My best friend Ashley’s roommate Purity had a sister named Clarity. They all lived in Phoenix. Purity was coming to LA to audition for the role of Wonder Woman at Six Flags. Ashley and Clarity were coming with her. But Ashley wanted to see improv shows at Improv Olympic all day. Which left Clarity taking her sister Purity to Six Flags alone, and Purity was going to be in fittings and taking photographs all day. Clarity could have gone with Ashley to Improv Olympic, but improv wasn’t her thing. That left Clarity wandering around Six Flags by herself for an entire day. That’s where I came in.
My job was first to give all three girls a place to stay (the small apartment I shared with my friend Mike) and second, to accompany Clarity, who I had scarcely met, around Six Flags all day while Purity tried out to be Wonder Woman. Believe it or not I was not excited about this proposition. I had only met Clarity once. She had a boyfriend, a kid (though a very cute kid) and the idea of hanging around Six Flags with a stuck-up Phoenix bitch who I wasn’t allowed to flirt with was not my idea of how to spend a Saturday.
Plus it was a little complicated for me, see. I was renting cars from the airport at that time. Even though I had a good job, I didn’t have good credit, so I couldn’t buy a car. Every three weeks I went to the Burbank airport and exchanged vehicles. It was way more expensive than actually buying a car, but like I said, I had the money to buy a car, just not the credit. We do things very strange in America.
Purity and Clarity weren’t rich, but they weren’t going to be happy with some economy Citroën that was good enough for me but not two Arizona girls who had high-class taste and I didn’t want to hear about the car all the way to Six Flags so the first thing I had to do was rent something a little more upscale to impress these women. Not a frigging Mustang, just something where they’d look at it and go: Matthew must be doing well and say, “This is nice,” and get in and I wouldn’t hear another word about it.
So there was that: there was the car.
Then, additionally, I had another problem, which is that I had been at my drug dealer’s house for about seven days snorting crystal meth, and when you’re in a run like that it’s sometimes hard to bring the outer world into focus, if you know what I mean. Realities like your three friends are coming to be houseguests for two days are hard to connect with, as events that are actually going to happen that involve you participating in ways other than being high on crystal. Like you’re going to have to get off your ass and drive. And you’re going to have to carry on conversations with people who are not high on crystal meth. People who are high on crystal meth can talk to each other like family. Ditto people who are not high on crystal meth. But mix the two and you might have problems. I mean I was in a different fucking world.
Then I had to walk around Six Flags with a woman I hardly knew, on no sleep, while I was coming down. Coming down from crystal is hard enough without being thrown into a difficult social situation. And since Clarity is Purity’s sister and Purity is Ashley’s roommate and Ashley is my best friend, it’s kind of important that I’m nice to Clarity and show her a good time. I’m basically responsible for making sure Clarity has a good day while her sister auditions for Wonder Woman and if there’s anything you know about crystal meth it’s that crystal meth and responsibility do not go in the same sentence.
So this is the problem I’m faced with, people. My meth run is being interrupted by a bunch of high-class primrose bitches who somehow are going to stay at me and Mike’s two-bedroom apartment, while Ashley goes off to watch improv comedy all day and Purity—who I barely knew—and Clarity—who I knew even less—did Six Flags for up to one entire day..as long as it took Purity to audition. When I say primrose bitches I’m being a little harsh. I just mean girls who put on makeup every single day, who do their hair and carry purses and freshen up their lipstick at regular intervals and wear chains and multi-finger faux-platinum plates that say Clarity and Purity.
Like, my drug dealer is my friend, ok? She doesn’t wash her hair, I’ve never seen her take a shower, she sleeps with her dog—and me—and her skin is all fucked up from doing at least one line of meth every day (by which I mean ten lines like continuously throughout every day). She doesn’t paint her fucking fingernails. She doesn’t go to the spa. She doesn’t get her cuticles done or her eyebrows plucked and this is the type of girl I’m used to hanging out with.
Clarity and Purity didn’t have a pristine upbringing or anything, but they come across like they did. You have to go digging with them to find the dirt. I’m used to girls whose dirt is on the surface.
My defenses were up, I admit. I was skeptical. I wasn’t looking forward to this. I mean Clarity is a beautiful chick—so is Purity. They maintain themselves. The way I met Purity? Ashley took me in when I was homeless. These aren’t the type of girls who would ever be homeless. They’re up here—I’m down here. Me and Clarity being thrown together—just the two of us—for an entire day at Six Flags, was an artificial situation to say the least.
The first thing I did was rent a car. I traded in my Citroën for a Nissan SUV—I didn’t even know Nissan made SUVs. But this one was nice. You crawled inside it and it had a sunroof and that I Didn’t Know Nissan Made SUVs feeling and it had one of those crazy gear shifts that is unnecessarily complex since you’re driving an automatic but it makes you feel like you’re driving something designed by NASA to eject itself from the Earth.
“I’ll take this one,” I said.
“Very good,” some guy from Sri Lanka said.
I turned up the tunes and drove from the Burbank airport to my apartment in Valley Village—“The Beverly Hills of the San Fernando Valley” our landlord had told us, when Mike and I were looking at the apartment. It wasn’t really the Beverly Hills of the San Fernando Valley—there’s really no Beverly Hills of anywhere but Beverly Hills—but it was a very convenient neighborhood with a laundromat and a WingStreet and a bunch of liquor stores.
This was Friday. Mike was off shooting National Treasure 3 or some shit. His uncle was Jerry Bruckheimer so while the rest of his classmates from film school were working their way up as unpaid production assistants or working non-film jobs like me, Mike was working as a camera assistant on A-list films produced by his uncle. So Mike was out when I returned to the apartment, and I took his spot, just to spite him. He had the covered spot. I had the uncovered spot. I took the covered spot.
When I went inside everything was dark and cool. All the blinds closed. Air conditioning blasting. Mike made good money; I made great money. So we kept the refrigerator full, the air conditioning on blast, and we subscribed to HBO. That one channel doubles your cable bill but fuck it, we had the cash.
I went into the kitchen. Through the blinds I saw hints of the neighboring building’s pool. That was the one problem with this apartment—no pool. And there was no way to sneak into the neighbors’ pool—it had a high wall around it.
I looked at the top of our refrigerator and was treated to one of the most beautiful sights in the universe: twenty bottles of assorted liquor and wine, in all their carefully designed colors and shapes. Aged. Imported. Made to please a person like me, which, I was later to figure out, was an alcoholic.
I poured myself a half a glass of warm gin and went to my room. I’ll tell you what the furniture is, as it comes into play later. A desk with an iMac on it. A funky orange chair from IKEA. And one mattress, on the floor, no bed frame, no box springs, just a fucking mattress with a down comforter and a shitload of cashmere pillows.
I call Mike.
“I’m having some company this weekend.”
“So you’re kicking me out, huh?”
“No, I’m just warning you there’s gonna be like three hot girls sleeping in my bed so don’t be surprised.”
“Where are you gonna sleep?”
“I guess the couch.”
“Buddy, you should have told me. Look Saturday night I’m going to be butt fucking this little costume girl named Anna, so you guys can use my bed then. For tonight, sorry, I can’t help you.”
“That’s no problem. Mostly I just wanted you to know.”
“Alright, well I gotta go. We’re about to shoot a really important scene and I am the lead camera assistant.”
“You got promoted to lead?”
“No. Yes, I got promoted to lead but..no..we’re not shooting anything. I’m hanging out at craft services doing blow.”
“Now that I believe.”
“And drinking vodka Red Bulls. Anna, you want to say hi to my roomie? He’s a computer genius. He makes about five times now what I’ll ever make in this shit business. I’m just kidding—this is my chosen profession! You’re still letting me up the b-hole, aren’t you little Anna? That’s my girl. Alright, buddy, well, see you later.”
“I’m about to crash.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen you in a while. Are you fucking that girl?”
“No. We just sleep. Me, her, and the dog.”
“You think she fucks her dog?”
“Yeah, she seems like the kind of girl that would fuck her dog.”
“Well, gotta go! Gotta do some blow!”
“See ya later motherfucker,” my roommate says.
I sit at my kidney-shaped IKEA desk and go to Facebook. I go to Ashley, then to Purity, then to her sister Clarity. I study her profile picture. I have met Clarity once before but only for like five minutes when Ashley and Purity had rescued me from being homeless and Clarity came over to drop off Asha. Asha is Clarity’s daughter, and she’s five, and at five, the cutest, smartest, most precocious human being I have ever met.
Clarity and I are not Facebook friends, so all I can see is one photo of her face. I try to match that up with the her I met in real life for five minutes that one day. Clarity and Purity are nothing alike. If Purity is Sleeping Beauty then Clarity is Amy Winehouse. Purity is still a virgin. If Clarity shit on your dick it would probably make you cum.
I drink all the gin in my glass, don’t even try to jerk off ‘cause I’m still high on meth, and close out of Facebook so I don’t look like a stalker.
Then I get in bed with all my clothes on, throw a yellow pillow over my head, clamp it down with my arms, and hope—hope hope—that I can get some sleep before these girls show up.
I wake up with someone’s arm over my chest, her leg slightly over mine like lovers do. It is Ashley. Her eyes are open.
“Good morning, friend.”
“Good morning, Ash.”
“We tried to wake you but..there was no waking you. Were you passed out?”
“I hadn’t slept in a while.”
“Well you smelled like gin. You still do.”
I look over Ashley and see that there are four of us in bed, me, Ash, Purity, Clarity, sleeping short ways on my mattress like sardines, everyone holding onto everyone, half-under and half-over my down comforter, afghans drug in from the couch and people sleeping with their coats on.
“We couldn’t figure out how to turn off your air conditioner. Do you and Mike always keep it like this?”
“We like it cold.”
“I’ll say. We’re lucky Purity had her snowboarding gear in the trunk.”
“Purity does everything. Except have sex.”
“Hey,” Purity says. “Can we not talk about my virginity it’s five in the morning.”
“Sure,” Ash says sardonically. “We’ll wait till seven. Then we’ll talk about your virginity.”
“Fuck! It’s five already!”
“I wanted to leave by five. Matt. Hi. How are you? Can we be ready to go in half an hour?”
“Purity, I’m ready to go as soon as you say so. Shower’s all yours. Soap and all that shit’s in there.”
“Ok, let me wake my sister. Clarity. Clarity. Ashley, will you make sure she’s awake and dressed by five-thirty? I want to leave in half an hour.”
“Sure,” Ashley says, and she rolls back over on me.
Purity takes Ashley by her shoulder.
“I’m serious. This is a very important day for me.”
“I know it is, Purity. I know it is.”
So I see the lovely sight of virginal Purity get out of our sardine bed in flannel jammies, plump ass, frizzled hair, and half an hour later me, Purity, and Clarity are standing in front of my Nissan SUV on some anonymous street in Valley Village, California. I let everyone in with the key fob. Purity takes the seat up front; Clarity spreads out on the row of seats right behind us.
I pull out into nonexistent traffic and head for the 101.
“This is nice. Did you buy this?”
“No I’m just renting.”
“It’s nice to be up high over people,” Purity says as we merge onto the highway.
Clarity is lying on the seat with her eyes closed.
“Clarity put on your seatbelt,” Purity says.
“I’m serious. Do you know what the number one cause of death is among adults in America?”
“Well after that it’s seatbelt deaths! Put your seatbelt on!”
“Can we go to McDonald’s?” Clarity grumbles.
“Yeah there’s one right before Six Flags,” Purity says.
So we drive through.
“You didn’t turn vegetarian, did you?” Purity asks.
“Why the fuck would I do that?” I say.
“Well you moved to California.”
“I’m not a vegetarian.”
“Good,” Clarity says. “No offense but I don’t want to be hanging out with some limp-dick vegetarian all day.”
“Well. Look who’s awake. Are we ready to order?” Purity says all Miss Sunshine to her sister.
I look back at Clarity. She has a cigarette hanging out her mouth, eyes half-closed, lighter in one hand.
“Do you mind if I smoke this in here?”
Purity presses down on the automatic window.
“Fine with me,” I say. And I almost ask for one. And I should have, ‘cause it would have broke the ice between me and Clarity a lot earlier than it eventually got broke, but I didn’t. I didn’t go with my gut. She was smoking Misty Rose 100s which is part of why I didn’t jump at the opportunity to smoke one. I mean, do I look like a guy who smokes Mistys?
Honestly, I judged her for the Mistys. To me they made her seem like even more of a primped-up girl than I already thought she was. What’s next, a stuffed pet monkey that she keeps in a white purse? A keychain that’s three feet long: two and a half feet of key rings and a measly six inches of keys? Did I get that right? Two and a half feet..six inches..it’s early, I’m diving, I got to keep my thoughts on the road. But you know what I mean. I don’t want to hang out with some super bitchy girly girl all day. I don’t even want to be doing this. I only said yes because Purity is a friend and more importantly Purity is a friend of Ashley and I would do anything for Ashley.
Ashley, who is still asleep in my bed, not driving to Purity’s job interview at six in the morning.
We eat our McDonald’s. Everyone’s mood improves. The sun rises to our right and we finally get to Six Flags. Purity directs us to the staff parking lot, which is unpaved and on a hill. We park way away from the entrance, on the edge, near a goddamn forest.
Purity says, “Wait right here. I’ll get us tickets.” She has that light in her eyes, that cheerfulness, those wonderful smiling cheeks and beautiful teeth that are why she is one of the few people in this world who actually has a chance at playing Wonder Woman at Six Flags in southern California—even the women playing Wonder Woman on Hollywood Boulevard, taking pictures with tourists for tips, would have no chance of ever getting this job.
Clarity gets out of the car. I get out of the car.
We wait for Purity to come back.
Clarity stares at her phone, texting or pretending to text somebody, somewhere. She never looks at me once.
She leans against the Nissan SUV.
I walk around, trying to give her space, trying to be polite.
We never say a word the entire time Purity is gone.
When Purity gets back she’s show hands and all smiles.
“Guess what you guys?! I got you free passes!”
Oh good. In addition to being here against my will, I’m not going to have to pay a hundred bucks to get in the front door.
“They’re not staff passes, so you have to go in the regular gate. You’ll have to drive around to get there, but I figure we can meet for lunch, and by then I’ll know if they need me for the afternoon, and I have to come and go only through the staff gate so I need you to pick me up here either after lunch or later in the day.”
Purity and I hug.
“Are you excited? I’m so excited!” she says.
“I’m excited,” I say.
Purity goes to her sister and forces her way in between her and the phone.
“What about you, Clarity? Are you excited?”
“I’m overjoyed,” she says deadpan.
“You two are gonna get to have all the fun. I’m gonna be costume fitting and look at me. Matthew. You see my flat belly? That was six months of hard work and no McDonald’s. Well, this morning!” Purity says, and laughs hysterically. “Here’s your pass and here’s your pass.”
Purity makes a sour face.
“The park doesn’t open for another forty minutes so you two are gonna have to find something to do.”
Of course I imagine fucking Clarity half against her will in the back of the Nissan SUV.
“I’d recommend getting in line,” Purity says with one half of her mouth drastically pulled to one side, “because the lines can get rather unruly if you know what I mean. Call me, ok? I gotta go. And if my phone is off..I’ll call you back.”
“Good luck, Purity.”
“Yeah, good luck, sis.”
Purity waves hugely, just like a Disney character, and says, “I’ll see you both later, ok?”
She’s a natural to play a cartoon character at an amusement park. I don’t know anyone else—even among people who love kids—who would simply get off on making kids happy by smiling and waving at them all day. Purity is an explosive ball of energy and happiness.
Clarity is an introverted, sullen wigger.
Purity turns and goes. I can see, just in the way she walks, that she’ll get the part. That part is in the bag. I just hope it can happen by noon and we can get the fuck out of here.
“So. You wanna wait by the front gate?” I ask.
Clarity takes her sweet time to answer. When she does, she looks up from her phone.
“I’m sorry, ok? I’m not trying to be rude. I’m just not used to being up this early in the goddamn morning. And Purity is just too..fucking..*positive..*for this time of the day. I haven’t seen her in a while and I forgot how fucking..upbeat that girl is. And I know I don’t know you, so I shouldn’t get all Mr. Rogers Sharing Time on you, but growing up next to that, it’s like, by comparison there was always something wrong with me. You know? Just ‘cause I’m not going to Texas to do mission projects with the youth group. I was never into that shit. I’m not a ‘good Christian.’ And I don’t know where you’re coming from with all that, but you know Purity—not me—and if you’re expecting me to be like Purity..”
“Clarity. I don’t know you from Adam—”
“It would probably be I don’t know you from Eve.”
“I don’t know you from Eve, Clarity. I don’t have any expectations of you. I love Purity. She gets on my nerves sometimes, too. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her any less. She’s always been cool to me. If you’re her sister, you’re probably cool too—maybe in a different way. There’s no way I could ever play Superman at Six Flags or even do a single scene of improv comedy. I sit behind a computer eight hours a day and make websites for the Army. I’m not exactly living my perfect life, but I don’t expect you to be like your sister. Ok?”
“You wanna go wait by the front gate so we beat the lines?” I say.
“I don’t really care about the lines,” Clarity says. “Do you mind if I burn a cig?”
“Do you mind if I bum one?”
