Monday, December 22, 2008

Amusement Ride

I am in the bowels of a very long and thin ship, a modern recreation of a Viking ship made from black painted wood, metal and plastic. There is no water below the planks, but rather, hard pebbly land interspersed with blades of new grass, nearly invisible in the shadow of night. The boat is suspended in the air, held at least forty feet from the ground by enormous steel support beams on each side. The beams are buried far in the soil and extend vertically into the night sky, topped by a horizontal metal beam that joins them together. Welded to the center of the middle beam is another long metal pole that reaches from the underside of the air-born ship through the darkness of the bowels, up through the center of the deck and to the exact center the pole.
Within the ship, there are no windows, no portholes. It’s almost completely dark except for the cracks in the plank-wood roof which seep in short rays of yellow moonlight. The ship is a popular amusement park ride, but there are only three riders. Up, down, and up again…we swing from one point to the other with violent force, rocking mechanically between the metal beams, attempting to mimic the rolling of ocean waves, only, we cut through the air seamlessly with the force of Eric the Red.
I’m strapped to my seat by the plastic chest plate that comes with most modern roller coasters. The ship swings up high and fast, going up, then down with brutal force and speed. With each swing, my body registers panic. My stomach lurches as we trace another crescent moon with the pointed tip of the ship, then, nearly vertical, we descend, tracing another half smile. My hands are wrapped around the plastic safety belt and, with the beginning of each ascent, I take a long and deep breath. With the beginning of each descent, I release my breath in an extended exhale through pursed fish-lips.
My sister is sitting in the seat in front of me, just a couple feet away. Her long curly red hair moves with the motion of the ship. She is not anxious about the intense rocking, rather, she is preoccupied with the single piece of long plastic tubing that extends down from the ceiling between us. The tubing is thin and bendable, like the extra-long balloons that clowns turn into poodles at birthday parties, only a little thicker and stronger.
With each swing of the ship, the plastic tubing knocks me slightly on my forehead, in the exact center. My sister stares at the sight with an open mouth. She stares at the tube, watching it land on me with a light thump, over and over with each turn of the ship, neither in worry or sympathy, but dumfounded with disbelief.
Five seats away, on my sister’s right side, is my mother. She is clearly anxious. Her knuckles are white, gripping the plastic safety harness on her chest. Her face is covered in lines of fear and paralysis. Her lips are thin and her head hangs slightly forward, like a woman finally dominated by circumstances. She looks over at me and I can see within her eyes, through the blackness that nearly surrounds us, that she would cut the plastic tubing if she could, releasing me from the endless tapping on my forehead.
But she is strapped, we are all strapped, going up and down, tracing and retracing our path in endless mechanical repetition. As we travel the same route, we are nearly silent. I can only hear the light squeaking of metal beams as they glide past each other and the slight hissing of my breath through pursed lips as I struggle to remain calm. The ship is captain-less, not even a carnie graces the decks. We are alone. Below us, on the pebbly soil, is my father.

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