Under new management, Readable returns to explore life, love and memory. From romance at the Arcades to the weight of history, the depth and breadth of life are here in miniature.
Joel Fisher, Sam Tate and Adam Pond
He was a boy,
She was a girl.
They met up one day in a daisy field.
He was alone,
“I’m the cure,
I can make you stop feeling lonely
She made him feel something,
She made him feel pain,
As she dug in her nails and got into his brain.
She told him he’s nothing,
That no one else would want him,
She slapped him, she spat, she laughed as she cut him.
Now he doesn’t know
The way to feel loved,
He doesn’t know what is and isn’t enough.
He wants to feel safe,
He wants to be more,
Than a text notification you swipe and ignore.
Me, I run for the colours of you
The colour of your lips, somewhere between red and pink and wholly unique
The top you were wearing the first time we kissed, that top you still have hidden away,
The colour of your hair, gold dashes through it
Your eyes, piercing me every time you looked into mine, every time we kissed, touched,
Your room, dappled with the sunlight dancing through the shades,
Nails gripping skin, tearing clothes, shredding backs,
The night you said I love you, and the night I said it back.
Robin focused on the neon pink sign down the street through blurred eyes. His mother had forbidden him from the arcade, fearing that other boys might negatively influence her son who’d been largely without the guidance of a father. Today, Robin was ready to disobey her.
He unshackled elsewhere too, inhaling the aromas he’d been deprived of. Fried fish and chips. Hot, sugary-sweet doughnuts. He must’ve been the only boy from a seaside town who hadn’t eaten such coastal delicacies.
At the arcade entrance, the fresh air was stifled by stenches of sweat and smoke. Techno anthems and synthesisers thudded beneath pings and zaps. Kids harmonious screams on the cusp of victory, perhaps defeat, sounded like a gaming orchestra. It was all Robin had imagined it would be.
Robin weaved between rows of oversized jukeboxes, realising that arcade machines brought enjoyment, not anarchy. Each colourful screen was a series of pixelated graphics that formed skilled puzzles, which aimed to stimulate the player to defeat the game with only a joystick and two round buttons. Players became earth’s only defence against space invasions; karate warriors in street fights and all-eating yellow heads that evaded ghosts. As the outside world continued to inflate, fictional worlds were timelessly saved for 25 pence of credit; worlds that ended only with GAME OVER.
Robin soon found Lauren, a girl of his age with pink extensions in brown hair, battling ‘The Seven Seas’. The objective: to sail a ship across the world’s seven seas without hitting rocks, mines or other treacherous obstacles in the water. She was on Level 7 – The Pacific. The joystick rattled vigorously in the right hand with the thumb ring and her hair displaced continuously throughout gameplay. Robin caught her sweet fragrance which penetrated the smoky arcade odour.
Suddenly they both gasped as a dorsal fin appeared in the water. A mangle of triangle teeth began biting through the ship, and seconds later, it sunk beneath the waves. Red lettering materialised – GAME OVER.
“Nobody’s ever beaten Level 7,” she said, surprisingly upbeat.
“I bet you’re the closest though,” Robin replied, his cheeks reddening.
They exchanged warm smiles, then her eyes diverted to the clock in the corner. The goodbye was frantic, then she was gone. His spine tingled thinking of her. Robin had found his first love. He bundled all the change he had immediately into ‘The Seven Seas’ hoping he could be the first-ever victor – that would impress her. Instead, he discovered that he was just another victim, marooned on Level 3 - The Mediterranean. He had no chance.
Every week from then on, Robin returned to the arcade. His friendship with Lauren strengthened yet the game proved elusive. When their funds diminished, Robin joined Lauren on the end of the pier. He learned her father was a derrickman on an oil rig near Spitsbergen. Most days she would happily pass away her time watching the nearby docks, hoping it was the day her father would return home. He was already six-months overdue.
“The game brings me closer to Dad. I pretend we’re on the ship together,” Lauren once told Robin just as an iceberg dented her ship’s bow on Level 6 – The Atlantic. They laughed at her Titanicesque failure before tears gushed from her eyes. As she dashed, Robin chased. She always retreated to the sanctuary of the pier. No words helped, but a cuddle was the only way Robin could console her. He loved that closeness.
Robin held Mel’s hand tightly, sniffing hard to fight back the tears. It had been ten years since he left. He released the rose from his gloved hand, watching it gracefully somersault past the railings, out of sight. A solitary tear defiantly rolled down his cheek.
Robin and Mel walked the old trail towards the Yellow Bay Arcade. In their funeral attire, they looked somewhat out of place. Robin was occupied with his guilt, considering how he’d lost contact with his best friend for many years; his first love. Regrets of unspoken words ate at him like a bad infection.
It was their teenage years that saw them grow further apart. Robin studied hard, went to university and eventually moved 100 miles away inland. Lauren, however, found comfort in alcohol and drugs; hopeless escapes used to cope with her parents’ divorce. The pink extensions remained, but the thumb ring was tossed into the sea during a drunken outburst about her father’s absence. Her regular visits to the arcade continued too as she clung to the optimisms of her teens. Ultimately, she was holding herself prisoner within Yellow Bay. With her father gone – remarried and working on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico; Robin gone too and her mother also deserting her to be with her city boyfriend, Lauren’s slip off the edge was inevitable.