Clarity gets two out of her purse. She lights her own and hands me the lighter. We lean against the SUV.
And we smoke.
For a while we didn’t say a thing while we smoked those Mistys. I got over myself and smoked a cigarette that wasn’t my first choice and maybe Clarity got over herself and stood beside a guy she’d never speak to in real life, never even be seen with.
“I wish we had some beer,” she says.
“Maybe they have some in the park.”
“No. I think these are like family-like places.”
“But look here,” she says.
And she pulls out of her purse a badly crumpled map of Six Flags, and it’s upside down so she turns it rightways and uses her Misty to point to an area on the map.
“Look. Number 69. Liberty Pub. Beer and wine. Opens at noon. So if we can make it to noon, you want to get a drink?”
“I’d love to.”
“You have to drink it within the pub area. I was looking this up just now. You can’t carry your drink out but I figure if we carry a couple of soda cups in, we can carry some beer out.”
“I’m more of a wine guy.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m a wine girl. I just assumed you’d drink beer. I’m sorry.”
“No, no, Clarity. That’s fine.”
I take the map from her and scope out Liberty Pub.
“This definitely has potential.”
“You want another cigarette?”
And we smoke that one, and even though Clarity and I were friendly for a moment, not a single word is said through our second cigarette. I try to speak, but some black hole of silence holds me back. I wonder if she is experiencing a similar effect. A little window of friendliness had opened up quickly between us and it closed just as fast.
We wait in line together, Clarity going through her purse like a bag lady, taking some kind of essential inventory that must be taken before entering a Six Flags. I try not to notice but she has multiple packs of cigarettes, not all Mistys, she has mini Kleenex, Narcotics Anonymous key tags that have been removed from her sprawling, active keychain waterfall. She has a bunch of other stuff in there but I guess it’s not polite of me to tell you what all’s in a girl’s purse.
As soon as we go through the gate somebody takes our picture, a short little Himalayas-looking girl with this huge camera/flash setup. Today she’d probably have an iPhone but this was way back, before iPhones were everywhere.
“You want your picture? You want your picture?”
Clarity just blows past her without saying anything.
“I want to ride the people mover,” Clarity says. “After that, I’ll ride anything you want. You can choose. But I have to ride the people mover ‘cause it’s my favorite ride since I was a girl. Purity and I used to ride it up and down like a million times and our father hated it but I guess that’s part of the appeal, you know?”
“What’s the people mover?”
Clarity blinks at me like Bambi in slow motion.
“You don’t know what the people mover is?”
I shake my head.
“This way,” she says, and she starts walking.
I have no choice but to follow behind her. I wonder if we’re going to walk like this all day, with me or Clarity leading and the other one tagging along behind, like we hardly know each other, instead of walking side by side like civilized people.
We don’t walk long, though, ‘cause the people mover starts right at the front of the park. It’s still empty enough that there’s no line. A brown-skinned guy looks like he’s about 13 opens a rope for us and lets us on the waiting gondola. That’s what the people mover is: these big cars with benches all made up to look like gondolas, but they’re not suspended or anything. They run on a track on the ground up a steep hill. The whole purpose of the people mover is so that if you’re tired at the end of the day you don’t have to walk down a steep hill with your grandmother..or if you’re people in your late twenties who are just so lazy that first thing in the morning you don’t feel like walking up a steep hill just to get to the rest of the rides in the park.
I shouldn’t say late twenties. I was 27. Clarity was 26. Something like that.
Anyway we sat on opposite sides of this faux-gondola car and tried not to look at each other. The car jerked to a start and then proceeded up the hill at an absolutely glacial pace. Chug chug chug. You could have crawled up the hill faster than this.
Clarity and I look at each other and laugh.
“But this way it’s easier,” she says.
“A fucking chipmunk could walk up that hill faster than this,” I say.
“But it’s not about speed,” Clarity says. “It’s about good time family memories.”
“Do you have a lot of good time family memories from coming here as a kid?”
“Ask me that later. But the short answer is no.”
I look around. The park is about as full as I like it: just people here and there. Children yelling at their parents. Parents yelling at their children. Fathers shelling out the forty bucks it costs to get your entry into the park picture—a total rip off. What a memory. It perfectly captures the look on your face after you just paid a hundred bucks a head for your whole family to get into a park so you can risk your life on deadly rides and eat funnel cake. The funnel cake will cost twenty dollars but will be totally worth it. And if you’re lucky your five-year-old daughter will see Wonder Woman—and that really will be a memory of a lifetime..the smile on your little girl’s face as she meets WW or a real life princess of some sort and you get to take a picture with her with your own camera and just pay the girl playing the princess tips in cash.
I remember my first time on a rollercoaster. Some wooden one in Jersey called the Thunder Hawk, I think. My girlfriend who was three years older sat next to me and the ride was jerky as hell. Since then I became something of a rollercoaster junkie.
Clarity takes out a cigarette from her purse and she’s so into her own world she doesn’t think to offer me one. But it’s ok—I like her this way, not attending to my cigarette needs, instead being in her own world, no doubt remembering whatever hellish family memories she had when they came to this park as kids. Purity was Clarity’s older sister by one year. Purity was a pious Christian, this after some nebulous period of teenage wildness that was only ever referred to by Purity in shadow. It was hard to imagine what she did that was all that bad since she was still a virgin, but I believed her—she had taken some detour that, as usual, returns a person to their childhood values except even stronger and more rigorously and more literally than they ever followed them as a child. Purity was a straight arrow now. No sex before marriage. No marriage in sight. Clarity was a year younger, not married, with a five-year-old kid. Purity drank like a sparrow. Clarity drank like a sailor. But one sister is not so unlike the other—when Purity moved to LA not long after, she worked as a bartender at Improv Olympic, where Ash was going to see shows that day that Purity, her sister, and I went to Six Flags for Purity’s Wonder Woman audition? Purity kind of went crazy in LA (like I did). At the end of the night, Clarity’s big sis could often be found hugging the toilet at her place of employment. She drank so much on the job, LA people were telling her she had a drinking problem. And when LA people tell you that, it means you are a hardcore alcoholic and you need to put down the glass and run.
I looked at Clarity, up and down, while she rested her head in her hand and smoked. I had heard stories, but never seen it for myself: if Purity was the mild one of the two, I would love to see Clarity go wild at a bar.
When we got to the top of the people mover, Clarity flicked her cigarette and it landed right next to this kid who was part of a family who had just walked up the giant hill. He looked at it, then looked over at me and Clarity with this crumpled brow like he was so above us for not littering and being part of a generation that knew smoking was bad for you from the beginning and would never do a thing like that. He galloped ahead a little to catch up with his family.
Clarity and I looked at each other and busted out laughing.
“You just ruined that kid for life.”
“He’ll never trust adults again.”
“No, he’ll probably turn into a hardcore Misty smoker.”
“Fuck, I’m sorry about the Mistys. I’m just trying to get rid of these before I smoke my Parliaments.”
“You have Parliaments in there?”
“Eh! Eh! We have to smoke the Mistys first. My girlfriend willed me these after a night at the El Capitan and I promised her I’d smoke them for her so they didn’t go to waste.”
“Why don’t you hand ‘em to me and I’ll throw ‘em in this trash can right here, that way you don’t have to take responsibility.”
“Well if you hadn’t told me what you were going to do with them, then I wouldn’t have been taking responsibility. As it is, I’d be just as responsible as you, since I know what you’re going to do with them.”
“You have a problem with responsibility?” I say.
“Yeah,” Clarity says. “I do.”
I shake my head.
“Well, you better give me one of those Mistys so we can get through them.”
“You would do that for me?”
“I feel I have to, out of a sense of responsibility.”
Clarity hands me a Misty and a lighter.
“Look, dude, what are we gonna do all day?”
“We’re gonna chain smoke this pack of Mistys—”
“I have two packs of Mistys.”
“We’re gonna chain smoke two packs of Mistys. We’re gonna wait till that Liberty Pub opens and we’re gonna drink.”
“Liberty Pub opens at twelve. It’s eight in the morning dude.”
“Stop calling me dude.”
“It’s eight in the morning, Matthew Temple. You talk so formal when you talk.”
“Is that a problem for you?”
“No I’m just observing, ok? Aren’t people allowed to observe people?”
“Everyone says I talk formal.”
“Are you uptight?”
“Do I seem uptight to you?”
“Well maybe I am. I mean we’re living in a world where bitches named Clarity throw lit cigarettes at children named Scooter, scarring them for life.”
“Scooter deserved to die.”
“Deserved? Like he deserved to die a minute ago but now he no longer deserves to die?”
“That’s right. That was his one chance. See? You’re correcting the way I speak, asshole—don’t you think that’s a little uptight? Are you gay?”
“What?! If I speak properly or correct the way you talk then I’m gay? Do you know how offensive that is?”
“It’s only offensive if you’re a shit-licking fag.”
“Oh fuck. No. It’s offensive to everyone, everywhere, shit-licking fag or not. There isn’t justice anywhere until there’s justice everywhere or something like that. It’s Martin Luther King. I’m misquoting but you get the point.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere you douchebag. And it’s Martin Luther King Junior, ass munch.”
“Oh!! Look who’s correcting language now! I should have known given how nice Purity is that you would be a whoring fucking cunt.”
Clarity looks at me super seriously.
She breaks out of character.
“I’m just fucking with you,” she says. “Ahhh! I had you. I fucking had you.”
She’s speaking with her lips pursed around a fresh Misty.
She lights it.
She waves the box around in front of my face, raising her eyebrows, asking me if I want one.
I snatch the box.
“You’re a fucking faggot if you smoke Mistys,” she says.
“I’m just helping you out, faggot. You’re the one smoking Mistys.”
“I’m just helping out a friend.”
“Well I’ll help you out,” I say.
We smoke a couple of drags.
“Look there’s something I have to say. I mean I have to draw the line somewhere—”
“You have a boyfriend so don’t flirt with you,” I say. “I wasn’t going to flirt with you. Why does every girl think that every guy is going to flirt with them? It’s like you’ve got to drop the I’ve got a boyfriend or I’ve got a husband line ‘cause you think we’re all wild dogs.”
“That’s not what I was going to say,” Clarity scoffs.
“Well don’t worry, I won’t flirt with you, regardless of what you were going to say.”
“You’re a very bad listener. Did you ever wonder if that’s why you’re single?”
“You don’t know if I’m single or not!”
“Phwff. You’re fucking single. Now if you’ll please let me say what I was going to say.”
“Sure. ‘Draw the line,’ as you said. Draw your line. What’s your fucking line?”
“I don’t do rollercoasters,” she blurts.
“That’s what you were going to say?”
“Yes and you assumed I was going to play the I have a boyfriend card so that says something about your mentality, not mine.”
“Well do you have a boyfriend or not?”
“What the fuck dude? We’re talking about rollercoasters.”
“Well then we’re going to have a problem.”
“Why? You love rollercoasters?”
“You really love rollercoasters?”
I nod bigger.
“You’re one of those motherfuckers who waits for the first car?”
I smile. I nod. I look Clarity directly in the eye.
“Nuh uh,” Clarity says.
“Let me explain something to you,” I say. “It’s all about the first car—or the last. I don’t ride rollercoasters unless I’m in the first car. It’s not worth it. It’s like playing just the tip all your life and calling yourself a virgin because you want to hold onto your idea of purity when really, if you let yourself go, you could be fucking, you could be riding in that first car, you could have your hands above your head pissing yourself ‘cause that first drop is so scary that..well..that you have to piss yourself.”
I take a long drag off my Misty.
“You have some strange ideas about things,” Clarity says.
We start walking without talking about where we’re going.
“What was that called anyway?”
“The Orient Express. And don’t say it’s racist ‘cause it’s not racist.”
“I wasn’t going to say that, geez.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll go on with you.”
“Sure,” I say.
“It has no loops,” Clarity says.
“It’s just an old-school wooden rollercoaster. Is that going to be enough for you?”
“Can we sit in the front car?”
“What is it with you and the front car?”
“We don’t have to ride in the front car.”
“Will you be able to get all the thrills you are seeking?”
“It’s eight in the fucking morning. I don’t mind starting slow,” I say.
“There’s only one ride I won’t go on,” Clarity says.
“Why won’t you go on it?”
“Because it has this insane first drop. It’s like straight but curves around like this and it was the tallest in the world but they just built one in Japan that’s taller.”
“Alright,” I say.
“Alright what,” says Clarity.
“Alright we’ll ride every rollercoaster except Goliath. I’m ok with that.”
“Hahaha. I didn’t say that. All I said is I’ll go on the Apocalypse. If you push your luck I’ll be waiting in the car and you can ride rollercoasters by yourself all day.”
“Where is the Apocalypse?”
“It’s kind of a long way from here.”
“There’s no people mover. Do you think you can handle it?”
“Lead on, oh charitable one.”
“You are so fucking funny. I bet your workmates think you’re a fucking blast. What do you do, like install computers or something?”
“Is that what Purity told you?”
“I write software. For computers. You got your hardware guys and you got your software guys. I’m a software guy. I couldn’t install a printer driver for your mom. It’s a whole different trip. What do you do?”
“I work in a Mexican restaurant. But wait. What’s your trip?”
“My trip is ones and zeroes. Writing human-readable language that gets turned into machine code that tells the computer what to do. So it’s like logic and algorithms and—”
“I get it. Smart people stuff. You’re smart, I get it. You don’t have to tell me twice—”
“I didn’t tell you at all! Most programmers aren’t that smart.”
“Oh, I thought you had to be smart to do that.”
“You do. Most programmers suck ass.”
“Or you have a superiority complex.”
“I don’t, believe me, I hate myself most of the time.”
“But that means you think you’re important,” Clarity says.
“How does it mean that?”
“Even hating yourself means you’re obsessed with the self. You think you’re important enough for you or other people to hate. If you thought less of yourself you wouldn’t even think you were worth hating. It’s all-or-nothing thinking. Haven’t you ever been to an AA meeting?”
“Yes I have. Have you?”
“Yes I have.”
“Well that’s something we have in common.”
“I suppose you’re right, ones-and-zeroes boy. Come on, the Apocalypse is up this way. And I lied.”
“It was an NA meeting I went to,” Clarity says, “not an AA one.”
“So was mine,” I say.
“No, I’m serious.”
“What drug? No. Don’t tell me. We’ll end up smoking crack in your Nissan SUV all day and forget to pick up Purity.”
“Probably a good idea.”
“Not to tell.”
“Deal. No drug talk.”
Clarity stops walking.
“I thought we were going to the Apocalypse.”
“We are. Hold out your hand. There you go. Now shake. You can’t make a deal without a contract or a handshake or something. Now it’s official. No drug talk.”
“But we can talk about alcohol all we want,” Clarity laughs.
“Tell me about your job?”
“Why? So you can get close to me and get down my pants?”
“*No..*so we have something meaningless to talk about while we hurl ourselves toward the Apocalypse.”
“You think my job is meaningless ‘cause I’m a waitress while you’re wrangling the ones and zeroes?”
“No I just think all work is meaningless. Jobs anyway. I wish I could work in a restaurant sometimes.”
“Well don’t glorify it if you’ve never done it. It looks easy but it’s not. And you have to work with people you hate, just like in an office job. It’s hard for me to imagine you ever working in a restaurant.”
“I have worked in restaurants,” I say.
“I’ve worked as a dishwasher at Denny’s and two places in Tucson when I was homeless.”
“Yeah, Purity told me you were homeless.”
“That’s how I met Purity. She and Ashley were nice enough to take me in.”
“That must have been rough.”
“No, living with Ashley and Purity. Come on, zero boy, it’s right around here. There’s nothing like the Apocalypse to make you forget your troubles.”
As we went to the Apocalypse, we heard, “Get out of the way!” and “Clear! Clear!” and here come four police officers with their hands on their guns, running the opposite direction of us. It was kind of odd that they were yelling, “Clear! Clear!” since there was hardly anyone walking the wide concrete paths of Six Flags.
The officers were making brief contact with everyone they passed and asking them questions, running backward during these interactions and when they got to us it was a black, female cop who asked the questions.
“Have you seen a short Mexican boy with a gun?”
“A Mexican boy with a gun?”
“What’s your name, young lady?”
The woman is leaning into Clarity’s face.
“Where are you coming from, Clarity?”
“The people mover.”
This woman screwed up her face.
“The people mover? What the fuck is that?”
“The Orient Express? It’s number 12 on your map.”
“Are you trying to be smart with me young lady?”
“Then why are you laughing?”
The cop un-snaps her gun and puts her other hand on her radio.
“Why are you laughing?”
“ ‘Cause. Everyone knows what the people mover is.”
“Are you insinuating that I’m new here? That I don’t know how to do my job?”
“I’m not insinuating anything.”
“What about you, Bucky Boy, you coming from the people mover, too? What I need to know,” she says, before I can answer, “is whether you’ve seen a short Mexican boy with a gun.”
“I haven’t seen anyone with a gun,” I say.
And Clarity says, “Why, did somebody shoot someone?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, a short Mexican kid shot his friend in the eye.”
“Why do you keep saying, ‘Mexican?’ ”
“Because this kid is a fucking Mexican!”
“But I mean? Hispanic? Latino?”
“Are you trying to be a smart ass?”
“I’m trying to be respectful.”
