Lacey’s Night Out

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lacey pushed upright in her recliner and clicked off Channel Two. A blank television stared back, flat as the afternoon shadows now being slapped out by early winter. It was six o’clock on Thursday–the night Lacey’s boys took her bowling and the only night of the week she missed Wheel of Fortune.

Lacey slowly heaved herself out of the chair and down the narrow hallway, knees cracking, one arm stretched out to her right, one hand pushing off wallpaper for momentum. “Goddamn Thursdays.” She flicked on the bathroom light and stared in the mirror. A globular face mapped not on foreign landscapes and forgotten towns, but on a lifetime of voluntary entombment and inner warfare. The outside world had been locked out a long time ago. Lacey’s borders now wedged between the snap of two deadbolts and the power switch of her TV remote. Except for Thursdays.

Lacey opened the medicine cabinet and rummaged through a smudged pink cosmetic bag. She worked red spirals into each cheek. Mascara followed in tiny, bird tracks above each eye. One smear of lipstick and the orange lips spread.

“My name is Lacey Calhoun,” she said out loud to the mirror. “I’m a housewife, mother of two beautiful boys grown up and already out of the house. My hobbies are bowling and puzzles. I love crosswords and Wheel, of course. I never miss your show, Pat.” She didn’t bring up Jeopardy.

Pat Sajak smiled and put his arm around her. “Glad to finally have you here with us, Lacey. You’re first up, so why don’t you go ahead and give that wheel a good spin.”

The audience clapped and Lacey clapped with them. She bent over the wheel; black prongs in a perfect circle reached up to meet her while the audience locked in place around her like a city. The eyes of the public were multiplying. Home viewers scattered in living rooms across the country, the world, the map!

She started to tremble, grabbed the sink and stared at her face. Makeup lay on top of her like a bad haircut. Tumors. She pulled up her white blouse and pushed on the loose skin around her stomach. Maybe she had one. She turned out the light and hurried back down the hallway. She sat by the window with her coat and purse in her lap. She searched through her purse until she felt the smooth, metallic outline of her Dale Evan’s pocketknife. She never went anywhere without it. She waited for a pale, dirty car to pull up in front of the building. She checked the door seven times on her way out. Locked.

*    *    *    *

The bowling alley was crowded. Lacey stood off to the side of the counter, let her boys say their hellos and get the shoes while people clustered, kids screeched and fat men drank beer. The orange room pulsed with orange chairs. Everything vibrated in one steady crescendo. She clutched her purse and counted twenty-one cigarette butts in an ashtray. Her older boy yelled to Lacey, “Lane number seven.” She followed him, while her other boy made the detour to the snack bar. She pressed herself into one of the glossy, cupped seats. The older boy dropped shoes in front of her. Red and blue suede. Last week’s had been green and red leather. She saw rows of shoes in separate compartments, wondered how many bowlers had worn the same pair–a whole community of crusty feet crammed into the same shoes nauseated her.

Hotdogs and bloody fries descended on a tray. A cold orange drink was secured in Lacey’s hand. Her boys were now in their twenties, but they still fought over who would go first and who would score. She took a long sip, then pulled a tattered tissue from her purse and wiped germ crud out of each shoe. Bowling balls thundered. People slid in and out of her vision. The bowling alley permeated a rank perfume of flat beer and old socks.

Lacey felt bodies around her. She froze when she looked into the menacing stare of a slumped, pale girl. Lacey watched in horror while a pink bubble the size of a brain popped slowly from the girl’s mouth on to her face. The girl stuck her tongue out at Lacey.

“The category is fear,” a man’s voice said.

“What?” Lacey said, looking around. Pat Sajak stood just beyond the girl.

“Have you forgotten us already?” Pat asked. The studio audience laughed. “We’re waiting.” Pat smiled at everyone and shrugged his shoulders.

“Sorry, Pat. Of course, I’m always ready to play.” Lacey smoothed back her hair and smiled. She forced a trembling glare back at the snarling girl while consonants rallied in her head. She knew the answer to this one.

“I’d like to solve that puzzle, Pat,” she whispered between clenched teeth.

The girl popped her gum and looked away.

“CLAUSTROPHOBIA,” Lacey yelled.

Vanna’s teeth emerged from behind glossed lips while the audience roared. Lacey labored for breath and tried not to visibly shake.

