“She quit,” is what Jiho says when Binnie enters the door and rounds the corner to the desk of the old bowling alley.
“Skedaddled, vamoosed, ran out the front door as fast as humanly possible,” Jiho clarifies. I suppose. “Tuesday, apparently.”
It’s Friday. Jiho normally works Saturdays. Binnie had met her once, when the boss had caught the flu and asked Binnie to cover. They had opened up the basement lanes for a birthday party, so Binnie and her hadn't really interacted before.
Jiho is sitting on the stool set behind the counter. She jumps up as soon as Binnie gets behind there. “I’m taking my break,” she says. “I’ve been here alone since seven.” It’s two. They work together until ten.
She doesn’t give Binnie a chance to reply before she disappears to the back. Binnie takes her seat and watches a family of three teach their four year old daughter how to bowl with bumpers.
“Has it been bad?” Binnie asks at three when Jiho reappears. She pulled a chair from the back room out and sat next to Binnie, comically shorter than her now. You can’t see her from the other side of the counter.
“It’s been fine,” Jiho replies, pulling out her phone. “But, you know, it’s August.”
Binnie nods. “The shitshow begins tonight.”
The shitshow does not begin that night. The shitshow begins at 3, when three girls come in, giggling and nudging each other in the ribs, and struggle to tell Binnie what size shoes they want.
“Bumpers or not?” Jiho asks, standing up and startling one of the girls.
“Do you want bumpers on your lane?” The girls stare at her. “You know those things that prevent your ball from going into the blue part of the lane?” They nod. “Do you want them?”
Binnie slaps a pair of shoes onto the counter. “Our feet look the same size,” she says, and the final girl takes them without any comment. “Lane six.”
“Do you think they’re going to be able to figure out the computer system?” Jiho asks when the girls have wandered over to their lane.
“They seem frazzled after that skunk sprayed them before they came here.” Jiho laughs, and sits down in her low chair.
Jiho is the one who has to explain to the three girls that you have to pay to rent shoes and that you have to pay to bowl at a bowling alley (three dollars per string, sure, but you still have to pay it). Binnie doesn’t mean to leave her hanging, but she does anyway, because a college student has apparently been desperate for a Snickers and the vending machine does not seem to be cooperating.
“I’m Mimi,” the college student says, watching Binnie struggle to unlock the vending machine. Binnie isn’t sure if she asked for her name or not. Maybe she did. “We went to school together. I don’t know if you remember. I was older than you.”
“Was?” Binnie finally unlatches the archaic thing, opening up the door and pulling out a candy bar.
“Maybe you age at twice the rate of a normal man,” Mimi says. Binnie hands her the candy bar and gives her a look. Mimi shrugs. “See you around.” And then she’s gone, and Binnie tries to relatch the vending machine. She grabs a Twix bar before she does. The owner doesn’t have to know and it’s not like she’d care anyway.
Binnie returns to the counter. Jiho’s finally gotten the three girls to leave and is sitting in the taller stool, reading the local newspaper. It’s the only thing the bowling alley carries.
“Did you know we went to high school with the girl on lane three?” Binnie asks. Jiho looks up from the newspaper, then over at the girls bowling. “Short hair.”
“We went to school with both of them.” Binnie frowns. “Mimi’s weird.”
“Do you know the other girl?”
“No. Just recognize her.” Jiho gives Binnie a weird look. “Do you remember anyone we went to school with?” Binnie glares at her. “Did you know we went to school together?”
“I remember people we went to school with and I know you and I went to school together, I just don’t remember people I wasn’t particularly close to.”
“We weren’t particularly close.”
“We’ve worked at the same place since senior year.”
“Listen,” Jiho sighs dramatically, laying the newspaper out on the counter and flopping down so the side of her head rest against the newspaper. “You aren’t doing post high school right. You’re supposed to meet up with your friends once every six months when the stars magically align and look through your old yearbook, swapping previously unheard stories about the horrible things that happened during our glory days of acne and puberty and thinking you could meet your soulmate at fifteen.”
“That’s so sad.”
“I bet you still meet up with your friends every week.” Binnie shifts uncomfortably. Minkyung is picking her up to go to Kyungwon’s house after work today.
“That’s so pessimistic,” Binnie says.
“I’m just dramatic,” Jiho says, picking up her newspaper again. “I propose they cut trash pickup to solve the budget deficit.”
Binnie wonders if this schedule change is permanent. She hopes not.
It is permanent. Jiho and Binnie actually end up seeing a lot more of each other, because they’re the only college students with no summer extracurricular activities to do, and their boss is nearing eighty and hates being at the bowling alley.
They fall into a regular routine, relatively calm. Jiho usually disappears for two hours when Binnie first arrives (it’s never been a problem, nobody’s there at 2pm anyway and who is Binnie to say Jiho needs to hold strictly to her 30 minute break limit). At seven is when they hit their stride, families and teenagers coming out to play weird bowling and gawk at the archaic candy machine that only accepts quarters and one dollar bills (“I only have a credit card,” one student says to Binnie. “It doesn’t take card?” “Tough luck,” Binnie replies, not out of malice. They only take cash as well).
