Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

Ruth's Ankles

Illustrated by Charlene Baldridge

This would be her third child, though Ruth Leahy was unaware of her condition of expectation. All she knew was that she'd awoken that morning with ankles painfully swollen. A simple matter of water retention, she thought, from eating too many tortilla chips and salsa with her wine in the hot tub with Juanita the night before. She didn't have a clue about the conception. She was, after all, forty-seven years old, three times a grandmother; and sex with her husband Ellis was sporadic, at best. Pregnancy was a thing of the past.

Or so she thought.

The ankle condition hobbled her. There was no way in hell she was going to be able to bowl that night; so she called around for a substitute, without success. Betty had to work; Nadine was babysitting her grandson; and Dora had a premonition involving getting lucky with her husband, old Three Times a Year Jesse. So Ruth decided to bite the bullet and give the bowling a roll.

She drove down with the team, The Pin-Blasters: herself, Ellis, and next-door neighbors Clete and Juanita. And since the swelling in her feet and ankles had rendered her own shoes too small, Ruth rented a larger pair (men's size elevens), and gave her game a try.

She grimaced as she limped toward the pins, feeling as if she were walking on tight, painfully hot balloons. She rolled a gutter ball.

"Oh jeez," said Juanita, who'd suffered an ass-chewing on the drive to The Lanes for not buying the no-salt tortilla chips. "I don't think this is gonna work, Ruthie."

Ruth agreed, kicked off the shoes and limped up to the bar for a vodka and cranberry juice, while hubby Ellis tripped up to the snack bar to see if Corinne could step in for his ailing wife, so The Pin-Blasters could avoid an official forfeit of the night's games.

They were in luck. Corinne had help at the grill. Her sister Evelyn was sober, thanks to one of her periodic "Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior" kicks. She gave little sister Corinne her blessing, with the admonition to check up topside between frames, in case business got backed up.

     ~ ~ ~

Corinne pranced up and rolled a strike ... Corinne, though fifty years of age, was a slim gal who still looked good in a pair of jeans. Her shapeliness and grace as she glided toward the pins – tight little ass bouncing – was not lost on her temporary teammates, Ellis and and Clete. Nor was it lost on Juanita; nor Ruth who had set herself up topside, at the counter that offered the view of the lanes.

Corinne pranced up and rolled a strike, pins exploding in a resonant blast at the end of the alley of gleaming wood. She spun and jumped like a cheerleader, fist in the air, her small ripe surgically enhanced (all the girls said so) breasts bouncing beneath her white button-down blouse. Clete received a cuff on the back of the head from Juanita for gaping. Ellis, from Ruth, received a dark scowl for the same reason. If her ankles hadn't been hurting her so, she might have tromped on down there and treated him to a nice right cross.

As it was, the glare had no effect. He didn't even notice it, if the truth be told. He was captivated by by the gamboling ebullience of lean Corinne, as she whinnied and pranced like a frisky little race horse back to the fiberglass bench.

On Corinne's next turn she rolled a strike again. She skipped back to the score table, high-fived Ellis, and would have done the same with Clete, if Juanita hadn't been holding him down on the bench by the back of his belt.

When Corinne rolled her third consecutive strike, she leaped and squealed and snake-hipped like a twenty-two-year old stripper, then jumped into the arms of Ellis, hugging his neck hard, pressing her body close with his, while her sister Evelyn got backed up at the snack bar by a slew of incoming bowlers from the next league, with orders for three chili dogs, a half a dozen cheese burgers, a grilled ham and cheese, two orders of nachos and a quesadilla supreme.

"Ruthie!" Evelyn called over the counter. "Tell Corinne I need her!"

Ruth did, and she stuck out a fat ankle as Corinne topped the stairs and tried to prance by. Corinne tripped and went down on her belly, then bounced back up, her white blouse smudged a deep forest green by its abrasive contact with a slow-spreading fungus that had been flourishing undetected in the old carpet for years. She gave Ruth the stink-eye. Ruth showed her a big fist. Corinne stuck her tongue out, then retreated to the snack bar, as Ruth threw back the last of her fourth drink then rummaged her car keys out of her purse and limped out of The Lanes and drove home, stranding her teammates in the middle of their second game.