“Well in my line of work we don’t always have time to be respectful. My job is to make sure this Mexican punk doesn’t shoot anyone else in the eye. We might have to close the park.”
“No, please. My sister has an audition today and we drove all the way from Phoenix.”
“What’s she auditioning for?”
“She got the kind of looks that part requires?”
“Yes, ma’am, she does.”
Then this rude black cop looks at Clarity a little too long and you can tell she’s thinking that Clarity’s sister must have got the Wonder Woman genes in the family because there ain’t no way this girl here could play Wonder Woman.
“She’s a lot prettier than me,” Clarity says.
“Well we’ll try not to shut the park down if we don’t have to.”
“Thanks. I mean this is her shot. If she gets this job she can move to LA and..you know..live her dream.”
“No offense, but you don’t get out to Six Flags that often, do you?” this cop says.
“Well, look. Good luck to your sister and everything, and I hope she gets to live her dream, but this isn’t the best place to work these days. Six days out of seven we have to shut down the park ‘cause some dumb Mexican shoots someone.”
“Six days out of seven?”
“Are these fatal shootings?”
“Yes, six days out of seven and yes, they are fatal shootings. You don’t know anything about this neighborhood, do you?”
“Well it used to be white. All white. And back in them days there wasn’t no shootings at no Six Flags. There was the occasional rollercoaster derailment but you expect that when you go to an amusement park—am I right? What you don’t expect is for some Mexican punk to shoot some other Mexican punk over the fact that one of ‘em touched the other one’s girlfriend or jumped his place in line. That’s the kind of thing that white people definitely do not expect when they go to an amusement park. And black folk, we just glad to get out of Compton and shit ourselves on some rollercoaster with a bunch of white people, you know?”
“All I’m saying,” says Clarity, “is that Mexican is likely not the right word to describe this kid—”
“This kid who shot his friend in the eye?”
“Whatever. If he was born in America, then he’s an American.”
“Lemme see inside that purse.”
“ ‘Cause I want to know what’s inside.”
“There’s no gun, if that’s what you’re looking for—”
“You need a warrant to search her purse anyway,” I say.
“Not if she consents. Do you consent for me to search your purse.”
Clarity’s purse is this tiny white thing. I’m having trouble imagining a gun that would fit inside it.
She shoves it toward the officer.
The officer looks inside.
She looks up at Clarity with her eyebrows raised.
“Yes, Jesus fuck, I smoke Mistys. First he’s giving me a hard time about it and now you’re giving me a hard time about it. Yes, ok, I smoke Mistys. I smoke Parliaments, too. What’s the big stigma about Mistys? They’re thin. They come in a rainbow package. Do you interpret that as a symbol of gayness or something?”
“Are you asking me?”
“I’m asking both of you.”
The cop looks at Clarity, then at me, then back at Clarity.
“Is he your boyfriend?”
Clarity snatches her purse back to her chest, zips it.
“No he’s not my boyfriend and no you can’t search my purse. Why don’t you get back to finding that short Mexican who shot his friend in the eye so you don’t have to close the park and my sister can have her audition.”
“Well, I’ll say this,” says the cop. “Good luck to your sister. I hope she becomes Wonder Woman and gets to move to LA and live her dream. But in my opinion you’re better off staying in Phoenix and living your dream there. They’re gonna raze this place to the ground.”
“Yes Six Flags. Now that this neighborhood is all Mexicans and motherfuckers keep gettin’ shot, nobody wants to come here anymore..‘cept more Mexicans. Yeah, pretty soon this park is gonna close. Move it to somewhere safer, where the white people is. White people don’t mind a couple niggers in their park but they don’t want it to be eighty percent Mexican. You two be careful.”
She tips her imaginary hat and goes down the path yelling, “Get out of the way” and “Clear! Clear!” to a mostly empty path, looking for this young murderer.
“That was weird,” Clarity says. “Do you really think someone shoots someone almost every day in here?”
“I think she’s part of the act.”
“You know, like a character. Purity is Wonder Woman. They have some girl playing a princess. Maybe those cops are just characters designed to give the place a more realistic feel, so that people from urban areas don’t feel uncomfortable because they haven’t been harassed by cops throughout the course of a single day.”
Purity looks at me like I’m off my axis.
“I will take one of those faggoty-ass dyke lesbian Mexican Mistys, though.”
Clarity snorts, and a little bit of snot comes out her nose.
“Fuck! You made me snot myself. You fuck-nigger! There’s actual snot coming out my nose!”
She wipes her face with the hem of her shirt and hands me a cigarette.
“I love how it’s a black lady calling Latinos Mexicans,” Clarity says.
“What do you mean?”
“That’s like me calling her a Nigerian ‘cause her parents are from Africa. You’d think a black woman would understand that. And you’d think—and don’t take offense to this, but you would think— that a woman would be a little more sensitive to exclusion issues than..a man.”
“Your last statement does contain some complex implications but I’m choosing not to be offended.”
Clarity busts out laughing.
“You even sound like a computer!” she says. “Seriously. Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Not at present. Why?”
“ ‘Cause usually people don’t like to be told what the implications of their statements are.”
“Jesus, Clarity! Why don’t you try making less insinuatory statements! Then I won’t be analyzing the fuck out of them. Can we just make it to lunch without acting like a motherfucking cat and a motherfucking dog, get Purity—hopefully as Wonder Woman—and get fucking out of here before some tatted-up teenage Latino shoots us in the eye?”
“I have tattoos,” Clarity says. “Do you think that makes me more likely to shoot you?”
“I have tattoos, too, ok? Can we just go to the fucking rollercoaster?”
We stomped to the Apocalypse, side by side, saying nothing.
Not a word.
Not. A. Fucking. Word.
I don’t have to talk to this bitch. I just have to hang out with her. I’m doing Purity a favor because Ashley is her friend. That doesn’t mean I have to suck Clarity’s fucking dick. Fucking upscale bitch. People from Arizona always think they’re superior to people from California, like we’re living here because we have to, not out of choice. I’ve lived in Arizona; I love Arizona. But California has a lot to offer, too. Especially LA. And, look—believe me—I have a love/hate relationship with LA. LA is a hard place to live. But it’s a great place to live, too, and I wish someone like Clarity would’t act all desert flower on me—not everyone in LA is a loser drug addict pissing away their potential. I am, but not everyone is. There are some nice people in LA—well-rounded people, people with dreams and skills—I’d put the number right around one in one-thousand, but there are nice people in LA.
Clarity and I arrive at the gates to the Apocalypse. There’s maybe 12 people in line. We both stop at the beginning of the line snake. I look at her like: go ahead, bitch, you’re still the girl and I’m still the guy and she looks at me like you go first, you’re the rollercoaster junkie. I’m only here as a compromise to keep you happy. Finally that stuck-up bitch goes into the snake. I follow, and we snake our way around the line with no one right in front of us, only looking at each other when we get to a crook in the snake and we’re side by side for a second and we look at each other like two people who have broken up but they still have to go to this wedding together—like they had their dress and their tux on already, then they broke up, then they still had to go to their friends’ wedding. As we snaked around, I thought of us sitting in different cars just to prove that we didn’t have to get along with each other, and I hoped I was in the car in front of her so I didn’t have to look at the back of her stupid head.
When we get up there, Clarity goes into the line for the front car, the extra-long line which in this case means there are like six people waiting for the front car instead of zero or one or two people waiting in the stalls for every other car.
“Clarity. It’s for the front car.”
“I thought you said you didn’t like the front car.”
“Well why are you in the line for the front car then?”
“There’s more than one person in this dog and pony show,” she says.
And that’s all she says.
And I don’t dare to ask her any more.
I take my place in line behind her, and some kids in front of us are talking about sticking a hot dog into a vagina—guys and girls—and they’re talking about microwaving it or freezing it first and which would give the best effect. The girls are blushing and the guys are simulating with their hands shoving a hot dog up a vagina and fucking the vagina with the hot dog.
I mean this is the sort of thing you run into in America.
Clarity and I get in the first car. The guy comes by to make sure our safety bar is secure. In place. We’re not gonna go flying out when the Apocalypse goes around some tight turn.
“Fuck. Shit,” Clarity says as the cars jolt into their first movement.
“I might have to grab your leg, ok?” Clarity says this. “And I do have a boyfriend so—”
“I know, you’re not flirting with me.”
“Right. There’s no chance you and I are getting together.”
“And this is not..today is not..”
“A date,” I say.
“It’s not a date!” Clarity says.
“I totally know all these things. And more. I’m just here for the coasters.”
“I know why you’re here,” Clarity says, as the Apocalypse goes around its first turn, down a little hill and toward the bottom of the first, big hill.
“I’m here because Purity asked Ashley, and Ashley asked me,” I say.
“And you don’t really want to be here with me and you think I’m a queen bitch,” Clarity says.
“Look, Clarity. I don’t think you’re a queen bitch and I give you just as much chance as any stranger. You know if I meet someone at a bus stop, they have a blank slate. We could become best friends someday.”
“Or they could fuck up and we could have a two-word conversation.”
“No, about the rollercoaster, stupid.”
“Don’t worry, the worst part is when they drag you up this first hill.”
“I know, that’s the part that bothers me.”
Clink. Clink. Clink. We lock into the chain and we’re first in line of the train of cars being pulled up the hill.
“You can grab my leg now if you have to.”
“I’m saving it as a last resort.”
“Do you know how many people die on rollercoasters each year.”
“Well I find statistics interesting.”
“Well I don’t find statistics about people dying on rollercoasters interesting while I’m on a rollercoaster.”
“It’s actually a very comforting statistic.”
“Keep it to yourself, fuck dick.”
“I’m just trying to break the ice between us, Clarity.”
“I’m actually going to kill you when we get off this ride.”
“See, if you do that, you’re going to majorly skew the statistic because less than one person per year dies due to an amusement park ride.”
“Oh you won’t be dying due to an amusement park ride. You’ll be dying due to being a fuck stick who won’t keep his mouth shut. That has nothing to do with rollercoaster safety.”
“Well, I guess tangentially—”
“Would you please shut the fuck up.”
She digs her nails into my leg and, to my surprise, doesn’t let up.
“This is really scary for you, isn’t it?”
Clarity nods, looking straight forward. Her other arm is wrapped under the safety bar, gripping it for dear life.
“I’m sorry. Clarity, it’s going to be ok. It’s just a ride. Nothing bad’s going to happen to you.”
We’re almost at the top.
“Everything is perfectly fine. You can sit back and enjoy yourself because you’re supremely safe. Very smart people have done all kinds of math to make sure that your ass is going to be in the same place at the end of this ride as in the beginning. This is like way safer than driving a car, hot air ballooning, doing coke, riding a fucking bicycle!”
Clarity looks at me, mortified, right when we’re at the top of the hill and we have a wonderful view of the park.
“Do you want me to shut up?”
She shakes her head no, biting her lip.
But it’s too late to console her further. We’re speeding down the first hill and Clarity’s nails are digging holes into my leg. I hold onto the bottom of the seat myself, never finding the idea of a rollercoaster perfectly safe myself and thinking, stupidly, that if the safety bar comes loose that my hands holding onto the front edge of the seat will keep me in place and not flying out of the car to my death. I do this every time I ride a rollercoaster.
We are up, we are down, the wind is in Clarity’s short brown hair and she looks straight forward like Snoopy playing the pilot of the Sopwith Camel atop his doghouse. She squints her eyes. All she needs is flying goggles.
At some point around the second or third descent, Clarity loosens her grip on my leg but she leaves her hand there, curved around my thigh, French-painted nails rested against the yellow zippered cotton of my club pants.
I forget about Clarity, Purity, Ashley, and this whole doing-Ashley-a-favor situation and I enjoy the ride. I feel the breath leave my lungs and my stomach lift out of my mouth as we descend the secondary hills. I remember the first rollercoaster ride I went on, the wooden one in Jersey and how my girlfriend and I rode all the rides in Dorney Park designed for couples to make out on: this one cupped gondola in particular where she practically jerked me off. Those were some of my first experiences with sex with another person. We didn’t actually fuck in that park, but we did everything but: hands up, hands down, Sarah rubbing the precum around the head of my dick, me licking my fingers and touching the nipples of her flat chest.
“What?” I say.
The ride has come to a stop.
My hand is on Clarity’s leg.
“What is that?”
“Are you scared?”
“No, I was just remembering a girl. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to invade your personal space.”
“Hey,” Clarity points at me. “No apologies.”
She’s out of the car and spinning around on the wooden platform beside the train.
I get up and I’m standing next to this glowing girl.
“I see what you mean about the first car,” she says, and grabs my hand without thinking. As we’re walking down the ramp away from the Apocalypse, she goes on and on: “It was greater than I imagined. I haven’t been on any rollercoaster in years. And the first drop! And the third drop..I think the third drop is really where it’s at for that one—don’t you?”
“And you’re right about the first car. That’s the first time I’ve ever ridden in one. It was amazing.”
We’re standing in the middle of the ramp where the few riders now have to walk around us because Clarity is holding both my hands and swinging them and she’s holding them tight and I’m looking into her glowing face and I’m thinking what am I getting myself into?
“Let’s go see Purity,” I say.
“She’s gonna text me when she’s ready.”
“I thought you had a boyfriend.”
“Look, don’t over-interpret my post-Apocalypse glow and innocent hand holding for anything seductive, ok?”
Clarity’s head is down, looking at her purse while she digs through it.
“I’m very happy with my boyfriend. He’s Latino, just in case you were wondering.”
“I wasn’t, but thanks.”
We both laugh.
“Is he really Latino?”
“Yes he is. Do you got a problem with that?”
“No I don’t, sister. I believe love is equal opportunity in this universe.”
Clarity looks up at me.
“I never said I loved the motherfucker!”
“Oh you’re funny.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Clarity says.
“Let’s find one.”
When she comes out I’m waiting for her. There’s a janitor with a mop bucket going in right after.
“You won’t believe what just happened in there.”
“I was sitting in this stall and there’s blood seeping through from the next one over. There’s this drain but there’s so much blood not all of it’s going down the drain. So I’m like, ‘If you want your privacy I’ll give you your privacy but if you want help I can call someone.’ I knock on the divider. I’m like, ‘Hello?’ Then I realize there’s nobody in there. When I get out I stand in front of the stall and push the door in. It’s period blood and huge clots but it makes me think of this black girl who gave birth in a Burger King bathroom, not even knowing she was pregnant because she was too fat.” When Clarity comes out she tells me this story and is like: “Why do black girls always give birth in Burger King bathrooms?”
I say I heard of one giving birth in a Walmart—and this one was white.
“The real problem is these bitches who get so fat they can’t tell that they’re pregnant!”
“Exactly! And how do you not notice that you haven’t had your period in nine months!? I mean you’re the girl, you tell me: at what month do you finally fucking notice that you haven’t had your period? Six? Seven?”
“Some fat girls or skinny girls don’t get their periods.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Right. Or fat motherfucking white trash motherfuckers that weigh like six-hundred pounds.”
“Anyway I thought there was a dead baby in there. Like when I pushed that door open it was going to be some tiny little black baby in the toilet while his mom was off riding rollercoasters with her friends, and I was imagining myself doing baby CPR on this little corpse and nothing—I mean *nothing!—*would bring this little guy back to life!”
“Clarity. Chill. There was no little baby corpse. It was just period blood. You’re off in your imagination.”
“Yeah but somebody finds those babies. And somebody does baby CPR after they fish that little baby out of a toilet filled with piss and shit and blood and they have to do mouth to mouth on a baby who’s covered in his mother’s shit chunks. I mean if you’re going to have a baby in a public restroom at least have the decency to flush.”
“Clarity. As your rollercoaster-riding partner I think you need to picture a field with green grass and daisies or something. The dead baby in the bathroom thing is going too far.”
“There wasn’t a dead baby in there.”
“It was just period blood.”
“But it could have been a baby.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“I just imagine Asha.” Clarity is crying. “What if Asha had been a Burger King baby? Or a Walmart baby? Or a Six Flags baby? You know some hospitals now have drop boxes like they have at the library designed to drop off your baby if you can’t take care of it?”
“Yeah, well, it’s the economy.”
“These boxes are lined with foam and black duct tape so the baby has a soft place to land when the parents drop it off.”
“I doubt it’s duct tape but I know what you mean.”
“Imagine if you’re that baby. Imagine spending the night in some drop box at a hospital, looking up through the slit where your mother says goodbye for the last time, and then she shuts the lid and pushes you through like that slot in Lecter’s cell and it’s like slam! and then on the other side is all this fluorescent light and doctors and nurses in scrubs wearing blue footies and those blue caps to cover their heads so none of their hair contaminates the samples and that would be your new home. That would be your new home. Guess it beats drowning in a toilet at Six Flags. But. But. You know—”
“What, my rollercoaster partner?”
“I think we need to get you a drink.”
“Ok, that sounds like a good idea. It’s too early for alcohol, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I’m talking like something with some sugar in it.”
Clarity grabs my bicep.
“Ok,” she says, sniffling. “I just keep thinking of Asha.”
“Why don’t you call her?”
“Ok,” she says. “Good idea.”
“Hold onto me and call her and I’ll take us to get you a Slurpee or something.”
She has her phone out and is scrolling through her contacts.
