I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about today, so I took a piece of advice my husband gave me and decided to post a piece of original fiction. I wrote this when I was in college for a creative writing course, and I’ve always enjoyed it (which is unusual for something that’s nearly a decade old at this point). And since I couldn’t come up with a compelling topic, here we are. I hope you enjoy.
She wiped her hands together, knocking the last bit of dust from her fingers. The apartment was barren of her things, the last of which were collected in the cardboard box at her feet. It had taken her the better part of two days to separate her stuff from his, books from shelves, pots and pans from the kitchen, the careful dissection of the dresser.
Their break up had come as an expected surprise, something you saw coming when you looked back but, in the moment, stole the breath from your lungs and made you sit down on the couch, asking why. She thought it might have been the Ferris wheel that had done it, in the end. Screeched into their lives and started the slow descent into ambivalence and anger, desperation and relief.
The sun was beating down on the concrete, the smell of stale popcorn and sweat making her fight the urge to gag.
It had been his idea to come out to the old boardwalk. He’d gone a lot as a kid, he said, and wanted to share that with her. They’d been together for eight months and a handful of days, and the weekend was supposed to be a break in the exhausting heat they’d been having lately, so she’d agreed, looking forward to the opportunity to be a kid again.
They’d spent the whole day out on the boardwalk. At first, she’d been enjoying the heat and the tingle of sun on her neck. The noise of the clanging rides and the strains of dissonant calliope music had been a symphony of summer. The cry of seagulls diving towards abandoned pizza slices melded with happy children screaming on the Tilt-a-Whirl. There was the smell of sea salt on the breeze and not a cloud in the sky. It was exactly what a summer day should be, and she had to make sure her wide grin wasn’t splitting her face in two. He’d smiled back at her enthusiasm, pulling a piece of melting cotton candy off the puffy pink mass and placing it into her mouth. The sweetness melting on her tongue blended with the melting inside her knees and chest.
It had been a wonderful day, until the Ferris wheel. She hadn’t wanted to go. Ever since she’d fallen down the stairs when she was eight and broken her arm—a terrifying head-over-heels tumble from the top floor of her childhood home ending in searing pain and blood staining the carpet—she’d been terrified of falling and heights. But, of course, he’d shrugged it off, laughing. It was a Ferris wheel, after all. No one got hurt on Ferris wheels, he explained. Maybe you’d get stuck on one, occasionally, but people didn’t die on Ferris wheels. He stopped her quiet protestations with a kiss that tasted of cotton candy and sunshine, and she’d reluctantly went with him, her trembling hand in his.
The ride was old. The once bright paint had chipped and faded over time, showing the salt and pepper steel underneath. Specks of rust were scattered about the frame, spattered mechanical blood from injuries repaired with duct tape and spot welds. She shied away from the whirling contraption, watching as the passengers’ legs dangled overhead, disembodied.
“I really don’t want to go,” she said, biting her lip. He just rolled his eyes and pulled her closer to the line.
“You’ll be fine, there’s nothing to be worried about.” And he handed the tickets to the man in stained flannel and they climbed on, her small body pressed between him and the cold metal of the seat.
It was a few moments before the wheel begrudgingly lurched into motion. She felt her gut tighten in response. Knuckles white, hands clenched, she kept her eyes glued on the whirling gulls and the passing clouds. Like this, she could almost forget that she was slowly rising, away from the safety of solid ground tight beneath her feet. As they reached the top, she could feel the seat rock, creaking with age and fighting against gravity.
“We’re going to fall,” she whispered, hands clenching tighter around the metal handle between her and the open air. As though if she held on tight enough, she would slow their inevitable crashing descent. “There’s no way this thing isn’t going to fall apart while we’re up here. Did you see the duct tape?”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” he sighed, leaning back heavily in the carriage. It began rocking, swaying from the force of his body. She thought she was going to throw up. And then they were falling, the wheel turning backwards. She could feel her heart pick up speed, as though it were falling from her body, racing towards the ground, clawing in her throat, fighting for space with the rising nausea.
“You’re really over-reacting, you know. This thing is completely safe.” He shifted and rocked the carriage again, her heart leaping, then splattering against the stained concrete beneath them.
“I think I’m going to throw up.” She said, one of her hands leaving the bar and tightening around her stomach.
He glanced over, concern starting to appear on his face, realizing the extent of her distress. “You think so? I guess we could ask them to stop the ride…” She could hear the disappointment heavy in his voice.
