Saturday 24 June 2023

'Vital Signs' by Emily Devane

Thomas gazes at the velvet-lined booth, while all around him machines trill and buzz. The man with the shining red eyes and ventriloquist’s dummy mouth promises him, for the princely sum of one pound, his fortune.

A card pops out from the metal slot. ‘All signs appear favourable,’ it says.

Thomas smiles. He always wishes for the same thing. And after the wishing, his whole body glows.

He finds the others crowded around the fruit machine, which spits out tokens as if it won’t stop. His little sister crouches on the floor scooping them up, her face illuminated with pound signs.

‘What luck!’ says Nana. She leans against her stick and claps. Dad stands behind her, hands splayed like a goalkeeper. He’s told them to be extra nice to their grandmother. She’s shrunk since their last visit. Her spine now curls like a leaf and her skin is sallow. ‘Did you win anything, Tommy?’ Nana asks.

Thomas shakes his head. He should’ve known there’d be no miraculous recovery. Slipping the card into his pocket, he follows his sister to the prize kiosk, where she cashes in her luck for a gigantic lilac poodle.

Afterwards, they eat fish and chips in a smart seafront café. Through the rain-streaked window, they watch day-trippers carrying inflatable donuts, buckets and spades. Nana eats a chip or two, then quietly pushes away her plate.

Soon, they will say their goodbyes. Does fortune have a use-by date? Thomas wonders, as a man in a gorilla suit slams his furry paw against the window and makes a heart shape with his fingers and thumbs.

‘Now there’s a man who knows a thing or two about life,’ says Nana. Her face lights up, astonished, as if a penny has dropped head-side up.

Thomas smiles. All signs appear favourable.


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