Growing up in Columbus Ohio, we didn’t have a lot of money. In 1980, the year I turned 16, I wanted a car. All I got was an instant camera, with one rectangular pack of film. Things were made even tighter because Dad’s aunt, Dorothy, lived with us, taking up the room next to my parents’ room.
Dorothy had been a presence in our lives from the beginning. When she was a young girl, she’d met a guy and love had taken hold of her. Charlie ran the Clintonville Lanes, a local bowling alley. He’d grown up being a pin boy, the kid who reset the bowling pins after each ball, and saved his pennies so he could buy the place when he got back from WWII in 1946. Soon after, those plans came crashing down, when the Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes opened. OBVL featured the latest technology, with automatic pin setters. Charlie couldn’t keep up, and within six months, he closed up shop. A month after that, he left town.
Aunt Dorothy never got over it, and never found love again. She worked her whole career at the local fire hall, answering emergency calls on the night shift. It suited her, long hours alone with her thoughts. The firefighters called her Fireball because of her red hair, and when it went white, they bought her a red coat with “Fireball” written across the back.
In October some weird things happened. First, Aunt Dorothy got a letter in the mail containing a folded obituary for one Charles Dursey. Cancer. No wife, no kids. That day, Aunt Dorothy gave notice at her job. She went to work in a sad mood. When she came back the next morning, I was at the kitchen table eating Cheerios. I picked up my instant camera, pointed it, and asked for a smile. She did, briefly, and then went to her room.
That day, we heard that OBVL had burned to the ground the night before. Nobody could figure out the cause.
That afternoon, when I got home from school, Aunt Dorothy was gone, her suitcase missing, no note. The only thing I have left to remember Aunt Dorothy by is a faded old Polaroid, showing her half smile, a knowing look in her eye. We never heard from “Fireball” again.
Story by Peter McKay