Saturday 18 June 2022

'Prizes' by Elle Symonds

Inside the arcade we shelter from the drizzle and grey-tinged sky. The town is barely alive in autumn. This is its heart, made of light and fairground tunes, beating still. Sam is silent, concentrating on the game, guiding the metal claw with practised care. Forward, right, forward.

The claw whirrs, mechanical arms swaying. Sam hits the button, making her move for the ninth time, face pressed against streaky glass, eyes concentrating on a yellow bear clutching a heart. I study her expression in the reflection. She stares, fully focused. They’re her father’s eyes.

Her father’s eyes. Blue; they once resembled sky on a sunny day, before they turned to ice. Her father’s hair, once soft as sand, now thick as brambles. His voice, a calming stream, now thrashes in memory.

The claw descends, swipes at the toy’s soft ear. The bear rises, rises then falls again, back to its companions, squashed together behind the glass. Sam sighs, pushes another coin into the slot.

Behind us there’s a victory. Pennies clatter from a small metal mouth as my phone beeps.

James told me where you live, he saw you the other day.

Don’t think you can ever hide from me, Bea.

The claw dips, swoops, its metal arms opening.

He has another partner now. Someone new to love those blue-sky eyes. I was relieved when I heard the news. Relieved, then ashamed for feeling relieved.

This time, Sam is lucky. The bear’s head is caught within the claw. Sam watches, holds her breath, her movements careful. Her prize arrives. She collects it with an excited shriek. Her father’s smile. I wonder what else she’s inherited from him.

“Mum, can I have another go?”

“But you just won the bear.”

Sam hands me the coveted toy. Shrugs. “I’d like another.”

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