When Nothing Counts

Photo by Siyan Ren : Story by Frani O’Toole

Gore wants to be a stuntman. Delilah wants to come with. Gore keeps telling her it’s not like that, none of the guys were bringing their girls. The policy is a strict No-Girlfriends-Allowed.

The two of them are on the Ferris wheel. It’s stuck again.

“I have to get out of here,” Delilah says, kicking the air as though it were water. “My mother’s driving me crazy. Bessie’s leaving for the convent next week and busy with her replacement sisters, so now it’s just me and Mother…you know last week, she dipped soybeans in bleach and had me hide them in every corner of the house? To kill off the critters, she said…but of course, critters don’t eat soybeans, so now they’re just sitting there, browning, these little rotten poison pills.”

Gore looks out over the fields. The line where the hills meet the horizon looks like it’s been drawn in by a paintbrush. The square red barns, haystacks singed orange, cows on trim green grass — all of it could’ve been inside a production studio. Brought to you by technicolor.

“I’ll make sundaes for us every day. You love my sundaes, Gore.” Delilah takes his arm and nuzzles it. “Sundaes with lime and coconut swirl for dinner, chocolate mousse for dessert.”

The boys in the carriage below are trying to get their attention. They’re banging against the glass with their fists. They’re making lewd signs with their hands. They’re thrusting their hips and wagging their tongues and waving their arms like monkeys.

“Oh, Gore,” Delilah says, her face now buried completely in his chest, “take me away.”

The fire department is assembled at the base of the Ferris wheel. Before the firefighters can begin their rescue, they must raise the ladder — before they raise the ladder, they must navigate the fire truck through the amusement park. Obstacles include: lake-sized patches of mud, roller coaster tracks, two adjacent tilt-a-whirls. Their biggest challenge is the crowd of booths near the entrance — inside these booths, pinstriped employees sit like puppets, looking up at the Ferris wheel as they spool cotton candy out of floss, dip hot dogs in corn batter.

Next to the firefighters stands Ms. Bristol, Gore’s teacher. Ms. Bristol recently advised Gore’s mother to hold him back until he could read at an eleventh grade level. When Gore learned of this, he walked straight to the fairground and played the high striker game until his arms went limp. It was a nice feeling, the hammer coming down. The bell shivering once it was hit. The puck rocketing up, speeding skyward, a ball of mercury in a fever-pitched thermometer.

Ms. Bristol was responsible for today’s last-day-of-school field trip. Over the years she’s chaperoned this event, she’s had to be counselor, arbitrator, nurse — now all she could do was wait, clutch her hands to the rim of her sun hat.

They should’ve closed the ride the last time this happened. The youngest Wilson boy had been alone on it, right at closing. For weeks after, he had nightmares of the circle detaching from its lateral support arms, rolling down the hill, gaining traction like some great hamster wheel. A rumor got around that, since then, the Wilson boy was sleeping with a blankie; the boys who beat him up are the same who, in the carriage below, are pounding heavier. Mouthing more aggressively.

This wasn’t the first time they’d taunted Gore, though their preferred target was his brother with the spine brace. If Gore’s father ever found out about the teasing, he’d show them. Gore’s father, a mechanic, could lift anything. One time he came home late and, arms swinging, scooped Gore in one hand and his brother in the other. Gore remembered his father’s fingers spreading under his ribcage, fitting into the trenches between the bones. When his brother started moaning about his back, and his mother begged for them to be put down, his father only raised them higher — almost to the ceiling, Gore stretched out every muscle in his body, testing his wingspan.

“We can be real adults together, Gore.”

Gore looks at Delilah, startled. Reality’s pretend, he wants to say. A real-life stuntman had once come to the auto body shop, and that’s what he’d said. Gore could tell he was a stuntman just from his muscles — the man could’ve lifted a whole Chevy if he wanted to. While Gore worked on the car, the two of them talked. The stuntman had lots of advice, about Hollywood, about agents, about executing a perfect backflip. At one point, the stuntman tossed some nuts and bolts on the ground like jacks and said, When nothing counts, might as well take a risk.

Delilah draws a heart on the corduroy of his pant leg. “Let’s have a baby, Gore.”

Gore leans forward and presses his hands against the glass. He’d done higher. The fences were around ten. The willow tree in the school ground was about this height, so was the telephone pole. The window of the silo had been even higher, though that leap had ended badly.

He looks back at Delilah — Delilah looks real pretty and plush, there, facing the sunset. They’d been an item for so long, he’d forgotten how nice her features were. Those soft creases on her lips. The rosebuds under her cheeks. Was it the light, or had she started wearing makeup?

The boys below had fogged the glass and, in the cloud, drawn two stick figures — one small Gore-boy, one small Delilah-girl — engaged in something obscene.

Gore looks out and stands. He takes a small step forward, pushing his weight against the glass door until it opens. Wind rushes against his face and neck. He reaches above to steady himself and slings one leg over the sill, then another. Positioning his feet squarely below his shoulders, he tenses his calves for impact.

Last step, Gore thinks, is to close your eyes — close them tight enough to see little stars behind your lids.

“Watch me, Delilah.”

Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on May 17, 2016.

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