“Please,” she whispered, “get me off this thing. Now.”
He waved, and she could feel the machine lurch and screech, sending her stomach reeling again. They seemed to fly past the man in faded flannel as the wheel started another terrifying rotation. She groaned.
“Sorry, I couldn’t get his attention. Just hold on a few more minutes, it’ll be over soon.” He reached over and placed a hand over her arm tight with concentration and terror, a thin sheen of sweat softening her skin. She nodded very slightly, trying to keep as still as possible as her stomach rebelled. The screech of the wheel’s brakes as they slowed melded with the crying gulls, and she had to open her eyes to make sure the birds weren’t right next to her, calling out their own terror of the ungainly machine.
As the man in faded flannel let them out of the carriage, she ran towards the nearest garbage can, throwing up the cotton candy, the corn dog, the soda, everything that she’d eaten that day. After a moment, she felt his hands pulling her hair back from her hot neck. He patted her back awkwardly, mumbling platitudes.
And now, her mouth tainted with vomit, all she wanted was to go home. He’d brought her a water, which did little to help her rinse the salty-sour taste from her mouth. Pleading, she’d asked him if they could leave. His eyes widened.
“What do you mean, leave? We just got here!” Which ended that conversation.
She’d instead demanded the keys from him, much to his annoyance. He’d gotten angry with her, complaining that she was giving up on the day, on him, just because of a little mistake. Quiet and surprisingly composed, she’d told him to fuck off and led herself off the boardwalk, towards the car.
Sitting on its hood, the dark paint capturing the heat of the sun and burning it through the back of her legs, she laid back, watching the gulls wheeling overhead. They called to each other, diving past in a reckless ballet of white wings. They looked free, she thought, free and terrifyingly unified in their movements. Their height did little to deter their frantic dance, pairs of gulls swooping close to the yellow lines of parking spaces and then rising like empty plastic bags into the air, undirected and beautiful.
The scent of the sea was stronger in the parking lot, the edge of a sand dune converted to a concrete slab. Winds off the distant ocean brushed against her face, calming the heat in her cheeks and the roiling nausea that still fluttered through her stomach, the gulls’ cries drifting into waves drifting into nothing. She breathed in the scent of polished chrome, warm metal and the tangy Atlantic, and felt her stomach settle, her nerves calm, her eyes fall heavy and slow to block out the brazen sun. The sound of waves brushed against the gulls and the carnival behind her, lulling her with colorful white noise. She dozed on the hood of the car, unsure of how much time had passed, until he arrived, a large pink bear stuffed under one arm, a sweating drink in the other.
“I got you some more water. And this.” He offered her both, and she smiled. “I didn’t think you’d get sick.” He paused. “And it’s good for you to try to get over that silly Fe-”
She stopped him, pressing her lips against his. She leaned back, and she could feel a strange uncertainty creeping through her veins, leaving the reassuring smile she wanted to give him dead on her lips.
“Let’s just get home, okay?” He nodded, and she handed him the keys.
Things had been different after that. They’d fought more, first about little things that they forgave easily, then about more serious topics. Why he’d been out late, who he’d been with. Why she hadn’t told him about her visit to her mother’s, leaving him worried when he’d gotten back to their apartment and found it empty and dark. And when she’d sighed that they didn’t go out together anymore, he’d responded sarcastically.
“Wouldn’t want you to get sick or something.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked, rising from the couch.
“You know what I’m talking about. We were having a great time, and then you had to ruin it by being a child about a stupid ride.” He glared back at her, his cheeks beginning to flush.
“A child? I don’t think I was being anything of the sort. I told you I didn’t want to go on that ride. You know about my phobia.”
“And it’s stupid!” He shouted, raising his arms over his head in exasperation. “So you broke your arm, big fucking deal. I broke my finger playing baseball, that doesn’t mean I can’t watch the Reds game anymore.”
She gaped at him. “That’s not what it’s about! That thing was falling apart, it wasn’t safe.”
“And you still over-reacted. It’s a Ferris wheel, for god’s sake! It’s not like they’re death traps or something.” His face went cold, his voice quieted. “When are you going to learn that taking a risk, even a stupid fucking thing like a goddamned Ferris wheel, is a good thing?”
“It was a stupid ride, and you know how I feel about heights.” She sat back down, staring at him, uncertain comprehension starting to creep up her spine in fiery pinpoints.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I know how you are about falling.”