CREATIVE Francesca Rhydderch

NWR Issue 111

Rock Lobster

What are the chances? A row of arcade reels, five dancing lobsters with a bell ringing a blinder above the music. A cartoon fisherman in his orange bib, emptying pots – Buddy, this won’t hurt, I promise ya! – swinging them about with his left hand until here it comes, the incredibly coveted golden lobster – My oh my, do ya see the size of that!
Aidan sees it, but he hits a pelican for a hundred points instead and takes a spin bonus: seagulls, lighthouses, an open clam, and buoys in red, blue and yellow turning around on themselves in a speeded-up accordion of a dream that will end when he was ten years old, with Huan leaning over his shoulder to nudge the cash collect button.
Saaaay buddy, where’s the butter?

Aidan doesn’t gamble any more, but he still goes to the meetings to talk about it. Not the casinos, or the online poker, or whatever it was that came afterwards – the scratchers it must have been. It’s the slot machines he thinks about, in the amusements place on the prom, next door to the Riva where his mother used to stand up the front calling out numbers to old people with chewed-up pencils so they could run a line through them on their bits of paper. They used to keep asking her to say them again, until it was enough to drive her barmy, she said, tripping over her high heels on the way home.

His mother let him play the machines because it kept him quiet until her shift ended. She knew he’d be no bother in the arcade, eyes not mov- ing, one arm reaching out to tap the buttons, fingers chasing the lights. He could play those buggers in his sleep, she said. She used to tease him about it if she was in a good mood, and she joked around with the man in the little office in the corner when she was getting loose change to keep Aidan going. The man looked up from his pile of coins and tokens. He didn’t look up for many people, but he looked up for her. The man’s face was the reason Aidan never went to get the change for himself. There was a long deep scar across his forehead that stayed there when the rest of his face flattened out into a smile. One night he came home with them after Aidan’s mother had finished work, and as Aidan went past his mother’s bedroom to the toilet he saw the man’s face on her pillow – eyes shut, mouth slightly open and his tongue hanging out like a dog’s. He would have laughed, but then he saw the scar again, the folds of it made deeper with him lying on one side like that, and he stopped himself.

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Francesca Rhydderch won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize in 2014 with her debut novel, The Rice Paper Diaries (Seren). In the same year, her story, ‘The Taxidermist’s Daughter’, was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. She is also a playwright and lectures at Swansea University.


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