“Ok, a sugar drink is a good idea,” she says. “Hello? Is Asha there? Please. Let me talk to Asha.”
We sit at a round table with curved benches on both sides. Clarity gets her daughter and talks to her, and I see Clarity begin to relax. This in turn causes me to relax, and I’m vaguely thinking of crystal meth and the Nissan SUV when Clarity hangs up her phone. It has this ridiculous white case encrusted with plastic diamonds and Clarity’s initials in a cursive script.
We look at each other.
I look away.
I look back at Clarity and she’s still looking at me, or staring through me is more like it. She says:
“I just imagine some fat Mexican leaving behind her fetus on the bathroom floor like instead of having a baby she just took a shit.”
“What’s up with the Mexican thing? For real. Why can’t it be a fat black girl?”
“Or a fat white girl—you know we’re sluts.”
“But what about the fat thing? Is it only fat—*ethnic—*girls who leave their babies in Burger King bathrooms?”
“No. No. They have to be fat. Otherwise they would know they were pregnant!”
“Oh right. Of course. Is Asha ok?”
“She’s fine. She’s fine. When I saw that fetus blood back in that bathroom—I mean that period blood—it made me think of abandoned fetuses and I got worried.”
“What do you mean, ‘You know?’ Am I that fucking transparent?”
“No, you’re not transparent. It was just obvious that’s what was happening.”
“Well it wasn’t obvious to me. I didn’t make that connection till right now. I’m not clairvoyant or..I know that’s not the word. What is the word for..?”
“I don’t know. But I know what you mean.”
“Ok, well I cant self-psychologize myself on the fly.”
“Ok. It’s ok. I’m glad Asha’s ok.”
“She really liked you, you know.”
“Yeah, for the five minutes I met her in Phoenix, I thought she was one of the coolest people I ever met,” I say.
My mind was off on how I might end up being Asha’s step dad in the next couple of weeks. I already had Clarity and I getting married at 10:17am on Saturday morning when we’d really only known each other for a few hours.
“Well I hate to do this,” Clarity says.
“We’re gonna have to break out the big guns.”
She opens the pack of Parliaments. Hands me one. We each light our own with her lighter.
“Purity says you make like more money than god.”
“I make..middle-class money. I’m not rich or anything..you see where we live. I don’t even make enough money to buy a car. But I get a pretty big paycheck. Why are we talking about this?”
“Why the fuck not? All my friends are poor. Purity is poor. You’re driving around in this Nissan SUV—”
“No,” Clarity says. “I’m not making fun of it. That’s a sweet ride. I didn’t know Nissan made SUVs but I’d be proud as hell if I was driving that around. It would look good on me in Phoenix. You should see my car.”
“Why. What’s wrong with it. It goes, doesn’t it?”
“It goes, but it’s a busted-ass piece of shit.”
“What color is it?”
“Tell me what the fuck you meant, motherfucker, or I’ll burn your hand with this cigarette.”
“Just..white girls..in white cars..it’s like a sex thing.”
“What the fuck does that mean, It’s like a sex thing?”
“It’s like red lipstick to emphasize the shape of the vulva. White..purity..it’s a sex thing.”
“It’s a sex thing? How is it a sex thing?”
“You’re driving fast on the highway, you come around some guy in a Mustang, he sees you, you’re driving a white car..it’s a sex thing. If you’re a young girl driving a white car it’s like a tight dress..it flaunts your sexuality—”
“Is this just your personal theory, or—”
“No. Everyone knows this.”
“I’m gonna ask around, and if I discover that this is just your personal pet theory I’m gonna burn your hand with this cigarette.”
“I guess I’m lucky then.”
“Why is that?”
“ ‘Cause you’re gonna have to conduct your research before that cigarette burns out.”
“I’ll burn you with a cigarette, you literal-ass motherfucker. Fuck, Purity should have warned me how annoying you are.”
“Does she think I’m annoying?”
“No. She fucking loves you. ‘We took in this homeless guy who had valley fever and he’s so funny and sweet and he and I watch Biggest Loser together and he drinks wine so me and him drink wine while Ashley cooks chicken on the George Foreman grill.’ “
“She liked watching Biggest Loser with me?”
“Fucking loved it. Never fails to mention that you’re both in your pajamas and how you’re so polite and you sit way on your end of the couch and you never make a move on her even though she’s sitting there with her legs crossed and her precious little untouched cunt ready and fucking waiting for someone to do the job.”
I’m staring at Purity’s sister.
“Ever since I heard she was a virgin I wanted to fuck her.”
“Well, there’s still time on that clock,” Clarity says.
“Yeah, I don’t know what she’s saving it for, the fucking end of the world or what. Go for it. She’s not particular. No offense but if you get her drunk you’re in.”
“Ok all bullshit aside why is she still a virgin?”
“All bullshit aside..some family shit that goes way back that really isn’t my place to tell you but Purity is a complex person, you know—that innocent-girl image she puts on around people, that’s fake. That big-ass smile? That’s fake. Purity is disillusioned—you know—with the world. Like she’s not having fun in this life. That Wonder Woman personality is just her defense mechanism around the fact that she finds this life pointless, doesn’t know how to connect—”
“Yeah, Purity and I have the same Myers-Briggs personality type. So I know about that pointlessness. And about..having to create your own meaning because when you look in the world you don’t find any.”
“Yeah, I see that in you.”
“Yeah, so whether you fuck my sister or not, you be a good friend to that girl, ‘cause she shielded me from shit when we were young, and she deserves a good friend.”
“I will,” I say.
“You will what?”
“If she gets the Wonder Woman job and moves out to LA, I’ll be a good friend to your sister.”
“Good because I don’t trust LA.”
By which I’m sure she meant she didn’t trust LA to be a good fit for her sister—which of course it wouldn’t be—but I didn’t say anything. I just sat across this round table from Clarity and smoked my way through that Parliament. I hadn’t trusted Clarity and I to be a good fit as Six Flags support team for Purity, either—but as usual I was wrong.
“Next I suggest #29, the Viper.”
“Does it go upside down?”
“It goes upside down..seven times.”
Clarity looks at me.
“Is that a yes or a no?”
Clarity shakes her head.
“Is that a you’re crazy or a no, I’m not going on the Viper?”
“It’s a you’re crazy and fine I’ll go on the fucking Viper.”
“If I don’t you’re just going to force me to anyway.”
“I’m not going to force you.”
“You’ll make fun of me.”
“I won’t make fun of you.”
“You won’t let up until I say yes!”
“So let’s do it.”
“Ok, good, I thought you were going to say that.”
Clarity and I are in line for the Viper, park filling up now, and we’re both looking at our phones and I’m saying:
“Here’s one. King’s Island. Mason, Ohio. 1991. Two park employees jump into a pond to save a park visitor who had fallen in. The park employees are electrocuted. The man they were trying to save was the sole survivor!”
“Ok. Ok. Listen to this,” Clarity says. “The worst roller coaster tragedy in history happened in England, in May of 1972, at London’s Battersea Park Fun Fair. Blah blah blah. Wooden coasters have a track record of wearing out quickly unless they are meticulously maintained. Negligence, as such, was the cause for this tragedy. In the summer of 1972, the rope that brings the cars to the top of the launch hill snapped. Then, the anti-rollback mechanism failed!” Clarity laughs. “With that double whammy, the chain of cars barreled back into the boarding area, smashing into a wall and killing five children!”
She looks at me. I’m rapt.
“And seriously injuring 13 others. The Battersea English Piece-of-Shit Fun Fair closed two years later due to the accident.”
“Good one!” I say.
“Try to find another electrocution,” Clarity says.
This British guy that looks like Jason Statham turns around and says, “Excuse me, but I’ve got two little girls—as you can see—and while maybe coming here is a daily event for you two native Californians, we’ve traveled a long way to go to this specific park and ride this particular rollercoaster. So you’re what..twenty-five? Thirty? To you a story about a beheading on a rollercoaster is fucking hilarious..and to be honest with you, if it was the three of us in a pub I’d pull out my smartphone too, and the three of us could all laugh about the poor girl that got killed at Disneyland when she accidentally got decapitated and her decapitated head fell in some electrocuted water and her boyfriend jumped in and tried to save her. I’m sure that would be a lot of fun. But as it is, the situation’s a bit different. These are my girls. This is Abby and this is Katy.”
“I had a lot of trepidation about bringing my girls on this ride to begin with.”
He points at the Viper.
“That’s some scary shit. I mean I’m personally scared shitless to go on that thing. My daughters—they live for this type of shit. By the time they’re done with me we will have ridden every roller coaster in the world. You might notice that there’s no wife—no mum. Well she died in an accident—not an amusement park accident but another kind of accident..it’s not important. But what we’re doing—because this is what my girls wanted to do with the money—is we’re taking the settlement money from my wife’s death and we’re traveling all around the world—not to every country, but to all the ones that are safe for white people to go to—and we’re riding all the rollercoasters that exist in all those countries. Even have a blog of it with video and everything. Anyway my stomach’s churning just looking at this one and I’ve got a lot of hard talks ahead of me as the parent of two girls, based on your little catalogue of odd deaths, so I’d appreciate if in addition to blunt force trauma and electrocution, we didn’t have to have the talk about decapitation today.”
“Of course,” Clarity says. “We’re sorry.”
“Yeah, man. Sorry about that.”
He smiles and turns back to his daughters.
Immediately one of them asks: “What’s decapitation?”
“It’s when your head gets cut off,” says the dad.
“Ewww,” say the girls.
The dad turns his head to us, nodding and smirking.
“Kids,” he says.
Clarity and I carry on our conversation wordlessly, each of us finding horrible amusement park accidents and just showing each other on our phones.
When we get to the front of the line—almost the front—when this Jason Statham lookalike and his two daughters are packed into the first car, girls in the front, dad right behind them, Clarity waits till the girls are looking the other way and she makes a throat-slitting motion to Jason Statham, one finger with red nail polish drawn all the way across her throat.
Jason Statham gave us both the finger and as the cars left the station I wanted to have the girl who would do such a thing, strapped to a table in a warehouse in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, and I wanted to make that same throat-slitting motion then tease her neck with a hacksaw, rubbing shallow lines into her skin as her churchgoing, disciplined little Sunday school-girl pussy gripped my dick like a third grader. I would fuck her, and fuck her, and fuck her till I came and right at that point I couldn’t control my pressure on the hacksaw and I would (accidentally?) semi-decapitate her, but enough that she couldn’t speak and quickly bled out—but I would see in her eyes, in the last moment of her life, that she had liked being fucked like that.
Then the next train was there, and it was our turn to go on the rollercoaster.
After the ride, when we had assumed a regular pace on the paths of Six Flags, Clarity said:
“What if that guy’s wife was decapitated?”
“Like in a factory accident or something?”
“Or like with a hatchet or an axe by him in the woods in the back of their house.”
“Well there’s that.”
“Oh this is good.”
“Incidents at Disneyland Resort.”
“Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“It makes me feel better somehow,” Clarity says.
“What’s the worst one?”
She reads off her phone: “Probably this one. ‘On a Grad Nite in June 1966, a 19-year-old man from Northridge, California was killed while attempting to sneak into the park by climbing onto the monorail track. Ignoring the shouted warnings of a security officer, he was struck by the train and dragged 30 to 40 feet down the track. The security guard in question later stated he had to quote hose the kid off the underside unquote.’ ”
“I like the electrocution ones,” I say.
What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you?” Clarity says.
“Other than my many meth overdoses?”
“Ok. I haven’t thought about this for a while, but the thing that when I think back on it, really freaks me out about life is when me and my sisters were little, my little sister Amy who was a baby at the time crawled into the fire while we were camping. You know, my parents should have been watching her but they were fighting. So she crawls right into the hot white ashes of this fire where the flames were out but it was still hot. That was my youngest sister Amy. Joanne and I weren’t able to help and there was question about whether to take Amy to a hospital or not. Mom said yes and Dad said no. We went with his plan and just got some bandages and burn cream from a local grocery. That was one of the scariest days of my life. Joanne and I went into the forest, down a trail and were by the lake hugging and crying and saying desperate prayers to God to make our sister be alright. (Damn. That chokes me way up to remember.)
“I asked my mom about that when she was here for my birthday and her version is a little different: Mom says we were all hiking and she took Amy up to the tent while the rest of us were in the woods. Amy was 18 months, a toddler, Mom went into the tent or was too far away to catch Amy as she toddled to the fire and tripped into it, caught herself with her hands, and burned. Mom pulled her out as quickly as she could. Mom wanted to take her to a hospital right then, but Dad didn’t (he wanted to wait and see). Dad got pads and ointment for burn cream. They held her the whole night and she cried the whole night. Mom was surprised none of the other campers called the police on us. The next day, we took her to the hospital and the doctor said, ‘Yes, you should have brought her yesterday as soon as it happened.’
“I have a dream, sometimes, of an ash baby, my little sister’s brain and skull partially burned through. She’s lying in the fire, face down, and I can’t reach her.”
“You must really love your sister if you still have that dream.”
“I would feel that way about any baby—it wouldn’t have to be my sister! If I was a dad and my baby fell in a fire I wouldn’t have any qualms about taking her to the fucking hospital, either! What the fuck kind of father delays that trip by a single second??! Just so he can do it on his own??”
“I don’t know,” Clarity says. “I don’t know. That’s fucked up. You wanna hear mine? Maybe it will calm you down.”
“What are you gonna calm me down with?”
“My scariest thing that ever happened to me.”
I look at Clarity. I’m shaking. I’ll never forgive my dad for that shit.
“Ok, tell me.”
“It’s worse than yours,” she says. “I’m warning you.”
Clarity talked as we walked through the park, taking this curve, that fork, randomly traveling nowhere within Six Flags.
“Well,” she says. “There was this woman in Arizona, who I would have known very well if this hadn’t happened to her, but in reality I only knew her for a very short time. She was amazingly beautiful, and she was pregnant. She had a husband but really she liked girls, and she left him for another woman. So these two women were together and one was going to have a baby. They did all the things you do to get ready for a baby, taking breathing classes and getting ultrasounds and she had had a baby before so she knew what to do. She took all the right vitamins and everything but when it came time to have the baby, there were problems. The labor lasted 16 hours and when it was all said and done, there was a healthy infant baby girl and the mom was dead on the operating table.”
I have stopped walking.
“That was you.”
“Your mom is dead.”
“She died giving birth to you.”
“Yeah. I know I said the scariest thing that ever happened to you and even though I don’t remember that happening it’s still the scariest thing. I think about it every day in the versions the rest of my family has told me and it has become the scariest story I know of—it’s the story that haunts me the most.”
“I can understand that.”
“It’s ok, it happened a long time ago, you don’t have to take it seriously.”
“No, I do. I do have to take that seriously.”
“I’m sorry. You look freaked out.”
“Clarity, grief, I’m sorry.”
“For what? I’m used to it. I never met her. But there is a sense of guilt you carry around with you your whole life when your mother died giving birth to *you—*like you’ve got to live your life to a certain level just to make up for the sacrifice that was made to get you here. Like if I just fuck up that I’m dishonoring her. It’s a lot of pressure.”
“It’s ok. I’m sorry I told you. Look! Happy happy joy joy!!”
“Ok happy happy joy joy but*—Jesus—*Clarity.”
“I shouldn’t have told you. It’s like the trump card of all disaster stories. Car accidents, train derailments, all that stuff is so impersonal, but your mother dying giving birth to you..it’s an ace, and I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have played it.”
“No. It’s ok. I’m sorry. Can we sit down?”
“Actually, I have our next rollercoaster picked out.”
“You do?” I say.
“Yes. Let’s do Riddler’s Revenge, then see Purity, then do Batman The Ride.”
“I thought you didn’t like rollercoasters.”
“That’s not what I said. I said I’m not doing Goliath.”
“Why not? Goliath doesn’t even have any loops.”
“But you see that first drop?”
She points up.
“See how it curves as it goes down? Something about that I find..evil. Like it wasn’t meant to be.”
“I’m sorry, Clarity, but your mother died on the operating table? Are you just fucking with me?”
“I’m not fucking with you.”
“Well let’s just get a hamburger or something. That shit is disturbing. I need to get some food in me.”
“Do you know how much a hamburger is going to cost in this place?”
“What are we gonna do? Not eat all day?”
“I’m sorry I disturbed you.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. I’m sorry that it happened to you.”
“Look don’t be sorry. I never even knew her, ok? All she is to me is pictures in some album, stories from aunts and uncles and my sister.”
“Purity remembers her?”
“She says she does but I’m only a year younger than Purity so I doubt any of her memories are real. They’re most likely the kind of memories you form from hearing other people tell stories about some event that happened when you were too young to remember but you start to remember—or feel like you remember—once you’ve heard the story told a million times. Or like with Purity: she’s seen pictures of the two of them together, and in her mind she remembers what happened in the picture, but really all she remembers is the picture itself..you know?”
“I know what you mean,” I say.
“So you wanna get a hamburger or your wanna go on the Riddler with me?”
Clarity has her map out.
“It looks like there’s a food hut which might have a hamburger and right next to it is a designated smoking area—see this symbol?..that’s you, me, and the Parliaments—and that’s right on the way to the Riddler. So we get your burger, smoke until you have time to mourn my mother’s death—which happens all the time by the way—and then we scare the shit out of some kids in line for the Riddler with some true-life old-school Disney theme park suicides (I looked up a list on my phone). What do you say?”
