The Story Behind the Story: “Baby Lanes”

To pursue my Ph.D., I moved from the Midwest to a small, southern Mississippi town. I was worried that I might find myself bored, writing endlessly in a dark room with no social life. I was scared of being lonely. Thankfully, the opposite turned out to be true. The place was strange but also warm, light, and full of friends. This was how my partner and I got dragged into bowling.

We began a semi-regular routine of heading to the lanes outside of town with a small group. The lanes were always busy, but we showed up hoping they would be. The bowling alley was attached to a bar dressed up like an old wood saloon. We loved to throw back the swinging doors and drink cheap beer before heading out to bowl.

One Saturday, a group came in at 11:30 PM with a small baby, probably no more than three months old. They placed the baby in a car holder seat just next to the ball return. I immediately became nervous that the baby would be hurt. I started sweating. Of course, I never approached the parents. But I was hyper-aware of my bowling movements as I gingerly lobbed my ball down the lane. My score was abysmal, but that was typical. It was such a strange situation. I thought about who these people were that would go bowling with a baby at midnight, what kind of odd childhood this baby was in for.

I knew that wasn’t enough for a story on its own, a baby next to a ball return. But it was a good seed, something I could expand and build upon. Although it was several years later that I finally wrote the story, I remember building the piece in my mind as we left the bowling alley that very night, the lights of old billboards and gas stations flashing by as my partner drove toward home.

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About Caleb Tankersley

Caleb Tankersley is the author of the chapbook Jesus Works the Night Shift. He has won the Wabash Prize in Fiction from Sycamore Review and the Big Sky/Small Prose contest from CutBank. More of his recent stories can be found in New Plains Review, Permafrost, Psychopomp, Big Muddy, and other magazines. He is the Full Length Editor for Split Lip Press.