On the way to Strike Bowling they passed Albert Street where some council workers were taking down a “Peace, Love & Joy” sign.
‘Jesus Christ,’ Mavis said, ‘why don’t they just keep it up?’
‘Because it was a Christmas thing. And Christmas is over. 2012 is dead. Besides, Campbell Newman would never foot the bill.’
They walked a bit further and passed Off Ya Tree.
‘My sister works at Off Ya Tree,’ Mavis said, ‘and you know what someone said to her the other day?’
‘Someone came in asking for the crosses with the little person wrapped around the cross. My sister said, ‘Umm, do you mean Jesus?’ and the girl said, ‘I guess.’
At Strike Bowling they changed into bowling shoes and went to lane 2.
‘Did you know I’ve never been bowling,’ Charlie said. ‘I always wanted to but Claudia has a phobia of teenagers so we never went.’
Mavis put her fingers into a green ball and held it with one hand. It was a little heavy but not too heavy. She stared at herself in the reflection of the hand dryer and thought she looked powerful. She imagined herself always having bowling balls for hands and wondered if she would always feel powerful.
‘That explains why Claudia never wanted to go to Southbank,’ Mavis said. ‘Do you think you want kids someday?’
‘I don’t know, maybe. Do you?’
Mavis bowled first. She walked up to the lane and sent her green bowl towards the pins with lots of speed. Charlie watched as she dropped to one knee and raised her hands. He liked how she was trying to steer the ball away from the left-side gutter and back towards the pins. The ball hit two pins.
‘Two,’ Mavis said.
Charlie thought about it. He wanted to say something witty. ‘One,’ he said. ‘It’s better than one.’
Mavis thought of Azealia Banks’ song, ‘212’ and then began singing, ‘I was in the 212/On the uptown A, nigga you know what’s up or don’t you.’
Charlie wasn’t sure whether he liked rap music but he liked the way Mavis had started to dance even though he felt conflicted about her using the n-word.
‘Do you think she’s totally freaking out right now?’ Mavis said.
Charlie got up and found a red ball. He put his fingers inside the ball and walked towards the lane. He thought, ‘Two in the pink, one in the stink,’ and then went a colour that was similar to the ball because he’d never thought that before and was afraid he had said those words out loud. He looked back at Mavis and she was giving him the thumbs up. He tried to copy Mavis and send the ball very quickly down the lane. The ball flew in the air and landed halfway down the lane with a big thud. Fuck, he thought. He looked around with an embarrassed expression but no-one had noticed. There were a couple of tweens in lane 3 and all of them were staring at iPads. At the bar two people were huddled around a power point and then a Coca-Cola sign lit up. When he looked back at Mavis she was doubled over laughing. Charlie walked back towards Mavis and let out a small laugh himself.
‘Holy shit,’ Mavis said. ‘You got a strike.’
Charlie turned around and saw he had knocked all the pins down. He felt something like a tsunami inside him, and he imagined himself surfing the tsunami inside him, riding around his stomach, up through his ribcage, and he did a backflip off his heart and landed all the way up on his tongue.
‘That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile,’ Mavis said.
Charlie could not help but keep smiling. He liked how it felt. He liked smiling and he felt something inside him that he hadn’t for a long time: giddiness. Then his phone vibrated. It was Claudia. Claudia said, ‘Where are you. Come here now. Maybe do your hair.’ Charlie returned the phone to his pocket. All the feelings he had just felt⎯acceptance, achievement, a general wonder for life⎯had all but evaporated and he felt like a baby turtle, a baby turtle that had been placed in a Sydney gutter after a torrential downpour, the current too strong to escape as cars and pedestrians zoomed by him holding Hungry Jacks.
The lanes suddenly lit up in a way that reminded Mavis of not seeing a white rabbit and then of seeing a white rabbit in the headlights of a snow plough. Apart from the bowling lanes, all the lights dimmed and it was just Mavis and Charlie sitting next to one another staring at the bowling balls that were now lit up in radioactive greens, purples and reds. They sat there very still and did not move. Mavis wanted to say, ‘Kiss me you damn fool. Kiss me quick,’ but she did not say this. Instead, she moved to face Charlie and she put her hand on his hand.
‘What does that feel like?’ she said.
He paused. ‘Warm,’ he said, and, ‘good.’ He thought this must have been what teenage dating was like. He pictured himself in the movies maybe watching something with Vin Diesel and wanting to put his arm around his date and then in an action sequence putting his arm around his date. It occurred to him that he was having, maybe, the first intimate moment of his life.
Mavis could feel Charlie’s pulse beating through his wrist very quickly. She thought about what would happen if she kissed Charlie. She imagined it, both of them, in that dark bowling alley and thought about bears hibernating together for the winter, the warmth of it, how nice it would be to be warm with someone.
Then the lights came on and someone with the name-tag ‘Manager’ was telling them to leave.
‘Electrical failure,’ he said. ‘None of the pins will work.’
They walked back out onto Queen Street leaving, Charlie observed, the tweens who hadn’t noticed the lights were on and were still staring at their iPads.
Without saying anything, they began returning towards “Strange Circumstances”. Their hands brushed a few times and Charlie felt his blood morph into something like lactic acid, and he wanted to shake free of it, to become strong, someone else, someone like Tarzan or Rambo, who would not wear a shirt because he would be tan and muscular, who would confidently hotwire a car and say, ‘Mavis, I’ll take you anywhere you want. Let’s do the damn thing,’ and she’d say, ‘I dunno, let’s go to Mt Cootha, I just really love mountains,’ and they would drive up Mt Cootha at a very illegal speed around midnight and the moon would become brighter because he would have thought intensely about the moon becoming brighter and his friend who was Russian but who worked at the newly opened French restaurant would have come out and said, ‘The restaurant closed three hour ago but, for you, I lie to boss and sleep in cupboard for two hour waiting arrival. For you, is no problem,’ and they would have eaten degustation in a comfortable silence while sometimes looking at one another, giggling and brushing the hair out of each other’s faces.
Mavis stared at Charlie out of the corner of her eyes while they waited for the traffic light to let them walk across the road. Charlie stared straight ahead even though he could feel Mavis looking at him. They walked across the road and back into “Strange Expectations” and when Claudia saw them she said, ‘Thanks Mavis, he’s always running around, never listening.’ Charlie lowered his head and followed Claudia towards her parents. Claudia’s dad told Charlie to keep his back straight for the wedding ceremony because he didn’t want to have to explain to his grandkids why their father had the posture of a question mark. Charlie said, ‘Okay,’ in an absent sort of way. Mavis tried to catch Charlie’s eye for the rest of the night but Charlie ignored her, scared of what would happen if he met her gaze.
One month later Charlie and Claudia married. He stood as straight as he could when the priest asked if he accepted Claudia in sickness and in health and in all the other things that he wasn’t listening to and he felt himself begin to sweat when Claudia stared at him in an intense way, coaching him on how to say, ‘I do,’ and after the honeymoon he returned to his job in IT and had two kids and the skirting boards were never dirty and he died of no real problems at age 73.