All stories


by Jenny

Two thirty, on the dot Pete the Greek’s doorbell jangled and Stanley shuffled in.

Bill looked up from his newspaper and Alfie swivelled in the chair, his face a sea of white foam. Stanley stopped short, bristling.

“Hang on Pete - two thirty’s my spot. What’s this old bastard doing in my chair? His turn’s not till three.”

“Early bird catches the worm Stan. Princes Street isn’t far. You’ll have to speed up a bit or be prepared to miss your chance.” croaked Alfie sagaciously. “Them nostril hairs have waited two weeks, they can hang fire another ten minutes.”

Stanley shuffled inside slowly muttering something about not being as young as he was.

“How’s the missus this week Stan?” called Pete cheerfully over his shoulder and going to work on Alfie with his razor.

“He’ll find something to complain about.” grumbled Bill shuffling along grudgingly to make room for Stan. “What’s she done this time?”

“Well you should have seen what she dredged up for dinner last night,” groaned Stan, easing himself painfully into the plastic covered chair. “It’s never exactly a smorgasbord of delight, dinner time at our house, but this time she tried to feed me some foreign muck that didn’t even have any meat in it.”

Bill grimaced. “What you tell her, Stan?”

“Well, I says ‘I’m not eating this muck, Linda’ and she says ‘Stanley you can either eat your dinner or watch it go cold and I’ll give it the dog.’.”

“And what did you do, Stan?”

“I went down the chippy. She was bloody furious. Even the dog wouldn’t touch my dinner - that’s how bad it was.”

“I wouldn’t stand for that. If my Gwen were still here she’d know to have my sausage and chips on the table bang on six o’clock,” muttered Bill.

“What did you have Stan, down the chippy?” called Pete over his shoulder, before Alfie or Stanley could retort with anything they’d regret.

“Battered sausage and large chips. Bottle of pop. Bloody lovely.”

“Come on Stan, you’re up.”

Stanley heaved himself to his feet and Pete set about him with his nostril hair trimmers.

“You do a tidy job here, Pete, even if you are Greek,” Stan told him. “It’s worth coming even if I do have to put up with these bastards.”

Pete smiled and said nothing.

Two weeks later two thirty came, but the doorbell didn’t jangle. By three o’clock Pete was beginning to worry. Alfie had been posed in the chair waiting for Stanley to arrive for half an hour. He’d been looking forward to this all day - annoying Stanley was the highlight of his month.

But Stanley didn’t come

“Stan’s late,” commented Bill.

Pete said nothing.

When the ambulance pulled slowly out of Princes Street and drove quietly away Pete and Alfie exchanged an anxious glance in the mirror.

“You boys fancy anything from the chippy?” Asked Pete, his voice cracking slightly.

Alfie nodded stiffly.

“Yeah. battered sausage and a large chips for me.”

“Bottle of pop,” said Bill quietly.

“Bloody lovely.”

An Hour of Play

by Russ

The smell of plastic, rubber, and sweat hung thick in the room and I inhaled it as though it were freshly cooked steak. For these brief moments, I was responsible only for my own pleasure. My eyes were closed and my body supine as I wallowed in the light pressure of balls settling over my face. These were the moments. I parted my lips in a soft smile. I needed this. I deserved it.

I’d grown up in the eighties, they’d told us life would be a smorgasbord of delight but most days it turned out to be little better than a cold dinner. That’s why I came here, and I didn’t feel bad about it.

I heard movement and knew someone must have come close by, I didn’t want to surrender my peace just yet. I remained immersed and turned my hands so I could hold a ball in each, just to be tactile for a moment.

Eventually, I eased myself into seated causing a cascade of movement and satisfying sounds as that which covered me dripped away. I blinked against the light until I could see Krystal a few feet away, perched at the edge. She met my gaze with an anxious glance. I was ready to interact so I didn’t look away.

‘Does your partner know you come here?’

Her saying ‘partner’ annoyed me. I get it. Nobody wants to presume these days, but if someone can look at my poorly maintained bag of meat and sporadic hair and not draw the conclusion that I’m a middle-aged straight man. Well, you’ve got to worry.

‘No,’ I answered. ‘I’d like to keep it that way. If you don’t mind?’

She nodded. I guess discretion isn’t actually in the job description but it must be implied.

Of course, Krystal knew my ‘partner’, and she didn’t mean ‘know I come here,’ she meant ‘know I come here alone.’ She’d seen us here together enough times. Ever since Oliver was old enough to crawl we’d been coming most Saturday mornings to break up the monotony of parenting.

It was only the last few months I’d been coming back on my own. Since I’d plucked up the courage to pull the manager aside and strike a deal. Fifty quid a month and every other Friday they get one of the staff to stick around an extra hour after official closing, and I can, well, come and play.

My wife thought I was at the pub, which I would be later, but this came first. For a glorious hour, I scurry through the rubber and net tunnels, bounce on the inflatables, drop down the vertical piece of sheet metal they call a slide, and, of course, dive into the ball pool. Most of the staff think I’m a sad case or some kind of pervert but some of them seem to get it. Krystal does, I think.

With a consciously mischievous look on my face, I picked up one of the plastic balls and threw it gently at the inquisitive member of staff before smiling at her hopefully.

There were fifteen minutes left on the clock, a ball fight would really top off the visit.