Tokens

Here is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago as part of a project in the Hastings summer festival.  People were invited to take a walking tour around the town, and to pause at specific points and to listen to a story inspired by the area.

Tokens

I thought he was joking – the penny arcade: slot machines, flashing lights, stuffed toys that probably didn’t satisfy EU safety standards – there?  He wanted to go there?

‘Yes really,’ he repeated.  ‘Billy would like that too.  Wouldn’t you?’ he winked at his son, who rewarded him by jumping up and down in the apprpriate way.

It was very tempting to think that Matt could see a capacity for fun in me that no-one else had ever divined; but I could see that it was just that at the seaside he wanted to do seaside things: twirl the stand of saucy postcards, push a penny, and ride on the rollercoaster.  It didn’t occur to him to think about what I might like to do.  And so I would never have to reveal to him that I could only get on a funfair ride after I had first examined the bolts and the rust on the superstructure.

I’d not been in an arcade since I’d wandered off at Butlins in 1964.  I’d been having a splendid time pulling the levers of the one armed bandits, until I’d been arrested by the nosy woman from the chalet two along from the one reluctantly occupied by my family.  She’d taken me to the nursery for incarceration until my mother had been found and came to bail me out.  As an early memory it’s not one that inspired me much, but there was no question it was the start of a continually repeating pattern;  I was destined to be punished for even the most minor infraction.  Another person might have been led to the conclusion that it would be better to be caught doing something truly reprehensible.

If I’d really been that person I’d have booked an expensive room in a hotel somewhere and would have been drinking champagne between scarlet silk sheets with Matt, instead of standing awkwardly outside the funfair underneath a swirling ride that was at that moment sending several teenagers in screaming circles above our heads.

I’d been a tall child, and despite my extreme youth had been able to reach the shiny balls on the end of the silver levers of the betting machines.  Billy was tall too, but it probably wasn’t so bad for a boy.  Matt was tall.  It was one of the things I found attractive about him, being able to look up at his eyes.  Having a ten year old boy’s eyelevel, unwavering, at my chest, was less appealing.

Matt handed Billy a crisp five pound note.  ‘Go and get some tokens from the kiosk over there.’ He turned and pointed across the arcade.

He winked at me.  ‘It’ll be fun.  I love places like this.  Having Billy here gives me the cover I need to indulge myself.’

‘Yes,’ I said.  I was also using Billy as cover, but had no feeling of indulgence.

‘Why don’t you try one of the rides?  That spinning one,’ I pointed overhead to the source of the crescendo of squealing. ‘ Billy would like that, wouldn’t you?’

The child had run back, not wanting to miss anything, especially not the chance of more cash dropping from his father’s fingers.

Matt gave me a look that was at the same time both unbearably intimate and painfully hostile, and I had a feeling of what it might be like to be too close to him.

‘I thought it would be fun to play the arcade games,’ Matt stared down at Billy.

‘But it’s so lovely out here in the sunshine,’ I said turning my face to the sky.  ‘We could go inside later if the weather turns.  We are at the seaside after all.’

‘I want to do the ride,’ Billy wheedled, twisting from one foot to the other.

‘OK we can do one ride, and then the arcade,’ Matt said.

‘I’ll wait here and hold the coats,’ I said, holding out my arm for their jackets.

‘I thought you wanted to do the ride.’ Matt said.

‘I’m happy to wait for you,’ I smiled back at him.  ‘Look they’re letting people on now.’

I watched as Matt and Billy joined the queue and clambered into the small carriage, folding their long legs as tight as they could, and pulling down the silver bar to hold.  I knew the bar would be pressing uncomfortably into the flesh of Matt’s thigh, and that his feet would soon go numb.  They sat upright squashed side by side, their torsos swaying uncontrolled as soon as the ride started up.  I waved as they went by for the first time.  When they came around again, the speed of rotation was already pulling their necks sideways and banging their heads together.  On the third revolution Matt’s face was stony and tight; on the fourth it was green.

And each time I saw them I couldn’t stop smiling and waving.

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4 Comments

  1. margaret nickels

     /  April 23, 2011

    better title: schadenfreude !

    Reply
  2. horace nalle

     /  April 23, 2011

    One of Rowena’s fine sentences:

    Matt gave me a look that was at the same time both unbearably intimate and painfully hostile, and I had a feeling of what it might be like to be too close to him.

    Reply

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