Molly’s Method – Gavin Inglis

Rachel turned away from the snarl of Fountainbridge early evening traffic and pushed open the door of the Wallace Arms. She was a small, slinky sort, hardly a month out of school, with big brown eyes which could shift from shy to ravenous. A sheet of wet-black hair slid around the shoulders of her brown suede jacket as she walked; a patterned Paisley skirt followed the movement. Her rugged black army boots were battered but recently polished.

Inside, two or three firmly planted older drinkers stared quietly at her face and figure. The Wallace was easing towards its Saturday night. Rachel scanned the chairs and sofas before turning to the face behind the bar.

Molly’s mother was a wide, loud woman with a rough, painted face which creased when she smiled. ‘Hello love. She’s round there.’ Her stiff red perm inclined towards the back section of the pub. ‘What can I get you?’

‘Southern Comfort n’ lemonade please,’ beamed Rachel. ‘How are you?’

‘Auch, no’ bad.’ She spoke over her shoulder as she fitted a cleanish glass to an optic. Sparkling liquid drained onto ice. ‘This you on your holidays now?’

‘Aye…three months to do nothing, then I’m away.’

‘That’s right – Molly tells me you’ve got into the university. Good for you lass. Somewhere in England, isn’t it?’

‘You looking forward to it?’ Foaming lemonade spurted from the gun and rose up inside the glass.

‘…sort of.’

‘Well, don’t you worry love. It’ll be smashing. Everyone’ll be your own age. You’re bound to meet folk you really get on with. Are you looking for a job for the summer?’

‘No…not yet.’ Rachel frowned. ‘I know I should, it’s just… I’ve just finished all these exams. I want a wee rest. I want to enjoy myself for a bit.’

‘Auch, quite right. You’ve got the rest of yer life to work like a dog.’ Another crinkly smile. Rachel reached for her purse. ‘No, no love. Have it on the house to get you comfy. Haven’t see you for a while.’

Rachel took the glass and shone a smile at her. ‘Thanks…’

Molly’s mother nodded, pleased, and her painted eyebrows softened. Rachel took a sip and went in search of Molly.

Smoke curled round a corner at the back of the bar. As Rachel approached, a pair of white strapped sandals came into view, drawn up snugly onto fraying cushion. Then calves with wispy white hairs, and the hem of a deep blue print dress with a calm white floral pattern. A relaxed hand held a book open on the table beside an ashtray with three butts. The book was a 99p classic – Dubliners by James Joyce. Close to the bump of stomach, another arm lay along the back of the bench, two fingers loosely holding a burning cigarette.

A white net wrap was gathered around her shoulders. Dirty snow hair trailed across it, hanging down past her chest. She was intent on the book.

‘Hello Molly.’

Her head turned and the watery eyes seemed confused for a moment before a smile spread out across her face. ‘Rachel! Hi, sit down, sit down.’ She swung her legs off the seat and under the table, brushing the spot where they’d been.

‘Sorry I’m a bit late.’ Rachel sat down.

‘Oh, who cares? How are you doing, biscuit?’

‘I’m all right. Don’t call me biscuit.’

‘Biscuit.’ Molly eyes smiled and lifted a corner of mouth.

‘I thought you’d given up.’ Rachel indicated the fag in Molly’s hand.

She looked at it, seeming surprised it was there. ‘I have.’ She looked at it some more then took a drag, blowing the smoke away from Rachel.

Rachel looked around. Their alcove was tucked away from the rest of the pub, forming one outcrop of a T shape. The matching alcove had no table, only a pinball machine which flickered at them.

‘Weren’t we going to look for talent tonight?’ she said. ‘This isn’t a good seat. We can’t see anybody.’

‘It’s the best seat in the pub,’ said Molly, raising one eyebrow and an index finger. ‘I’m going to show you, my attractive young friend, a technique which only takes a few hours to learn, but which will stand you in good stead for the future. You’ve been off the boil lately because of your exams, right?’

‘Right. But before the exams, you were complaining that you always meet good-looking guys who turn out to be crap in bed, yeah?’

‘Uh, that’s not quite what I–’

‘Sorry.’ Molly smiled mischievously. ‘You always meet good-looking guys who aren’t all that interesting when you get to know them.’

‘Um, yeah.’

‘Well, I have a tried and tested method for seeing beneath the surface which I am going to reveal to you this evening.’

‘What is it?’

Molly said nothing, but tapped a finger through space towards the pinball table and nodded conspiratorially.

‘A pinball machine?’

‘Rachel. Dear. That isn’t just a pinball table. That is a complex interactive experience which can tell you more about a guy in five minutes than a whole evening of soul to soul conversation.’

