Sam stares up at the giant letters above him, lit in neon. XLR8. He looks at the scrote who took his money, leaning back with a girl on his lap as he chews gum and waits for a man of about 60, with mutton-chop sideburns and tired, mean eyes, to pull down the safety bar.
On the opposite side of the field, a rickety ghost train trundles inside its housing. Half of its occupants have their heads down looking at their phones. Nearby, a young boy hooks a bottle out of some water and wins a bow and arrow set. Bumper cars bounce. Burned burgers and stale bread cannot hide the petrol fumes of the rides.
Sam gulps and glances down at Sophie, who has no intention of riding it, but throws a huge smile behind two thumbs up, her face lit by disco lights. He’s on here for her, a show of first-date bravado. The ride allows eight people at a time – four at opposite ends of a huge pendulum – so that when one quartet is at ground level, the other four are 80 feet in the air, spinning upside down in the process. Two girls alongside him squeal with excitement in anticipation. The seat on the end is empty. There are no other single riders.
An automated voice shouts ‘Are You Ready?’. A loud klaxon sounds and the ride eases into motion. Sam’s stomach tenses as the world swirls, rushes towards him and then spins away just as fast, and within 30 seconds, he eschews any pretence of enjoying it, closes his eyes and grips the bar, knowing he is now moving so fast Sophie will not be aware of his turmoil.
It is also interminably long. Just as he thinks he senses it slowing down and he starts to relax, so it speeds up and spins more sickeningly than before. After an age, the ride does start to slow. He opens his eyes as it comes to a stop to find that he and the two girls are suspended 80 feet in the air while those at the other end are helped off.
Sam starts to sweat. He becomes acutely aware of the lack of actual physical material preventing him from falling to a certain death. He tries not to think about how often the ride is checked and he just sits there, attempting to regain a modicum of composure before he returns to Sophie.
The other riders off, the ride jolts back into motion, only to then immediately stop. The pod swings violently. The ride jolts again, but doesn’t move. Sam looks down to Sophie. She waves and gives another thumbs up. He waves back, wants nothing more than to be back on the ground.
He watches as the boy in the booth ambles out and wanders over to the bumper cars, where he talks to an older man and points up at Sam and the girls. The older man then abandons his post on the bumper cars and walks off behind the scenes, amid the small village of caravans and trailers parked up in the scruffy, muddy field.
The delay has caused a small crowd to gather at the base of the ride; some wanting to know when it will be fixed, others eager to see Sam or the girls panic. He watches a group of boys lark about next to her. One of them starts talking to Sophie, who points up at Sam. The boys walk off laughing towards the candy floss stall. Minutes pass. The girls next to Sam complain of being cold. It is starting to get dark and the wind has picked up across the south Downs. Still Sophie waits for him on the ground.
A few minutes later, Sam feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He fishes it out.
‘God knows how long you’re going to be up there. What a nightmare! x’
The solitary kiss instantly warms Sam and he realises this could all be working to his benefit, if he plays this right.
Stay calm, be cool.
But still the ride doesn’t move. Sam watches as two men emerge from a van that has pulled up at the foot of the ride. They look like engineers and as they get to work, so the lad running the ride moves towards those in the queue, who then drift away disappointed. The ride is closed. Soon, only Sophie is standing down there. She hops around in a bid to keep warm and Sam begins to panic that the date is going to end in limp anti-climax. She must be home by 11, this is valuable time being wasted.
He sends her a text.
Thanks for waiting! Getting cold now.
He leaves off the kiss. It feels wrong for him to use it yet. She seems a sweet girl, the sort who puts kisses at the end of every text. As he presses send, he watches as one of the boys from the earlier group approaches Sophie. Again, she points up at Sam before the two of them engage in conversation. The boy is a little close to Sophie for Sam’s liking, doesn’t appreciate the easy, casual contact he’s making as they talk. The boy takes off his jacket and puts it over her. He rubs her arms, before pointing to the car park. Sophie appears to shake her head, before glancing up at Sam again. The boy tugs at her and after one final look up, Sophie walks away from the ride, wearing the boy’s coat. He has his arm around her and they hurry to the exit, through the parked cars to a black Golf. Two yellow lights flash twice and he opens the passenger-side door for her before walking around and sliding into the driver’s side.
Helpless, Sam feels his world drop away. It all feels unreal. Panicking, he rattles the safety bar, causing their pod to swing.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ says the girl next to him.
‘We have to get down,’ he says.
‘Yeah, don’t you think we should wait?’
‘There’s no time!’
The Golf’s lights come on and it pulls out of its parking place, turning towards the exit. Sam tries to stand, causing the pod to sway under his clambering. Both girls scream, but the world is vanishing from Sam’s sight. There is, he is sure, nothing between him and Sophie, if only he would, for once, take the leap and reach for her. All he has to do is be brave, take the step forward and stretch. Aware, and yet strangely unconcerned, of the consequences, he steps into the darkness, but is grabbed by one of the girls, who clings to his arm, causing him to swing back into the pod and on top of them.
I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I’m so sorry.’
He is feverish, sweating and shivering. The pod rocks back to a standstill as he returns to his seat.
‘She’s gone mate, so she ain’t worth it.’
Sam wonders if he should have put a kiss at the end of the text, if that was his mistake.
‘It’s alright mate,’ says the second girl. ‘Let’s pretend we’re your date.’
She leans across and kisses him on the cheek. Sam, for the first time, notices the full moon.
We went to the funfair today and so this is in response to today’s Wordpress Daily Prompt word ‘Jolt’.