Near the end of her shift at the amusement park, Cilla was tired, sweaty and thinking about her favorite ride, the rollercoaster. She thought about it more than going home as she pushed a cart pedaling cotton candy. She overdosed on smiles every day. Kids ran around her dodging their parents, hyped up from sweets wanting more. She even showed up on her days off just to sit and people watch, hidden behind her reflector sunglasses. She slowed her step to take in the colorful cars crawling along, rising to the peaks of the winding track. The screams of passengers cascaded on the steep downturns, their arms waving like the fronds of palm trees standing next to her. She loved the visceral sounds, the concoction of excitement and fear. Her heart raced like the cars dashing by. She knew every turn, the way the wind hit her face. It blew at her long brown hair, tugging at her ponytail. The wild dips made her feel like she was floating, and she swallowed her heart every time.
Although her feet were dragging by the end of the shift, she like to cap her night at the park by riding the man-made metal beast. It was one of the longest, highest coasters in all the land. People came from all over the world to ride it. When she first heard the park’s informal slogan on the first day of her summer job, she felt goose bumps. “Thrills for reals.” It didn’t bother her that her crusty boss, a tubby middle-aged man welcomed her with a sticky hand. He gobbled a Honey Bun during the welcome brief for new employees. Cilla was among the seasonal workers, mostly college kids on break for the summer. Boss man played a dusty slideshow of outdated photos. He was proud of it, but he was out of touch. His remarks were just as canned. “Hope you’ll love this job, as much as I do,” he said, brushing crumbs off his purple work shirt, and patting the backs of the new employees.
Along with her boss, there were a few careerists—some high school dropouts who liked the amusement park scene and vowed to never grow up. They wreaked of pot and body odor, lacked ambition and were proud about it. One of her fellow vendors, Darvon, refused to give up wearing a grey T-shirt which depicted a giant raised middle finger under his work shirt. He showed it off to guests on occasion, then bragged about getting written up. She envied them in a way. There was no pressure of what their parents wanted them to be when they grew up, or maybe there was. Some parents might have been glad their kid had a job at all, even if all they were doing in between time was getting stoned and hanging out at the beach. At least they weren’t drugged up on opioids or heroin or meth, lost on the streets of Los Angeles, in county jail or dead. Most of the kids eventually got real jobs—becoming slaves to society, but, because they could, they put that off for as long as possible.
After the ride, the gates to the exit opened. In the middle of the throng, she could feel their hollow excitement. Even the ones retching in the corner after the wild ride, discovered something about themselves. A bond. The ride did something to them. It made them closer as friends. They may never ride it again, but for one tiny moment in time they had that courage. Taking on their besties’ dares, they got talked into doing something against their better judgement, against all reason. They got out of their comfort zone, out of their own way. Cilla got sick too, a few times, but that didn’t stop her from getting back on. Photos mounted in a scrapbook. The images showed her raising her arms and others where she held the bar with a death grip, transparent about her addiction. Each time was different, but the same. The glint in her eyes was unchanged, her gleeful mouth was wide open. She recalled those visceral screams of pure joy.
Checking her watch, she had a few minutes left. A boy about her age dashed up to her cart. He was rudely pushed forward by his girlfriend in Cilla’s direction.
“Make sure she doesn’t gyp you,” the girlfriend said, as she stood behind him with crossed arms. She wore his letter jacket even though it was still 70-plus degrees out. Her blond hair lay neatly across her forehead. Perfect bangs, and thin braids, flanked her flawless face, green eyes, pouty lips, the rest of her hair free flowing. By contrast, Cilla’s makeup melted. She wore a green and red polo shirt and khaki shorts, nothing special, and felt like a clown in front of this boy. The vending cart became a seamless part of her act. She thought, “what a bitch,” assuming she’d cheat her, and this boyfriend, who looked her in the eye, made her feel like she mattered. He even said “please” and “thank you.” She felt, the girlfriend didn’t deserve him. To her, he was cute, more than cute—sideburns, a peach-fuzz moustache, curly hair. He was shorter than his girlfriend. Cilla imagined that bothered the girlfriend with the way she looked down at him. It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The superficial girl based choosing her mate on superficial conditions. Cilla scanned mister all-around’s jacket—tiny brass symbols for football, wrestling, debate and choir covered the letter ‘G’ sewn onto the front of it.
With the cotton candy in hand, he was being dragged off.
About five minutes later, Cilla emerged from the employee locker room. She took a joint from her purse, sparked it with a lighter, and took a deep drag. No worries. She was off duty. Her tubby boss sometimes partook of the herbs with her. Like a vulture, he sometimes hovered over her, knowing she had the goods. Sufficiently baked, she dabbed what was left of the joint, a small cherry, on the side of the building that housed the changing rooms. Then, she fluffed her boobs together in a cotton blouse, and basked in the cool air floating up her loose pedal pushers. She liked going au natural—no bra, no panties. It was one of those evenings that might end up the same way, in bed alone, sleepless, but she kept eternal hope. Pushing those meandering thoughts away, she got in line for her favorite ride. There he was sans the mean girlfriend, all by himself. Apparently, the Barbie Doll didn’t value thrills, or maybe she thought the ride might mess with her perfect hair. Her loss. Cilla sidled up to him, pressing her softness against him.
“Hi there,” she said, smelling of candy and marijuana.
The timing worked. They got into the same car. The knocks of gears pulled them up to the first peak. The coaster creaked to a stop, silence. Then, she thought she could hear the breeze. Radios of the workers buzzed below them. The ride was broken.
She looked down, timid. He held her hand, eyes locked. They vowed never to let go.