The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
The little boy stood on his toes as he peered in, his mouth hanging wide open. The mounds of silver coins reflected in his eyes, and his nose was upturned, pressed against the glass.
Quick, panting breath frosted the screen and obscured his view of the treasures that lay ahead. He wiped away the condensation with the sleeve of his jacket as he dug deep into his pocket with the other hand, fishing for a 10p coin. There was a whirlwind of noise around him. The constant echo of coins rattling down metal chutes into the hands of prizewinners. His ears were filled with the laughter of children, dizzy from a sugar rush and sick to their stomach from their third toffee apple, but still with room for another bag of candy floss. Various machines lit up in complex patterns with a corresponding siren to signal a win, or a buzz followed by the sound of a palm slapping against the side in anger. Children would pour their pocket money into a game they didn't understand, and cry when they realise it's gone forever.
He hesitated for a few seconds, money in hand, as he watched the mechanisms. The moving platform pulled in and pushed out, barely brushing the tip of a small fortune at its farthest reach. If only it could extend a millimetre more, it might push the loosest coin off the edge at the other end, where they all clung to each other and hovered over the drop.
The movement of the metal box had left black streaks on the surface of the shelf below, streaks that stopped dead in the straightest line the little boy had ever seen. So precise. Every day of every week, children like him watched and prayed that on this day, in this week, just for them, it would move only a little bit further to force out a free go or five. No luck today.
With three slots to choose from, he weighed up his options. He looked for a good sign. One protruding coin on the left side, perhaps, just to get him rolling. That was much too tame, he had spotted something far more glamorous. There was a bulge in the mound on the right, tantalisingly close to the edge. If he could line it up well, if it made the perfect contact, it could be his. It had to be his. A big win to start him off with a bang.
He raised his deposit up to the slots, arm outstretched until it ached. Lengthening every limb to reach high enough, he felt around for the furthest to the right. He took such care with the timing, and it occurred to him that he had never concentrated this hard on anything before. His heart was beating out of his chest. He could hear the blood thumping in his ears, even over the raucous blare of the arcade.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He waited, poised to drop, for the platform to pull in. If the coin left his hand at a complete retraction, it would fall and lay flat in time for the next one. This was no game, it required meticulous forethought.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Time seemed to slow down. He did not blink as his eyes followed the movement. Full extension.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
It began to pull in. His forehead was sweating, and so were his fingertips. Hundreds and hundreds of coins sparkled up at him, but for now he had to concentrate on not dropping the one in his hand prematurely. Halfway retracted. This was almost it. Just a few more seconds.
Thump. Thump. Th-
“Hey, idiot. Ha. You looked. Mum says we've got to go soon,” said Mark.
The coin had slipped out of his fingers. The timing was all wrong. It fell down fast, barely colliding with the pins and landed at the same time as a full retraction. It settled right in with the rest, standing to attention in a straight line, pushed against the wall. No impact on anything.
“You wanker! You distracted me!” said the small boy.
“Jesus, calm down. Where did you even learn that word?” said Mark, half-way between impressed and ashamed. His little brother glared at him, “Alright whatever, I'll leave you to your shitty little game. Mum says we're going soon.”
“Fine,” Mark began to walk away, “Wait, Mark, do you have 10p?” he said optimistically, all too aware of how hostile he was just five seconds ago.
Mark rolled his eyes and reached into his pockets, rummaging around for a few seconds, before pulling out nothing but his middle finger, pointed in his brother's direction.
“Brilliant. Thanks,” he said to himself as Mark walked away.
The machine mocked him. He stared at the coin with sheer disappointment and it stared back, laughing in his face. It was on the Other Side of the glass now, having the time of its life. Partying with its brothers and sisters. Brothers. What a waste of space.
He immediately dug in his pockets for another ten pence piece, fearing that it might have been his last. He wanted a big win now more than ever. His hands groped around in every cavity in his clothing. Trousers, front and back. Outside and inside the jacket. He even checked the holes inside the lining that weren't technically pockets. If they had the ability to draw litter, then why not money? That would be a useful jacket to have. The jacket with pockets full of money, refreshed every day you put it on. No need for slot machines in that kind of dreamland, but dreamland it was. Where was his mind taking him to? He had only lost ten pence.
It was no use. The pockets were full of coppers and receipts from toys and sweets. Sweets. Quite sure that he thought it would never come to this, he started to propose a silent deal with any deity that he could think of. He would never eat another sweet in his life, never use the W-word again, never neglect his homework... if only he could just have 10p right now. He could turn it into hundreds, he just knew it. Oh, he would buy so many sweets. If only he could just have another shot, another drop.
His head was hung in sorrow, he just stared aimlessly at his feet for a while. Anyone watching might have thought him gormless. No, just grief-stricken. Over a pitiful amount of money. He realised it wasn't how much he had spent, it was where it had gone to. The Other Side. It really did mock him. The coins all sat there, gripping each other with invisible claws, and they taunted him. He had to regain his honour.