At her funeral, people mentioned she still sat on the end of the pier regularly calling to her dad. It was still inconclusive if she jumped or slipped drunkenly over the railings before plunging into the cold night waters below. Her dream of her family reconnecting drowned long before she did.
“This is it?”
Mel looked at the rundown arcade feeling uneasy. The neon sign was broken, and the few patrons inside looked rough and dishonest. Before she could say anything more, Robin led them inside.
He stopped a spotty teenage with overgrown black hair that hid his ears and asked if they still had ‘The Seven Seas’. After an unwanted review that the game was ‘shite’, he pointed to a neon yellow sign at the back - RETRO.
Together they snaked through the jukeboxes before passing through the far doorway. Inside, the few dusty machines hummed tiredly. Robin spotted the old game in the room’s far-right hand corner.
Standing over it brought all the memories back. The first meeting with Lauren. Her passion. Her determination. The pink extensions.
The screen flashed to the high score list suddenly. All ten had the same name - CAPT.LAU. Beside each one was the last level completed successfully - LEVEL 6.
“She never got it,” he said, contemplating.
Robin began to jingle the change in his pocket before producing a handful of silver coins. He took a couple and inserted them into the small orange rectangle on the lower part of the machine. And just like that, he was fourteen again.
“What’re you doing?”
“Settling an old score,” he said, with a youthful determination glowing in his eyes.
Take me, take me to a time where life wasn’t so incongruous
Where we can make silhouettes out of our memories to avoid mindless thoughts.
You can show me the way forward,
Where we can place our index finger on a blank space and make it something, something that can be built, built for pleasure.
We can traverse the map, using our senses to direct us,
our bodies will entangle upon
lands that welcome our intrigue.
We can sip and distillate our thirst
Through nature. Through nature’s
Soft to the touch and polished to perfection,
It’s hard to imagine the history amongst these walls.
A man once called for a revolution,
He said, ‘fight for me and we shall conquer.’
If you listen closely and push your face to the wall,
You can hear the whisper, you can hear the cry,
You can picture the carnage.
Amongst these walls you couldn’t tell.
There are no cracks to signal the torment,
No shrapnel to step over,
And no blood is left as a mark to remember upon these polished walls.
Every country lives with regret,
Past decisions leave an unfortunate mark upon one’s reputation,
And we will always question,
Whether it will happen again?
Moments of chaos are often the ones people remember.
So don’t blame those for trying to cover it up…
You’d do exactly the same.
Sea Study with a Rain Cloud
I awoke to the promise of showers, the absolution of these muggy days: yesterday, the day before, the-day-before-the-day-before-the-day. Needless to say, it never rained.
When I was ten, the sun beat down like this. I don’t remember what I was doing when my brother pushed a brick onto my mother’s head. That haunts me, yet she only had Concussion. She’s older now and I wonder if I couldn’t have been a better son?
No rain. No answers.
Now I’m down the beach watching a man sell pictures. He’s my father-in-law... We get on and I am better. It doesn’t rain, but this aids his pictures.
My own father painted our house when I was twelve – sweated for two days, but never changed the colour.
The clock strikes twelve. No rain, no parallel. My daughter stirs inside my wife. She isn’t born yet. It’s not her time.
00:08. No symmetry, but truth. Eight minutes and a paragraph since the church tolled – Toll louder – they say it rained after cannonades.
A week before I heard fireworks. I looked, but the buildings blocked my view. I saw glimmers reflected on a drain-pipe, but no Guy and no rain.
We walked the West Cliff together. They had a fayre, but we never entered. Strolled by, enraptured, engaged. We are married now and that is better.
“Elijah was a man like us […] Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain”
Though I sweat above the chalk cliffs, pray.
I love open days
Free pens and flyers
I enjoy meeting people
And talking about the future
Half the time I know
I won't accept the offer
Or I will, and I'll defer
I just need the buzz
Of university grounds
And the hope of a better life
When my Masters is complete
I count down the days
The summer is a time for organising stationery
Buying second-hand textbooks in charity shops
Feeling the change
Reliving the afternoon in 1999
When my parents told me
"University isn't for the likes of us."
I remember the feeling of my world closing in
And they didn't stop there
They said I wouldn't manage
But they were proud that my mock exams went well
Resignation left me speechless
Only time highlighted the anger
And feeling of injustice
That night is my defining moment
The day fear of failure took over
And giving up replaced trying
Sometimes, the words don’t come.
The consistent stream of consciousness ceases.
I am left with nothing to say.
There is a beauty in the broken mind.
Like an abandoned building taken by nature.
It is not that my mind does not work.
It is that it works too fast,
And I am left behind,
Scrabbling in the dust,
Desperately seeking a connection,
In the discarded fragments of thought.
I am fighting a losing battle.
I fear the white flag will soon arise.
And signal the end.
Who stands there but Her
Her with three ribbons in her hair
Hair that smells of sweat, grease, and –
White Black Purple
Jasmine Black pepper Lavender
Used to tie up such dirty
Matted hair I hope it greys Witch
She looks at me as if I wear the wrong shade of smile
as if I always wear the wrong colours
Colours that don’t belong to winter Her winter
They belong to summer instead
the last one we spent together:
The sea laps a hot coastline in her eyes
her black eyeshadow lines the shore
It must be Tenerife