"Sparrow (Short Story)"
Story by TheSerpentTheCharmer
Every night is the exact same thing, over and over again. Like a movie reel that the projectionist forgot to switch, always the same few scenes. I can hear the cackling of pins as the pro-league outcasts and bored teenagers roll their frames. The bowling alley transforms from a place of recreation and relaxation to a much more horrible place, a hell even. And in its infinite pools of fire and brimstone and people who shot themselves, there was me.
Cosmic bowling ends at eleven o’clock on Fridays, so when I shut off the breakers to the disco balls and the black lights, the teenagers trickle out. They go out to the old lumber mill and drink beer and fornicate with the other teenagers, sometimes producing a child, sometimes not. They are just living their lives the best they can at the age they are at. But if they aren’t animals yet, they are on their way to becoming such.
God knows they smoke more cigarettes at the alley than the pro-leaguers do.
So Stuckey’s in the back, turning off and restarting the pinsetters, swapping out the neon colored pins with the standards. Doing everything I should have been doing, but he is my lackey and I am the boss. So it doesn’t seem like such a big deal after all. He does almost everything without question anyway, not because he’s stupid or scared, but because he likes to keep himself busy. In this business, it pays to do so. Anything else, you start to rot on the inside. You get stagnant like pond water.
I’ve got wrinkles on my face, liver spots on the tops of my hands. Arthritis and a very, very overactive bladder. All I can assume the cause could be is this place. This cancerous stinkhole of an establishment. With its asbestos laden ceiling panels, the lead paint they used on the cinder block walls. The 30,000 cigarettes that get smoked inside daily. It’s a fucking miracle that I’m not dead yet. It doesn’t dawn on me too often how much I value my life, because I really don’t, but despite all that hoopla about self-loathing and depreciation for one’s well being, it’s pretty incredible I’m still alive.
I guess that’s really contradictory but I don’t give a damn.
So, Stuckey’s in the bar lounge, behind the dark doors with the big “NO CHILDREN ALLOWED” sign. He’s sweeping up peanuts and stray ash off the floor, gathering up broken glass from one of the regular wenches who had a little too much sauce. Stuckey is humming so loudly you can hear it through the doors, it vibrates the glass. I suppose I should call it singing but his accent is so thick you can’t understand a damn thing he says. He’s either Irish or Scottish, can’t really remember which one, but being stateside hasn’t done much for his accent or pronunciation.
He tried to speak at Alice’s funeral way back in ’06, considering he was one of the three people that actually attended it. The other two were the preacher, who only stayed up until halfway through Stuckey’s poorly enunciated parting words, and Alice’s older brother Mansfield, who was so old he couldn’t even remember his own name, let alone his family. I drove him back to the retirement home they put him in ten years prior. The old man was eighty-seven years old, Alice’s senior by nineteen years. The bastard just wouldn’t die. I checked in last year to see if he had croaked and it turns out he actually has become more active.
He’s taken up crossbow archery. Apparently, he hustles the other residents for gelatin cups. Just like kids on the playground before lunch.
Born Stewart Isle Stukonic, Stuckey went to school in England after his parents had gotten a job transfer. He graduated at the top of his class with a degree in Business Management. Now, after the big storms came and the United States lost a shit-load of its businesses and its business, he works for me. He left his company, which is now underwater on the east coast, and came out to Vegas, where the ocean couldn’t touch. Pipe dreams though, he realized the second he got out here that business was just as bad as everywhere else. So he took any job that came his way.
Insurance salesman. Quit.
Janitor for Caesar’s Palace. Fired.
Groundskeeper for the Las Vegas Zoological Society. Fired.
Brave’s Landing Lanes and Pub, Janitor. Fired.
Sparrow’s Alley. Janitor. Content, or so it seems.
He seems complacent enough at my establishment. If you can call it that at all. After his shift he always comes over and shakes my hand and nods. Then he drinks away his paycheck in the bar. Since he works here and can’t afford an apartment, trust me because I pay his wages, he sleeps in the loft above the pinsetters, a nice little attic with vaulted ceilings and shag carpet. I don’t even charge him for the place as long as he opens on time every day. He might as well be another manager like me.
There we were, at our lives and our homes and our graves, just sweeping up broken glass and drinking soda from the fountains out of Styrofoam cups. Breathing in smoke older than the week itself. Getting sicker and older with every passing moment, all the asbestos trying to clog up our lungs and weaken our resolve. But alas, we are the salt of the earth, we are the people that can’t be put down by smoke or time or cancer.
We are the everlasting.
So, Stuckey’s pushing the electronic cart that cleans and oils the wood and I’m smiling at him, I remember watching him hum the little tune he always hums and I kept smiling. Because regardless of the education, the job searching, the moving around, he stayed content in the least likely place he could of. A giant, run-down, shit-smeared ashtray of a bowling alley.
That’s inspiration enough for me.
MattConley (Community Director) writes:
"Such vivid writing - I felt like I was in this run-down establishment surrounded by stale smoke and foul conditions. But I also really felt a connection to the observations of the Everyman narrator and his perspective on things. Great job on this!"