Top Score

Whenever I would get to see you, when it was our time, I felt I was stepping up to the challenge of an arcade pinball machine.

Feeling below the cabinet for that hidden power switch, I’d seek you out. Reaching into my coat pocket for my busted burner phone and punching in the sequence of digits to connect to your voice was not unlike breaking a dollar and plunking two quarters into that illuminated orange-red slot. Until we’d get alone, shuffling off the selves we wore for others, the hum of anticipation in my chest would echo the static of the machine warming itself up for a new game. My anxious fingers flicking those side buttons to make sure the flippers worked. Bouncing the plunger arm against an empty trough. Studying the intricacies beneath the table.

The only specific dynamism about us was bodily. We rolled off each other like that weighted metal ball sliding down its slanted table. If you take your eye off it for a split-second, you risk losing the game. You may not have another chance. We made each time seem like it would be the last. We knew with no notice there may be a cut to the power. He might know, you would whisper. I think she already does, I’d reply. We’d ignore the risk. Our tongues lashed ultimatums, not the sort that are heard. Sensation reigned supreme in our shadowy kingdom. Broken paupers, we’d call ourselves. Lost souls. We had convinced ourselves we were undeserving of those we had before we met, those we risked losing each time we lit those blanketed fires. We knew not how long the blaze might burn or how deep the scorching could stretch.

We kept our defenses deceptively up, like the glass covering the lights and tunnels and all the surfaces of that keenly-crafted table. Like that glass, we were transparent yet protected. Come close, now go. We each possessed the desire to let the other see, to play, but never to get inside. We thought our touches left no emotional imprint, that all they elicited was a thrill, but I still cannot wipe away the memories you left fingerprinted on that surface.

We anticipated how long the game would last, how many bumpers we might hit on the way to inevitable decimation. The growing momentum of the ball. An increasing gravity to the situation. The flippers springing to keep the game from ending. We made gluttonous sense. Others had us yet we barely had each other. Even if it had been worthy of recording a high score, we could never enter our initials. It was an after-hours plunge. Our invented names. Our invented selves. The parking lot rendezvouses. Leaving the door unbolted. Changing the sheets. Laundering away the immorality.

All for the tantalizing way you would tell me you loved me as I lit up the tiny bulbs that hadn’t been sparked in years. All for the way you gave me newborn eyes. Winning another round when we both thought it was all ending. That cold, heavy ball rolled from bumper to bumper, our bodies spasming at each other when the angle was hit just right, elasticity accounting for just the right amount of tension. Accumulating momentum. Falling, rising. The brink of the peak of the edge of where fingers curl and nails dig and all illuminates to a chiming orchestra. How was that possible, we asked, when we thought we’d never top the last time.

As the ball rolled into its hidden tunnel, there was no space in my mind for time. I was untouchable and so were you. Our games did not make us into one, but before the blood cooled in our veins and the machine powered down, we were just slightly less drearily alone.   

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