I’m just imagining this tiny version of Clarity with her mother’s blood all over her being held up by the doctor right after her umbilical cord was cut and there’s her mom and her, both naked, and it’s like the life was transferred right out of Clarity’s mom into that little girl that became this confident, sexual, smart young woman standing next to me. It’s almost like because her mother died, more energy was passed into Clarity, and this woman standing next to me has the strength and the spark and the verve of two people and I look at her in the eyes for two seconds and I have to look away, the look of her is so harsh.
After The Riddler’s Revenge, we went to see Purity. Purity led us there, via Clarity’s phone. We had to go through some back gates and then Purity was running up to us, in full Wonder Woman gear, red boots, red and blue PVC hugging her hips and her boobs and her crotch, and her hair done all wavy and perfect and held in place by spray that I could still smell and was sure was doing something horrible to my lungs.
Purity ran up to us with outstretched arms.
“Hey you two! Have you been having fun?”
Clarity and I look at each other.
“We’ve been having a little,” I say.
“How do I look?”
“You look great,” Clarity says. “Did you get the part?”
Purity lodges a fingernail between her teeth.
“I don’t know yet. We’re about to take pictures. Come watch!”
So Purity leads us a little ways back to right in front of this warehouse, and inside the warehouse it’s just filled with cartoon character costumes on rack after rack—a warehouse as big as a hardware store. You couldn’t see the back—just row after row of lifeless superhero, witch, chipmunk, princess, all hanging there waiting for some perfect-bodied person like Purity to put it on and bring it to life in the park. A bunch of these kids, petite, tall—but all skinny—stood around inside the warehouse smoking in a semi-circle. I looked quick and looked away—I was definitely the trespasser here.
“This is Miss Cheryl,” Purity beams at us.
She introduces us as her sister and friend to a woman in tight jeans holding a Polaroid.
“Purity, I need you right there. Now do the pose with your right arm on your hip and your left arm in the air like you’re holding a tiny wisp of cloud..there!”
Cheryl snaps the Polaroid.
“You two can stand anywhere as long as you’re behind me.”
Clarity and I stand far apart from each other. Clarity actually finds a bench and sits and smokes and watches her sister get photographed. I lean up against the side of the warehouse.
I watch Purity.
I watch her body move under the PVC and I see that her starving herself for the last six months has paid off. Ashley has been telling me about this over the phone, how Purity eats a 600-calorie-a-day diet and Ashley doesn’t approve but Purity wants this job and she’s willing to do anything to get it. Anyway, she looks good, and I know, I know, I’m part of the problem—a man who approves of and responds to and likes a woman whose body was arrived at by anorexia. I want to fuck *Purity as Wonder Woman—*it’s true—I am part of the problem.
Exactly the problem Six Flags is trying to create: a superhero that kids want to take pictures with and dads want to fuck, so dads keep bringing their kids to the park year after year because all winter the kid has been staring at this picture of herself with Wonder Woman and wanting to be her when she grows up. That picture..sells next year’s tickets. That’s why this job exists.
“There are actually 12 Wonder Women,” Purity says when the photo shoot is over and Cheryl is on her cell phone and me and Clarity and Purity are all smoking Mistys about 20 feet away. “At any given time, two of us are working the park. Mostly you freeform—that means you take pictures with kids and collect tips and show people how to get to the bathroom.”
“Then every hour on the half hour there’s a parade. And you have to be in five out of six parades on your shift or they dock you an hour’s pay.”
“What do you do in the parades?”
Purity stands straight up in her best Wonder Woman pose and turns her head from side to side like some animatronic and waves a Miss America wave and smiles a beauty pageant smile and her shiny lips and white teeth almost captivate me and I’m 27.
“You just wave and smile,” Purity says. She drops her pose and is Purity again, not some member of the Justice League.
“I think you’ve got the job,” I say.
“I think so, too,” says Purity, and she grabs my hands just the way her sister had after our first rollercoaster. “And you know what this means?”
“It means me and Ashley are gonna move out here and the three of us can go out all the time and you and Ash can come to Six Flags any time you want ‘cause I get free tickets!”
“That’s awesome, Purity.”
“So what do you think of my sister?”
Clarity rolls her eyes.
“I like her,” I say.
“Good, ‘cause I would have to dump you as my friend if you didn’t like my baby sis!”
Purity drops my hands and takes Clarity’s neck under her arm.
“Gross! I can smell your deodorant!!”
“You should like it! It’s also called Misty!”
Clarity breaks free of her older sister’s grip.
Purity takes a drag off the thin cigarette.
“I don’t believe she has you smoking these. If I was a man I’d be embarrassed to be smoking Mistys.”
Purity goes on but I don’t listen to her. She’s like a gnat I have chosen not to kill and it buzzes on beside my ear.
“It’s fucking embarrassing!! A fucking grown man smoking Mistys? Did she promise you her nasty fucking cooch or give you a BJ on the people mover or something? I can hardly smoke these and I’m a girl, last I checked. If I was a man I wouldn’t be caught dead smoking a Misty.”
“Well I happen to like Mistys,” I say.
Clarity looks at me.
Purity looks at Clarity.
“Oh, I see,” says Purity. “Well I’ll leave you two to it.”
Cheryl yells over. “Purity. I’m gonna fax these pictures to my boss and then you’re done, ok?”
“I gotta go, guys.”
Purity hugs each of us in turn.
Cheryl looks at me and Clarity.
“Are they ok?”
“Well, we better do another packet of film. I’m ready to hire you right now but Jimmy likes to see a certain set of poses. If we miss a pose, you’ll have to come back and get all dressed up again just to fill in a single pose and I know you’re like from Phoenix right?”
Purity waves us goodbye and goes back to her audition.
Me and Clarity can hear Cheryl barking orders at our sister and friend about where her hand is and how high her hip is and we both look at each other as we let ourselves out of the anonymous wooden fence that leads us back into the park. The look we give each other is fairly specific. If it was translated into words, it would say something like: How do they find 12 people who fit such strict guidelines for looking like Wonder Woman, even pulling from as far away as Phoenix? What would it be like to see another one of them? Would she look exactly like Purity? And then Clarity answers our telepathic conversation out loud:
“I bet if we saw all 12 of them together, you wouldn’t be able to pick Purity out of the lineup.”
It wasn’t five minutes later we received a text from Purity.
“What does it say?”
“It says..that she might not be able to meet us for lunch.”
“It says..because of that Mexican kid who shot that other Mexican kid.”
Clarity looks up from her phone.
“They might shut down the park.”
“Fuck, I was hoping to at least get some wine.”
Clarity’s eyes flash.
“Let’s go get some real quick before they close the park.”
So we run—half-run—skipping and fast-walking past cops and security guards and all out running on stretches where no one is looking and soon enough we’re at number 69, Liberty Pub, where they check our IDs and we pick a high table for two in the corner of the outdoor seating area.
“We forgot to bring our Coke glasses.”
It takes forever for a server to come to us, so when she does I say, “We’d like a bottle.”
“No bottles. Only glasses.”
“Alright we’d like four glasses.”
“I can only serve you one drink at a time. State law.”
“Oh, fuck. Can we have two glasses, please?”
“Comin’ right up.”
This fat bitch of a waitress squeezes herself back through the tables toward the bar. When they do bring us our glasses, they’re tiny, plastic, and they cost eight bucks.
“Ok can you go ahead and bring us our next two,” I say.
“Gotta drink those first.”
Clarity and I both down our tiny glasses and hold them out for the server to collect. Her name tag says Coleen.
“Two more, please.”
She shakes her head.
“I’ll keep ‘em comin’,” she says.
“Great. There’s a 20 dollar tip in it for you if you can get us tipsy before your bar manager kicks us out.”
“Forty,” Clarity says.
“You’re gonna give that bitch 20 extra bucks on top of the 20 ridiculous bucks I’m gonna give her just to bring us thimbles of shit wine? What do you think this is?”
“I think it’s Sutter Home and I think this is The Day of Being Ridiculous,” Clarity says.
“Then you’ll go on Goliath with me,” I say.
“Ok,” Clarity blurts out.
“Oh! Oh! You said it! That’s a blood promise! That’s a blood motherfucking promise,” I say, and slam down my empty glass of wine.
“Careful, there, Tex.”
“No,” I say. “We are sacrificing the golden calf today.”
“I think you’re mixing my metaphors.”
“I think you’re right. This is Sutter Home Merlot. All they have back there is like a fork lift pallet of two-liter bottles of Sutter Home Merlot and they charge us their bottle price for a glass and call it Liberty Pub, Number 69.”
“Welcome to the restaurant industry,” Clarity says.
“I like it,” I say.
“You know, you’re not the first person to tell me that.”
“Do you think I’m crazy?” Clarity asks.
“I don’t know but I do know that crazy people are better in bed.”
“So you’re saying I should sleep with you and then you’ll know if I’m crazy?”
“I did not say that. You said that. All I said was—”
“Yeah, we know. You were on safer ground drinking your wine, Big Tex.”
“Why am I Big Tex all of a sudden? Seriously. Who is Big Tex and why are you calling me him?”
Our waitress comes back with two more glasses.
“And two more after these,” I say.
“Are you drinking to remember or drinking to forget?” she says.
“You always, only, ever drink to forget,” I say.
“Alright two more. Want me to bring you to-go cups?”
Clarity and I are speechless.
The waitress leans in.
“You order two Cokes. I bring you two empty Coke cups with tops and straws and—”
“I think we get the idea. And that would be wonderful.”
So Clarity and I dump every other glass of wine from there on out into our to-go cups and eventually, drunk off our asses, we leave Number 69, The Liberty Pub and cross right over to an ice cream shop and we sit outside with our sunglasses on and eat ice cream—deep varieties of chocolate for each of us—and we drink our wine from behind the safety of tinted shades but we are both doing not one thing besides staring directly into the eyes of the other.
And we stared like that, until all the ice cream was gone and all the wine was drunk. And then we stared some more. And we might still be sitting there staring at each other now, all these years later, if Clarity’s phone hadn’t come in with a text message.
“It’s from Purity,” Clarity says. “She wants to meet us at Fresh Cut Fries.”
“What’s Fresh Cut Fries?”
“It’s number 62..on your map.”
“Can’t she meet us here?”
“No. They have chicken strips. She wants chicken strips.”
The three of us sat under a canopied table and Clarity and Purity chattered incessantly while I looked beyond them to a suspended looping rollercoaster with a Batman theme, and beyond that to the low scrub hills of southern California. It was one of the perfect sun moments of my life. One was on a beach in Santa Barbara, where I felt my mortality and thought, if it was going to be in a place like that, it would be ok to die. This sit I had with Clarity and Purity under the canopied table with the Batman rollercoaster and the hills of southern California close in the background—that was another of those perfect sun moments.
I mean there’s a reason they make movies out here—the weather is goddamn beautiful. It’s almost worth the traffic and the smog and the fake-ass people and the west coast’s interminable meth problem to live here. Almost. I thought of them tearing down Six Flags because there were too many Latino shootings and it seemed like such a waste, such a major, major undertaking—but Six Flags had probably already made its money back and then some, and moving an entire amusement park to an all-white area was just a sound financial decision. I imagined every rollercoaster, every ride, every restaurant, every bathroom, razed to the ground. I wondered if they’d break up the concrete and plant trees or if they’d just leave all the concrete hills and walkways as the ultimate skate park.
“What are you thinking about?” Purity said.
She put her hand on mine.
Purity and Clarity’s family is touchy-feely—mine is not. Years later Purity invited me to her bed and we dry humped and almost had sex but she stopped it at the last minute. I was mad at her for like half a day.
“I’m just thinking..about those hills. And how the geography of this place is part of what makes it beautiful. I mean this Six Flags wouldn’t be the same if right over that fence there weren’t those low hills with all that green grass and scrub brush. It’s like the most perfect part of America, this little table with this particular view.”
“See,” Purity says to her sister. “I told you he’s a poet.”
“How can you not be?” I say.
“Yeah, I thought you were just gonna be some boring computer guy, but you turned out alright,” Clarity says.
“So you two are making out alright?”
“Yeah,” we both say.
“Alright, well Cheryl wants to try me out in some different poses for her boss—”
“Where is her boss?”
“He’s in Florida. Cheryl’s using her phone’s camera to send him copies of the Polaroids.”
“He’s probably jerking off in his office,” Clarity says.
“We’re not making porno pictures,” Purity says.
“They looked pretty porno to me,” Clarity says. “Matt. Could you get off to Purity in her Wonder Woman costume?”
“Probably, maybe, I don’t know,” I say, distracted.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m just having my daily mid-day crisis where everything overwhelms me and I sink into a puddle on the floor of my own analysis.”
Clarity puts her hand on my knee and to be honest I wish these girls would stop touching me. I feel my cock harden as undeniable proof that I am attracted not only to Purity but now to her younger sister as well. Even more so, after spending half a day with her. But this story doesn’t end as a fairytale in that manner. I don’t get the girl. I never get either of the girls. And as time goes on, as I get fatter, as I get crazier, I get fewer and fewer of the girls. But it’s ok, because they become less attractive to me, too—less principled, less compassionate. The women I meet as life goes on have so compromised themselves that I would rather be alone forever than to spend a night with one of them. Basically I go “crazy” and the disgusting segment of our society goes on fucking their brains out with no Earthly idea why they are doing so.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m ok, I just think—don’t you think people are becoming less principled?”
Both girls look at me confused.
“Well look I have to go.”
Purity is standing.
“We’re just gonna take a few more pictures and then we can get out of here. Maybe we can get some real food, a bottle of wine..a good movie,” Purity says for my benefit.
She looks at me and waits for an answer.
“Ok,” I say. “Sounds good.”
Clarity and Purity hug and Purity prances off across the concrete walkway and through some wooden fence that will shortcut her back to the costume area.
Let me flash-forward to many years later—to now. About that time that Purity and I almost had sex, I’m glad we didn’t because I know, from our conversation on the phone afterward, that it would have just been that one time, and I’m not into that. I’m not a sex tourist, like, I wonder what it would be like to fuck so-and-so. Purity and I were good as friends, and if we had fucked, I don’t think it would have messed that up—we would have still been friends. But it would have been pointless, and it would have created a little something extra for us to work through to remain friends.
With Clarity, even though we only spent one day at Six Flags together, and that was almost the only time we ever saw each other, I know if we had fucked that I would have moved to Phoenix or she would have moved to LA. I always liked Purity, from the moment I met her—and I still do. And when I met her sister for five minutes in Phoenix that one time, I had no interest in Clarity. But after one day at Six Flags—and, yeah, I know, I’m a romantic and all you people will think I’m crazy and everything—but after that day at Six Flags, I discovered that in a love way, I liked the younger sister better than the older, and I liked the older sister very much.
“Hey. Space cadet. Want a cig?”
Clarity has one earbud running from her phone to her ear.
I wonder how long we’ve been sitting here.
“What are you listening to?”
“Oh. One of my favorites,” I say.
“Yeah! Get that angst girl!” Clarity says.
“I feel it between my teeth,” I say.
“She’s one of my favorites too.”
“I bet you’d have to eat her out for like 16 hours before you fucked her to loosen up that angsty pussy. I bet her puss is that angsty.”
“I bet it is, too,” Clarity says, handing me a Parliament.
“I like an angsty pussy,” I say.
“Do you!” Clarity says, excited.
“Yeah. I like ‘em angsty..angry—”
“Fuck yeah. Angry as a Soviet fist.”
“You really open up after a bottle of wine.”
“Who wouldn’t? With you,” I add.
Clarity flashes me a look.
“Who knew computer programmers could be so interesting. I figured you guys were all algorithms and code and C”
“Nah, we’re freaks. You know what? I want to change my scariest story ever.”
“Your sister crawling in the fire wasn’t scary enough?”
“Your dad not taking her to the hospital..that wasn’t scary enough?”
“You know..that element..I’m not sure I’ve fully digested, even now.”
“I bet you’re right,” Clarity says. “So what’s your new scary story?”
“My new scary story is this,” I say. “Sorry. I mean my story is never gonna top your story—”
“No, it’s not a competition—”
“But while we’re telling childhood memories that won’t let us fucking go, I figure I should tell you this one.”
“Light your cigarette.”
“You need nicotine.”
I light my cigarette. Clarity has one too and we smoke quietly for a second.
Clarity sits and waits and she’s so graceful and light I feel like there’s a Maxfield Parrish angel sitting next to me.
“I feel stupid telling you this.”
“Don’t. Did you ever think this is why Purity had her audition?”
“Why do you say that?”
“What if Purity never becomes Wonder Woman? What if her perfect figure and starvation diet aren’t enough to convince that executive in Florida that she’s worthy to represent Six Flags as that seminal member of the Justice League? What if the whole reason Purity wanted to be Wonder Woman in the first place is so that this moment could happen and you could tell me what you’re about to tell me.”
“Alright. Maybe. So there was the time Amy crawled into the ashes but there was this other time—and it also has to do with burning—maybe I have a thing about burning—”
“Did you ever burn yourself?”
“No. Not that I remember.”
“Ok. Sorry. Continue.”
