“Of course you did.”
“What do you mean?”
“Of course you used to want her to go out. That’s what happens in a healthy relationship. You want to be together so much sometimes you crave the other person going out. Maybe just so you can have a break, maybe just so you have a chance to miss them.”When had the change come? I had wanted more space at one point. I remembered feeling suffocated by love. She started talking again, and I realised I didn’t know her name.
“I gave you back that feeling. I gave you back the feeling of wanting her to leave.”
“What’s your name?”
“What’s yours?” she said.
Neither of us answered. I drank my shot and took a pull on my beer.
There was a pinball machine in the corner of the bar near where I was sitting. This was not coincidental. Somebody had just started playing and the noise of the play rattled over the music. I looked at the guy playing – he looked like he was having a good time. But I guessed he was like me when I played. I was trying to remember how things were when I had played as a kid, then it had been pure adventure and joy and now it was mindless brain-numbing reaction.
I found myself speaking, “I am so sorry for myself. I don’t know how to…”
“I think you probably need to shut up. I don’t just mean out loud I mean… If your brain is saying the things your face is expressing then I certainly don’t want to hear them and neither should you.”
“Should I just pretend life’s not happening to me? Am I supposed to just check out and not experience anything?”
“Idiot. That’s what you’ve been doing. You’re fully checked out. Teach me how to play pinball.”
“That guy’s playing.”
“He hasn’t got any quarters on the glass.”
“You don’t sound like you need lessons.”
Her forced jollity was annoying me. I was happy being sad.
I mean that, I… What Sarah had done to me had meant I had got a chance to earn the right to wallow. People were supposed to feel sorry for me. I was happy with this arrangement.
“I know how games work, not this, teach me pinball.”
I looked up at her, she seemed serious and I’m a pushover.
“You really don’t know how to play?” I asked.
She turned to the bartender, “Two more beers here”.
“No,” she said, looking at me, but checking for her beers, “I don’t think I ever have.”
I showed her the flippers, and I thought, ‘maybe’. But when she pulled the spring, the way she slammed it back, gave away that this wasn’t her first time.
I felt better for that somehow. She’d lied, but she’d lied to make me feel better.
The evening was just starting too cool off. The doors at the front of Eldon’s were propped open with fire extinguishers and the cooler air was mixing with the heat inside. I felt that cooler air on my face as I watched the lights of the back board jangle and blink.
“I thought you were supposed to be teaching me?”
I looked back down at the table and for a moment I found it hard to focus.
The ball she was playing dropped down the gutter. I’d missed the whole thing.
I looked at her in the strange coloured light. There was certainly something striking about her. The breeze gently moved a strand of hair that was caught on the corner of her lip.
“Sorry,” I said, ignoring her insistence, “I”m not really with it tonight. Maybe another time.”
“There isn’t going to be another time.”
“No. This is a moment to seize.”
“I’m not really sure that I’m very good at that kind of thing.”
“You just need a little shove, I’m sure.”
She was standing very close to me. She slipped one hand around my neck and placed the other on my chest, and suddenly I remembered what I was supposed to do.
Afterwards we walked back to the bar. I had thought I would smile uncontrollably but that wasn’t how I felt. What was this feeling? I felt like I do sometimes at a wonderful restaurant, you look at the menu and everything looks great, so many interesting things to choose from so you don’t want to choose anything for fear of making a mistake.
“You think too much,” she said.
“Two more beers, two more shots.”
[This is part three of a four part story. A new part will be published each day this week, and will be followed by a directors commentary.]