Allie’s sustained belch echoes off the room’s high corners at the neighborhood scrapbooking party with a striking resonance.
The cul de sac woman beside her is assembling a memory book for her adopted daughter.
The neighbor with the offensively high fence pieces together her son’s mascot career, immortalizing his time as a high school tiger. She is unable to accept that childhood is a stage rather than a permanent state. Her name is Gretchen.
Barbara, the group’s host, decoupages an elaborate display of a family reunion at Disney World.
Naturally, Allie decides to construct a book devoted to her failed acting career. This scrapbook will prove she is no longer exasperated by failure. Appearing in one episode of Boy Meets World and a legion of murder mystery dinner theater productions, perhaps it’s best to describe her career as merely slumberous. Or even lurking, awaiting its resurgence. Its plans will not be thwarted.
As Allie nestles Rider Strong’s candid pose into the gully of glue on the page, Barbara looks up from her own handiwork.
“You know, my friend’s dog was in those canned bean commercials a few years ago. Remember those? A network wanted to make a whole spinoff series starring the dog, the ads were so popular,” Barbara says.
A pair of binoculars rests between a pile of sticker sheets and glue sticks in the middle of the table.
“Do you birdwatch?” asks Allie, gesturing toward the binoculars.
In the resulting silence, Allie mourns the dueling piano bar she left behind in order to move here. She got it for a steal since it used to be a Pizza Hut and she hadn’t bothered to replace the signature roof. Her band, The Wet Bandits, headlined every Friday and Saturday night.
“What kind of stuff are they eating when it’s purple? And what are they eating when it’s the standard black and white?” Allie asks no one in particular, refusing to relinquish the idea of birdwatching.
The cul de sac woman leaks a single tear onto the page and then labels it “Gotcha Day” in puffy paint.
If anyone in the party would look up from their respective scrapbooks and ask Allie about herself, Allie would tell them that until yesterday, her grandfather’s personal life was a complete mystery to her. That she was settling into the property she inherited from him just fine. That on this property, next door from where they are sitting this very moment, she had discovered an underground bunker. Her dog happened to defecate near a vaulted door shrouded by some overgrown grass. Her mother then revealed that he was an engineer for the government and that building a fallout shelter during the height of the Cold War wasn’t altogether unheard of.
Allie’s fingers are still grungy from exploring the bunker earlier that morning. Though small, it did house an alcove with two sets of bunkbeds, a storage closet filled with unmarked canned goods, a narrow corridor littered with a trenchant and somewhat provocative term paper about the moon written by her mother. Reading it earlier, Allie learned about the moon illusion, that it appears larger to our eyes when close to the horizon line than it does positioned higher in the sky. This made Allie think about the daunting gap between perception and reality. She was suffused with a kind of fear. The moon report shook in her hand. But then she thought that it was okay for perception to be skewed. Reality still needed to prove itself anyway.
Allie finds it comforting to have this evidence of the schoolgirl version of her mother. She reflects on a paper she herself wrote in Social Studies about World War II. She imagined a group of women with her shared name rising up against the Axis powers. This fantasy lasted until the teacher revealed the altered pronunciation of Allies in class the following day.
Enthralled with a loss that for once does not belong to her, Allie listens to Gretchen’s lament. She and her husband Joe moved their former tiger son into his college dorm two weeks ago.
“The backseat was so empty.”
Gretchen examines the double-sided tape too closely.
Allie enjoyed the drive here, all the tunnels bordering the state line. The “Maintain Speed Through Tunnel” signs before every opening to help with traffic flow. As if the signs would prevent drivers from braking once the restraint of enclosure hit them, or allow them to navigate the relative darkness with a forced confidence.
“Oh how sad,” says Barbara, “Please pass the glitter.”
Claire Hopple is the author of TOO MUCH OF THE WRONG THING (Truth Serum Press, 2017). Her fiction has been published in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Jellyfish Review, Timber, Heavy Feather Review, and others. More at clairehopple.com.