Chicken Bones knew what day Saturday was because she dusted her room and went to ballet class. Chicken Bones knew what day Sunday was because she got to wear a cute dress and hat and gloves to Sunday School. All the other days, Chicken Bones wasn’t too sure about, but she did know that she would be with her mom. When her dad went to work and her big sisters went to school, Chicken Bones and her mom got busy. Hanging on to her mom’s hand-tooled leather purse, which hung at just the right height, they walked to the post office where Chicken Bones carefully found Box 838. Sometimes her mom would let Chicken Bones unlock the box and pull out the treasures inside. If it was a really good day, there might be a letter from Grandma in BC or Auntie Anna in Saskatchewan or Auntie Alice in South Dakota! Then Chicken Bones and her mom might walk downtown to buy new underwear at the SOS store or admire the shiny shoes in the windows of Edward’s. They might even go to the Dinette for a hot chocolate, but that was only sometimes. On the way home, they might stop in at Safeway to pick up a can of peaches for suppertime dessert. And if they did pick up peaches for dessert, Chicken Bones started to wonder why her mom wasn’t making a better dessert. She got to thinking that something else might be going on that day…
Sure enough, a “can of peaches for dessert day” meant that Chicken Bones and her mom had something else to do in the afternoon. It meant that it was the Ladies Bowling League day!
One afternoon a week, Chicken Bones and her mom walked one and a half blocks to the bowling alley. On bright sunny days, Chicken Bones squinted and held tightly to the purse as they made their way across Main Street and through the doors of the long, low bowling alley. It had no windows. Chicken Bones couldn’t see a thing and her mom told her that her eyes just had to adjust. So she stood in the black entryway and waited for her eyes to get used to the darkness. Gradually, she started to see. Her mom changed in to her tan bowling shoes that she carried in a genuine vinyl case and Chicken Bones fumbled with her shoes. She knew that they had to be left at the door because bowling alleys had very delicate floors that should never be touched by regular old street shoes. Chicken Bones did not want to be the person that wrecked those perfect floors. So Chicken Bones stood in her socks and as her eyes adjusted, a friendly man with a happy smile and a bristly brushcut came up to greet her. Mr. Kozun owned the bowling alley and Chicken Bones really liked him. He gave her a Coffee Crisp bar and told her he was glad she was there. He reminded her that there was a playroom for all the kids… and then Chicken Bones felt a little bit nervous.
Chicken Bones loved going to the Ladies Bowling League with her mom and she loved getting a chocolate bar from Mr. Kozun, but she hated the terrifying playroom. She looked down at her sock feet and she looked up at her mom and she clutched the leather purse a little bit tighter. Her mom said it was okay if Chicken Bones just sat with her and the other ladies instead. Chicken Bones was so relieved. She made her way over to the bowling lane. She knew she had to behave herself if she was going to sit with the ladies. So she found a spot on the molded plastic turquoise and white seats and tried not to slide her bum around on them too much, though it was hard not to when the seats were so smooth and slippery. And she tried not to play with the metal ashtray, which opened and closed when you pushed a button. And she tried not to draw pictures on the score sheets or ask too many questions about strikes and spares. She cheered when her mom crashed down all of the pins and she groaned over the gutter balls. She admired the ladies bowling shirts; pale green with dark green folds that let them move and throw easily. Some ladies had bigger shirts. Her mom called them maternity tops and Chicken Bones knew that this meant these ladies were “expecting”. She loved watching them sip their cokes and 7Ups through straws. They took glamourous drags from their cigarettes before getting up for their turn to bowl.
And as she tried to be no trouble and she tried to be invisible and she tried to not bother anybody, she could hear little comments from the ladies suggesting that she really should be in the playroom. She tried and tried to make herself smaller and even thought about hiding under the plastic benches. Then she heard her mom say that she knew Chicken Bones would go to the playroom when she was ready. Chicken Bones felt much better… but she also felt like she now had to go to the playroom so her mom would be proud of her. So she slowly finished her Coffee Crisp bar and she carefully licked the remaining melted chocolate off each of her fingers and she pulled up her saggy socks and she announced that she was going to the playroom!
Her mom didn’t say too much. She just walked with Chicken Bones over to the playroom, lifted her over the plywood gate, set her inside and told the woman in charge who she was. As her mom headed back to her game, Chicken Bones knew immediately that she had made a mistake. The woman in charge was not in charge. A horrible boy named Darryl was. He screamed and yelled and threw blocks at everyone. Children were sobbing. Chairs were upside down. Darryl’s sister, Debbie started throwing blocks too. The woman who was not in charge was sweating and her hair was all messy and her face was very red and nobody was listening to her, especially not Darryl. And Chicken Bones stood stock still inside this plywood asylum, terrified to her very core. She could not behave herself any longer. She could not make her mom proud. She simply had to get out or she thought she would die. So Chicken Bones started to bawl. She bawled and she bawled until she drowned out the cheering ladies and the smashing pins and the playroom chaos. At long last, her mom came running and Chicken Bones was rescued! Her mom took her home and gave her a sugar sandwich. She told Chicken Bones that she never had to go to the playroom again.
On the days that weren’t Saturdays or Sundays, on the days that it was a can of peaches for dessert, on the days that it was just Chicken Bones and her mom, Chicken Bones knew that her mom would let her hang on to the leather purse as long as she needed to.
©Conni Cartlidge, 2011