Monday, September 12, 2011

On "You're in Maya"

"Hey man, the fucking machine doesn't work."

** **

I am losing my shit. This fucking machine. My feet are sweating in my dirty white Chuck Jones high tops. This shirt is too small for me. I feel like tearing at my skin. My head aches, my whole face even. Fuck.

I pull hard at the pinball lever. I could pull forever. I could rip that fucking thing right the hell out of its socket. I could break its glass into a thousand pieces, into a million pieces. I could tear the clouds out of the sky. I blink twice and clear my throat.

** **

Most of all, I blame my mother. I don't want to, but there you go.

** **

"Excuse me, son?"

"I said the fucking machine doesn't work." I draw out the word "said" in a manner that is intentionally annoying, gnawing by design. Like, "I saaiiiiid the fuckingmachine doesn't work." I almost bite off my bottom lip as I make the "f" sound in "fucking." Fuckingmachine is one word. As the sentence leaves my lips, it grates even on me.

My face is all red and scrunched up. I must be a sight. Between my fourteenth and fifteenth years, a vein started to form on my forehead, from the bottom of my hair line down to the top of my nose, between my eyebrows. Now in my sixteenth year, it seems to be a permanent fixture. At least, it sure shows up every time I get upset. And lately, I seem to be upset all the time. Today is no different.

** **

Why didn't she help?

** **
"The fucking machine doesn't work," the guy repeats dully, through dead eyes.

That just kills me. No wonder this guy works in a fucking game room. He is dumber than a bag of nails. He is denser than Yosemite. He is thicker than a brick. I feel the urge surging through me: go for the throat; go for the throat; go for the throat.

"Yeah," I repeat between gritted teeth. "The fucking machine doesn't work. I put my mother-fucking quarter in, and no fucking ball came out." I declare this angrily, jabbing an accusing finger at the pinball machine.

The dumb guy points to the machine. I see for the first time the red letters on the machine by the coin slots:

"Fifty cents." "Ya need two quarters for this fucking machine. Other than that, the fucking machine works perfectly." He speaks so dully, the sarcasm drips from his lips, thick like honey.

"Shit," I think to myself. "Shit, shit, shit." Out loud, I say the only thing I can think to say.

"Well, why the fuck is it fifty cents, anyways. It's not that fucking cool."

The dumb guy just shrugs. "Machine works," he mutters and walks away. I flip the bird to his back, the kind of bird where your hand is balled into a fist other than the middle finger; not the all fingers half extended kind of bird.

** **

I pull a second quarter from my pocket and drop it in the slot. The machine wakes up. The machine comes alive. Centaur by Bally. It is all black and white. It is white skull. It looms over me like a curse, staring me down like a school yard bully. I’m not backing down. The thing that hits me next is the soundtrack, a steady boom boom boom and then high pitched zings of distorted noise, wings of a straining angel. The first ball drops and I am ready to go.

Bam, I am on the flippers and I am hitting them hard. Bam, bam, bam. Its deep robotic voice is mocking me, taunting me. “Fuck you, mother-fucker,” I swear in my head, so loudly that I worry the guy at the next machine might hear the curse. I do not linger long on the thought. I am all focus on the game. Centaur, you are mine.

** **

She just sat there. I needed her and she just sat there.

** **

Three balls are down and I am grunting like a madman. Bam, top left flipper smacks one ball; bam bottom right flipper slams another. The third ball is up on top, spiraling between the two bumper and the O post. “Destroy Centaur” the robotic beast dares me. “Yes, I fucking will,” I say out loud. I am not sure how loud it is, and I do not want to lose eye contact with any of my three balls, so I do not look up to see if the guy is watching me. Fuck it. Arrows are lighting. Green and white. Flipp-er hit. Flipper hit. Lights are blinking on and off. The soundtrack is blaring. I feel it pulsing through my muscles. I feel it in my hands. I feel it in my feet.

Hit the R. Hit the O. Hit the B. Hit the S. Fucking aye, I am rocking. The flush of four letters down distracts me, and I take my eye of the ball on the top level. It sneaks past my right flippers and it disappears. “Shit,” I mutter. Or maybe I yelp it. I am not sure. I do not look up. Fuck it. “Destroy Centaur.” Yeah, you are goddamn right I will. Or is it “you are goddamn right I will.” I don’t know. I do not give up. I am hitting the flippers hard. The machine is a part of me. We are dancing together, like some juvenile geek tango.

** **

The dirty dishes were being thrown, and soon they were on the floor, broken and in a hundred pieces all over me, pouring down on me like burning embers and shrapnel. She didn’t say a word. What was I supposed to do?

** **

I lose another ball. I am getting distracted. I have to focus. The lights are shining and glimmering in my eyes, like stars above Alaska. I smile despite myself. There is a chill going up and down my spine. Minutes pass. More balls get thrown into the mix. More balls get past my flippers. I feel like I am flying. I feel like I have wings. I thought I would never smile again. I no longer notice the ache under my left eye.

Minutes turn into an hour, and that hour turns into another, maybe two. I lose track of the time. I lose track of my thoughts. Two quarters then four quarters to six quarters, then eight. It is always the same, me against Centaur. “Destroy Centaur,” he booms. Yes, I mouth silently. I shall destroy you, Centaur. Here it is only me and Centaur. There is no Twenty-Fourth Street. Here, there is no home. My grin creeps up and my face starts to squint.

The sound. The lights. The noise of the game room.

I cannot say how much time has passed in the dark game room. It is like Reykjavik in the winter, just dark and dark and dark in here. It could be anytime at all. There is no clock on the wall and I have no watch. I do not really care. It could be two hours. It could be two lifetimes. I play and play and play, until there are no more quarters in my pocket. I play until I can no longer pay.

I pull the bottle from the lining of my coat. I drink the rest of what is inside. It burns my throat and nose. I force back a cough. I throw the empty bottle into a green garbage can next to a Q-Bert machine. A fat kid with a Chunks shirt walks by me. You know, Chunks from Goonies. The fat kid looks at me, but I barely notice him at all.

** **
I walk outside, out of the darkness of the game room. It is still daylight outside. The rolling hills go on forever. I stop and look up, and then I close my eyes. I feel the heat of the sunlight on my face. Somewhere far away, music plays.

I open my eyes, looking left and right. How far to Cumberland Farms?

By P. William Grimm. Mr. Grimm makes his home in San Francisco’s Mission District. His novel The Seventh was published in 2009, and his writings have been published in multiple on-line literary journals such as Annalemma Magazine and Eclectica.

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