Bowling For Dollars

by Amie Hartman Read author interview December 20, 2009

The Honeycutt’s 30-year-old son Daniel is a contestant on Bowling For Dollars and all the neighbors have been invited to a party in their backyard. My mom is standing in the doorway of my bedroom picking her fingernails and waiting for me to put on my sneakers.

“I forgot it was this afternoon. And we have to go. The kid’s autistic for Chrissake,” she says.

Daniel has been winning a lot of state championships in bowling, and there’s been a lot of buzz about him in the neighborhood. Daniel can’t talk and my mother says he will always live with his parents. But he’s a genius at certain things. Last week, the local news came to do a story on him. My mom and I watched Mrs. Honeycutt being interviewed in their living room as Daniel stared at the wall and rocked back and forth in a chair. My mother kept saying how sorry she felt for Mrs. Honeycutt. “What a drag,” she said. “I mean, I love you Shell, but who would want their kid to live with them the rest of their life?”

“Mrs. Honeycutt doesn’t seem to mind,” I said. “She’s like the happiest mom on the block.”

I get my sneakers on and walk to the door to meet my mom. “Is Dad coming?” I ask.

She shakes her head and makes a breathy “pfft” sound. “Who even likes bowling?” she says, squinting her eyes and shaking her head back and forth in short little spurts.

I finish tying my sneakers and we go to the kitchen and my Mom grabs a box of Little Debbie snack cakes from the cabinet.

“Is this too cheap to bring?” she says, balancing the box on the palm of her hand. I shrug and think about Mrs. Honeycutt and her lemon cupcakes with thick vanilla frosting and the fresh berry pies with little heart cut outs on them. My mom rips opens the box and we sit around the kitchen table and unwrap the Little Debbies and put them in a basket that she covers with a kitchen towel and throws in the microwave.

“It’s too much pressure,” she says, poking the controls on the microwave with her thumb. I stand next to her and we watch the basket spin on the glass plate. “I refuse to place value on my ability to make dips or balls of cheese rolled in nuts. I’m at artist for Chrissakes. What is the artistry in that? I mean is that art Shelley? Is it? ” I just swallow and look at her. I try to think about my mom as an artist. I imagine her in a smock with cans of paint or sitting around a pottery wheel covered in clay like Mrs. Fanucci. She pops open the microwave and hands me the basket of almost melted cakes. We walk out the back door and take the alley down to the Honeycutts.

The sun is bright and her gold sandals glimmer as she walks. She’s wearing a low-cut ice blue sundress and her cola brown hair is pulled into a side ponytail with a big red barrette. Her silver charm bracelet dangles from her wrist and makes a clinking sound like ice cubes in a glass. I look down at my skinny pale legs and my sneakers made of denim. I hope that one day I will be beautiful like her.

“I thank God every day you didn’t come out retarded,” she says, her sandals smacking the pavement. “I smoked a lot of grass when I was pregnant with you- and drank wine. Lots of red wine. But don’t blame me—that was before anyone told us it was a bad thing to do.”

The party turns out to be on the Honeycutt’s driveway. There is a long orange extension cord running from the garage to the TV, which is outside surrounded by a bunch of plastic lawn chairs. People are milling about holding green paper plates of food. I run up to the TV and see Daniel in his Bowling for Dollars T-shirt among the other contestants. Mrs. Honeycutt’s sister Bernadette is sitting next to Daniel. I wonder what he is thinking.

I look back and see my Mom standing in the middle of the driveway holding her basket of Little Debbies. I see other mothers glance at her and turn away. She rubs the side of her calf with one gold sandal. Mrs. Honeycutt approaches my mom and she thrusts her basket of cakes at her.

“Julia!” Mrs. Honeycutt says, “How great of you to come. Will Stefan be coming? What can I get you?”

She takes the basket of cakes and my mom follows her to the food table. Mr. Honeycutt waves from the grill where he is cooking hamburgers. Mrs. Honeycutt puts the basket of Little Debbies in the middle of the table and makes my mom a drink.

The Bowling For Dollars music comes on and Mrs. Honeycutt leaves my mom at the table and jogs to the front of the driveway. “It’s time!” she sings, and turns up the volume. Everyone gathers around to watch Daniel throw his first ball. My mother sits beside me chewing the ice cubes from her glass. Daniel walks to the lane and bowls a strike. Everyone claps and yells.

“Christ”, my mother whispers in my ear. “Those people make it look so easy.”

About the Author:

Amie Hartman lives in New York City. She received her MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College. Her plays Travel Stationary, Frizzled Onions, Blue Toothpicks and RADIOSHOW have appeared in various downtown NY venues. She teaches creative and expository writing at New York University.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.