It was Lacey’s turn to bowl. One of the boys set the heavy black ball in her lap. She plugged the three holes, shaking her way into an avalanche. There was the damn audience again, and now they all looked like her ex-husband. Her red-and-blue suede shoes crept forward to the red painted stripe that marked the starting point. Dying would be much easier than this. Lacey clutched the ball to her chest and stared down at ten white pins that stood, stupidly attentive. She counted three lunging duck steps and pushed the ball off. It dropped into the gutter. She was used to that. Her boys waved their arms, yelling out directives, though she was already aware of the procedure: she would have to bowl again.

The balls were on a track in a semi-circle, eight bulging shadows, twenty-four holes. She took one from the group. The boys grabbed it from her. Not the right weight, they said. She smiled and saw them both younger inside a gold frame she kept on a shelf between books. Their arms hung low, stationed on either side of toothpick legs with frozen grins that showed every tooth. They were an exact replica of their father except for the eyes. One look in their father’s squinty, glowing eyes proved he was some kind of fanatic. Lacey had spared her boys their dad’s religious ravings. They’d been young enough to forget him. Neither boy had ever read the Bible or stepped inside a church while they were under her roof. She couldn’t control anything they did now, nor did she care to, but religion didn’t seem to be a priority for either of them and that was a comfort to her.

Their father had called himself a Christian, which she later found out meant a thief, a liar and a madman. He wailed day in and day out from the Book of Revelations about Armageddon and impending doom.

“Armageddon was an everyday occurrence when that bastard was in my home,” Lacey said to herself.

*    *    *    *

“He that overcometh shall not be touched by the second death.” Her husband looked up from his book at Lacey. “Blessed is he that watcheth. The Reverend and I were walking and I said, ‘Stop!! Can’t you smell it? There is the unwanted stench of Bethlehem here.’”

Lacey’s husband talked like a walking Bible. She set out three plates for him, the Reverend, and the drunk they’d picked up that day. She counted five russet potatoes, seven Brussels sprouts, a wing and two crusted chicken legs for each of them.

The husband rambled on, “And I said Give us oh Lord, and there he came… out of the blistered hands of the back alleys, shuffled the bent knees of the crucified.” He was always on the lookout for another prophet.

Lacey looked across at the latest Jesus-contestant, folded into his needs, as dirty and unsated as the five before him. Her husband picked them up out of the gutters. The bum’s fork and knife severed his chicken flesh and he sucked it down with half a bottle of wine. He kept one eye cast on Lacey’s husband beside him, careful to chew tragically before this dream of another man’s insanity was pulled out from under him–God be all employing.

*    *    *    *

The Christian had pledged Lacey his eternal love and a permanent spot with the group saved from Armageddon if she married him. But then, time was its own sorcerer, sealed with the blood of whole civilizations that rose up and buried themselves in the bitter song of a single hour, and one could remember almost anything if they looked back far enough.

Lacey married the Christian when she was eighteen. He was the only boy who noticed her with any interest at school. When he actually proposed he got down on one knee, raised his arms skyward and bellowed, “And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.” He was exotic and had conceptualized what no one else had ever considered. Lacey had always been an island. That alone was enough to fall in love with him at the time.

A few months into the marriage Lacey was pregnant with her first boy. Eighteen months later she had cried her way through the birth of a second boy. Shortly after that an outlined phantom of the crucifixion appeared over the marriage bed on the wall where the Christian’s wooden cross once hung. He was gone. Lacey’s money and jewelry were gone. It took a few more weeks before Lacey stopped setting a place for him at the table.

*    *    *    *

Lacey picked up another bowling ball from the revolving ring in front of her and listened for protests from her boys. They were composed for once, so she pressed her fingers into the holes. She moved up to the line, placed her feet together, swallowed three times, bent her knees, took two long steps, then froze midway to three. Another puzzle was evolving. Pat Sajak was pointing at a girl standing in the next lane scrutinizing Lacey. Lacey didn’t like being caged. She turned toward the intrusive eyes of the girl and whispered, “Why must you all circle me like a vulture?”

The girl grinned and flailed an arm in the air to let Lacey bowl first. Lacey smiled with no intention of following commands and shuffled back to the red line. She held her ground and stared ahead until she saw the girl charge past her out of the corner of her eye. She waited for Pat to announce the next category.

“Category: A person with, let me say, quite an unusual appetite.” Pat grabbed Vanna’s arm and pretended to bite her. The audience loved it.

