'Friday Night at the Gaumont' by Joanna Campbell
Outside the cinema, Robert is waiting for Melissa in the Friday night rain. She’ll appear soon, beneath a transparent umbrella like a huge mutant mushroom.
Rivers of Brylcreem stream down the back of Robert’s neck. On a normal Friday, he plays backgammon with his father in the spare bedroom, while his mother sews downstairs.
It’s an evening of ticking. The marble clock on the dining-room mantelpiece, while they eat white fish and boiled potatoes. The fussy little brass clock in the spare bedroom, while his father’s pieces tap-tap around the board, while the bed creaks under their combined weight. The white-faced alarm-clock on Robert’s bedside table, striking each second that comes into his life, or leaves it.
Outside the Gaumont, Friday-night voices bellow, cars hiss through puddles, head-lamps dip and glare, the beams capturing raindrops. A taxi pulls up opposite, clicking and whirring.
After two hours, the traffic-light rhythm pulses in Robert’s head. He has breathed countless clouds of cheap perfume, vinegar fumes from drenched chips.
People spill out from the film, laughing at awkward umbrellas.
Melissa mentioned the buses sometimes let her down.
Robert has borrowed a jacket from a boy on the French exchange. A blouson, he called it. It was creaking until the rain softened the leather. Now it smells of the Sunday walks he has to take with his father, of the cows who stare into Robert’s eyes through long, damp blades of grass.
His parents made no comment about his slick hair, his spicy new deodorant. His mother looked pleased though, when she tugged the blouson collar straight. “Ooh là là,” she whispered when his father was busy spreading out his ordnance survey map, plotting Sunday’s walk which always ended the same.
The café beside the Gaumont has a neon sign—Luncheons—in looping electric letters, although only a few are lit. Every time the door heaves open, Robert is wrapped in an electric blanket.
He slips off his glasses. All the lights blur into a kaleidoscope of possibilities. How would it feel to be impaled by lightning, to lie electrified on the ground, and be rescued?
When the hair-grease trickles down his face, he steps inside the café. The fat-spitty air is smothering. The waitress hangs his jacket on a hook in a torrent of dripping. He cups his hands around the plastic tomato on his table. He isn't allowed ketchup at home, even though he is permitted to finish his father’s Sunday cigarette before they fold the waterproof sheet and leave the pasture.
Robert rubs the evening’s breath from the window.
The hands of the café clock clank through his Friday night. The taxi's head-lamps are still watching him. Someone climbs out.
“Not coming, is she?” Robert’s father mouths through the porthole in the steamy glass.
But Robert looks beyond him. There it is, blurred and hurrying, the clear, plastic dome. The clock hands thump through the vertical. Another hour gone. Or a new one, beginning.