“Well there was the time with Amy crawling into the ashes of that campfire and Dad not taking her to the hospital and all..but there was also this time..equally scary and heart wrenching in my psychology..there was this time Mom burned herself while making jam. We used to go and pick raspberries and apples and all kinds of fruit on this farm where you pay by weight I guess but it’s mainly not about the fruit. It’s mainly a fun thing to do with your family. But then when we got home we’d make jam out of all that fruit and put it in Ball jars. Mom learned how to do it from her grandmother so it was like a tradition even though her grandmother was dead. So she’s got this pot of boiling fruit slurry on the stove and somehow she knocks it over and this sticky, thick fruit mixture spills all over her legs and just coats the whole front of her body from like the belly down. And she couldn’t just take her pants off because it would take the jam and her skin off together. So they told me to quick! run! get some ice! and they gave me five dollars and I ran out the gate almost jumping over the fence but I knew I’d just fall and we’d have one more problem to deal with so I opened the gate, did quick checks left and right and ran across the street into Martin’s Mini Mart. Inside, the cashier guy was having a protracted conversation with a customer or pal so I grabbed two bags of ice and threw a five dollar bill on the counter and ran out without saying anything..back to the house where no one could believe I was back with the ice so quickly. But it was no surprise for me..my mom is more than loved to me—she is honored, revered, idolized—I would give my life to save hers, if that was the deal. When I ran back across that street I was just hoping no cars hit me—that’s how fast I wanted to get that ice to her. The ice got to her and over a period of days, she healed. They didn’t go to the hospital that time, either, even though she had second-degree burns all over her stomach and legs.”
Clarity is quiet. Then she looks directly in my eye and says: “Life is so short and so sad.”
“Yeah,” I say. “It inspires you—then it breaks your fucking heart.”
“So, what,” she says, “are you gonna sit here all afternoon and tell sob stories or are we gonna ride some rollercoasters?”
She’s already gotten up.
“We’re gonna sit here all afternoon telling sob stories. Sit down.”
“Ok, Mr. Masochist. I’ll sit down. I’ll do what you say.”
“Two cousins—” I say.
“Two cousins, ok,” Clarity says, talking over me.
“Are you gonna listen to my story?”
“Purity never told me you were so angry.”
“Well I am. I am angry! You wanna go play dress up with Purity, go ahead.”
“I hate you fucking both. Purity drags me out here, you’re the two in a one-two punch.”
“Two cousins!” I say.
Clarity sits down, lights a cigarette. She looks at me, waiting.
“Two cousins are having a pillow fight. Twins. One hits the other, she falls, her head hits the corner of a dresser, she goes limp, falls, never gets up.”
“What do you mean she never gets up.”
“I mean she dies, that corner of that dresser hits her in the head just the right way that she dies. She never gets up. She goes into a pillow fight alive and never comes out.”
“Why would I lie to you? I barely fucking know you.”
“Whose cousins are these?”
“Mine. Dad’s side.”
“You know, that’s a fucked-up story. And if you weren’t being such an asshole I might have some sympathy for you and your dead paternal cousin and her identical twin sister but under the current circumstances you can fuck yourself and find someone else to bum cigarettes off for the rest of the day. I hate smokers who aren’t really smokers that don’t have their own cigarettes. What happened to the other cousin? Bet it messed her up for life.”
“Yeah, it did. She committed suicide.”
“No, she did.”
“Fuck you for telling me that story! What is wrong with you?! Tell me you’re lying, right now. Tell me what you just said isn’t true.”
“Well, I would say that, but it is true.”
Clarity looks at her lap and shakes her head.
“She was like emotionally fucked for her entire short life and would only talk with me and like one other person. She never had a boyfriend. They kept both girls’ rooms exactly like they were except for the dresser where the first one hit her head. There was just an empty spot and you could still see the ruts in the floor where the feet pressed into the carpet.”
“Are you kidding? Are you kidding me with this story?”
Clarity wipes away a tear with the back of her cigarette hand.
“Holy shit, that’s fucked.”
“Yeah, well, that’s life.”
“That’s some of life,” Clarity says. “I don’t believe you told me that story. If I ever find out that isn’t true I will cut your balls off while you’re sleeping. Fucking asshole. Well?”
“Am I gonna have to slice off your balls?”
I shake my head.
“Not in this case.”
“God, that’s fucked up. And what is it about them being twins that makes it so much worse?”
“Because,” I say, “it makes it into a story of person versus person, self versus self. Since they’re twins it makes your mind question the ways in which one part of you is killing off the parts of you that it itself needs, thereby killing itself. Murder is really suicide, if we’re all connected—”
“Ok, ok, ok, enough literary analysis. These are your cousins and this is how you talk about them?”
“Well they’re dead now.”
“Well show some respect,” Clarity says.
We’re quiet for a long time. Clarity gets to the bottom of her cigarette. She pushes the box in my direction.
I just stare at it.
“You’ve got five seconds,” she says.
So I get out of my thoughts and grab a Parliament, light it, put the lighter back in the box, and slowly slide the box across the table, looking at Clarity the whole time.
Clarity opens the box, lights herself up, and she’s a few drags in before she just asks me straight out:
“The one who killed herself..how did she do it.”
“Come on,” Clarity says. “You’re the one who decided to supercharge our little table sit with tales of gore and woe, so I think you owe me an explanation of how the other sister killed herself. I’m not gonna break.”
“Clarity, I owe you an apology—”
“Fuck you I don’t want your apology. I want to know how the other one died after she gave her sister a hemorrhage of the brain in a pillow fight or whatever happened to her head.”
I shake my head with my eyes closed.
“What?? You’re all sensitive all of a sudden? You obviously told me that story as an act of aggression so finish me off, prize fighter. You got me against the ropes. That was a hell of a left hook. So hit me with your right. And don’t criticize my boxing metaphors or I’ll get up from this table and I swear you’ll never see me again.”
“I like your boxing metaphors. I think you’re incredible, Clarity.”
“How did she die?”
I set my cigarette on the woven metal table.
“Their names were Belinda and Melinda. Don’t make fun of their names. They have a pillow fight. Belinda hits Melinda in the face hard. Melinda goes down, on the way down hits her head right on the corner of this dresser, she has a brain hemorrhage, as you guessed. She’s knocked unconscious. She dies before she gets to the hospital. That’s Melinda. Belinda..goes crazy. Won’t talk to anyone. One day she lies down in her sister’s bed with a can of lighter fluid and lights herself on fire. Burns down the entire house, which my aunt and uncle and about five more of my cousins lived in. Fortunately..unfortunately..they were all out at a soccer game. Belinda was the only one killed. Except her sister. Who she killed with a pillow in a pillow fight so I’m just saying, I try not to live with an abundance of caution but when someone invites me to do something *fun..*for a fraction of a second, my mind flashes to me all the ways in which this supposedly fun thing could turn out to be very not fun.”
“Why did they leave her alone?”
“Why did they leave who alone?”
“Belinda. Why did they leave her alone? While she was distraught. Over accidentally killing her twin sister. Why did they all go to a soccer game and allow her to be alone at the house with no one watching her?”
“ *‘Cause..*our family is fucked up. You and I would understand something like that, but people 20 years older than us didn’t go to suicide prevention workshops in elementary school. They wouldn’t assume Belinda was suicidal. We’ve been trained to look for the signs. They just figured they were doing her a favor by giving her some time to herself..I don’t know..it’s fucked up.”
“It’s extremely fucked up.”
“You’ll get no argument from me.”
“How old were they?”
“Fuck. You. Why would you tell me that shit?”
“It seemed to fit..the conversational..flow.”
“No it did not fit the conversational flow.”
“Well it seemed to me that it did.”
Clarity shakes her head.
“Give me another one.”
“Another one what?”
“One of those crazy..an amusement park death..quick! I need one.”
I get out my phone.
“Ok, uh, in 2006 a man swallowed too much water at Typhoon Lagoon in Disney World.”
“Did he die??”
“I don’t know.”
“Give me one where they died,” Clarity says.
“Uh..ok..Six Flags America..Two Face: Flip Side, the ride: the train was stuck on the lift because of a failed mechanism of some sort. Once the train returned to the station, the hydraulic line was severed, causing hydraulic fluid to spray on several riders. Twelve people needed medical attention..two were taken to the hospital to be treated. The riders only suffered minor injuries.”
“I want one where people died.”
“Ok..hold on..this is good..Disneyland, 1974. An 18-year-old employee was crushed to death between a revolving wall and a stationary platform inside the America Sings attraction.”
“Read that one.”
“She was in the wrong place during a ride intermission; it was unclear whether this was due to inadequate training or a misstep as the ride had been open for only two weeks by this time.”
“So she died?”
“Yeah, she died! She was crushed to death between a revolving wall and a stationary platform so I’d say she’s dead. The ride closed for two days and was subsequently refitted with breakaway walls.”
“Give me another one.”
“Ok, ok, Disney..this is good. March 10, 1998. A 5-year-old boy was seriously injured when his foot became wedged between the passenger car’s running board and the edge of the platform—”
“Did he die?”
“No but they had to amputate all the toes on his left foot!”
“Read me ones where people died!”
“September 5, 2003. A 22-year-old man died after suffering severe blunt force trauma and extensive internal bleeding in a derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster that also injured 10 other riders.”
“Thank you,” Clarity says.
She appeared calmed so I continued.
“As the train entered a tunnel, the axle came loose and jammed against a brake section, causing the locomotive to become airborne and hit the ceiling of the tunnel. The locomotive then fell on top of the first passenger car, crushing the victim.”
Clarity’s whole body relaxes.
I read her more.
“On December 24, 1998—more Disneyland—a heavy metal cleat fastened to the hull of the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose, striking one employee and two park guests. One of the guests, a 33-year-old man, died of a head injury. The normal tie line, an inelastic hemp rope designed to break easily, was improperly replaced for financial reasons by an elastic nylon rope which stretched and tore the cleat from the ship’s wooden hull. Disney received much criticism for this incident due to its alleged policy of restricting outside medical personnel from the park to avoid frightening visitors!”
“May 15, 1964. Disneyland’s first fatality. A 15-year-old boy was injured after he stood up in the Matterhorn Bobsleds and fell out. His restraint was undone by his ride companion.”
“Yeah. The boy died three days later as a result of his injuries. In 1972, four teenage girls were riding the people mover when one teenager lost her mouse ears cap.”
“She and her cousin jumped onto the track to retrieve it. Realizing they’d have to get on a different people mover car, the first girl successfully got into a car, while the second girl ran through a tunnel—”
“—and out the exit where she fell over a guard rail and onto the concrete 30 feet below.”
“Did she die?”
“No, but I thought you’d like the part about the mouse ears cap.”
“I do. You’re starting to know me. We’re bonding!”
Clarity leans over and punches me in the arm.
“I think you’ll like this one. Disneyland. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. On September 22, 2000, a four-year-old boy—”
“Oh, I love it already. This one’s making my pussy wet.”
“—a four-year-old boy fell out of the ride vehicle and was dragged underneath the car, causing serious internal injuries, cardiac arrest and brain damage.”
“Did he die?”
“Yes he died nine years later after almost a decade of suffering.”
“Are there more?”
“Well, there’s a lot of suicides, there’s the fact that if you lose a finger while shooting a fake rifle at one of the carnival games these parks don’t even have to report it because the safety commission only regulates what happens on rides. But this one..this one is choice..and I’ve saved it for the end..because I am not reading you Disneyland injuries all day—”
“So this is Disneyland?”
Clarity scoots up like she’s trying to get a better look at a television.
“I’m on a Disneyland page.”
“Fuckin’ sweet,” she says, stuffing a cigarette in her mouth the wrong way, then turning it with the filter in her mouth. It takes her multiple flicks of the lighter to get the thing lit.
“But this is the last one.”
“Is it a fatality?”
“No. But it’s worth it,” I say.
“Better be or I’m making you read me a fatality.”
“Don’t worry. Are you ready?”
She blows out some smoke and says, “Yes.”
“Quoting Wikipedia. A 1981 case tried an employee who was playing Winnie the Pooh. It was alleged that this costumed employee slapped a child and caused bruising, recurring headaches and possible brain damage. The worker testified that the girl was tugging at his costume from behind. When he turned around, he accidentally struck the girl in her ear.”
“In her ear?”
“It says in her ear. At one point, the employee entered the courtroom after recess in the Pooh costume and responded to questions while appearing on the witness stand as Pooh would, including dancing a jig! Appearing as Pooh he showed the jury that the costume’s arms were too low to the ground to slap a girl of the victim’s height.”
Clarity is cracking up by now.
“The jury acquitted the worker after deliberating for 21 minutes. Now, can we go ride a rollercoaster and get our heads chopped off or something?”
“You’re not bad, Matthew. You’re not bad.”
And Clarity grabs her things to go.
“Text Purity,” I said.
We walk through the crowds, and there must be some hidden rule that says everyone else in the park must walk the other way as the way we’re walking. It’s like a never-ending scene of little kids with cotton candy prizes and silly optimistic looks on their faces like Six Flags was heaven itself to an eight year old.
“What should I text her?”
“Text her..that I’ve been up for a week snorting meth and my one night’s sleep is catching up with me. I’m getting tired. And when I get tired I get cranky. And I don’t want to get cranky around you two because I like you.”
“No, I’m serious.”
Clarity says: “I don’t want to sound bossy, but it seems like you have sort of a..or that you’re a..I mean it’s none of my business but why are you—”
“A drug addict?”
“Just text Purity.”
Clarity starts punching away at her phone.
“She says she can’t come now.”
“Because they’re taking more pictures.”
“More pictures? Just for that guy in Florida to jack off to? I’m telling you. I’ve been living out here for a while and I know this culture a little bit better now. That guy is sitting in Orlando with his shades drawn and he’s jerking off to all those low-res pictures Cheryl is sending him of your sister. Until he finds the picture that he decides is worth getting off to, Purity won’t get the job.”
“You are extremely jaded.”
“Come on, it’s Disney.”
“Six Flags is owned by Disney?”
“Don’t bother me with details.”
“What do you want me to tell Purity.”
“I don’t know. That I’m a drug addict and I’m tired and I’m cold and I like hanging out with you—Clarity—but I think we need to bring the day to a close before I turn into a pumpkin or something. Am I mixing metaphors?”
Clarity stops walking.
“Yes,” I say, like a baby.
“Ok, we can fix that,” she says.
“You don’t think it’s silly that I’m cold?”
“You mean even though it’s like 70 degrees out here?”
“Of course not. I’m from Arizona, remember! I get you. Now come on. Come. On. This way. We’ll go to the gift shop and buy sweatshirts.”
And that’s what we did. We trekked all the way back to the front of the park to the main gift shop and as we stood at the open doors I said to Clarity:
“You don’t think this is silly?”
“Buying a sweatshirt just for one day.”
“Who cares? You can afford it.”
“Are you getting one?”
“I don’t know what I’m getting. We’re going to split up now. Go find what you need and meet me at the register.”
I wandered around this gift shop, which had zillions of kinds of sweatshirts and my only task was to pick the one whose branding most represented me as a person and that I’d be comfortable wearing. I wanted a hoodie. I wanted something with a zipper. The zipper was out of the question—all of these were pullovers. I could be Winnie the Pooh or simply Piglet or I could be Wicked or I could be the worm from Alice in Wonderland, which I thought made sense given that he was a drug addict, too.
I watched Clarity from across the shop, looked at her pockmarked face, not smooth like Purity’s. I looked at her brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail, and watched her hold clothing up to her body, revealing her breasts.
She didn’t look at me the entire time. She didn’t look in my direction. I don’t know if there is such a thing as love at first sight but I know for sure that there’s such a thing as crush at first sight. Less and less I thought about my sweatshirt and more and more I thought about getting some trinket for Clarity..a keychain or a necklace or something just to say I enjoyed hanging out with you today.
When we get outside, I give Clarity the necklace.
She’s wearing a Dumbo sweatshirt.
I’m wearing the Alice caterpillar sweatshirt.
The necklace is Tinker Bell.
Clarity holds it up to look at the detail.
“Awww. Is this supposed to remind me of you?”
“Lol motherfucker. Just put it on.”
“I need help.”
So I put the necklace on her.
She keeps it on the outside of her sweatshirt.
“What?” she says.
“I feel like I could psychoanalyze that.”
“I feel like you could, too.”
“I won’t, though.”
“Thanks,” she says.
My sweatshirt is too tight and the hood is too small—I like hoodies with big hoods that make you look like Yoda or something.
“You didn’t have to get me a necklace.”
“Yeah, I know it’s not cool since you have a boyfriend and everything but—just tell him you bought it for yourself, ok? I wanted to get you something nice.”
“It is—it is nice.”
“Just—maybe you can secretly use it to remember the fucked-up kid you spent a day with at Six Flags.”
“Is that how you think of yourself? A fucked-up kid?”
“Listen, Clarity, you don’t know the half of it even if Purity told you everything she knows about me.”
“I love the necklace, ok? I’m glad you gave it to me. And hey—hey—I don’t care how fucked up you are. I like that ‘cause I know you’re not looking down on me.”
“That’s..a really strange compliment or..”
“Look,” Clarity says, and she’s beside me showing me the map of the park. “Number five. The Ninja.”
