First Day on the Job

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When limp his hands hold the position of the hanging claw in the arcade, open to all the world below it. His dad called them bowling ball hands. This is the way he thinks about them all the time. When he closes his eyes he hears the pins crack against the ball strike. He wiggles his toes to the memory of the loose insides of ill fitting shoes, the smell of the leather spray, filling his nose.

He likes to bring each finger to the thumb one way and back when he counts the pins falling in his mind. He could be sitting on the bus, or standing in an aisle, or walking on the street, thinking about the break. He likes butter pecan ice cream from a cup when he’s at the alley. He likes when the top of it melts just enough to glisten. He glides the spoon upside down against his tongue to lick it clean, waiting, even in his imagination, for his next turn to move his hand over a ball and drop down to swoop it.

The alley is where he goes as one would an office. But this is not his job. They have a happy hour special at the lanes grants several free hours of bowling for the purchase of just one concession. Tomorrow he'll buy a float because he can already taste the ice cream, even on the bus, even miles away. His right claw grips the leather handle above him, his left hangs open and ready and searching at his side.

He arrives and the alley is closed. This is a wrench. He would describe it as a wrench, says this aloud to the empty parking lot with its vast system of open lines holding spaces for the absent cars. SYSTEM MAINTENANCE reads the sign on printer paper taped to the door. With the crumpled five dollar bills in his pocket graze his thigh. He has little else to keep him occupied. He’s also out $0.35 cents in bus fare to have gotten to this disappointing moment. He’ll be out another $0.35 to get back to the picnic house, which is where he’s been spending his nights.

The picnic house has an all you can eat hamburger special for $5.99. They take a really long time to cook the hamburgers. While patrons wait the restaurant offers all the free pretzels and popcorn he wants. This is how they save on hamburgers, by filling everyone up with salted snacks. Except maybe him, salted snacks are as anticipated as the juicy burgers.

When he is in the picnic house the large crowd forms a perfect noise of blank expression. Here, he closes his eyes and thinks about the way the pins will fall tomorrow. He flicks his wrist in the air, by his side. He traces the curve of the ball down the lane, a crescent meeting the center pin.

He forgets, of course, where his house is. He cannot remember where he left his keys. The keys are in a box in a bus depot. His apartment is way across town. What’s weird is the site of him knocking with both hands against the door of a blue house. It is not his house. It is in fact, no one’s house. He falls asleep on the porch swing. He wakes the next morning, cold from the dew. He checks his watch and slides off the swing, looks up at the structure he’s standing on.

“This is not your house,” he says aloud. He promptly scurries off the porch. Walking along a busy road he is reminded of a slow cooked meat, stewed until it broke apart, softly in his mouth. He is reminded of this because the smell is there, a pork smell, a stew smell. His pivots his thumb slightly to each finger so that they may touch. Back, then forth. He was born this way. Hands in claw position. He doesn’t know where he’s walking. And then he is there.

The place is empty. Maybe they are not open? But really it is the earliest he has ever come. The alley is open. He walks right in. And then a blurry movement off to the left. The Shoe man is waving him over. He’s nodding while he makes his arm wiggle. He’s bringing four fingers towards his own face like a fan. He’s mouthing the words “come over.”

“You’re here a lot” he says. “I could maybe use a hand,” he slowly waves his hand passing it over all the shoes stacked in rows behind him, “with the shoes.”

And before our man has a chance to lift a finger and protest the shoe attendant says, “If you work here, you bowl free.” He climbs directly over the counter, positions his claws above a pair of shoes and wraps those rounded fingers around two size elevens and places them in their slot.