It really messed me up, it did. For months after my discharge, even the sound of my own farts would send me, you know, wherever it was I went. I would just freeze up. Go into a kind of dead-face trance. I was a big lad back then, and it was difficult for people to get me moving again once I’d stopped. So I’d end up staying there for a while like, in the street, wherever, just staring at the grey clouds on the horizon. At one stage, it got so bad that when I was offered a job at the local arcade – one of them bandit places – my counsellor practically begged me not to take it. She said the flashing lights and the noise of the coins dropping would be too much for me to handle. She made it sound like I’d end my shift fitting on the mucky carpet there, like some sort of fucking fish. But I had to give it a try. It was the only job offer I’d had since landing back on civvy street, and staying in the house all day with my parents tip-toeing nervously around me, well that was sending me another kind of crazy. I was starting to feel like one of them fucking bombs I was so scared of. As luck would have it though, the job turned out to be a nice fit for me. All I had to do was sit in a box cabin in the corner of the arcade, my back pressed against the wall, and for seven hours every day, I’d watch over the machines through the thick clouds of cherry vape smoke. The same old, grey-faced, hungover ghouls would limp themselves in from the street and slot coin after coin into the machine with an almost rhythmic action. The lights would flash, the fruits and bells would spin and the punters would prey silently for a bit of luck. And occasionally – very occasionally – they’d get it too, and their money would drop, coin by coin into the plastic tray. It was okay if I froze up then. Everyone in the building seemed to. We’d all just shut the fuck up and count the number of falling coins: be it five coins, ten coins, twenty. Once, I think I heard somewhere around thirty coins drop. None of them coins ever made it back into the punters’ pockets like. They’d slot them straight in the machines again, every last one of them, as if they were desperate to get rid of them. You see, places like the arcade aren’t about gambling, as daft as that must sound. You can’t bet enough and you can’t win enough for them to be solely about gambling. Not when you compare the place to a proper bookies. I think of the arcade as more like one of them Greek myths, only transported to the midlands on a wet, weekday afternoon. You know, the one with the ferryman and the coins. Well, anyway, with everything going so well there at the arcade, my counsellor began asking me what’s next? She wanted me to start searching for a better job. Said I was too good to stay at the arcade. She spoke to me about my life as if it were written in a book someplace, all divided neatly into chapters and shit. Apparently, my life in the army was one chapter. My illness was another. And the arcade, well that was my recovery chapter. She was asking, what’s next in the story of your life? She was so wrong though, to talk about life like that. Life isn’t some book. I know what life is like. And I know what death is like too. Trust me, I’ve seen enough of both of them to know how good I had it there at the arcade, far away from the pair of them, with their little gains, and their little loses, that stack slowly up against you, like the ticks and the tocks of a clock. Nah, I had no plans of moving on the from the arcade for a very long time.
BR Williams, 29, lives in Mansfield (UK) and is involved with Hi-Vis Press.