Rachel looked at the machine. It was called The Addams Family and the panel at the back showed Morticia and Gomez embracing in front of their creepy mansion.

‘Oh, I liked those films…’ she said, leaning to look at the art. Just then two guys with trendy haircuts and muddy jeans arrived between her and the machine, carrying lager. One bent over to feed a coin into the table.

‘The cartoons were better,’ said Molly.

‘So what’s your system then?’

Molly lowered her voice. ‘It’s no use with two of them there. You know how guys can be real prats when they’re with their mates, right? But when you get them on their own they’re OK? It’s the same thing here. Two guys playing pinball always compete. It changes the whole dynamic.’

Raul Julia’s voice boomed from the machine. ‘Look, everyone! We have guests!’ The first guy yanked a knob on the front and it began to play a tune from the film with added thuds and whistles.

‘You’re winding me up again, aren’t you?’ said Rachel.

‘No, I’m not.’ Molly grinned. ‘Seriously. Look, I can tell you straight off that these guys don’t know much about pinball. He didn’t even try for the skill shot. Their money won’t last long.’

‘What’s a skill shot?’

‘When you launch your ball to start with, you’ve got a spring-loaded plunger which you pull back and let go.’

‘I know that much.’

‘Right. Well, on most tables you try to pull just hard enough so that the ball lands in a particular place and gets you a bonus. He pulled it the whole way, so the ball flew right past. If he understood the game he’d have taken more care. Also you can be too cautious, and the ball won’t get the whole way up.’

Rachel’s mouth twisted. ‘So if they’re too gentle it’s not enough, and if they’re too rough…’

Molly gave her a sly look. ‘Now, tell me. Who would you rather go to bed with? A guy who always fires the ball too hard, or doesn’t even notice he’s supposed to be trying? Or a guy who makes the skill shot nearly every time.’

Rachel looked sideways at her, then laughed out loud. ‘It’s just a game. It’s not the same thing at all.’

Molly raised an open hand. ‘Oh yeah. Of course. But it shows an attitude.’

The second guy lost his last ball and turned away from the machine in disgust. It played a cheerful snatch of the TV theme tune and clicked its flippers. He looked grumpily at the girls as he and his friend trundled back towards the bar with their depleted pints. Rachel looked at Molly and giggled.

Ten minutes later a man with dreadlocks and a seasoned face appeared. He smiled wolfishly at them before putting in his money.

‘He’s got a nice backside,’ whispered Rachel, gazing at the tight blue denim.

‘Good-looking guys who turn out to be crap in bed. Remember?’ Molly tapped Rachel’s forehead. ‘Get your eyes off his bulges and watch what he does, you nymph. See beneath the surface.’

‘Nine million!’ sang Raul Julia. The guy appeared to have played before. The table bumped and buzzed. ‘Look, darling,’ breathed Angelica Huston’s husky voice, ‘just what we’ve been searching for.’

‘He gets involved,’ hissed Rachel. ‘He leans into it when he flips, and he moves the whole thing around.’

‘Mmm hmm.’ Molly frowned. The words “DANGER DANGER” came up in orange on the screen at the back. ‘Careful! Careful!’ spluttered Raul Julia.

‘He’s really going for–’

The machine blared a thick raspberry. The guy whacked the flippers and jumped back. Massive letters T I L T filled the screen.

Rachel was amused. ‘What’s that mean?’

Raul Julia gave a hollow chuckle. ‘You’re a funny guy…’

Molly tsked. ‘It wouldn’t be much of a game if you could lift the front of the table and roll the ball right back up the field. So there’s a pendulum inside that stops you moving it. If you nudge it too hard, it tilts, and you lose your ball. This one’s set up to be quite lenient – Mum lets me deal with the engineer.’

‘So is it a bad thing if they make it tilt? I might like to be tilted once in a while…’

‘It’s good that he gets into it physically. That shows he’s not shy about his body. And it’s OK to tilt occasionally. It’s even a good sign. If you’re really involved you will get carried away every now and then. But when you tilt a table, you lose the bonus you’ve been accumulating. That can be a hell of a lot, particularly with The Addams Family. If they do it often, either they don’t care, or they’re not sensitive enough. Unless you’re looking for rough stuff…neither’s very good.’

The guy finished his game with a second tilt. He thumped the front with both hands in disgust. Molly looked at Rachel and raised an eyebrow. He started another game only to terminate abruptly after two minutes. The words SLAM TILT were plastered across the screen. He swore at it.