“That says ‘Thrill Seekers in Training,’ ” I say.
“But it’s suspended,” Clarity says.
“Is that what you want to go on?”
“I’m not sure I’m ready for Colossus—”
“Goliath,” I say.
“I’m not sure I’m ready for Goliath.”
“I’ll go on the Ninja with you.”
“Yes. I’d love to.”
“Maybe after that we can go on Goliath.”
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t care what we go on. Take me to the Ninja.”
“But I know you really want to go on Goliath.”
“You know what, Clarity, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about the particular rollercoaster to me. If you’re not comfortable with Goliath, we’re not going on it.”
“I could stand at the bottom while you go on it.”
“Fuck that. We’re hanging out so we’re gonna do things we’re both comfortable with. Just take me to the Ninja, ok. I’ve always been curious about what thrill seekers in training do in their spare time.”
“I think this is what they do as their training.”
“Oh, I see. Well train me up, Tinker Bell-slash-Dumbo.”
“Ok, caterpillar, let’s go.”
So we practically run to the Ninja ‘cause it’s dusk and this is probably the last ride we’re gonna get to ride before Purity gets done with her audition and when we get there, there’s almost no line.
“First car?” Clarity asks, out of breath.
We get in line for the first car. There’s only two kids in front of us. This is the time of night when everyone’s waiting on their last ride on the big rollercoasters so Thrill Seekers in Training is empty. Before long our car rolls around for us.
Clarity gets in first, so she’s on the right.
I get in second, so I’m on the left.
We ride the ride.
It’s suspended, yes, but we’re sitting in seats with a covered floor so it’s not that scary. I look over at Clarity and see how excited she is, and some of it rubs off on me.
It turns out to be one of the coolest rides I’ve ever taken.
It doesn’t loop. There’s no big drop. But the designers have done their job. In the dark, now, we go ‘round big curves and the car swings out, wind in our faces making tears stream back on our cheeks and Clarity grabs my leg, this time dipping a few fingers to the inside of my thigh and squeezing like a little child.
My melancholy gets the better of me.
I want to bed this girl.
But I know that’s not going to happen.
Then, somewhere between the fourth and the seventh time we ride the Ninja, I stop caring, I get off it, I’m not focused on actually sticking my dick in Clarity’s pussy—I transcend all that bullshit and I realize that I’m sitting next to a girl on a Thrill Seekers in Training rollercoaster and we’re both screaming at every turn and laughing afterwards and running from the exit side of the rollercoaster around to the line snake, running through with about twenty other people—who really are kids—who have decided to make this their last ride in the day. And I remember, having done it before, that if you ride a rollercoaster about ten times in a row, your stomach stops dropping out at the hills and your adrenaline stops pumping at the curves and you become the rollercoaster, like you were built at the same time as the seat you’re sitting in, and you know every movement of the track and where it’s about to take you—it’s still a thrill, it’s just no longer a surprise.
And Clarity is grabbing my leg.
And it’s sexual.
And we both know that.
We both know that we like each other.
And we both know that nothing’s going to happen.
And even my testosterone-fueled body is ok with that.
And in the mix of all this possibility of fucking and not-fucking, I find myself running hand in hand with the woman in the Dumbo sweatshirt from the exit of the Ninja, up a hill and around, down, through the line snake, and back into our seats in the front car, and I find that that’s my favorite part: running, childlike, with a girl, skipping in the dark through an almost-empty Six Flags to ride the same ride, over and over. And I tell you, my friend, some years fell away, right there, and it was beyond childlike—it was like we were children, and she was the girl across the street with whom I first learned to play girl and boy, when that was a simpler game whose object was just to have fun. And I think, through all these years, that the object of that game should have stayed the same all along.
Clarity and I are panting as we get off the ride. Because we’ve been screaming. Because we’ve been shouting. At every curve. At every little drop.
Her eyes say: Can we go on it one more time?
My eyes say: We have to get Purity.
“You know what it’s like?” Clarity says out loud.
“What’s it like?” I say.
“Hot air ballooning,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say.
“No,” she says. “I knew someone who died hot air ballooning.”
“Some people from our church. They tried to land in a field. There were power lines around the edge of the field. Their basket got caught in the power lines. They were electrocuted.”
“Yeah,” Clarity says. “I wasn’t close to them or anything. But I knew them. This is when I was little. But I can see the scene of them getting wrapped up in those power lines, even though I wasn’t there.”
“Wow,” I say.
“Get it out,” she says.
“I know you’ve got more. Get it out. Tell me. It’s ok.”
My hands are on my knees. I’m breathing heavy. I look up at Clarity.
“My computer programming teacher died on TWA flight 800.”
“Yeah. Ok. Wow. How old were you,” she says.
“In high school. There was no programming class for my grade so he and I came to school an hour early for an entire year and he taught me Pascal. Just to teach one student. He came in an hour early every day for a year!”
“What was his name?”
“Art. Arthur. Arthur Benjamin.”
Clarity puts her hand on my shoulder.
“That sucks. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry about your hot air ballooning friends.”
I right myself.
“You know what else?” I say.
And I tell her. And the world goes by us as I do, people eating cotton candy and zooming to their rides and them having no idea what these two people are doing, standing face to face, not going anywhere, telling each other their life stories at Six Flags.
“Tell me,” she says.
“Ok, I am. I’m going to tell you. This is it. I hate it when they say She went peacefully in her sleep or He died instantly—there was no pain. How do they know? Maybe when you die in your sleep you actually wake up and your heart is stopped, and you breathe and breathe, but your heart won’t start, and you actually die in mortal panic—literally, mortal. Or like Porsche girl. They say she died instantly but what if when she hit that toll booth and her brain split in two, she was actually two consciousnesses for a split second before she died? I mean how do they know she died instantly? How do they know?”
“And my friend Art, my teacher, Mr. Benjamin. I mean when a missile strikes a plane, yeah, there are the lucky ones who get blown up without ever knowing what happened. But don’t you think that some of those people end up alive, shot out of a plane, and they live the last seconds of their life falling into the ocean..just..in the middle of the blue fucking sky like Wow, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, this is the last moment of my life. What do I want to think about while I fall to my death. Wow. My plane just blew up. My plane just blew up!!”
“You want to sit down?”
“Ok. You know what that reminds me of? Do you remember the space shuttle Challenger?”
“Yeah, it was one of the first times I saw a disaster on TV. I was eight.”
“I was six,” Clarity says. “But I knew what it meant. That those teachers and scientists had died.”
“Right. You know what?”
“I heard they didn’t die in the explosion,” I tell her.
“No. The compartment the astronauts were in survived the blast and it hit the ocean going 900 miles an hour.”
“Fuck,” Clarity says.
And I say, “Yeah.”
“You know what we’re gonna do?” Clarity says.
“We’re gonna ride that.”
And she points to it: the orange steel, the Mt. Everest first drop, curling in on itself just a little so it’s not a straight-down path.
“You said that’s the one ride you wouldn’t go on.”
“I’d advise you to take me up on it before I change my mind.”
“You’re going to go on the Goliath.”
“If you shut up and get me in line. Once we get in line there’s no turning back.”
“Ok. Let’s go. Let’s go right now, we’ll get Purity, and we’ll get the fuck out of this place.”
Clarity is nodding like someone in shock.
“Ok,” she says.
Then life goes into slow motion. We walk to the entrance of the Goliath line—and it’s long. This is where all the people are. Not at Thrill Seekers in Training, where we’ve been. Everyone’s at Maximum Six Flags Thrills, number 23, Goliath. Purity and I get in line and then it’s minutes that seem like hours, and all conversation between us stops. We are not the scary ones anymore, pissing off dads with our Googled stories of amusement park deaths; we are the scared, looking up every five seconds at the ride we’re about to go on, standing in the dark, an odd couple, thrown together in what might be that Six Flags’ last summer, and Clarity stands closer than she has all day, and I pretend she’s my girlfriend. And just for that day, she is.
“Purity is texting me. She’s ready to go.”
Clarity looks up at me.
“It’s your choice,” I say.
“I mean how long do you think the wait is from here? I don’t know if that’s fair to Purity to keep her waiting.”
“Or, another way you could look at it is we’ve waited all day for her and she could wait an hour for us.”
Clarity jumps up and down.
“Fuck! I don’t know!”
She looks up at Goliath’s first drop and my eyes follow hers.
“I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.”
“Are you scared?”
“I’m fuckin’..about to pee my pants. Look at that shit!”
A train drops down the track and everyone screams. It’s a slight hook at the top and then it’s just straight fucking down. I’ve never in my life seen a rollercoaster with a drop that high or that steep. Somewhere, down below the bushes where we cannot see, the people in the train are still screaming.
“I’m sure Purity is really tired.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Will you be mad if I back out?”
“No, I will not be mad.”
“But you really want to go on this, don’t you.”
“Yes, this is the one ride in the park that I really want to go on.”
“Fuck,” Clarity says, shaking her head. “You’re not making this easy!”
“Sorry, I’m just telling you the truth.”
“Maybe you could go on it by yourself. I’ll stay in line with you until the end, and then you can just go, and I’ll be there when you’re done.”
“But that doesn’t have anything to do with us inconveniencing Purity, does it? She’ll still have to wait.”
“I’m just gonna text Purity. We waited on her—you’re right—she can wait on us.”
“It’s up to you. There’s no pressure from me, ok? I’m not making you go on this ride. I want that to be infinitely fucking clear.”
“Yeah it’s infinitely fucking clear I’m just scared shitless.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I’m scared of that first drop.”
“I imagine most of the people in this line are scared of it.”
“Are you??!! You seem so fucking calm!!”
“Yes, I’m scared shitless, like you. When I look at that, I think: Probably if I knew more about physics I wouldn’t be in this line. And I think: People do die at amusement parks. They die on rollercoasters. They’re pretty safe but every once in a while one of those cars does come off the tracks and kills twenty people. That’s what I’m thinking. But I mean, when I got my wisdom teeth removed, senior year in high school, the dentist was like Usually we put people under but if you want you can have just a local anesthetic. And I was like: Is there any disadvantage to the general anesthetic? You know, why is he giving me this choice in the first place? And this guy is like: Well, since you asked, some people react badly to the general anesthetic and it kills them. And I’m like: What percentage of people have this death reaction to the general? And he’s like: About 1 in 200 million. And I was like: Put me under, doc!!”
Clarity’s eyes are bloodshot; her brow is crumpled.
“I think you’re trying to make me feel better with your story but it’s not working.”
“I’m just saying if we throw some numbers at this problem, the chances of us dying on this rollercoaster are one in 24 million!”
“According to who?”
“According to the internet.”
“Yeah but is it a reputable page or is it some GeoCities homepage that still has the under construction graphic on the top and like rainbow divider lines and a fuchsia background and blinking text—”
“It’s from Google.”
“How can you even calculate a number like that?”
“By comparison,” I say, “the odds of being struck by lightning are one in seven-hundred thousand.”
“But you see what I’m saying,” Clarity says. “Is that per year or over your entire lifetime because those are two different statistics.”
“It’s per year.”
“Which one?? The lightning one or the rollercoaster one?”
“I don’t know. I closed the page. I’m just saying..mathematically..we’re gonna be fine.”
Then another train of cars hovers over that first drop point of Goliath and hangs in the air. People start screaming before it even drops. Then the train crosses the tipping point and it races down the track at almost free-fall speed.
People screaming all the way.
I mean that drop is almost literally a *drop—*a straight-down fucking egg dropped off the World Trade Center.
“We’re gonna die,” Clarity says.
“Well. We’ll die together.”
“Again you’re not helping.”
“I’ll just be quiet.”
“No. You rode the people mover with me, which..sounds like..statistically..is more dangerous than the highest rollercoaster in the world—”
“Second highest. *So..*I’m going on this with you because, when I said, Will you go on the people mover with me? you didn’t hesitate even though it’s a pussy-ass ride—”
“It’s not a pussy-ass ride.”
“No, it is a pussy-ass ride. I mean look at you: You drove Purity’s ass out here all day and hung out with her bitch sister when you don’t even know me—I mean that’s a nice thing to do.”
“To be honest I only did it as a favor to Ashley, so she could go see improv today. So, whatever chivalrous intent you think I might have—I don’t. I’ve just known Ashley for like ‘ever and she’s the first girl I stuck my dick in so when she needs something I usually say yes.”
“You lost it to Ashley?”
“Yep. And she was on birth control and she told me that while we were fucking—that’s so hot—and she was like Cum inside me and I was like Yes, ma’am and next thing you know my non-virgin cock was splashing and spraying cum all up inside that girl’s pussy and coating her cervical cord and I was like uh, uh, uh until I had my final uh and Ashley was like, How does my pussy feel? and I was like, Perfect.”
Then I notice all conversation has stopped around us.
I look back.
A woman is cupping her hands over her son’s ears, giving me this stern look like she’s my second-grade school teacher or something.
Clarity looks at the woman, then at me, then she puts both hands over her mouth and busts out laughing.
I look at my shoes and shake my head.
It’s tough being an X-rated person in a G-rated world.
(But I am up to the challenge.)
“I used to have rollercoaster dreams except they had miles of track and impossible leaps where the track ended and the cars had to jump across empty space where the track resumed. And I do these crazy moves where I move across the country with no money to a city I’ve never been to, for school, or a job, or a girl. And sometimes I become homeless. And sometimes I end up like now, with a job that pays and money to drink and rent cars and shit.”
“Impossible leaps,” Clarity says.
“That’s exactly how my mom describes them. Impossible leaps, impossible moves. She says, ‘You can’t keep doing these flying leaps.’ And I’m like, ‘Mom, what else am I supposed to do? These people I work for are corrupt, they collude with their friends to defraud the US government, they cheat their friends behind their backs by overbilling on a project. I mean, I can’t work for people like that. I have one iota of conscience.”
“Yeah, you lose the other 99 every time you do a line of meth.”
We take a step forward, inevitably moving toward the train house of Goliath.
“I’ll tell you something, if I ever got to design an amusement park it would be scary as hell.”
“Oh yeah,” Clarity says. “How so?”
“Well, it would be a super-fun insane deadly amusement park that only a crazy schizo bipolar person could come up with. On my first day, I would start by going around taking Polaroids of every ride and showing them to people and asking how that could be more scary and more fun. And I’d take like thousands of pages of notes from people who came to these parks and I’d ask them about their dreams and any theme park elements that appeared in them. Actually I have dreams of that—that I work at an amusement park and my job is to make all the rides better.”
“You are an encyclopedia of information useful in only one context: keeping me vaguely entertained while we wait in line two hours for a two-minute ride.”
We take another step of inevitability toward Goliath’s train house. And I keep talking, like an idiot, because this is the part where you’re supposed to let the girl speak, or maybe it’s the part where you’re you’re supposed to entertain her. But I’m doing neither. I’m rambling on about what my true heart speaks, which is definitely not entertaining, but I’m the kind of guy who ends up homeless and smokes meth, so I don’t really do smalltalk.
I say, “People say they’re afraid of death, but I think what we’re really afraid of is being alone. Because imagine the ideal death scenario: if you were with the one you loved, if you were surrounded by your family or just your mother’s or your father’s arms, would death be so bad? And I’m not saying we’re afraid to die alone—I’m saying we’re afraid to be alone, in life.”
“We’re not alone, now,” Clarity says.
She touches my hand but makes it look like an accident.
“No,” I say. “We’re not.”
And again, we step forward, toward the Goliath train house. We were in that line for two hours, and that two hours broke down any walls we had remaining between us—through boredom, endurance, and more boredom and endurance. Step. Step. It was like a cross between a wedding processional and a funeral pageant. Like Vegas, mass couples lined up to christen their relationships but instead of by a ceremony it was by Goliath, the second-tallest rollercoaster in the world. It was so tall that it didn’t even have any loops—it didn’t need loops to impress you, since it was already impressive as the second-tallest in the world. Like cool people, you know, they don’t have to impress you because—well—they’re already cool.
“I think closeness—true closeness—is rare. Even though there are so many relationships, most of them aren’t intimate. Like my relationship with my dad: I mourned the loss of it for a long time when he left not just his wife but his kids, too, when he found a new wife. I was sad I lost him—sad for a long time. Then I started to realize that he and I had never been close—from the time I was a kid, we never had a real relationship! So I hadn’t lost a thing. I’m just saying, maybe it’s one, maybe it’s three, maybe it’s seven—maybe for most people in our culture it’s zero—but there aren’t that many truly intimate relationships in a person’s life.”
Clarity says, “Yeah. I lived with my aunt for three years and she never came out of her room.”
“Was she sick?”
“No, I mean she had some pain but she wasn’t sick. She just sat back there and watched TV. I was grateful for the place to stay but I thought when I went there it was going to be like: Yay, I get to be with fun aunt Susan! I mean I know you can’t take things like that personally, but she obviously had no interest in getting to know me better..or..getting to know me as an adult, even.”
“That’s fucked up—or—I’m sorry—”
“No,” Clarity says, and this time she really does take my hand. “You’re right. It is fucked up.”
Well, we got to the front of the line of Goliath. We waited in the extra line to get in the first car of this monstrosity with the free-fall drop that had that slight curve at the top that made you feel like there was nothing underneath you. We watched this ride go down and around, again and again, from far underneath its 255-foot first drop.