     ~ ~ ~

When the bowling was done, Ellis, with bedroom eyes, asked Corinne to give them a ride home. Juanita nixed that idea and enlisted Evelyn instead. It seemed only fair, since Corinne, consumed by her bowling and the shaking of her little ass around, hadn't really helped her sister out at the snack bar much at all, especially after Ruth had left. She could stay behind and clean up, scour the grill and mop the floor, while big sister took a bit of a break.

Evelyn bounced her Buick out onto the Coast Route and floored the gas pedal, pressing the three Pin-Blasters back in their seats. A cluster of overlapping nicotine patches the size of a dinner plate affixed between her shoulder blades acted as a stimulus, while the pint of vodka she'd nipped into in retaliation for getting stuck with the lion's share of the night's work loosened her inhibitions and fired her missionary zeal: "Have you all," she called out over the engine's roar, "accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?"

"Oh fuck," Ellis grumbled from the back seat, then, "JESUS H. CHRIST!" as Evelyn swerved the Buick around a sluggish little Honda, veering at eighty miles an hour into oncoming traffic.

Evelyn wrestled the car back into the proper lane, smiled, took Ellis's cry for an affirmative, then draped her arm along the top of the back seat and turned to Juanita and purred, "And how 'bout you, dear?"

Evelyn's lack of attention to the road had her drifting into oncoming traffic again. The horn of of oncoming SUV blared. The driver cut to his right to avoid the head-on collision and bounced over the curb and took out a bank of newspaper machines in front of Nguyen's Donuts, as Evelyn cut a sharp right turn onto Loma Alta Boulevard, sliding Ellis and Clete into a Siamese twin act in the back seat, and slinging Juanita almost into her own lap.

"So tell me, gang," Evelyn sang out as she let her strawberry blonde hair down to fly with the wind howling in her window, "that we've got nothing but deep down Jesus lovers in this car tonight."

And to encourage the admissions of Lord loving she floored it, hitting a hundred miles per hour as she blew by The Red Rooster Bar, with her riders praying, with deep feeling, very satisfyingly aloud.

As she passed the fire station at El Camino Real, Evelyn eased off the gas, brought her down to eighty, lit a cigarette and sang out: 'HALLELUJAH!" And when she'd screeched to a stop in Ruth and Ellis's driveway, she suggested that they all get out on the front lawn on their knees, and raise their voices to The Good Lord.

From the back seat, Ellis – after he checked to see if he'd shit his pants – called Evelyn a crazy bitch; then he jumped out of the car and told her that she and her Jesus could kiss his rosy red ass. A suggestion that didn't sit well, that inspired Evelyn to come out from behind the wheel and jump his back as he made a run for the house, and ride him inside, punching with bony fists at the sides of his head, as he pounded through the front door and into the living room, where Ruth sat soaking her aching feet and ankles in in a tub of warm water in front of the TV.

Evelyn's shrieking shattered Ruth's wine glass as Ellis slammed her into the wall in an attempt at dislodgment that only succeeded in knocking the blue velvet Bruce Springsteen to the floor. Ellis tried again. On the fourth hit his rider went limp and she fell off him and slumped to the floor.

Dan McClenaghan is a jazz journalist and hospital cook whose short stories mostly involve Ruth and Ellis and friends. He is currently at work on a novel about cryogenics, resurrection and xenotransplantation. Ruth, who had of course been harboring suspicions of potential infidelities fostered by Corinne's shenanigans, mistook this religious disagreement between Ellis and Evelyn for feral foreplay, imagining that somewhere in that little flirt game down at the Lanes, Ellis had switched sisters – or worse yet, had sampled the one, and was now working on a double-header. So as Evelyn sat up and brushed drywall dust from her hair and shoulders, Ruth – painful ankles suddenly forgotten – bounced over and grabbed that red hair and dragged the snack bar harlot over and dunked her head in the foot soak tub.

Evelyn writhed like a lizard with a rake prong in its belly, but Ruth held her firm. The gray water bubbled with Evelyn's initial exhalations of outrage, and then her pleas for mercy, as Ellis snuck out back and slipped next door to ask Clete if he wanted to go back down to the bowling alley for a beer, as Evelyn's struggles wound down in the direction of a loss of consciousness.

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