The only game which ever taught me anything was a real classic. Old-school graphics, retro platform, only one real mechanic to speak of: walk through a glass maze, try not to get bruises.
An indeterminate age. Something-teen. More than four, less than seven. I’d be specific, but my retroactive timestamping reference points – Lord of the Rings films, one Tuesday afternoon, which sibling had cut off which parent – stop working after fourteen. Remove the impossible. Spin the wheel.
-fifteen, it was October, and the Taro Fair was in town.
It was an old-fashioned thing that rolled up once a year and spread itself out across the Heath, spilling stalls and games and rides onto damp grass. In Autumn, it would have been a charming small-town tradition. In Winter, it was a charming small-town flu generator.
I fucking loved the Taro Fair. It was cheap and flashy (like the best kind of man), and so cold that candyfloss felt like fiberglass on your tongue. In some unswept little corner of my soul, I still don’t believe that a fairground ride is real unless the metal could freeze skin off your fingers. When I was a kid, I used to go with my family and this, that final, indeterminately-teened October, I went with my father.
We did all the things you do at a travelling fairground, but slightly ironically because I was obviously too old to catch manky plastic ducks in hopes of winning a frisbee. Went on the old waltzer with the wooden floor. Failed to win a frisbee. Probably wasn’t allowed candyfloss because it was fattening.
And this year there was a mirror maze. At least, I think that’s what it was supposed to be; they’d clearly blown their budget on glass panes and had to cut corners. There were a few sheets of buffed-up, scratched-up tin masquerading as mirrors, but you’d see more in your fucking tea leaves. I could say that it was almost symbolic – mirrors that don’t work for a family that doesn’t like to look at itself. But I wouldn’t, because that would be an enormous puddle of lying wank.
They were poor man’s mirrors in a poor man’s mirror maze, is all. A quid to get in, ten minutes to get out.
Walking through glass corridors for jollies sounds like a joke. At any moment, you might stub your toe? Turn right into a nonexistent doorway? The japes. It’s the kind of thing a comedy pensioner bitches his grandkids out for not enjoying.
It was bloody evil. After the first oh-shit-is-my-nose-bleeding smack to the face, I tried to take things slow. After the third, I had my arms stretched out in front of me, fingers splayed in a protective arc. It didn’t help. The cold turned my fingertips to tiny, concentrated bundles of nerves and I was soon reduced to toddling; desperate not to step too fast, lest my fingers meet glass with more than the gentlest of brushes.
And it was during this Egyptian mummy walk, as I staggered along blind – my glasses pocketed for their own safety – and whimpering, the lead role in my own Hammer Horror production, that something occurred to me.
“This house is my father.” I thought.
Not in a literal way; as if the dreadful memory of my birth – the windows wailing in agony, the horror of the floorboards, cement, oh god, there’s so much cement – had finally struggled up from my subconscious. In a metaphorical way.
In a metaphorical way, this house is my father.
It was a calm thought because, so long as you were talking mundane matters like mind games or gaslighting, I was a calm little motherfucker. Ghost stories had me eyeballing shadows at 3AM, but telling my mother that my father had emotionally abused her was Tuesday, 3PM.
This house was my father because it would, at random intervals, hurt you for absolutely no reason.
Clear paths could bring you up short and sharp, reeling from the shock of smacking into absolutely bugger all. Each step became a hesitant little shuffle; as if you’d been hobbled, but didn’t dare check the length of the chain. The only way to avoid hurting yourself a lot was to hurt yourself a little, over and over.
This house was like my father because it made you frightened of not being frightened.
And this house was a bastard.