We laugh at the boy in front of us because he’s fat and because our father left us to roam the park alone while he sits in Germantown drinking beer. I pick up a park map and hand it to Sloan because she’s the smart one. I have a condition that causes me to black out when I look at maps, she says, pushing it away. Maps and strobe lights. Sloan is older than me by three minutes and swears she can remember those minutes like they were yesterday. Pitch black and scary as hell. But I remember it like this: we were lost in a dark forest and Sloan took my hand. Don’t be scared, she said, I know the way, and together we ran toward that yellow ring of light.
It’s dusk now and the sky is Popsicle pink and it feels as if we walk for hours, aimlessly searching for the perfect ride, something more thrilling than the Tea Cups, less frightening than the Python, and then we see the Zipper, a tall narrow arm that stretches into the sky with dozens of small cages attached. When the arm rotates, the cages spin wildly in different directions. That’s it! Sloan squeals, and I say, that’s the one, because whatever Sloan wants, I want it too.
We get in line behind the boy who is wearing a blazing red t-shirt with a white pegasus on the back. Its wings fan out like a cape and its head looks like a horse’s one minute, a dragon’s the next. Why’s it called the Zipper? I ask and the boy turns around to face us. Because that’s what it looks like, he says and smiles. Sloan smiles back and love blooms in his crystal green eyes. She has this effect on boys, men, the fathers of our friends.
The line is long and snakes through a maze of metal railings. The yellow tracks of the Python poke through a cluster of trees above us and every few minutes there’s a rumble and hysterical screaming as it roars past. The boy keeps turning to look at Sloan and forgetting to move forward with the line, so she giggles and pushes him ahead by touching his pale, doughy arm. I wonder if his father is also in Germantown drinking beer and if later we will find them sitting together, sucking on their plastic cups.
When we reach the front of the line the boy is ushered into one cage and we are ushered into the next and the door slams shut and it feels like a jail cell. There’s a jolt and a screech and slowly we climb until we are moving faster and faster and our cage freefalls into a mad spin. We scream like we are being murdered, like we are locked inside a torture chamber, like our cage has lost its gravitational pull and we are careening through outer space; we scream to drown out all the other screaming, to obliterate our fear, and to forget that later we will find our father slumped across a table in Germantown or stumbling through the park like a zombie. Sloan will offer to drive us home and he will laugh and tell her to shut the fuck up. We will cower in the backseat of his Monte Carlo as he barrels down the highway and it will feel like we are on the Python, curling over tracks, turning upside down and right side up again. He will drive thru McDonalds and order two Big Macs, but his words will slur into doomigacs and Sloan and I will snort with laughter until he whips around to stare at us, his face open with surprise because he’s forgotten we are there.
The ride stops and starts, stops and starts, and each time we move it sounds like a freight train, and then everything comes to an abrupt end and we are at the very top, looking down on a crowd gathered around the red pulsing lights of an ambulance. There are people fluttering around, moving in frantic circles like the guppies in our fish tank right before they die, and the boy is being lifted onto a stretcher by two men.
Sloan and I do not speak, but she takes my hand. Up here, we can see across the entire park, shades of flickering neon, the Ferris Wheel like a blinking sun on the horizon, and it doesn’t seem real what’s happened to the boy because we are high above it all, in the cool clouds, the dark, quiet sky, and if we keep looking up, we won’t see all that chaos down below.