The Promise of Parking Lots (1993)

by Monica Hall

I sat alone sipping on a Budweiser
and fidgeted by wiping traces of my
lipstick from the bottle’s rim.
Bowling alley beer.
I could never fathom why beer tasted
better here than at home, but it did.
It was a busy Friday night, and the
sounds of crashing pins, laughter, music
and the occasional announcement from
the P.A. system seemed oddly comforting.
From my vantage point I could view our
youngest son, sitting behind the wheel
of his favorite arcade game: Cruisin USA.
Two games to his left was his brother, standing
confidently with a joystick at his command
and thoroughly consumed by NBA Jam.
I bent down to retrieve a paper napkin
that had fallen to the floor, and when I
arose, I saw you enter the bowling alley.
Though it was autumn, you were tan.
I waved you over to me, and as you approached
I could see that you were freshly shaven and
appeared to be wearing new clothes,
like a man on a first date.
Nervously, I swallowed the remainder
of my drink rapidly.
“Come on, the boys are over here” I motioned
as we walked over to the arcade area.
“Dad!” they chimed in unison, but
being children they did not break
concentration from their games.
“Do you guys want me to get you
some more quarters? you asked them.
Only our youngest replied:
“Okay, but mom already gave us a grip!”
We stood among the blinking arcade lights
and smiled weakly at each other.
“Wow, they really miss me” you half frowned.
The faint whisper of my heart pleaded with me
to confess to you how much I had missed you,
but pride and uncertainty prevailed, so instead
I shrugged, pointing at our boys
“of course they miss you, but those games
put them in a trance; they just can’t
get enough of them”.
We sat together and made idle chit chat.
“How’s your mom?” you asked me.
“Fine, but she drives me crazy” I laughed.
“Typical grandma – she does our laundry,
and when I jump in the shower every
morning she makes my bed.”
“I feel guilty, but secretly I think she
likes having us there” I sighed.
“I’m sorry” you said quietly.
“Me too” I nodded in agreement.
We sat in silence for a minute or two,
after all we had been here before.
Our love had always been flawed and
fragile, like a porcelain vase that
had been broken time and time again,
held together by the adhesive of
naïve hope that surely things would
be better next time.
We almost spoke at the same moment.
“I’m going to the ladies room” I said.
“I’m going out for a smoke” you said.
A few minutes later we stood next
to your truck in the parking lot.
“It’s so quiet out here” I spoke first.
“Yup” you said followed by still
more awkward silence.
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot” you said
as you reached into your pocket
for your wallet, “I’ve got some
money for the boys”.
I nodded with approval saying
“I’m gonna buy them new
basketball shoes and probably
a big box of Tide” too.
“Tide?” you said puzzled.
“For my mom” I sighed.
“She prays for us, you know” I shrugged.
“Probably because I whine to her
that you are the devil incarnate”.
“No wonder she’s burning down the
house with holy candles.” I complained.
You said nothing, and as you handed me
folded cash our hands touched; startled
you said “damn girl, you’re freezing”.
In an instant you pulled me close
and we embraced and kissed.
It was not a conciliatory kiss, but a long,
soulful ,solemn and amorous kiss.
A kiss that transcended space and time
and sorrow and uncertainty.
So there we stood in a cold, dark
parking lot, as the earth spun slowly,
when suddenly the disruptive sound
of a slamming car door broke the spell
that had captivated our mortal senses.
It was a family piling into a minivan
that was parked nearby.
A young boy shouted angrily:
“But I want to go to McDonalds!”
The boy’s exasperated mother
gave the child a shove, adding
“we’re getting pizza, so get in
the damn car, now!”, and soon enough
the van departed without further fuss.
We returned to the bowling alley
to watch our boys enjoy video nirvana
while I sat on your lap, and my heart
was full and my spirit was light.
In a short while we walked to our
respective cars to head homewards.
“Hey, you guys, wanna get some pizza?”
“It’s still early”, you said to the boys.
“But I want McDonalds!” I snickered.
So we exited the parking lot together –
a fractured family, held together with the
hope that surely things would be better.
(By: Monica Hall)

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