Tenth Frame Spare, fiction by Timothy Gager

Benji watched Kevin scratch his crotch with his left hand while he poked his meaty fingers into a 16-pound bowling ball with his right. The semester had just begun and the place was packed. “So how do I look?” he shouted. “I’m a big King Pin.” Mary turned away from his stupid fucking stupid shit and drank from one of his leftover beers. “Fuel!” Kevin said drowning his words with a chug from a different Harpoon pint.  Kevin stepped up and bulled down nine pins, almost stumbling with the effort.

“It’s like bowling with my alcoholic father,” Mary said loud enough only for Benji to hear. “We need to talk…”

“Not supposed to drink outside the bar area,” Benji said to Kevin. “It’s the rules.”  Mary placed her beer out of sight.

“169,” Kevin butted into Benji’s face. “You only need a mark to beat me.”

“I knew this was a bad idea,” Mary said, her mousey hair tied in a pony tail which hung like a dripping faucet.

“Yes, Benji’s way too serious about these silly lane rules,” Kevin added. “Come on Benji, lighten up!” He reached up to high-five him but Benji wouldn’t look at him as he walked past. Benji had a slower approach on the lane. He hooked the ball into the pocket and left only the ten pin standing.

“I have you,” he said to Kevin quietly before retrieving his ball. His next shot was as deliberate as the first and Benji clipped the pin, knocking it up against the side wall. He pumped his fist in the air.

“I wish you’d been this serious about studying!” Mary yelled to Benji as if she were urgently warning him about something lying in the highway. She was surprised by how angry she sounded.

“I got a 2.7 last semester,” Benji protested. He strolled down to the foul line and gracefully threw the last ball into the gutter to win by one.

“It was a 2.66,” Mary responded.

“It rounds up.”

‘Lazy, lazy,” Kevin said. “Make sure you do all your work in pencil first. Look at the score. You needed three pins on that last one to beat me! I claim total victory,” Kevin chided as Mary shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Benji looked hurt, not sure if she was with him or against him, but then he noticed for the first time her taking a quick drink.

“Mary, you shouldn’t be drinking!” Benji asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it here,” she said.

“It’s OK,” Kevin said to him. “It’s really OK. She’s not pregnant anymore. We have plenty of time to have babies, right Mar? Shit, we ain’t even married. Maybe try again after.” Mary said nothing.

“You can have another drink, honey.” Kevin said.

Mary smiled, but her face fell after he left. She stared down at the score sheet and her eyes welled up. “I’m sorry, Ben.”

Benji moved next to her and placed his hand on her knee. “What happened?”

“I had a miscarriage. I’m sorry I should have called. . .Kevin has been here for two days. He wouldn’t leave. He wanted to be there for me. He has no idea it’s ours.”

“You know we could marry if that’s what you want. You shouldn’t be so scared of that.”

Mary shook her head. “I’d like to get things right, first.”  Kevin came back with their drinks, almost falling down the step leading to their alley.  He handed Mary a gin and tonic. “I’m sorry if I need more than one,” she said.

Timothy Gager is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry. He lives on www.timothygager.com, his homepage which promises to supersize you.

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