“What’s your name?”
I glance down to see a boy who looks to be about 11 years old staring back up at me.
I answered as I eyed the old fashioned pinball machine that was now available to play here at the local arcade.
“Like the sandwich?”
I nod, unamused.
I start making my way towards it, looking forward to beating the high score again.
The boy says as he follows me over to it.
“How original.” I state dryly, fishing the coins out of my black denim jeans pocket.
“Are you any good?” He asks, obviously showing his inability to take a hint.
I shrug, “Good enough, I guess.”
“Can I watch?”
“If you want.” I reply as I insert the coins.
The pinball machine flashes its bright colorful lights and roars to life. I place my hand over the lever that will release the ball.
“Wait, can I do it?” The boy asks eagerly.
I take a moment and take my hands off of the lever to deeply consider the boy.
He’s in flip-flops, well worn jeans, a red t-shirt, and an old Cardinals baseball hat that has seen many days under the sun.
“Where are your parents?”
He stares at me blankly.
“Parents? Oh, I have permission to be here if that is what you are asking.”
What an odd boy.
I think to myself.
“Anyways, can I release the ball for you?” He asks.
I shrug, “I mean sure, if you really want to.”
The biggest toothy grin spreads across his dimpled face and he quickly places his hand over the lever.
“Okay! Ready? Set. Go!”
He exclaims as he releases the ball and it comes springing up out of its cage.
The ball ricochets back and forth for what feels like forever, racking up points all on it’s own.
Suddenly it swoops down and I’m ready.
Just as it’s about to slide off the paddle, I hit it back up to ricochet some more.
Surprisingly, the boy says nothing and just watches quietly in awe as I play.
Within a few minutes, another ball appears and is ready to be sprung to life.
Without taking my eyes off the machine I ask,
“Would you like to do the honors?”
I don’t have to look to know he’s just as excited to have the same opportunity twice in a row.
“Okay! Tell me when you want it!”
“Alright, I’ll count you down. Five….Four….Three….Two….”
“One!” Kyle says with me as he sends the next ball flying up through the shoot just like he did the first.
“So how long have you played this game anyways?”
Kyle asks me while the two balls bounce back and forth.
“I’ve been coming here since I was your age. My Dad used to bring me every Saturday morning and we’d play pinball together.” I say, thinking about how similar my excitement then must have been to Kyle’s.
Frowning, Kyle asks, “Today’s Saturday. Why isn’t he here?”
Distracted by the question, the two balls slide down the paddles, and I don’t react quick enough.
I dig out some more coins out of my pocket.
“He passed away a few years ago.”
Kyle’s face grows somber.
“I am sorry.”
I shrug, “It’s not your fault he’s gone. I blame a selfish drunk driver who decided to run a red light one night.”
He shakes his head, “Still. I’m sorry he can’t be here with you.”
I insert the coins to start another game.
“Do you want to be in charge of this game? I can release the ball for you this time?”
Kyle’s eyes grow big.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I sigh, “It’s nothing to be afraid of. If you want, I can hover my hands over you until you get the hang of the paddles?”
“I don’t have any money though.”
“It’s no big deal. Come on, give it a shot.” I say with a wink.
Kyle sighs, “Okay.”
I place my hand over the lever, “Ready?”
He nods, already with his hands over the buttons that control the paddles.
The ball shoots up and springs into action once more.
Kyle’s eyes follow it closely as if anticipating its every move.
It falls down onto one of the paddles and in the nick of time Kyle sends it flying back up to gather more points. Before we know it, a second ball is ready and I ask him the same question as before.
And we count down together as the second ball is released.
Soon after that a third ball is ready, then a fourth.
Kyle goes on and on.
I start to notice some other kids gathering around us, in wonder of his mad skills.
This kid is better than what my Dad ever was.
I think to myself as I watch him continue on without breaking a sweat.
Within fifteen minutes he’s already beaten the prior high score I had set from last Saturday morning.
An older woman comes up over to us, gently nudging some of the kids that had gathered around us out of the way.
“Kyle, dear, what are you doing?”
“I’m sorry Linda, I know you said I could only watch, but Reuben, just like the sandwich, said that it was okay.”
I meet her eyes, and chuckle.
“I’m sorry if I’ve upset you. Kyle just seemed awfully fascinated, so I didn’t seem any harm in letting him play. Now that he’s definitely beaten my high score, I’m starting to think otherwise.”
A twinkle lit up in her eyes, “Oh, my. Reuben, just like the sandwich, If you only knew...”
Linda watches for a bit.
At this point the boy now had the max of five balls bouncing back and forth, flying past each other.
“Kyle, we really should be going now.”
Linda says softly as she reaches and taps him twice on his shoulder.
Automatically Kyle stops what he’s doing and one by one the balls tumble down the slope of the paddles before falling to disappear into the darkness.
Groans erupt from the group that had gathered around and they slowly disperse.
Kyle has his head down.
“I’m sorry Linda.”
Linda puts her wrinkled hand under his chin and lifts his face.
“It’s perfectly fine dear. It’s nice to not have to blend in all the time, huh?”
“Now, carry my purse for me won’t you?”
Kyle smiles and nods, “Of course!”
They start to walk away, and I notice how unique the boy’s walking is.
“Wait!” I call out behind them.
Kyle stops, looks back over his shoulder and smiles at me,
“I’ll see you next Saturday morning, Reuben.”
I grin, “I look forward to it.”