by Meghan Phillips
She’d make change at the FunTime Arcade, the one between Douglas Fudge and Paradise by the “C” t-shirt shop. The heavy-sweetness of the fudge pumps in through the arcade’s A.C., mixing with the smell of the Atlantic and NO-AD, fry oil and parmesan. The blood metallic grease of quarters would coat her fingers no matter how many times she washed them in the tiny employee bathroom behind the Skee-Ball alley.
Mary would wear her short canvas apron tied low across her cut-offs. The apron would have a pocket for the big bills customers give her to change. A pocket for singles. A coil of extra tickets. Prize vouchers for kids that get hit in the head by a stray skee-ball. She’d wear her quarter dispenser slung to the side like a holster. She’d change a five in less time than it takes the kid to hand her the damp bill. At 23, she would be the oldest arcade employee.
Mary would be used to little kids crying at her for refunds, pulling on her apron or the hem of her t-shirt. She’d be used to college boys on break from Montclair or Rutgers looking down the V of her shirt as she counts their change, pocketing their singles and quarters while asking for her number. She’d never give it out.
She’d clean up their puke, little kids’ and college boys’. Sickly sweet chunks with the rainbow sheen of an oil spill. Amber foam that looked and smelled the same coming out as it did going down. She wouldn’t flinch at the smell, just push back her bangs and grab the mop and bucket from the back room. One of the summer girls would say she didn’t know the arcade had a mop.
Mary would volunteer to close the arcade every night. The summer girls had stopped inviting her to have beers at the house on Emory that they share with eight of their sorority sisters. The arcade closes at 2:00am, along with the rest of the boardwalk. Mary would take her time wiping down the prize counter with Windex, refilling the tickets in the Whack-A-Mole. She’d turn off the lights. Find her way out by the soft glow of the pinball machines.
Mary would roll down the garage doors that separate the arcade from the rest of the world. She’d walk down the empty boardwalk and try to forget that she has to do this all again tomorrow.
Meghan Phillips is the fiction editor for Third Point Press and an associate editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. You can find her in real life in libraries around Lancaster, PA, and on Twitter @mcarphil.
Photo Credit: Maryann Brown