The Good Prizes by Daniel Addercouth
Clare’s father gives her more coins for the claw machine. There’s a stuffed Pokemon she wants to win. “These things are designed so you can never get the good prizes,” her father says.
He wouldn’t have given her so much money before, not when Clare’s parents were still together. She might have got a couple of pounds if she was lucky. But he seems to have more money, now he’s working as a taxi driver in town. At least, he’s always buying Clare stuff. She liked getting presents at first, but now she’s not so sure.
It was her father’s idea to come to the amusement park. Clare used to like coming here with her parents. But it’s not the same this time. She wanted to go on the rollercoaster, but it’s too wet. It was a stupid idea to come here in the winter, Clare thinks. Her dad said maybe they could go on later, when it stops raining. But it looks smaller than Clare remembers, and it seems to be just little kids queuing up, so she’s not sure she wants to.
The metal hand closes on air for the fourth time, and Clare decides to give up. Even she can see she’s not going to get the toy. She turns around to tell her father, but he’s not there. She feels a moment of panic before she spots him by the video games. He’s walking slowly towards the empty chair of a car-racing machine with his cotton handkerchief spread between his hands. She remembers how she used to like the smell of aftershave on his handkerchief when he was living at home.
It’s then she spots the bird, perched on the chair’s headrest. It must have flown in through the arcade’s automatic doors. She guesses it might be a sparrow. Her father once taught her about the different types of birds, but she’s forgotten everything.
People nearby have turned to watch him. Clare wishes he would stop. She’s glad no one knows they’re related.
Her father gets closer to the chair and then, in an instant, the bird is trapped in white cotton. Before the onlookers even realise what’s happening, he’s striding towards the exit. Clare pauses, then hurries after him. The doors begin closing behind him, but change their mind and open for her. She gets outside in time to see her father throw up his arms. “Nicely done,” says an old man. The sparrow — if it is a sparrow — shoots up into the grey, clear sky.
Daniel Addercouth grew up on a remote farm in the north of Scotland but now lives in Berlin, Germany. His stories have appeared in Seaborne Magazine, National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood, Duck Duck Mongoose, and Free Flash Fiction, among other places. You can find him on Twitter at @RuralUnease.