‘That’s awful,’ whispered Molly quickly, ‘that means he’s hit the coin box so hard it thinks he’s trying to break in. You lose your whole game for that.’

The dreadlocked guy glared in disbelief until the screen blanked and other people’s high-scores came up. When he finally turned away, looking sour, he caught the girls’ eyes and fastened on a pre-approach smile.

They pointedly ignored him.

Molly went for more drinks. When she returned, Rachel was looking thoughtful. ‘I’ve seen a flaw in your system. Guys get better at pinball the more they practice, right? And somebody that spends half their life playing pinball isn’t going to be very interesting.’

‘Hmm. Just because a guy’s playing a machine by himself doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes they’re out hoping to meet people, but they feel like a spare part sitting in a pub by themselves. So they play pin. You never felt like that?’

‘…maybe.’

‘Me, I like sitting in pubs by myself. But I watch people, or read. Or talk to strangers. I’ve met some real nice guys who were playing pinball alone.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. But back to what you said about practice. Of course practice makes them better at playing. But I’m not interested in their scores. It’s their approach to it, their instinctive physical relationship with the machine, that’s important. Sex and pinball are both skills that have to be learnt. Neither’s intuitive– despite what virgins who don’t play pinball might think.’

‘Molly, have you got some kind of weird kink?’

She laughed knowingly. ‘The way Jurassic Park shudders when the T-Rex– nah, shut up, Molly.

‘Sex and pinball are different skills, alright? But they’re both an intimate physical interaction. What I’m saying is that a guy approaches both experiences with the same natural inclinations. So from how a guy plays, you can deduce how he’ll behave during sex.’

‘You really believe this stuff, don’t you?’

‘Yup.’ Molly was firm. ‘Come on, you read this guy.’

His white shirt was crumpled and hung loose from his bony frame. He had a pair of round spectacles, and took a quick mouthful of cider before placing his pint on the floor and firing a ball. While the machine clanked and whizzed, he stood very still, only his wrists twitching with each flip. ‘Greeeed…’ said Raul Julia with relish. A bookcase creaked open.

‘He seems to be doing well. And he isn’t rough with it,’ ventured Rachel.

‘M-hmm…’ Molly’s eyebrows demanded more.

‘But he stands back from it. He only touches it with the tips of his fingers. He’s not very… involved. When he lost his go there he didn’t seem too bothered– what’s that?’

‘Now you’ve done it,’ grumbled Mr Julia and the game started to hum, getting louder and higher as if building up to an explosion. Lightning-flashes scoured the back wall.

‘Multiball,’ hissed Molly. ‘This‘ll tell you if he gets involved or not.’

The guy turned away from the game, bending down for a sip of cider. Molly tutted quietly. Raul Julia yelled ‘SHOWWW TIIIME!’ as the guy straightened back into position. The game spat balls at him.

Rachel watched her subject closely. He seemed to be leaning a little more towards the game, but there was still detachment in his bearing.

She turned to Molly. ‘He might be good with his hands, yeah? He’d probably know how to turn you on. But you’d never feel he was really into it. He’d hardly ride you like a horse. I bet it’s difficult to get him going, too. Nah, good for a one-nighter, but only if there’s nothing on TV.’

‘Very good,’ said Molly, with an imperious, secret look. ‘Ten out of ten.’

Neither noticed when Mr Detached lost his last ball and went away.

‘What you haven’t said yet,’ said Rachel, ‘is that pinball is, like, surrogate sex for some guys. You say how different it is, but still you draw all these parallels. And I bet lots of guys spend more time alone with a pinball table than they do alone with a woman.’

‘Mmm.’ Molly’s smile faded. ‘Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. What I’ve been showing you is a different way to look at guys and how they play. It’s a personal, human thing. But guy sexuality is often based around objects, right? And visual turn-ons. I’m not suggesting that they get a stiffy from playing pinball – although I bet some do. Instead I wonder if on some subconscious level they’re reading it as a sex object, a stereotype woman. You know, she’s on her back, giving them come-ons, and all they can do is look, until they pay for it. The money goes into a slot, a slot between her legs–’

‘Ugh.’

‘Yeah. So they’ve put in their money, and they get to play. But maybe they don’t do so well, and the ball goes down quickly. Before long they’re out of credit and she’s become a tease again. They put in more money and maybe this time they discover it’s a better game if you give the table a slap now and again. She likes it a little rough. But get too excited, and boof! She freezes up and pulls back. The guy gets frustrated, and what does he do?’

‘He hits the machine.’

‘Right. Not a nice thought, is it?’

They sat quietly for a while, watching titles roll up on the machine’s screen.

