I wrote the opening paragraphs as the start of a story for the Take a Chance anthology, but I didn’t get any further, and it’s been loitering on my computer since, so I thought I’d throw down a few more words (577 words in all) and share it.
That was the first time Robbie saw him. He remembered the smell of the dirty rain that pelted the streets and his stinging cheeks, the heavy grey sky draped over the world like an unwashed blanket, the wa-wa of the music and the beeps and the clicks, the spiralling zooming lights that seemed a million times brighter in the dead cold of the wet November afternoon. And he remembered him—the boy in torn tracksuit pants, too-big t-shirt and trainers with no laces that flipped and flopped until they were finally flung aside.
Robbie wasn’t allowed in the arcades. When he’d told his parents about the Saturday job in the fish and chip shop, it was the first thing they’d said. Not ‘well done’ or ‘good for you’.
Do not—we repeat—do NOT go in those arcades.
They didn’t understand why he wanted a job at all. He got a generous allowance—more than ‘pocket money’—and everything he asked for. New bikes, games consoles, computer, money for trips to the cinema, bowling alley…wherever, whatever, so long as there was a responsible adult present he could do as he liked.
And that was kind of the point. Robbie didn’t need money, plus the pay sucked. He’d get more in mint imperials (what were those, anyway?) for mowing his neighbour’s lawn than he earned for seven hours frying chips. All his friends had jobs, didn’t need a responsible adult with them every minute of every day. But his parents didn’t understand, didn’t listen. All they cared about was that he didn’t ‘get mixed up with the wrong people’—the gangs who hung out around the arcades, swigging from two-litre plastic bottles of cheap cider, the boy in torn tracksuit pants…
He wanted his freedom, independence. He wanted the arcades, the music, the flaring neon and the darkness beyond.
He wanted to be near the boy in the torn tracksuit pants. To watch him dance, dance…
He wanted it so much sometimes he could think of nothing else and his insides twisted and hopped and jumped great moves, perfect, combo continues…
He’d seen a poster once—if you love something, set it free—and his parents loved him. They said so, all the time. And if they loved him…they would understand…forgive…accept…
Still love me if I do this.
If I am this.
In the open doorway, he inhaled the hot, plasticky air, sent giddy by the prickles racing all over his skin and the lightning storms they created when they hit the cold wetness of his coat stuck to his back. Electrified forks filled his vision. He blinked hard, twice, and leaned forward, legs out, body in.
Not in, not out… we repeat, do not—
Past rows of one-arm bandits and penny-drop machines, flashes of a psychedelic lighthouse and the flicker of fast-moving sockless feet. The feet of an expert. The feet of Jesus.
The feet of the boy in the torn tracksuit pants.
The track ended, and the boy chose another, pushed his hair back from his face, placed his feet—forward and left—and saw him. Looked right at him. No smile but a head tip that made the world tilt.
The empty platform at his side.
Come and dance.
I don’t know how.
I’ll show you.
Body in, legs in…we repeat, do—
Squelch shoes discarded, Robbie advanced, eyes on the screen.
Two player ⇦
Arrows rising. Stepping together.
Thanks for reading. :)