is named Hubie. He is a sculptor. He had two chins and the world's fleshiest smile. Full teeth, a set that works. She wears her own pair of bowling shoes, of an indefinable rosy color... not red/not pink. They speak to her, but not about her. Hubie tells her they are strangely beguiling. She tries not to glow.
An unspoken rule of bowling etiquette is to keep nasty language and outbursts away from the lanes. She tries not to swear, she tries so hard. Possibly, that is why bad words roll out freely and strike.
Her bowling friends seemed to accept it and possibly attribute it to a case of Tourettes. They smile peacefully at her, make a peace sign in jest.
Her husband swears, but only at the dog.