Lacey was able to solve this puzzle with little effort. “That would be CANNIBAL, Pat.” She wobbled out another gutter ball, then hurried back to her seat.

Lacey sipped her soda and pulled the ratty tissue out of her purse again as she watched the bowlers in each of the various stages of the game. Some stood at the red line, legs together, ball up under their chin, staring down at the pins like the fingers of God. Some glided, some erupted forward, some sashayed, some puffed up like turkeys, and some were in a state of frozen suspension, one leg thrust up behind them, arms raised out to their sides, watching their balls roll them to glory. Rumbling cracks steady as the hands of a clock and every one of them grinning and clapping for themselves like they had a right to.

Just like the dim-witted Wheel contestants, groping out there like they had no concept of an alphabet–all of them drunk on the polluted waters of Greed and Vanity. No thank you, Lacey said, when her boys pleaded with her to appear on that show, swearing that she’d have made millions off Wheel by now, and maybe she would have. It was no mystery to her. The alphabet rolled in her head, filling in blanks, not that it mattered one way or another to her how many boats and vacations the rest of them racked up.

*    *    *    *

Her boys yelled, “Mom, it’s your turn!” Lacey pushed herself up out of her seat. The chain of balls stared up vaguely from the wheel until her oldest son picked one out for her and set it in her hands. He was the vigilant one. He called Lacey every day and came to visit her a few times a week with groceries. He never forgot her favorite ice cream. He had seen more than the younger one and looked afraid. She smiled at him and then slowly creaked her way to the line. She took a deep breath and thought of knocking out her ex-husband’s teeth. She let that ball fly out of her hands and smack down the alley. Pins flew in every direction. Strike! The boys clapped and rallied around her, hugging her.

“I knew you could do it, mom! Perfect. Just keep it moving like that,” the older boy said. Lacey was thankful to sit down for a break. Thursday nights were almost more than she could take, but it kept her boys happy and off her back about getting out of the apartment at any other time.

A gutter ball was like another day. Lacey drank tea all morning and watched the news, talk shows and soap operas. The horned antennae poured out a detached carnival of con men and stalkers, posers and thieves–all of them out for fame no matter what contemptible acts they had to perform. Lacey could never have been a contestant on Wheel. She wanted only to disappear.

*    *    *    *

Seven nights without sleep, Lacey’s boys stood in her bedroom door while madness raged through the room like a ravenous secret, smashing through the whispering objects, threatening to push any of them over the edge if they wandered too close.

*    *    *    *

The ball shuttled up from its tunnel below. Lacey retrieved it and moved back into her starting position with the clamor wading distances around her like a sea. The ball hurled out with the tide, and slithered into the gutter about halfway down.

Lacey ignored Pat Sajak and the audience this time. She counted fourteen steps back to her seat and watched her boys bowl. There was an ease about them that depressed her. She made no claim to a mother’s pride in genes (they carried so little of hers), but to watch them suck down beer and jab at each other with the same competitive idiocy over french fries or scores disturbed her. She smiled and clapped loudly for them, though, careful to remind them that crazy mothers didn’t go out Thursdays to bowl. This was a sacrifice she had to make. Between four gutter balls, she counted seventy-two bowlers over thirty lanes. It was hard to keep track. Bowlers lumbered off in continuous corpulent waves for snacks or beer.

Lacey looked up at the expanse of an industrial ceiling. A bowling alley was as perfect a setting for the final battle between good and evil as any. The ceiling dangled fluorescent bars strung in blinding rows of long, treacherous tubes. Lacey looked over the wretched faces around her and felt Armageddon start to pulse down.

*    *    *    *

Darkness descended into a hail of hands. Lacey was seven again and her Uncle was raping her in the back of the kitchen pantry. He shuddered a cry to God and clamped into the throbbing pain of her body. She screamed, but her voice swallowed itself like a prayer. She was devoured and slain by the dark of the sun until everything was dead. Her dolls were dead. Her friends were dead. Even her parents were dead. She, alone, stood a graveless body by the endless coming of her seventh year.

*    *    *    *

Lacey’s youngest son grabbed her elbow and pulled her up slowly. As the ball settled into her arms, she clutched it while the heads of heretics and sinners rolled down the bowling alleys along the periphery of vision. Her boy maneuvered her to the right side of the line, and she watched his arm swing back and forth and listened to him tell her, “Slowly, Mom, you can do it, nice and smooth.” He hugged her and left her alone with his advice. She forced a smile and stumbled forward, counting her threes, then swung the ball with both hands. Pat Sajak parted his legs and the ball rolled between them.

