21 Oct 2010

Out of the dark

I am sitting on her lap in the dark, the rubber studs on her suspender belt pressing into the back of my legs, my knees grazing the velvet seat in front. When the heavy curtains slide open, the light is almost too bright for my eyes. The usherette in a pink and white uniform walks back up the aisle with her tray of ice-creams. The scent of perfume and cigarette smoke. The swing doors softly bump against each other as they close. On the screen a man with an oiled chest strikes a big brass gong.

I thought I was four, but the film we saw, ‘The Three Lives of Thomasina’, was released in 1964. I would have been five or six. My brother was born the year before. My sister would have been nine. But they are not here. I am with my mother, in a space where we do not speak, a space that belongs only to me.

She liked Cadbury’s Bournville so I decided to like it too. When my sister and I started going on our own to the Saturday Matinees, at The Odeon in Bethany Square, I’d buy a big bar from the sweet shop in the foyer and manage to eat one, maybe two, of the rich, dark squares.
‘I’m keeping it for later,’ I’d say to my sister who would be halfway through her bar of Fruit & Nut and rightly suspicious of my purchase.

In 1966 we went to Butlins in Pwllheli, North Wales. In the single black and white photo of us all together we are seated at a long table in the barrack-like dining room. Family interrupted: some of us chewing, others clutching cutlery, my mother’s face showing signs of strain from the holiday camp’s regimentation and a week with a cantankerous, and soon to be seriously ill, little boy of three. I have no memory of that, or of the food. Or the chalet where we slept. Only of the Redcoats, who all signed my autograph book. And the funfair.

My father and I queue up for the roller coaster, shuffle forward as the line grows shorter, but at a quarter to five the man at the gate ahead calls out, Sorry, that’s the last ride. Come back tomorrow. But it’s our last day. It was my last chance. And there’s nothing my father can do as the disappointment fills my chest and makes me want to cry. Then on the walk back to the chalet it starts to rain, thick, heavy rain blown in on a cold wind, that darkens the path, and my father takes my hand and we start to run, and none of it matters anymore, just the feel of my small hand in his, our footsteps tamping the hard ground, in those moments before we burst in on the others, just the two of us, laughing.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about being in the dark.
  • Write about a time when you were disappointed.