Molly said, ‘I think something of the problem is that there’s no climax in the game. Some multiballs build up and up to a single, massive scoring shot. And if you complete all of the modes you get a kind of super mode at the end. But both of those are very, very difficult to get, and ultimately you always lose the ball, so the end is always a disappointment. And unless our typical punter gets top of the high score table, he’s shown a list of guys who beat him, with a ten-digit number showing exactly how much longer their dicks are than his.’

Rachel couldn’t help but smile. ‘Poor guys.’

Molly lightened up. ‘Yeah. We don’t have the problem, see. Women can compete if they want, but they can also just enjoy the game for itself, without feeling they have to achieve anything. It’s more fun that way. biscuit.’ Her eyes sparkled.

‘Don’t call me biscuit. Look, check out this one.’

Black jeans, loose grey T-shirt, muscled forearms, canvas boots, shaved-fuzz head. He took his time launching the ball, easing the plunger in and out before letting go. The ball clicked home for the skill shot.

He stood with his pelvis pressed against the machine, nudging it occasionally from his hips. He seemed immersed in the game, his shoulders moving a little with each flip.

Raul Julia shouted, ‘Out to the cemetery! Come on, everybody!’

‘He’s alright, isn’t he?’ whispered Rachel. ‘He’s doing everything right.’

Molly made a noise of assent from her throat, studying the guy through half-closed eyes. He kept things going smoothly with slight leans of his body and the occasional quick slap on the side. He got a DANGER warning and immediately calmed his style down. Finally he hit something important and they heard ‘Not the Bermuda Triangle!’ before it powered up into multiball. He seemed to work harder at that. ‘Double jackpot!’ He went at it relentlessly until he finally lost two balls at once and clasped his hands over his head with a woeful cry. ‘Aaargh!’ It took him a few moments to relax and withdraw from the machine. He gave Molly and Rachel a sheepish smile as he passed.

‘He’s your man.’ Molly pushed Rachel’s leg. ‘Go get him.’

Rachel looked terrified. ‘What’ll I say?’

‘Oh, just be yourself. It’ll be fine. Go for it.’

‘Are you staying here?’

‘Yeah, I’ll read my book or speak to Mum. On you go.’

Rachel looked up to the ceiling, smiled weakly at Molly, gulped and went after the guy. Molly eased happily back into her seat and reached for Dubliners. After a minute she sneaked a look round the corner. Rachel and her target were moving from the bar to a table. Molly smiled and cracked open the paperback.

An hour passed. Molly had to be rude to an insistent charmer who wanted to join her. She got through a couple of stories.

Rachel came back and slumped into the seat.

‘What’s wrong? Was he not your type?’

‘It’s not that.’ Rachel spoke in a low, dejected tone. ‘He’s really nice. He works for Cancer Research, and he paints, and he’s got a motorbike, and he’s funny, and he bought me a drink, and…’ She tailed off.

‘So what’s wrong?’

‘He’s got a girlfriend, hasn’t he? And she’s working in Canada for two years, and he misses her, and he’s going out there for Christmas, and he’s lonely. And I remind him of her.’

Looking at Rachel’s glum face, Molly couldn’t restrain her laughter. She reached an arm round Rachel’s shoulders and pulled her over, cuddling her tight. ‘Never mind, biscuit. There’s plenty more guys.’ After a moment Rachel met her eyes and conceded a grin.

‘Come on.’ Molly pulled Rachel to her feet and reached in her purse for change. ‘It’s time you had a game. And don’t get all self-conscious on me.’

‘I’ve never really played.’

‘You’ll pick it up. It might come in handy.’

‘Yeah.’ Rachel gave Molly a little smile. Molly nodded and pushed the start button. Angelica Huston’s silky voice greeted them.

‘Welcome, honoured guests…’


Afterword

Bit of a curiosity this. Molly’s Method first appeared in Pinball Player magazine, volume 17 issue 8. Specialised, huh? I had only been writing for two or three years when I produced it. At that time I played an awful lot of pinball. I did two more stories with the same characters, Anniversary and Psychological Warfare, which also appeared in that magazine. The really fun thing about getting published in Pinball Player was this warning which they printed in the previous issue:

[PARENTAL GUIDANCE] Some of our readers with young families should be aware this story is aimed at an adult audience.

Looking at Molly’s Method now I think you can see roots of my novel Meeting Girls is Awkward. I’m really fond of the Molly character and had at least two more pinball stories in mind which never got written. If I thought there was a market for a collection of those… but hey, I only know about four places in the whole of Britain where I can still play the damn game.

The Addams Family sound effects are all painstakingly researched, naturally.