Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Weakness In Me (a very short story)

It was Halloween night. The usual crowds were gone. There were no more lines for any of the games. "Dragon's Lair", one of the newer ones, wasn't even played this evening. It wasn't unusual for week nights to be quiet, and most of the local kids had gone trick-or-treating the night before. Still, the arcade was quieter than it had been in months.
Lee decided to go ahead and start cleaning the place up, and use manager's prerogative to close early. The last employee on the floor, a lanky boy named Steve, was standing behind the prize counter, leaning over his calculus homework. 
"Hey Steve, why don't you go ahead, clock out," Lee said.
"You sure?"
"Yeah, pretty sure. When was the last customer?"
Steve looked at his watch, "I guess about seven thirty."
"Well, it's nine," Lee said. "You'll lose an hour tonight, that's all."
"Who's going to stay here while you count out?"
"I'll do it in the morning. Go. I'll see you Wednesday."
And with that, Lee was alone in the arcade. He kept the door unlocked, the arcade open, for a few more minutes while he swept the floor, thinking maybe some late customers might show up. It didn't happen. Outside, the cool Connecticut autumn air was giving way to genuine cold. Beyond the parking lot, across the highway and beyond the houses, the stars flickered out over Southington Mountain as the clouds began to sweep in from the west. 
He decided to put some music on, something other than the dreadful tape that the owner made him play all day long. He decided on Joan Armatrading's "Walk Under Ladders".  
As Lee went towards the front to turn off the "Open" sign and lock the door, a young woman came up. Her dark brown hair was being tossed by the cold wind that was whipping over the parking lot. She looked up at the sign, and then pushed open the door. Lee knew recognized the face in an instant. 
She walked in and saw Lee standing there, broom in hand.
"Hey Lee. You weren't closed yet, were you?"
"Well, was going to. How ya been?"
Emma shrugged, "you know, school. Busy. You?"
Lee motioned around. "This... is all my responsibility now. I'm the manager."
"Huh, old man Rosovitch put you in charge finally?"
"Yup. Past year. Just in time to watch the business die."
"Yeah, I know. Weird, isn't it? When I was here last time, what, summer before last, this place was packed. Now..."
Lee nodded, "I know. Deadsville. It happened fast, too."
"I don't go to game rooms the way I used to," she said, "too busy."
"So school's keeping you busy?"
"Yeah. Junior year."
"What's your major again?"
"Elementary education," she said. "You going back to school?"
"Not ready to," Lee said. His already faint smile weakened a bit. "How's what's-his-name?" he asked.
"Oh, you mean Carl? He's good. Got his masters, going for the PhD program at UCONN."
"Yeah, no kidding? For what?"
"Psychology. Well, he wants to work for the FBI, he figures it would be a real boost."
Compared to this guy Carl, Lee was nothing, just another working class kid. Carl's family came from old money in Pomfret. He could choose to be a janitor, and he'd still be set for life. Emma had met him her first year at Central Connecticut. He was working on his masters, three years their senior. Emma obviously decided that being with the kid who still lived in a trailer was just not for her, and moved up. 
"Hey", Lee said, "you want to play a few games while I sweep the place? Got some tokens here, if you're interested."
"Yeah, sure," she said, seemingly half heartedly. Lee reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of tokens and handed it to her.
"Always keep a roll handy," he said. 
"Thanks," she said, "you still have Miss PacMan?"
"Out of order. For like six months. Got Q-Bert, you liked that if I remember right."
"Yeah, okay."
She walked to the games lining the walls and located it, while Lee went ahead and locked the front door, shut off the "Open" sign, and started sweeping. 
When he got near Emma, without turning away she asked "you seeing anybody?"
"Nope. I mean, yeah, I've had a few dates in the past year, but no, no one steady."
"Why not?"
He shrugged, "I don't know. They don't find me interesting, I don't find them interesting, bad chemistry, I don't know. That's about it."
Q-Bert missed the edge of the blocks and fell into oblivion. Game over.
She turned around to face him.
Joan Armatrading was singing "I Wanna Hold You", second time this evening.
"Look, I was hoping to see you tonight, but was going to..." Emma stalled.
"Was going to what?" Lee asked, as he stopped sweeping.
"I... don't... nevermind. Why this album?" she asked.
"You wanted to know why I chose this tape?" he asked, genuinely puzzled. 
"Well, no, I have it, too, that wasn't what I wanted. Just noticed you had this on, that was all."
Lee leaned against the handrail behind him. "What's on your mind?"
"The Weakness In Me" started playing. Emma squeezed her eyes shut. Tears began to form at the slits of her eyelids. 
"I... I gotta go," she said.
"Emma," Lee asked.
"No, I gotta go, School in the morning. Busy week, and it's late. I gotta go."
Lee nodded, "Okay."
She pulled her coat up around her face as he unlocked the door. The wind was picking up from the north west. As she stepped out onto the sidewalk, she quickly turned, leaned up and kissed Lee on the cheek.
"I'll see you around," she said, as she turned and walked briskly into the parking lot to her car. Lee stood there, watching as she started off down Route 10.
He turned and went back inside, turned, and locked the door. As he looked out across the darkening parking lot, he could just make out snow flakes, carried on that cold breeze, starting their way down.

No comments:

Post a Comment