Liberty Lanes

NELSON SAT AT a two-person table in the dining area of the bowling alley at seven a.m. He wore his blue jeans and a plaid button-down shirt with short sleeves, though it was December. In the dining area, none of the other tables were set up with napkins and jellies and round mini-tubs of margarine like his. At his table, he had all of that, and ketchup, and syrup, and a cup of coffee in a narrow white mug that would need to be refilled again and again. He had a comb in his front jeans pocket, just in case.

“You going to keep on waiting, Nelson, or you want your breakfast now?” The waitress, Charla, stood behind the service window, which was trimmed with plastic holly.

“I’m waiting,” said Nelson. “And I’m just going to want the one hotcake this time.”

“You’re all wound up today.” Charla helped herself to a plank-shaped frosted donut.

“What’s that?” Nelson’s hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be, and he found himself irritated when he missed something. Charla was about his age, her hair was silver like his, and she was from the eastern part of the state like he was, out by Havre, Montana, where the climate was harsher than it was here in the city. He didn’t like to think he was aging worse than someone else his same age and circumstance.

“These are deadly,” she said. “Someone needs to put these clear across the room.” She took a big bite of the donut and pretended to choke. She held her hands up to her neck and made loud choking sounds.

“That’s not funny, Charla,” Nelson said. “Quit it.”

“You’re not going to save me?”

“It was a one-time thing.”

“You don’t love me?”

“Hey,” he snapped.

She pushed the donut aside. “You’re no fun this morning. You’re normally fun. Anyone seen the fun Nelson?” she called into the empty bowling alley.

Nelson shushed her and looked around. “I might be a little nervous,” he said.

“You want more coffee?”

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