Following a Coaster

Ariel shuffled through the pile in the box and she laid them out like the Celtic cross, scenes in different positions meant fates for her at this time. The photographs’ borders, cut from scrap scissors, exposed a man with a delinquent frame, bad posture, leaning behind a wooden coaster after a carnival. At that moment the refrigerator pushed water through its filter and then the dog clawed to be let in from the other side of the sliding doors. Ariel kicked at Mona’s other messes by the carpet, Mona’s handkerchief and the shots of Charlie Chaplin with a handlebar mustache, living in Germany. And she put them away eventually, back in the plastic pull-out drawer where she kept them when the father was away. She shut the bi-folding doors and she left to be made-up for the main street.

She watched the Greyhound get clearance to ride through the back lot of her work, where she stepped through the exhaust that blew through vents at the electric doors. She headed back towards the lockers and wardrobe. On the other side after she’d operated left and right round 23-6-1, she saw three days worth of station clothes uniforms: the main street outfit, the one for the boat docks, and the last, the khakis and Hawaiian shirt for the character breakfasts. She grabbed the first one, put on the white pantaloons set that smelled of the sun and the trolley gas. She buttoned up the striped long sleeves with the Peter Pan collar and the matching white plume hat.

Main Street was slow by PR standards. But by the bus depot, the family she’d been photographing for the third day were happy to collect the boardwalk maps from the conductor who waited for passengers. She’d stood herself between the tree and the fake Mary Poppins pond and bridge. Some families of four were coming towards her, and since Ariel’s count for castle shots were down, she switched places with them. She had them face towards the Cinderella spools, then told them they could find their pictures at the Country Bear Jamboree after four. Then she went back to the family making small talk with the conductor against his double-decker, with the mother tuned in and her conversations ideal.

On the dinner table at home was February’s Herb Companion with Post-its stuck to open pages of ginkgo, conifers, and hornworts. She picked up a bowl full of cereal, took a seat at a wicker table chair meant for rocking. She sat back against it watching her father leaf through till he got to the one that had struck Mona. When Ariel swallowed the last corn flake, she came around to him on the other side and she pointed to the one on the left, found the one that left Mona’s finger all gangrene. And then she walked up to the sliding glass door to check it, that old used-to yard. Her father had planted more plants like that, in the middle, and they were ready he thought, with spiked leaves turned sideways, to metamorphose something else from their intents to end.

In the morning she crawled up through the attic steps in footed pajamas and knelt against fiberglass where anchor nails needed drilling into new Sheetrock. She sifted through a New Year’s Eve box with its lids folded in, but not taped. And one that had in it teenage-like things, scribbled notes that did not make sense inside, a blue sequined tight jacket under brand-name ties, and mustaches with epoxy. And things about their neighbors in words “I hate…,” “Can’t stand…” were in cursive on an embossed napkin.

Ariel went downstairs after that and she got out the box of pictures from the plastic drawers inside the bi-folding doors. When she found ones of her mother on her wedding day, she uncapped a red permanent marker and drew a thick mask around the woman’s freckles. And then when she found the one of her mother with Ariel in a booster, she drew a hasty zigzag down the spleen of the woman’s good posture.

On her assignment by the grotto, Ariel dressed up in green with a sequined pin and walked around in high tops snapping at families here and there. She stepped behind a tree to snap away at a lady with sculpted hair avoiding a middle schooler who shouted, “Come on. Just lemme nail your tail little mermaid.” After this shot the woman looked behind her and saw Ariel. Ariel stared back like the woman would have felt bad if she hadn’t known her.

At 7:30 pm after cereal in a bowl and a frozen banana, Ariel asked her father one set of questions after another until he wished it were sometime late into the am, when all things should be dark. Then she went into her room and she took out a grey suitcase from behind the sliding doors against the wallpaper and sun. She packed the sequined jacket, a pageboy hat, and she packed a toothbrush, the fake mustaches from the New Year’s boxes and some button-downs. She crossed the street after dark and made her way to the railway station cutting in front of cars on purpose so someone would say, “Excuse me, Sir.”

In Jay’s bar she walked up to him, the manager, and mentioned a name low enough so that only he and the women with smeared eyeshadow under wigs could make it out. And this manager, with bangles, who was pouring Stellas into highballs, gave her directions better than Ariel gave at amusement parks. Then Ariel looked up at a stage to watch a man lip-sync, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” wearing Illamasqua blush, yelling, “Barry!” to a man in a cornflower skirt with ballet shoes too stretched.

When she walked up to Steve, it was to hand him his jacket that had fallen from his stool and it was to ask why there was not a handkerchief in his flat breast pocket. He was wearing tight pants, one leg stepped up on an arcade stoop. And only Ramona Lee on the radio and a man who looked like John Waters made more sense than their conversation. When he went outside to smoke, Ariel went to pardon. In the ladies room she taped on the mustache she’d brought from the attic and she wrapped around herself the sequined shoulder jacket that she’d found near the drywall. She kept her hair tucked under the pageboy hat. Ariel came out and saw him standing next to the arcade game with the ash from a tray stuck near its joystick. Ariel pulled out a cigarette just like the picture and said, “Hey Mona.” When she saw Steve look up, she’d wished he’d leaned and lingered like that moment behind that old coaster. But he walked towards her instead and said, after studying his old stash, “Just stop pretending.” He walked towards the front door to travel on to home, the one which would always be closer than the one he’d left poisoned, all five years ago, now gone by.