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.