It’s six, a Saturday, and a girl comes in, places her forearm against the counter in a way that is far too comfortable and cocky for Binnie’s tastes.
“Hey, cutie,” she says.
“She quit.” Jiho is sitting in the shorter chair, reading Paradise Lost of all things.
“She didn’t tell you?” The girl frowns. “Sorry, Nayeon.”
“Are you bowling?” Binnie asks awkwardly, still sitting in the stool.
“My friends will be in in like five minutes. They’re gawking at the new place that opened up next door.”
“The taco hot dog joint?” Binnie asks.
“That’s the one. How long do you think it’ll be open for?”
“I hope it never closes,” Jiho says, not looking up from her book.
“They’ve got at least until the college students go back home,” Nayeon remarks. Two more girls climb up the stairs and round the corner so they’re in view of the counter. “Those are my friends.”
Jiho stands up, grabbing a pair of shoes from under the counter and putting them on the table. “Seven,” she says simply.
“Aw, you remembered,” Nayeon cooes. “Jiho, I didn’t know you were in love with me.” Jiho wrinkles her nose.
Binnie gets the other two girls shoe sizes while Nayeon makes exaggerated kissing faces at Jiho.
“We’re going to the taco-dog place after this,” one of Nayeon’s friends says.
“God, tell me how it is,” Jiho says. The girl laughs.
“Lane twelve,” Binnie says to the other friend. She thanks Binnie and directs her two friends away. “Do you know them?” Binnie asks when she’s gone.
“No,” Jiho replies. “But you’ll never guess what.”
“We went to school with them?”
“Jihyo was even in our grade.” Binnie rolls her eyes. “Would you be mad if I went and got something from the taco-dog place?”
“Would you want anything?” Binnie wrinkles her nose. “Just for the experience.”
“I don’t know the menu.”
“I’ll text you.”
It turns out you can get a taco, a hot dog, a hot dog with taco meat on top, or a taco with a hot dog in it. Binnie elects for just a hot dog. Jiho gets a hot dog with taco meat on top. The hot dog is subpar. So is the hot dog with taco meat on it, but Jiho finds the whole ordeal hilarious. She puts a bit of meat onto Binnie’s hot do, “to give her just a flavor of the experience .” Binnie laughs. The taco dog experience is okay, too.
“They’re tearing down the pub to make a bank,” Kyungwon laments.
“You aren’t even old enough to drink,” Minkyung says.
“I’m old enough to know when they’re destroying our history in favor of some absurd liberal agenda!”
“This guy gets it!” Jiho says, coming out from the back.
“Kim Jiho, as woke as she was in high school!” Jiho nods at Kyungwon. Kyungwon and Minkyung had decided to visit Binnie at work, for once, since Kyungwon couldn’t hangout after Binnie got out. She had a family dinner or something, and Minkyung and Binnie had decided they’d rather wait and do it another day than hangout without Kyungwon.
“Are you guys bowling?” Jiho asks.
Minkyung shakes her head. “Just visiting Binnie.”
“Look who still hangs out with her friends from high school.” Binnie decides she wants to kill Jiho.
“We should really get going,” Minkyung says, reading far too well into the glares Binnie is trying to subtly give Jiho. “See you tomorrow?”
“For sure,” Binnie says.
It isn’t until a good few minutes after Minkyung and Kyungwon leave that Jiho says something that changes everything for Binnie.
“I’m jealous.” Binnie tries not to read into the wistful look on Jiho’s face.
It’s a week later that she has the audacity to show her face at the bowling alley again.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” Jiho says, glaring, while Binnie gets Yoobin and Gahyeon’s bowling shoes.
“Nice to see you too,” Yewon says.
“You quit,” Jiho growls back.
Yewon just shrugs. “I’m working at the summer camp instead.”
“Is it fun?” Binnie asks, trying to cut in.
“I love it. The kids are so nice and it’s delightful watching them grow.”
“I’m a kid,” Jiho whines. “You could have watched me grow.” Yewon gives her a look. “A bit of notice would have been nice, is all.”
“I gave my two weeks.”
“I got called the night before to cover your shift.”
Yewon shakes her head. “She’s like 200.”
“Hey!” Jiho is fake indignant. “That’s our fearless leader you’re talking about.”
Yewon rolls her eyes. “Nice to see you, Binnie.” Binnie grins back.
“Lane fourteen,” Jiho says.
“That lane always breaks,” Yewon complains.
“Guess you gotta talk to me.” Jiho’s mocking her.
“You’re giving her a lot of shit,” Binnie remarks.
“She’s used to it,” Jiho says with a shrug. “I’ve been told I do that with everyone.”
“Do you think you do?”
Jiho shrugs. “I guess.”
“That’s how you show your love to people,” Binnie says. Jiho gives her a look for only the briefest moment that Binnie can’t read.
