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On the Top MAG
The man with the raisined face and a blue glass eye straps us into the seats and we’re off, circling around the flashing spokes of the Ferris wheel. It’s early September, and it feels like what Howie calls “naked weather” – you can take all your clothes off and feel just fine.
It’s speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down as the glass-eyed man loads more boyfriends and girlfriends, parents and children, and boys carrying overstuffed teddy bears into the cold, metal cars. Howie’s wearing those tattered Birkenstock clogs that I hate. He keeps saying he’s going to drop them on one of the cars below us. When we’re slowing down, Howie wriggles his toes like squirming cocktail hot dogs so the shoe balances on the tip of his foot. He laughs and then slinks the clog back on.
“Your expression is priceless,” he tells me.
“I can make that same expression without you bugging the crap out of me,” I tell him, slinking toward the other side of the seat where the metal is cold.
There’s something smeared on Howie’s cheek. It’s probably a splash of marinara sauce from the meatball grinders we ate earlier. I want to tell him to wipe the tomato scab off his cheek, but then I’d have to play “hot, cold” the food-on-face edition. Where is it? To the left … no, more. Did I get it? No, it’s still there. I wipe my cheeks with the back of my hand to see if Howie failed to notice any grinder sauce spots on my face. My hand wipes off clean.
The newlyweds in the car below ours argue about putting their collie to sleep. She’s been in doggie hospice for over a week. And three cars up, a four-year-old and his older brother are having a belching contest. Yours is louder, but mine smells worse … like onion rings.
A girl with skimpy shorts and her boyfriend with long, greasy hair are making out in the car above us. I look up to see a tangle of stringy hair and stringy legs kicking in air. The leggy girl’s bra strap snaps, and she giggles. I decide to close my eyes.
I spread my arms in front of Howie like a bird dipping and rising through warm air. The wheel stops rising. Howie smiles in my ear and whispers: “We’re on the top,” so I open my eyes. Below us, the white-capped tents leak sweet-smelling steam. The carnival scene looks like an exaggeration of the sky above us. Lots of flashing, twinkling, shooting, and spinning.
Howie reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights one.
“Where did you get those? You don’t smoke.”
“I do at a time like this.”
Howie takes a drag, and the ashes dance from the glowing tip like gray confetti. I cough. He finishes it and flicks it over the edge of the car. I wait for the shriek of a burn victim or the smell of singed hair.
The wind blows away the tobacco-laced air. I’m watching a flock of migrating geese honk southward until they disappear into dark sky. Howie starts to rock the car. I’m so scared that I scream, holding onto the sides. Howie is laughing wildly and making a great time out of it, but I feel as if these steel bars will split and I’ll plunge to the ground like a kamikaze pilot.
“Cut it out! We’re not on the Zipper. We can fall right out!”
“This is fun,” he laughs. “Katie loved this.”
I look at him hard.
“Oh, Jesus, Jenna. I’m sorry,” he whimpers.
“Don’t say anything. You’re just stupid … stupid as a clam ….”
“Really, Jenna, you just have to lighten up a little sometimes, that’s all.”
“… and you have a big-a** splotch of marinara on your face. Why can’t you eat right, Howie? Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”
I reach over and scratch the spot of sauce off his face. It looks cleaner now, but raw and fresh. Watery red rushes to fill its place.
“Christ, Jenna! That’s a scab!”
“I’m sorry. I thought it was from the grinder ….”
“I cut myself shaving with my grandpa’s old razor this morning. Now I’m bleeding again.”
I wipe off the blood with my finger and stick it in my mouth.
“Taste any good?” Howie asks. I shrug.
“It tastes like metal.”
It’s a safe, solid flavor. Now, I have a part of him and he doesn’t have a part of me. The spokes start to rotate again, and even though we’re not on the top anymore, the swinging car has slowed down to swaying, and I feel like a baby being rocked to sleep.