“Category: A state you can find Vanna in quite often.” Pat chuckled. Vanna smiled and slapped him on the shoulder.

Lacey’s crawling ball took down four pins. The boys shouted and clapped with the audience. One of the boys scratched a number onto the long, white score sheet stretched out in front of him, while the other prepared her for her next ball.

Her lips buried themselves. She dragged another tissue from her purse and blotted her forehead.

“CATATONIC,” she whispered.

The audience roared its approval. Lacey wrung the tissue around her fingers. She knew what was about to come. Multitudes reached out to grab her from behind television screens, from inside living rooms–the army continued to grow.

*    *    *    *

From out of the dark angles crawled the uncle instead, who wrenched Lacey back into the pantry, flooding in the blind directions of the clock with the shifting heresy of his swallowing hands. She was seven years old. She went rigid as a wax doll, and a voice yelled, “Hide us. Hide us from the face of Him.”

Again, the ball was burdened in Lacey’s trembling arms, and she was led to the line with a son’s voice in her ear, “It’s okay, Mom, just do your best.” She saw spots in front of her eyes. She flung the ball away and returned to her seat before it slammed into the gutter.

*    *    *    *

Her uncle’s wind gusted over the voices that leaked from the windows of houses that propped up the block. Her house was just another yellow blot on the game board that nestled like a tumor in the private shade of its quiet inhabitants when her mother was home, cutting vegetables and humming anonymous tunes and Lacey was peeling potatoes and dropping dead white lumps into a bowl and the pantry door spread open in front of them with the mocking yawn of another day as though nothing ever happened in there. Rows of canned beans, tomatoes, jars of sauces and jams looked out from their proper places with the indifference of family.

*    *    *    *

“Category: I’ve been working this job for how many years? Some days Lacey and I feel like we’re traveling down the same path, don’t we, Lacey?” Pat commiserated with Lacey while the audience laughed.

They’d committed Lacey once. Dying was easier than crazy. Either way she knew where she was headed. Maybe a tumor would buy her seclusion. Another puzzle solved. Conceal the conflict, counter the course.


*    *    *    *

On the third floor of this house the Uncle lived with an Aunt, while below them open rooms gaped like mouths in an unlocked labyrinth of lethal doorways resounding with the shatter of loose keys from the Uncle’s pockets, and Lacey sat on her bed rocking while the door slowly opened, and from out of this widening gap stood her two boys instead with the neighbors, waiting for her to parade insanity like she was some spectacle, but she’d kept her mouth shut, wiped her eyes. Let them spy on their own families. She would cooperate with the sons; go to the doctors, take the pills. She saw the conspiracy. Keep this one to herself and move them in another direction.

*    *    *    *

Lacey counted one hundred twenty orange seats, twenty-three bald men, added six points to her score.

A rumpled man lowered himself into a seat across from her clutching a Styrofoam tub with nachos running yellow over the sides, while a conveyor of chips drilled into his mouth in rapid succession.

*    *    *    *

Every Sunday came up on Lacey like a noose when the Uncle and Aunt descended for supper and barricaded themselves with Lacey and her parents around a centerpiece of carved pork roast or lamb. Glass bowls circled it, moving hand to hand–mashed potatoes, green beans, fruit salad and beets. The stench of crusted meat was so powerful it was able to stretch its grisly fingers into the shuddering grasp of the following day. The Uncle sat directly across from Lacey, tucked tightly into his suit, black and buttoned as the law. He stuttered out his shaky opinions with eyes that lowered and trembled. Her parents would smile and nod, encouraging him, while the hacked centerpiece long dead, but strangely honorable in its bones, sat back and looked on in silence.

*    *    *    *

It was the tenth frame. The final battle had arrived. Lacey sagged in her chair and counted bodies again. She calculated around eighty people now. The man with the nachos picked at the soggy remains of his sinking ship with a thorough and disheartened yellow finger. The boys argued over scores, one yelling that the other had cheated. Lacey stared into the face of a man no saner than the zealot she’d married. He leered back at her while he sucked down his beer. Lacey grimaced at the two eyes that turned up at the corners in a smug, flattened face. “What the hell are you waiting for?” she hissed. “Armageddon is no more than a rerun, playing itself over and over again every day of your life.”

The boys started bowling again.

