It’s always a good idea to examine the condition of a dangerous handmade-thing that scoffs at gravity before you trust your life to it. When was the last inspection? Does it always make that sound? Dangerous handmade-things that place a fatal distance between you and the hard, unforgiving ground require the greatest scrutiny.
The main trouble here lies in a lack of useful information, when such would be…well, useful. The people smart enough to build and explain the dangerous handmade-things that can kill you tend to be missing when the penetrating questions arise. “Beats me, pal,” and “We ain’t lost nobody yet,” aren’t answers. Those remarks usually cause more questions: Does your employer drug screen? What’s that orange splotch on the ground?
“Have you ever been on a Ferris wheel before, Jim?” Alice asked me after the chuckling attendant lowered the safety bar to our cage.
Alice’s question might have been more useful (ah, that word again) if it had been posed thirty seconds earlier. Yet no matter when it was asked, I had sworn myself to an oath of honesty before our first date had begun. “Um, no,” I said. “But I have given the matter a great deal of thought.”
Which was true. Dreams are thoughts, aren’t they? Since that’s true, perhaps, even useful, as knowledge, then nightmares, which are dreams gone bad, must also be thoughts. And the general tone of my Ferris wheel related nightmares colored my mind when the suddenly twitchy attendant pulled a lever which moved our cage up one in the queue as to allow two more people onto the ride. Our little cage, to be our Home Sweet Home, for the next eight minutes or so (if only), wobbled when it moved back.
“I think it’s supposed do that,” I said. I had suddenly felt the need to shore-up my worldliness; for it had taken a severe blow when the light of honesty fell on the fact that I am perhaps one of the four or five adult American males who had never been on a Ferris wheel before.
“If you say so, Jim,” Alice said with her wonderful and flexible smile. Her smile is a language in its own right. Underscored by kindness and gentle humor, Alice’s smile is one of those rare prizes you want to earn and never be shut out from. I also like the way she almost always addresses me my name, as though “Jim” is as rare and fun to say as, oh, “Barkevious.”
Another lurch back and up. Two more got on.
“Wow,” I said. “You can see a lot from up here.” We were about eight feet high; sprained ankle territory.
“That’s right, Jim. I can almost see the top of the burrito tent.”
Mention of the burrito tent caused my mind to trace back to the orange splotch I saw on the ground. It was shaped like one of those irregular galaxies plucked out of the deep black by the Hubble Space Telescope. Neither a majestic spiral, nor a tightly packed cluster, the orange splotch (located in the area where people get off the wheel) looked a lot like something God had put His foot in by accident (if God does such things, or has accidents). I also wondered if the people who live in an irregular-shaped galaxy know that the light from their galaxy has taken billions of years to get across Creation (you see, getting on the Ferris wheel had made me religious for eight minutes or so–heavy on the or so) just to come off in the Hubble like a splotch similar to one that lay between the Torqwamni County Fair Ferris wheel and the burrito tent? I wondered if people who live in any shaped galaxy ought to cast stones…
“Here we go, Jim!”
The next lurch back (lurch is the only useful verb there) did not end, and up and up we fell backwards. This unnatural motion brought the reality of the situation home to me. For a terrible second, Sir, sir, I have changed my mind about this, had been writ, then submitted to and accepted by the little Editor in my mind, who saw it as the most sensible thought I had written all day, maybe ever, and that it should be spoke loud and proud. But that blew away when Alice grabbed my hand, smiled all sunshiney-like and said, “Weee.”
Dad once told me to never ruin “Weee” for a lady.
Now, the Torqwamni County Ferris Wheel is nothing compared to the Seattle Great Wheel (a menacing object I view with great suspicion every weekday morning when riding the ferry to work). That thing reaches a hundred-and seventy-five feet up there. Falling from an object that tall would give you less than four seconds to get right with the Lord. This makes the seventy-percent smaller Torqwamni wheel much more dangerous, when you think about it. Falling off from the top of it would be just as fatal, but it wouldn’t give you near enough time to say much of anything useful to God.
