(the waiting room to the editorial offices to the towers that remain A Word with You Press across from Friendship Square in Moscow)
You might remember Caitlin Hornshaw as Caitlin Foyt. Marriage resulted in a name change! Caitlin plays with us from time to time and attended one of our workshops featuring Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Freedman. I last saw her when she visited our booth at The L.A. Times Festival of Books, still as Caitlin Foyt.
The spirit of Peggy Dobbs has coaxed her from the shadows to join us once again. For those helping me with the countdown, this is entry number eight of the twenty four to be posted since this marathon began.
By Caitlin M.F. Hornshaw
It was 1983. She knew this with certainty. This knowledge was unspoken and unquestioned, as these kinds of things often were in dreams.
It smelled like stale cigarettes and cheap street-cart hot dogs, a combination that turned her stomach. Laura was standing in a disagreeably cold and damp room, a massive, industrial basement of some kind. She couldn’t tell quite how large it was, though, because it was filled with rows and rows of brightly illuminated coin-operated game cabinets. Chilled, she untied the jacket from her waist and pulled it around her shoulders.
She would never come here if she didn’t have to. This place made her feel like such a vulnerable outsider.
Across the room she spotted a small gathering of vaguely familiar faces, kids she had seen around before. They were cheering on whomever was at the controls and sharing swigs from a glass bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.
Walking over, Laura was careful to dodge the clumps of chewed bubble gum and other typical bits of strange litter that covered the outer space-themed carpeting. (One time, she found a bright green acrylic nail jammed into one of the crevices on the bottom of her jellies.)
She could now see that the game was Donkey Kong: Bennie’s favorite.
But Bennie wasn’t playing. It was someone else at the joystick, a kid with a crew cut, who she didn’t recognize. She couldn’t get a look at the screen, but from the sounds of his audience, he was likely beating Bennie’s top score.
She cleared her throat. “Have any of you seen Bennie Vane?”
A dirty-haired girl with empty, dark eyes looked up at Laura and made eye contact for a moment. A bottle in hand, she took a deep sip and then looked away. Everyone else’s eyes stayed glued to the screen. Weird. It was as if they didn’t hear her.
The arcade was full of the sounds of coins being accumulated, bells ringing, beeps, bleeps, blips, boops and buzzing, but the average person could tune it out. She knew that they had heard her.
She tried again, this time adding a little more volume to her voice. “Um, hello?! Can you hear me?”
“Am I invisible!?”
There was still no reply.
“You know, it’s RUDE to ignore people!”
No one even acknowledged that she was there.
Confused and frustrated, she slowly backed away.
The lights went out. Everyone standing around Donkey Kong Kid yelled out in unison, and she heard someone bang down hard on the arcade cabinet.
A moment later, just the overhead lights turned back on, and she suddenly heard music. Not music: hair metal. Some kind of glam metal power ballad?
That’s when Bennie appeared from behind a row of pinball machines. He was wearing a lancer front motorcycle jacket, a black t-shirt that read “POISON” in bright green letters and torn acid washed jeans. His long, peroxide-bleached hair was slightly teased with hairspray and he was wearing eyeliner. (Her hairspray and her eyeliner.)
Laura covered her mouth. She didn’t know quite how to react—or whether it was OK to laugh. Something told her that would not be the most well-received or appropriate reaction.
He was holding a cordless microphone in his hands, but it didn’t seem to emit any sound. He was lip-syncing. As far as she could tell, he was lip-syncing perfectly to a song she had never before heard in her life.
She caught words like “lover,” “paradise,” and “red roses” in the lyrics. She closed her eyes tightly as Bennie reached her, and her face turned pink as he began running his fingers through her hair.
When the song ended, he kissed her softly. His body dipped and he dropped down onto one knee, holding out a bright red velvet box for her to open.
Shaking, it took a moment for her to finagle it ajar. Inside was not what she expected: a thick, silver plated ring. Instead of a traditional diamond, the top was a long, ornate oval that looked almost like a spoon. When he slid on her hand, it covered most of her finger. She tried but failed to bend her joints.
Before she could say anything, he yanked her to her feet and guided her over to the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet. At some point the game had turned back on, and Laura noticed that it was the only game that had been restored to power in the entire room.
The screen was currently showing the games existing top scores, many of which were repeats of the game’s known frequenters: MAT, GAY (Laura always assumed this wasn’t a person’s actual initials), BEV (Bennie Ethan Vane)—but in the very top ranking slot was a brand new set of initials: LCD. Laura Crystal Deen. Her name.
He was beaming when she turned away from the screen to look at him: “Laura, will you marry me?”
She looked into his big, hopeful eyes and laughed.
“But, it’s too late for this, Bennie,” she said.
His grin collapsed and he shook his head, his face filling with panic.
“No. No. I swear, it’s not too late.”
She gave him a warm, sympathetic smile, shaking her head “No.”
“Bennie, it is. It is too late. You see, we’re already married. And this is just a dream.”
That’s when the ocean of faces surrounding them vanished. All of the high scores on the arcade cabinet began to scroll vertically, at speeds that made the white test too blurry to read. The room began to spin violently. And Laura woke up. She woke up beside her living, breathing modern man: a beautiful, balding, sleeping Bennie Vane.