“Gross,” Jiho says, wrinkling her nose. Binnie just laughs. They order subs from a local pizza joint in town and complain about the amount of sauce on them while watching a group of vaguely buzzed high school students pretend to discreetly drink from a flask and bowl while drunk.
Jiho bought way too much pizza to pretend it was an accident. Yet she did while offering some to Binnie. Binnie takes up the offer, pretending she can’t see right through it. Jiho is reading Beowulf . Binnie’s never read it. Some hero tale. She decides she doesn’t really care.
She does care when Jiho bullshits her way through Old English, pretending she know how to read it. Binnie pretends she doesn’t know that an SC sound isn’t supposed to be pronounced SK. She lets Jiho make that mistake and enjoys the way she tries.
“Want a gummy worm?” Binnie asks. Jiho opens her mouth and Binnie feeds it to her, like they’re friends. Maybe they are. Jiho texts her about things that happen while she’s in McDonalds with her friends. Jiho probably doesn’t do that with everyone
“I hate business management,” Binnie says one day, despite everything in her brain telling her not to say it. Jiho just hums, her head resting against the table.
“What do you love?” Jiho asks.
Jiho laughs. “Open one.”
Binnie grins. “Someday,” she decides. Jiho will get a discount.
“I’ve got a date,” Jiho says.
Binnie pretends she isn’t grateful to hear those words.
“I’ll be out tomorrow, sorry.” Binnie’s okay with it, though. “Destiny is laser tag, by the way.” Binnie is still okay with it.
The final week they’re working is when it happens. It’s Hyun Seunghee, of all people, who does it. Lobbing the ball through the air while Mimi underhands a different ball straight into the gutter. Binnie sees the TV shatter, the noise only registering later. She didn’t mean to hit it, of course, and the look on her face as her and Yoo Shiah stare back at the two girls working at the counter would be priceless if the bowling ball hadn’t gone straight through the 2002 television.
“Great,” Binnie shouts before she can stop herself. And Jiho loses it. It’s 5pm on a Friday, and that’s the only time she could have foreseen this happening. Mimi, next to Seunghee, looks more perplexed than anything. One moment Seunghee and her were trying to knock every pin down, no matter the cost, the next she’s standing alone, staring down a seven ten split while Seunghee is…preoccupied.
“I didn’t mean to!” Seunghee shouts, and that makes Jiho laugh harder. Binnie hates it, that Jiho is laughing while a television that’s less than five years younger than them is broken. That thing is old. It’s done its time and then some, and it didn’t deserve to go this way. But Binnie doesn’t really dislike that Jiho’s losing it. If she dislikes anything, she dislikes when she starts laughing as well. Seunghee looks perplexed, since she figured initially that they were doing a good-cop, bad-cop routine, and Binnie was supposed to be the bad cop. The bad cop isn’t supposed to be laughing. But Binnie is. Howling, actually.
“What happened?” Mimi asks. And Jiho points out the television and the state of disrepair its in. In the coming months they’ll have to replace all of the tvs with newer models (it’s a good investment in the long run, Binnie realizes. She hopes the owner realizes that as well). For now, they just laugh. Shiah joins shortly after them, followed by Mimi and, finally, after she realized that Jiho and Binnie really aren’t going to punish her for it, Seunghee.
The owner does punish Seunghee for it, and forces her to work until she’s paid for the new televisions. It’s only a week, but it’s the final week Binnie is working before she returns to school, and it means she doesn’t work with Jiho anymore. Jiho works with Seunghee, and Binnie works with Seunghee. But Binnie decides she still wants to see Jiho, whether she’s willing to admit that out loud or not.
Which is why she shows up at the bowling alley at 3 in the afternoon, right in the middle of Jiho’s lunch break, holding a brown takeout bag in her hand.
“Hey,” Seunghee greets, grinning.
“How much more must you suffer for your sins,” Binnie asks, and Seunghee’s grin grows wider.
“She said I’m offered a job after I’ve paid myself back, actually.”
“You taking her up on that?”
Seunghee only shrugs. “Jiho’s out back.”
Binnie’s been around the past two times Jiho’s worked. Seunghee’s used to it by now. Binnie goes over to the door to the back room, pushing it in to reveal a small table with a handful of chairs around it. Jiho’s reading Oedipus Rex now. Binnie recommended it. She had heard Jiho referencing Oedipus enough times to suggest she actually know what it was about.
“Something bad going on?” Jiho asks, not looking up.
“Just me.” Binnie took the seat across from her. Jiho looks up as Binnie opens up and rifles through the brown takeout bag.
“I got you a hot dog,” Binnie says.
“With taco meat on it?”
Binnie pulls out a small sauce container filled with pico de gallo. Jiho grins back.
Jiho digs into her hot dog with taco meat on it, and Binnie eats the side of fries she bought herself, watching Jiho.
“I go back to school in a week,” Binnie says.
Jiho, mouth full of food, still replies. “There’s a shuttle bus that connects the town your school is in to mine.”
Jiho nods. “I might visit you.”
Binnie says nothing, but she smiles. She just might have to visit Jiho too.