Pat Sajak called out the final category. “Dear Lacey, it’s the only way to survive. It’s the story of our existence.”

Lacey rooted through her purse until she felt the cold, smooth curve of her Dale Evans pocketknife. She opened it easily and slid its dulled blade across her wrist. She never pushed too deep–just enough for the promised seal from God. The Christian always cut her on the forehead, but she couldn’t do that. She touched the scar above her eyes. It was one of the few things he had left behind.

The man in front of her guzzled the rest of his beer and talked to himself with nothing over his scuttling eyebrows but a desolate layer of skin. “No one’s saving you, you bastard,” she whispered as she got up and moved toward him. She grabbed his neck, took the blade and slid it across his forehead. Someone grabbed her from behind as she shut her eyes hissing, “Hide us. Hide us from the face of Him.”

*    *    *    *

Lacey’s Uncle rampaged again from the smoldering furnace of time, attacking her with the fury of scorpions. His fingers drove into her shoulders. She barreled her vision through the pantry prison into a pickle jar that blazed in front of her. Blood trickled metallically off her distant tongue while she breathed the same prayer to God. “Make me invisible. Help me escape. Make me invisible. Help me escape.” But this time God was actually listening. The jaws of this cavern she was dragged into while the parents were out lifted like a great boulder. Light swung in like a crazed sickle. The Uncle was dragged off Lacey with his pants still chained to his ankles and a fury of thick, dull fists raged their assault upon him. A violent gust swelled up massively from out of her mother and with the primal immediacy of a thunderous God, down cracked an iron blunt shovel over the bloody skull of the sinking, stumbling Uncle while everything around Lacey went black.

*    *    *    *

Lacey opened her eyes to her boys’ faces hovering above her. The younger boy was blotting her forehead with a wet napkin, while the older one was wrapping her bleeding wrist and talking to security. The man Lacey cut got away with only a minor scrape, but was screaming about pressing charges as his group ushered him out.

Lacey didn’t hear him. She listened to the bowling balls rumble over wooden planks and the habitual massacre of exploding pins. One son pressed a paper cup to her lips. She took a long bubbling gulp of another orange drink, wiped the dripping water from her forehead, and forced a withered smile at her boys. Terror whispered from their sad, sharp eyes as the security guard questioned her. A small pool of strangers fed on this public display and shifted impatiently from foot to foot, waiting for her to supply them with more. She drained the last of the drink and looked at a frightened son on either side of her clutching his beer and Pat Sajak, who stood grinning behind them.

Pat put his hands together and pointed at her. “Can you solve that puzzle, Lacey?”

One son crouched down in front of her and began to unlace and remove her bowling shoes, while the other whispered of doctors and pills. Vanna waved an arm and smiled, glittering off to one side of ten blank white squares that strained to be revealed.

“That Christian’s Bible was worn down flat as a bald tire, but it still never got him anywhere.” Lacey put a tapping finger to her temple. “Here’s your Armageddon.” She looked up at Pat. “I’m ready to solve that puzzle.”


Vanna turned the letters over with nothing less than professional ease, and Lacey clapped her hands together in a brief, solitary celebration of another bowling night overcome. The audience dissolved again with the circular compliance of a weekly communion. One of her boys grabbed her hand and pulled her up, while the other wrapped her in her coat and got her purse. She waded cautiously between them through a rolling sea of six demented moustaches, four vagrant beards, and a pair of pencil-scratch eyebrows shelving shoes at the counter.

*    *    *    *

It was ten-thirty. Lacey snapped the dead bolt and checked the door seven times. Locked. She watched out the window for a pale, dirty car to drive off and then shuffled back to the kitchen for ice cream. She’d swallowed the pills, finished a meal, and tomorrow she would go to the doctor. Let it be cancer this time. She clutched her bowl of ice cream and made her way slowly toward the recliner. She sat in the dark and stared out the window.

Points of light, fixed stars, the moon a glowing consonant, a celestial C. She pushed up her shirt and slid her hand back and forth over her protruding stomach. She could see the week ahead of her much clearer from this side of Thursday. Shoes dropped. The recliner lurched back, and one hand groped over the end table for the remote.


Meg Tuite

Meg Tuite

Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, Monkeybicycle, Hawaii Review, and Boston Literary Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. Her novel, Domestic Apparition (2011), is now available through San Francisco Bay Press ( She has a monthly column, “Exquisite Quartet,” for Used Furniture Review. Her blog is

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