I think about stuff like this, plenty. Whenever I get nervous my mind panics like a sparrow that has flown into the house. For instance, what percentage of Carnies are high on meth when they assemble the rides? Could be all, or none; most or just a few–Hey, even though it is statistically unlikely, a perfect fifty-fifty split is possible. I wonder if there’s a rule which allows Carnies on meth to assemble some rides but not others. I think that would have to be an unwritten rule–A Code of the Carny sort of thing. Looking back, it seems that I have besmirched Carnies on the whole. That is not my intent. Just saying that the percentage of Carnies gacked on meth is probably higher than what you might find on the Supreme Court…
“How’s that, Jim?” Alice had to yell that, because everytime a T-County fair ride is set in motion, songs from the jukebox in hell blare out over loudspeakers. Gitmo Bay confessionals like Who Let the Dogs Out; The Macarena, and Mambo Number 5. Oh Yeah was letting us have it at that moment.
“Just wondering what percentage of Supreme Court Justices are high on meth when they put stuff together,” I somehow croaked just loud enough to get across. I could feel my speech center attempt to claw its way out of my skull as to retrieve that bit of nonsense before it was too late. But it was already too late.
“That’s an interesting question, Jim,” Alice yelled back. “I’d say five to three; Ginsburg abstaining.”
It really wasn’t so bad, the perpetual lurching backwards. But when we crested and began to move forward and down, my inner child wet his britches, bucked in his car seat and filled my head with the most annoying whines possible. Something very old escaped my mouth.
“How’s that, Jim?”
“Ummm, ‘Gee Iz,’” I said. Here I began to babble. But since it kept my mind from returning to the orange splotch on the pavement, and its undeniable proximity (thus obvious connection) to the burrito tent and Ferris wheel, it seemed the sensible way to go.
What Alice heard must have sounded like this: (OHHHH YEAAAHH) “…When I was a kid…”
(THUM! THUMP-THUMP!) “…I’d tease my sister Isabel by saying…” (OHHHH YEEEEAAHH) “…’Gee, Iz,’ whenever I wanted to get away with cussing round Mom…” (THUM! THUMP- THUMP!) “…but Mom heard a middle z, like ‘Geez Iz,’ a few times too many…” Here my ears filled with a huge, metallic and grinding SCA-REEETCH!!! “…Umm-uh-umm-uh-da…wha-wha was that?”
Whatever “that” had been, the wheel stopped with a sudden jolt; this left Alice and me in our little cage swaying to and fro some thirty feet above the mocking Earth (ICU territory), at a point on the wheel best described as Ten O’clock–Ten-fifteen, tops.
One good thing, however, the “music” ceased with the stoppage of the wheel. Much swearing drifted up from the attendant below. I’ve read somewhere that people on meth tend to be freer with the toilet-tongue because they do not care all that much about anything except meth.
“Aw, geez Iz, Jim,” Alice said at a level of pique equal to what’s appropriate when you discover that the girl at the drive thru forgot to throw in catsup packets for the fries, “we is stuck.”
My level of concern was a lot higher. Yet not so surprisingly, my desire to hold Alice’s good opinion of me outweighed an almost primal need to go to pieces. Since the ride wasn’t on fire, nor were we stuck on an old abandoned Ferris wheel out in the wilderness that not even Lassie knew about, it could be that this was a perfectly normal occurrence; a kind of banal blip during the day that lacked the necessary steam to turn the wheels of conversation past lunch. I found this a most useful attitude.
“This probably happens all the time,” I said, willing this nonchalant observation out from my dry and narrow throat, through my equally arid mouth and into the air.
“Nope,” Alice said. “I’d say we’re in a pretty grim fix, Jim. How are you at climbing?”
This is when I swallowed my mouth. Teeth, tongue, gums, spit, lips, fillings, the whole mess. All that was left were eyes and nose. I wasn’t surprised; it had been coming on ever since Alice said, “Hey Jim, let’s go on the Ferris wheel.”
Then the bottom dropped out of the world, for about four feet. Apparently, the attendant had decided to ratchet us down manually, rung by rung, without as much as a “Hey folks, hang on up there, I’m gonna ratchet you down rung by rung.” So we fell forward and stopped with a lurch (there’s that word again), and swung wildly with the cage for a second or twenty. This process was repeated eight times (yes, I counted).
