prose by Maia Foley, ’19
There’s a bowling alley in Hyde Park where my family went nearly every weekend when I was a child. It was a small, family-oriented 1950’s candlepin joint that sold world-renowned ice cream at a wood-paneled counter with a green and white plaster surface that was sticky to the touch even after it was freshly cleaned. The linoleum floor tiles extended all the way back to the rental booth, and the ice cream bar was so close on the left hand side that it was impossible to walk by without glancing through the glass casing at the ice cream tubs the size of a small child. On the right, the men’s and women’s bowling leagues practiced in lanes seven and eight on an elevated row of lanes. I could always tell the shoe polish was somewhere in the general vicinity without ever having to see it — the pungent wax and ice cream aromas enveloped me every time I stepped through the door and was greeted by a hearty “Hello, dear!” from the gentle older man behind the shoe counter.
The bowling alley was next to a police station, the exterior faded brick with flags soaring over the edges, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Police officers would walk in and out every time we visited towing people in handcuffs, pulling them through the back door that slammed with a dead thud every time it closed. I had never been inside, but I didn’t have to enter to know that the inside was dark and shallow, like the eyes of the people coming and going. Down the block was a row of abandoned buildings where men of all different races with equally crooked teeth would sit together and smoke on the stoops under faded “for lease” signs. Every time we passed by my brother would come to the inside of the curb and push me on the edge of the sidewalk closer to the road. It wasn’t until many springs later when he and I passed by for the first time in years that he didn’t block me from the buildings, and I realized why he had it done so many times, even if subconsciously. The men’s stares told me everything their words didn’t. Our skin, our sexes, our smiles — we didn’t make sense to them.
We are a family together yet a family divided. We are as much each others’ blood kin as we are ourselves. We just don’t look like it.
My mother’s skin is smooth over her soft muscles and gentle bones. It’s tan and rich and soft and doesn’t crinkle or create valleys at the joints, but flows on as though it has no time to waste. It is efficient, just as she is. Her arms and legs are completely hairless, and her unabating affection for lotion gives her a godly golden glow. Despite her Chinese bloodline, she is speckled and freckled all over, from her arms to her legs to her always-rosy cheeks. Her mother is like that– covered in tiger-like spots all over.
My brother takes after my mother, his skin the same tan as hers. It is thick and opaque and, unlike my mother, matte and dry as a bone. It crumples at the bends and widens into callouses frequently where his body pushes its limits, solidifying and fading light where the cells have given up and submitted to tearing and re-healing only to tear again. He is not speckled or freckled, but smooth and tight across his large muscles and prominent bones. On his legs he is tri-toned, his ankles a fairer than his dark calves which fades back into a pale expanse of thigh.
My father is opposite them both, his skin fairer and rougher than the rest of us. His arms are covered in a halo of fair curly hair that covers sun spots and marks from where he’s been burned so many times that his skin has committed to a permanent red. His skin drapes gently across his bones and muscles, tugging tightly on his large biceps and calves where the muscles fill out his epidermis. It calcifies into thick callouses on his hands from hours spent driving to concerts, and the insides of his knees are stained purple from a motor accident in London years ago. In bright sunlight, it’s not difficult to make out the pale blue veins under the nearly translucent shield.
And then there is me. I am not fair nor tan, not rough nor soft, not matte nor smooth. I have not a godly golden glow, nor do I reflect sunlight into people’s eyes when they look at me. I have the fair hues of my father and the glow of my mother. I have the matte texture of my brother alongside the speckles of my grandmother. I have permanent reds that meet a sun-faded olive, a reverse-night sky of freckles and flesh. I have parts that hang loose alongside parts that cling tight, and parts that are tough and thick and can be impaled by a pin without a single drop of blood. My veins show through when it’s cold outside and I have peaks and valleys that are smooth but crinkled. I am a bit of everything and a lot of nothing.
Now when we pass by the men on the abandoned door stoops of Hyde Park Ave, I look them in the eye, and, this time, they’re the ones to break contact rather than me. We pass by the Norman Rockwell brick buildings, the abandoned lot and the bustling police station on the way to the alley. The familiar ting of the bell atop the door curls the corners of my lips into a smile and I’m tempted to hop across the sticky linoleum counters to the ice cream bar on the left. On the right the Hyde Park bowling leagues practice on the far lanes – people of every color, age and sex holding the same marbleized green and black candlepin balls, ready to launch them down the lane. Across the store, Ron himself calls, “Hello, dear!” from his place behind the shoe counter. “Welcome back.”