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Bowling isn't much fun. At least Carolyn didn't think so. The thing she objected to most was the smell of the place, which was always the same, like stale cigarettes and people's shoes sitting empty and warm and stinking. It was one of the smells that one can actually commit to memory. Most smells aren't like that. There aren't many words for smells, and words are what cement places and events into memories. So when people remember liking a smell, they cannot conjure the actual smell from their memories, because it is not there.
Inside her head, Carolyn worked hard at conjuring up smells. If only she could conjure the smell, say, of roses, while she was bowling, then she wouldn't mind being there, rolling a heavy ball at ten distant pins. In fact, Carolyn thought, she might even begin to enjoy it.
As a child Carolyn had tried the experiment that all children do; dabbing a favorite perfume from the drugstore on her upper lip, so she could smell it all day, until it wore off. Of course, that didn't work. She never found out why.
Today, though, Carolyn had to go bowling. At the office where she worked part-time as a secretary, a woman had won a free night of bowling for the office workers. To miss it would be insulting. So Carolyn resigned herself to three hours of bowling, and, digging a small bottle of perfume out from the cluttered jewelry box on her dresser, she sighed and left the house.
Carolyn liked to listen to story tapes in the car. She borrowed them from the library. This week she had been listening to a novel by Danielle Steel. Something popular that she had heard good things about from a lot of people. But Carolyn just couldn't get into it. The more she listened, the further away the reader's voice got, until the images broke into strings of words and the words began to separate in syllables and break apart until there was nothing left but sounds, one after the other coming into her head like some sort of tribal rhythm. Carolyn let her thoughts slow to the same rhythm. The story tape and the lulling hum of the engine were as familiar to Carolyn as her own heartbeat. She was reminded of the classic comedy scene where the husband is in front of the television, asleep. The wife comes in the room to wake him up and no matter how hard she shakes his shoulders and says his name, he stays there slumped, snoring. But as soon as she moves to turn off the television, he bolts awake and shouts "I was watching that!"
Carolyn remembers how her own children, when they were young, would always wake up when the car stopped. It was true, then, she thought to herself, driving can be almost a hypnosis.
Carolyn reached the bowling alley in plenty of time. She got out of the car quickly. She did not want the temptation of staying in the driver's seat. She suspected she might drive herself right back home. So she went inside.
Immediately she was assaulted with the cigarette-shoe smell. Even bowling alley memories are not as real as the actual place. Carolyn glanced surreptitiously from side to side for signs of a bathroom. She didn't see any. She did catch a glimpse of a woman behind the shoe counter watching her. Trying to look very normal and relaxed, Carolyn slipped her change purse out from her large L.L. Bean canvas handbag. With an evil feeling of cleverness, Carolyn realized that the bowling alley was totally defenseless. She could have a gun in her bag, or a homemade pipe bomb. Carolyn smirked.
If I was that girl working behind the shoe counter I would be pretty nervous right now, she thought to herself. Eyes downcast, she unzipped the metal change purse one tooth at a time, pinching the zipper between her thumb and forefinger to silence it. Might as well draw it out, give them some suspense, Carolyn thought.
When the purse was completely unzipped, Carolyn poked her same thumb and forefinger inside and drew out the bottle of perfume. She hooked the purse on her pinky and used her right hand to shield anyone who might be watching. Then, with deliberate slowness, Carolyn turned to face the wall. She unscrewed the red plastic cap and brought the bottle up to her nose. Tipping it back, she let a few drops dribble out onto her lip. Then she capped the bottle and returned it to her purse. Without turning she quickly pushed open the door, decorated with ten pins in white paint. Across the top of one of them had been scratched "Tammy 88-92."
Outside Carolyn took in deep breaths of the fresh, warm air. The perfume was beginning to sting her lips. Some of it must have seeped into her mouth. A bad taste was growing, burning the tip of her tongue. But Carolyn was thinking about how anxious and confused everyone must be inside. She smiled at the thought of their panic. Then quickly she tried to hide the smile behind a fake cough, embarrassed at the thought of anyone in the parking lot seeing her smiling to herself like a fool. With a feeling of satisfaction warm in her stomach, Carolyn sat down on the curb to wait for her co-workers to arrive. 1