Naturally the orange splotch kept returning to my mind. I could no longer deny its true nature. I could no longer imagine it a galaxy or anything else that it was not. It was puke. Vomit. Barf. The end result from what the Aussies call a technicolor yawn. My mind’s eye worked up the following scenario involving the splotch’es shameful history:
A young couple (male and female, but any romantic mix will do) are on their first date at the county fair. The young woman suggests the Ferris wheel. She is not aware that the young man is afraid of just about everything up there that the universe has to offer, and Ferris wheels in particular. The young man does not tell the young woman this because he doesn’t want her to think that he has never been out of the house before. Even though the young man’s lunch at the burrito shack has yet to settle in his stomach, he readily says yes to getting on the Ferris wheel, because all young men are imbeciles when it comes to young women. This first and only date came to an end when the young man heaved on the concrete in front of his date, the Carnie, dozens of onlookers and God Himself. More than anything else in the world, I did not want Alice to think that way about me until we knew each other better. (Yes, I was willing to settle for that.)
Upon our second lurch downward, Alice leaned in close and asked, “Are you afraid of heights, Jim?”
With great effort, I sucked my mouth out of my throat and said, “A little bit. Not too much, just past, say, nine feet.” Then I gazed into her eyes and found myself saying. “Ah, hell, Alice, I’m afraid of everything.”
“Are you afraid of me?”
“You?” I said, as if, well …as if. But the third lurch forward dragged the truth out of me, which came up in a prolonged rambling bleat: “Yes! But in a good way. You see, I wouldn’t want you to see me make an orange splotch on the ground, like the other guy did–my imaginary guy–Nor did I want you to think that I’ve never been out of the house before–Been there, done that–thousands, maybe tens of thousands of times. I think that the high places thing is in all our DNAs, but more so in some than others–Although that isn’t meant to suggest that people like you, who don’t have as much ‘don’t fall,’ are lacking in any way–Not at all. I’d say that they are more evolved or are in better with the Lord–depending on your way of looking at things. I guess I just want you to like me. Wow! A little bit of a crowd forming below. All of them taking our picture. God I hate the Macarena, how ‘bout you? Wonder if anybody down there has called the cops…”
“Wave, Jim,” Alice laughed. She then yelled to the crowd: “Most of the Supreme Court was high on meth when they put this thing together.”
“Ginsberg abstained,” I added.
When we got back into sprained ankle territory, the panic-stricken sparrow in my mind found a safe way out and zoomed high into the blue sky (but not too high). What passes for dignified calm in my mind resumed its duties, and the first unkind reviews of my performance up there
were writ and posted by the inner manly men I will never be (two guys who resemble Lee Marvin and Bob Hoskins, and who both write like Hemingway). The critics more than inferred that I was a hopeless wussie and that Alice would be better off with somebody who has hair on his chest. Somebody more useful.
Upon terra firma, that orange splotch a memory, I wondered what was so good about having two feet on the ground, anyway? You can’t run with scissors down here, nor are you like to get hit by a bus up there.
I turned shyly toward Alice and said, “I guess I ought to leave out the kissing the ground part.”
She smiled. “Maybe so, Jim. But you may kiss me if you’d like.”
Banner Image: Pixabay.com
5 thoughts on “Learning to Fall by Leila Allison”
Fabulous job of getting into Jim’s mind and bringing a quirky character to life with humor and likability. I loved how the story is capped off with a tender and uplifting ending. (Also, I’ll never look at Ferris wheels or orange splotches the same again.)
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Just realized I left something out of my comment: The resonance of the title with the ending is absolutely beautiful. (I like this story more every time I read it.)
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In all your work you lift the characters out of the page. They become real and mores to the point, understandable. This connection is what is so special to the reader. Whether the scenario is complex or simple, it doesn’t matter when your characters are as relatable.
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It’s great to see this again.
I wonder if we all took an oath of honesty on a first date, how many second dates would there be??
Fun story! Jim did a good job of keeping his fears to himself, facing them and winning the girl.