It was then that he saw it. His gaze drifted up from between his toes, and he spotted a shimmer in the corner of his eye. Underneath the machine. A ten pence piece. His ticket back to that separate savings account with Zurich. Low yield bonds, quarterly interest, maybe take a dip in the stock market. He didn't know what any of these things meant but still, they flashed before his eyes.
He dropped to his knees faster than the blood in his head could handle. Lowering himself and his eyeline to the ground, he slid his hand across the carpet. He had heard myths about this sort of thing, but he never believed. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. For him. For someone else with small, girlish hands, painted nails and 3,000 bangles, it was absolutely true.
Just as the blood in his head was getting used to life on the ground, he shot up, straight to his feet. He looked through two slot machines and three panes of glass to find the owner of the disrespectful, money-grabbing hand. She was smiling at him. Why? He certainly did not find anything funny. Striding around the machines towards her, he put on his serious face.
“I saw that first. That coin. Don't put it in the m-” She did. She wasn't even looking at the moving platform. No regards to timing. She wasn't even looking. Amateur hour.
It was slow motion again, except now he had nothing at stake. Nothing to lose (already lost), but worst of all nothing to gain. He watched her (his) coin bounce off of the pins and fall down slowly, just missing the retraction. It landed at the perfect time and laid flat. The platform pulled in and three or four coins got pushed off. He was livid, but it got much worse. The coins fell off at four different areas, producing four (that was how many coins fell off. Everything that happened was now subject to legal analysis) different epicentres of lucrative havoc. Livid.
It was a dream jackpot. That one coin had levelled the whole playing field of this machine, and that field was certainly bountiful. It must have had the most of any in the arcade, and the sound grated on his ears like an aural nightmare. Hundreds of coins clattered down the chute and into the prize tray. She made a barely audible sound of celebration and saw to her winnings. She didn't call her relatives or thank the academy, she didn't even hesitate. Straight down to the collection tray. No big deal for her, happens all the time. What a W-word.
“That was my coin. I saw it first. That makes those coins mine, too,” he said. He tried to sound matter-of-fact as if the point wasn't even up for discussion. She clearly thought it was.
“Oh, oh you saw it first?” She began, talking into the bottom of the machine, “Well I just saw your jaw drop when I cleaned this machine out. Does that make it mine?”
He didn't quite know how to respond to such a ludicrous question. It was so silly that he couldn't even argue against it. Not even one word came to mind. It was that silly. She did have a point. His jaw did drop.
“Oh good. Gooood.” he retorted, without retorting at all. He was just saying words. She stood up and gave him a quizzical look.
“Is this your first time fighting for coins? It shows.” she said, the last part in a mock whisper. He could not understand how she was conceivably even younger than him but much smarter. He was so sure that people got more clever as they got older. Maybe she was just a freak of nature. 'Freak' had a nice ring to it for now.
He stood in stunned silence as she pulled out a plastic bag and began to fill it up with what looked like at least two hundred ten pence pieces. She had certainly come prepared. Quick comebacks and a container for the winnings. 'Upstaged' is the word that sprang to his mind.
She laughed at him, that stung, and walked off. He may just be paranoid, but he was almost sure that her arms might have been swinging if they weren't full with money.
He was back to staring at his feet. Cheated out of money for the second time in 20 minutes, and he felt awful for it. Unsure as to whether or not he could even carry on, he shuffled over to the next machine along and just looked at it. He wasn't looking for uneven distribution of coins, or a possible chain reaction waiting to be set in motion. Just looking. No, not even looking, his eyes were just pointed at the machine. His mind had slowed right down to one fleeting thought of self-despair every 10 seconds. He pressed his face against the glass and leant like that, with his arms by his side.
“Have you seen my phone? I can't find it anywhere,” said Sharon, as she rummaged around in her purse.
“Did you leave it at the restaurant? I can go back while you get the kids together,” David said as he looked around for their two children.
“No, here it is. Sorry. I told you that wine would go straight th-” David cut her short, placing a hand on her forearm and pointing in the distance.
They both looked in silence. It was everything they could do not to burst out in laughter.
“I think so.”
Their son, Samuel, was stood with his legs and arms straight, leaning against an arcade machine. His face was keeping his whole body upright. It looked painful. People nearby were taking glancing looks at him. Some seemed halfway towards asking him if he's okay, others were giggling. He was clearly the best entertainment on offer.
The parents walked over. His mother placed her hand on his shoulder. David was laughing now.
“Sweetie, are you okay? Did you lose?” said Sharon. She had no idea.
“I didn't just lose, Mum,” He had lost.
“Oh, okay. Well, why don't we find your brother and go get some ice cream? How does that sound?”
“How about I give you whatever you lost, Sammy?” said David, he could see that this gambler had clearly had a rough night.
“I lost 10p,” he said, and his Dad laughed.
“Well I think I can settle that debt.” said David.
Samuel didn't think so.
© Charlie Bowers March 2011