GOT MY DANCING SHOES ON
Left, left, right back and right and back and slide, slide, left, and stamp. No, no, should have been right. Fuck it.
I kicked the rail on the side of the game, then looked around to see if the old sod or one of his gimpy sons had seen me do it. The three of them gave me the creeps. They all looked like they come from the fifties, quiffs and that, like Elvis, and stank of cigarette smoke and oil. They didn’t like kids thumping the machines in the arcade, and I was barred from too many of the others to risk getting thrown out of this one.
The man was leaning against an Addams Family pinball machine, watching me. I didn’t know how long he had been standing there.
“Good dancer,” he said.
“Done better,” I said. And I had. When I was really giving it some, I was top of the high scores. And if someone else beat me then I would find the money from somewhere to stay on the machine until I beat them.
“You must practice a lot,” he said.
I ignored him. Blokes that hung around the kids in the arcades, well. Some of them were just simple, kids themselves in grown-up bodies. Others, they were grown up all right, and they wanted grown-up things.
“Got very quick feet,” he said.
“The best,” I said. “You a pervert then?”
He went red, looked quickly around to see if anyone had heard. “No, no, I’m not.” Meant nothing, but at least he knew that if he was, I had him made.
“Give us a quid then.”
He thought about it for a moment, and then fished in his pocket and held out a coin. I went to take it and he pulled it back so I couldn’t get it. Here we go, I thought. But he surprised me.
“It’s for the dance game,” he said. “You can’t take it and spend it on whatever. I want to see you put it in the game.”
“Whatever turns you on,” I said. Not like I could do much else with just a pound, is it.
So I danced, and he watched. Most likely got his kicks from it, but at least I got to dance. And I was good. Got in the rhythm, got in the trance, when I’m dancing like that there’s nothing else in the world. And believe me, my world, that’s a good thing.
I danced, he watched, and every so often he handed over some more money.
“I think that’s enough,” he said in the end.
I pulled a face. If I got in the high score top ten one more time, it would just be my name, over and over.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Instead, I’ll buy you a coffee, and we’ll sit down and have a little chat.”
You know what happens when you hit one of the machines too hard, or tilt it? Alarm goes off, loud as anything, and the old man or one of his sons comes over and kicks you out. Bar you from the arcade, if you do it enough. Anyway, my alarm went off, just like that. Coffee and a chat? Not a chance.
“See you,” I said, and I jumped off the game and walked away.
“No,” he said, “Please, wait.”
But I was away down past the slot machines and the air hockey tables, and through the big glass doors that opened out on to the empty night.
A little further down the road, I found a ciggy lying on the pavement, only half smoked. I picked it up, and fished about in my pocket for my lighter. Then there were footsteps behind me, and I turned around quick because I knew who they would belong to.
He held his hands up, look, I’m no harm, me. Smiled, even. “It’s ok. I just want to talk to you.”
“Aye, that’s what they all say.” I’d seen kids from the arcades go off with men like him before. We all knew the score. I’d done some things to get more money for the machine, I tell you, but I hadn’t done that. Had thought about it, once, but I robbed a few quid off these younger kids instead.
He took one step closer, and another. “Look, all I’m asking—“ he said, and then he didn’t say anything else because I kicked him hard in the balls and he went down on the pavement like someone had folded him up.
I looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching, but the street was empty. Round here, chances are they’d have turned and walked off anyway.
“Fucking pervert,” I said, and then I kicked him. Only meant to do it a couple of times, but then I felt a rhythm and I followed it, Left, left, right back and right and back and slide, slide, right, and stamp.
Fair out of breath when I was done. Not as much as he was, mind.
Went through his pockets. Found thirty quid in cash, some plastic I could sell for fifty a card, a picture of some woman with a nose twice as big as it should have been, and a load of leaflets about Jesus and some shelter place for kids on the street. Looks like he wasn’t a pervert after all. Ah well. How’s a girl supposed to know?
I stopped off at a corner shop, bought a litre of vodka and sixty Lamberts, got a bus into town, and headed for the arcade by the bus station. Wasn’t barred from there either. Got my dancing shoes on tonight.
Bio: Iain Rowan lives in the north-east of England, near the sea but not near enough. He's had over thirty short stories published in magazines and anthologies including Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's. He is currently working on his crime novel, One of Us, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger. Read more at his website: http://www.iainrowan.com.