“I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Yes you can.”
Our talk was more rare as we approached the front of the line. And then there were two couples in front of us, then one, then the empty train stood waiting our turn and the teenagers running the ride were motioning for us to sit down in the car.
Purity took her seat.
They locked the safety bar down over our knees and we pushed it down another notch so the padded iron was cutting into our skin. Better safe than sorry.
I held onto the underside of the seat so that just in case the safety bar came loose I would have a fighting chance of holding myself to the car and not coming flying down to my death, separate from any car, separate from any train, just an upside-down body falling head first into the bowels of the park, caught on a million cameras from a million different angles and posted as just one more of thousands of amusement-park accidents.
Clarity saw me holding the underside of the seat and looked at me with a kind of terror.
A buzzer shouted harshly through the train house.
A jolt forward.
Our car was moving. Nothing in front of us but track.
We go around a 180° curve and there it is—the hill—rising steep before us.
Clarity claws her hand into my leg.
I love every minute of it. I hope she leaves marks.
I look over at her to check and make sure she’s really ok and she’s looking straight forward with her mouth open. She doesn’t even look at me when she says:
“I don’t believe you made me come on this fucking thing.”
“You know my sister has this thing she says about time—”
“I don’t want to hear what your fucking sister says about time.”
“O-k. You might hate me now, but in about two and a half minutes we’ll be on solid ground, screaming, saying, ‘I don’t believe we went on that! We did it! And you’ll probably want to go again. But we won’t be able to ‘cause Purity—”
“I won’t want to go again.”
And this is the part where your rollercoaster takes you up, and up..and you see the lights of the entire park and then it takes you up, and up, and you see the highways that lead to this place and then eventually you see the country roads cutting through the desert, with hardly any streetlights, headed for the mountains, off into poor mountain towns where kids don’t even have enough money for a day at Six Flags.
And then you come to the top of your hill, a height it seems no sane person has any business being at.
And there’s nothing on either side.
And the only thing in front is a piece of track that looks like it ends, it goes down so fast on the other side.
And then we, the first car, fall into this little scoop that’s designed to let the rest of the cars catch up before we take that first drop.
And the genius of that little curve at the top of the first hill becomes viscerally apparent as Clarity and I fall, and the curve makes it look like there is no track in front of us, as we’re always curving just at the last instant onto a place where there is track.
And then the fall.
It’s straight down.
And it’s fast enough and far enough to make me forget about everything—my dull programmer life, my meth use, my little-kid crush on Clarity. I forget she’s sitting next to me and hope to God that whoever built this thing did a good job, that we’re one of the lucky cars that goes down without incident, not one of the ones captured on the disaster sites falling to the ground.
It’s a long drop—three long counts—and we’re out.
Up and over, through graceful curves and up, and up, and up—through a second, lesser drop—and through some minor drops designed to make you feel you got your money’s worth, and then back into the train house with a *CLACK CLACK CLACK—*sudden stop.
And Clarity un-plants her arm from my leg and I start to have all these panicky feelings like I should have held her hand and I’m reading all this emotion into this silly little visit from my friend’s roommate’s sister who has a boyfriend and I think You’re crazy. This girl is never going to have anything to do with you. But Clarity puts her hand through my arm as we walk away from the train and another set of freaks locks themselves into the cars to thrill themselves with gravity. And we walk that way, breathing hard, her arm through mine, and at the picture house that arm hold drops into a hand hold, interlocked fingers, and we find ourselves on the screen.
Everyone else’s picture looks like they’re a couple of movie stars in a still from a film. But Clarity and I, going down that first hill, look terrified. And nothing like dignified. My mouth is open and her eyes are closed and both our hair is flying in ways that makes it hard to even recognize us.
A silent decision is made not to buy the picture.
We walk to a lamp and a bench.
Our hands awkwardly unlock.
Clarity offers me a Parliament—already lit, by her, in her mouth.
She lights one for herself.
There are tear streaks on the sides of her face behind her eyes. I wipe them away with my thumbs.
And it doesn’t matter what we say. You know what it is, anyway—just the adrenaline chatter of two people who just rode the second-highest rollercoaster in the world, second only to the Japanese. A trillion of these conversations have taken place around the world, most often among kids and young adults where there’s a relationship or a relationship budding. Usually these people have known each other for more than just this one day at the amusement park, but there Clarity and I are the exception.
I was just supposed to be keeping her company while Purity did her thing.
“I wasn’t expecting this—at the beginning of the day—to work out so well,” Clarity says.
“Me either,” I say, but I’m filled with melancholy at the fact that all three girls are going back to Phoenix tomorrow and whatever it is that Clarity developed between us on this one day is going to be that—just one day, frozen, forever.
Clarity’s phone rings, and within ten seconds, mine rings too.
Clarity says, “Hey sis. Yeah we just got off the second-highest rollercoaster in the world!! Woo!!”
And I say into my phone, “Hello?”
“Hey buddy!” Mike says.
“What’s wrong? You sound like they’ve got the noose around your neck and they’re about to put that little hoodie thing over your head so we can’t see your eyeballs pop out when they hang you.”
“No, it’s just—”
“Did you have a hard time with that girl—what was her name?”
“Whatsa matter, dude? You two not get along?”
“No we got along fine—”
“Well anyway, good news buddy. Tonight’s the night I’m headed over to that costume girl’s—did I tell you about Anna?”
“You told me about her.”
“Well that’s the good news buddy. You can use my bed! You and Clarity can be rolling around like little sex chipmunks while I’m sniffing out the stinkhole of this junior costume girl in her house, in her bed. You know it’s so much better to fuck a girl in her bed, it’s like she’s letting you into her room and her puss—”
“I get it.”
“What happened to you, bro, you sound like you haven’t slept in a thousand weekends.”
“I guess—I’m just a little sad.”
“See that psychiatrist I told you about? I’m telling you—Lexapro is your ticket. They give you these sample packs—you have to pay two-hundred dollars to see the guy but the drugs are free. And I bet if you act like you have ADHD you can get some Adderall. Just Google ‘ADHD symptoms,’ act like you’ve got that, and*—boom!—*you’re in.”
“Mike, I gotta go. But thanks for letting us use your bed.”
“Ok, buddy. Cheer up, ok buddy, you’re never gonna get laid like this.”
“Thank you!” I say.
“I’m gonna be fuckin’ that girl’s stinkhole like uh, ah—” Mike reminds me, then we disconnect.
Clarity is still on with Purity:
“Well I’m sure he won’t mind. Purity, I understand you’re hungry. I know. I know. Well you might have to go outside your diet for this one meal. There’s a KFC right where we get on the highway. Purity, meet us at the gate. No. Meet us at the front gate. Ok. Bye.”
When Clarity and I get to the front gate, Purity is leaning against the iron bars with her arms crossed in what looks like a Wonder Woman pose—except she’s in street clothes.
“Did you get the job?”
Purity nods. It’s in the bag.
“Not officially,” she says. “But you know.”
“No, Purity,” Clarity says. “We don’t know.”
Purity showcases her body with her hands.
“I mean, how could you say no to this?”
The three of us walk out the front gates of Six Flags.
“Would you two mind not smoking in the car?”
“Why, Purity, it’s not gonna mess up your figure.”
“It’s just that second-hand smoke kills like fifty-thousand people a year.”
“Well anorexia is the deadliest mental disorder,” Clarity says, and Purity kicks her.
We drive through the KFC and there’s a huge line and it’s moving extremely slowly and my sleep is catching up with me and I get kind of crabby, like my dad if he was in a similar situation. I lay on the horn.
“Motherfuck. How long can it take to put some chicken in a bucket.”
“You ok?” Clarity says. “You want me to drive?”
I probably should have let her drive ‘cause I could hardly keep my eyes open, but some stubbornness, some ignorance within me wouldn’t let anyone else take the wheel of that awesome Nissan SUV.
Purity sat right behind us and Clarity sat in the passenger seat, feeding me chicken strips to keep the driver of the car she sat in healthy and happy, and by the time we were home and I had consumed a whole bunch of greasy chicken and each of us had swallowed a mondo Coke, we were all reset from the day’s exertions.
Ashley was already at home, laid up on my mattress watching old Real World episodes on my iMac.
“Do you have anything but Austin and Las Vegas?”
“Ashley. Austin and Las Vegas are the best.”
Purity flips on the light in Mike’s bedroom.
“So we can sleep in here tonight?”
I look in to see that the bed’s made.
“Yep. Those are clean sheets—”
“I don’t care if they have cum stains all over them, it’s a bed,” Clarity says, launching herself face first into it.
Purity closes the door, holding out her index finger for me to shake.
“Thanks for watching Clarity today,” she says.
“I heard that,” Clarity says, her face in a pillow.
I shake Purity’s index finger.
Purity smiles—a beaming smile—and she closes the door.
I retreat back into my own bedroom and sit beside my oldest and closest friend, the first girl I fucked, and I put my arm around her.
“I found your vodka,” she says.
“I can smell that.”
“How weird,” she wheedles. “I’m drunk and you’re sober.”
I take her pinch good-naturedly.
“That is weird,” I say.
Then I let loose a tickle explosion the likes of which the world has never seen, on my best friend in the world.
When I wake up the sun tells me it’s about 10:30. There is no Ash in the bed beside me. There is no sound in the apartment.
I put on a shirt and go into the hallway between me and Mike’s rooms. Mike’s door is open. Clarity, just Clarity, sleeps under cream-colored sheets. I can see by the lie of the blanket how Purity got out of her side of the bed gently, so as not to wake her sister.
Purity and Ashley would be at IO—Improv Olympic—chatting with their friends until the bar opened and the shows started.
I look at Clarity again. And of course the male tiger in me considers jumping on the bed and pouncing her, inducing either immediate sex or sheer terror and creepyhood on Clarity’s part. The risky parts of me and the cautious parts of me did battle in that moment, for if it worked, it would be amazing sex: crawl into bed with sleeping Clarity in the empty apartment and draw the sheet off her sleeping body, caress her—sounds creepy, doesn’t it?! Yeah. Except I’d had luck with the reverse tactic of falling asleep in a girl’s bed while she was at work and waiting for her to come home to find me there—but this was different. The chance of a bad surprise seemed much greater in this case and I fell back on the idea of standing in the doorway with my shirt off—just in my boxers—and waking her by saying her name. Then there might be a gentler suggestion on my part and possibly an invitation on hers. Sex seemed a natural continuation of our talk yesterday—but maybe that’s the male in me talking.
I kind of stood there, clearing my throat and making little floor-creaking noises, but Clarity didn’t wake. I even said her name, but she was out. I decided to leave the girl to her rest.
I poured myself a gin, neat, and went in my room with the bottle. There, I watched Æon Flux episodes on iTunes and remembered when I had first seen them—in a dorm room at Ohio University in 1996—when they had seemed like magic, like nothing I had ever seen before. They actually played them on MTV, in between music videos, and I dealt with the music videos but I waited like an addict for my fix: the next installment from Æon Flux.
I walked over to Mike’s room to watch Clarity sleep and the drunker I got the more likely it became that I would do something stupid like crawl into bed with her like a creep.
Eventually, though, Clarity walked in on me, sitting in my boxers watching vintage cartoons with a bottle of Bombay Original. She had a sheet wrapped around her and she came right up behind me and took the bottle in one hand and drank from it. I could feel the heat of her body and she was almost asking for me to make the next move but you see, I knew she had a boyfriend, and—perhaps surprisingly for a drug addict, alcoholic, and general loser—I have morals around that sort of thing. The bottom line is it didn’t feel right and she wasn’t pushing for it so I didn’t push for it.
“Is this your usual breakfast?”
“Uh..that’s part of it.”
“What’s the rest?”
“Superfoods. Blueberries. Açaí. Shit like that.”
“Well..can I have some blueberries?”
She takes another sip of the gin.
“Get dressed then. I’m taking you to lunch.”
“Do you like Italian?”
Clarity leans in and gives me a casual kiss on the cheek.
“Love it,” she whispers.
And she goes out of the room and I turn and I see that under the sheet is only her panties and I’m thinking This girl wants to fuck, right?
But that’s the thing about me—I’m not a fucking creep. Maybe I could have had more sex in my life if I was. But I’m not someone who just does stuff with anyone who shows the slightest sign they’re willing. I want it to be more than willing. I want it to be magical. And so, when I’ve had sex, it’s been magical, on the whole, because that’s what I hold out for. I want to look back and be amazed at my sexual history—not have some lukewarm feelings about it. I’ve had some of those lukewarm encounters and I wish I could erase them.
“I’m gonna take a shower,” Clarity says.
“Go ahead, there’s extra towels in the bathroom.”
I hear Clarity go into the bathroom. Pause for time while she looks around. Sound of the shower door sliding open. Pause while she looks at all the shower gel shit in our shower.
“It looks like a couple of girls live here.”
“Hey. Me and Mike love our shower gel, what can I say.”
“Yeah but Pink Mango? Berry Berry Boo?”
Clarity leans into my room.
“You sure you’re not a couple of fags?”
I take a swig of gin.
“No, honestly, I am never 100% sure of that, especially when Mike and I are together. The only problem is we both love pussy so much.”
I hear Clarity go into the bathroom and start the shower.
“There’s fucking loofahs in here!”
“Those are Mike’s!!”
But Clarity doesn’t believe a word.
I drive us to Hollywood. Park. Get a table at Fabiolus, this Italian restaurant I like. We sit on the back patio, outside, where you can smoke and where there’s a huge skyscraper right next door and looking up from that low vantage point creates these crazy feels. Like you’re dizzy from the height—but you’re on the ground. The building was closed due to earthquake damage.
I order us a bottle of wine—just a starter.
Fabiolus’ bees buzzing around us—servers in white tops and burgundy pants—bringing me wine to taste and helping Clarity with the menu.
Fabiolus himself comes out and I stand and we hug and kiss. He goes to Clarity and kisses her hand. I ask him for my favorite bottle of wine. Then he buzzes off to take care of another privileged table.
“You know the freaking owner?”
“Yeah, I used to come here a lot when I first moved to Hollywood. Just sit here and drink and write. A few years of that and you tend to be on a first-name basis with the owner. Now we give each other Christmas presents and shit.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
“ ‘Cause I want you to have an excellent lunch. And I want to get you drunk so that at least for the first part of your drive back to Phoenix you won’t have to listen to those girls talk.”
“You got a problem with my sister?”
“Clarity, no. But they’re going to be talking your ear off about improv shit and I gather by the fact that you didn’t go with with Ashley yesterday that you’re not into improv shit.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sweeten you up. I know you have a boyfriend.”
“Oh-ho!! Yesterday he was a boyfriend and now he’s a fucking fiancée??! If he’s a fucking fiancée then what was that kiss for this morning?”
“That..was a kiss..for a sweet man who took me around the park yesterday.”
“Well I accept. The world lacks that kind of kiss, I think.”
“You just spent eighty dollars on two bottles of wine and you’re gonna tell me this isn’t a date?”
“Clarity, it’s a date in the sense of two people who like each other’s company getting together to enjoy that company, not a date in the sense that there are a bunch of complex romantic entanglements that dictate that after this lunch you must do a certain thing or I must do a certain thing. Ashley and Purity are meeting us here, yes? So as far as we know, this is the last time we’ll ever see each other. We like each other—I think I can be so bold as to say that. And, because I like you, I want to spend the next hour or two listening to you say things that surprise me and me saying things that surprise you, eating good food, drinking wine, getting tipsy, all in a place where we can smoke and enjoy southern California weather. I congratulate you and your fiancé. I expect an invitation to the wedding. I hope you make many babies and someday, in pure joy, I get to hold one of them and laugh at the miracle that is life. I am not a jealous person. I am not a desperate person. Anyway I’m talking too much and that’s all I had to say.”
“No, I like what you were saying.”
“I’m not naive. I know you’re not going to leave your fiancé for some guy you spend one day at an amusement park with—”
“Except you’re not just some guy.”
“Then life hurts, maybe hurts us both, but what are you gonna do, move to LA?”
“No. Not with my kid.”
“And I can’t move to Phoenix.”
“No? You don’t want to move in with me and my dad and the cutest little five year old you’ve ever seen?”
“Asha is amazing.”
“So move in.”
“I like my freedom. Though I guess what I do with it is questionable. I like to be able to roam from Hollywood to Calabasas and get into the deepest, most dangerous trouble I can find.”
“Yeah. I’m sick, Clarity. I don’t know when it happened. My mind might have broke when I was homeless. Or..I might have been this way for a time lots longer than that.”
Clarity scoots forward in her seat.
“I see that in you.”
She sips off her wine.
“I actually..love that in you because..I’m the same way.”
“From Purity? What did she say?”
“She said if she was Sleeping Beauty then you were Amy Winehouse. Some shit like that.”
“Well Sleeping Beauty hasn’t always been Sleeping Beauty, if you want the truth on that one,” Clarity says. “Sleeping Beauty used to be wilder than Amy Winehouse and Sleeping Beauty got herself scared with how far she had gone and that’s why she snapped back into that virginal little act who you know as Purity. Purity is scared shitless about life.”
“What about it.”
“About living it.”
“That’s why the younger sister has a kid and the older sister is still a virgin at—”
“Twenty seven. You know I love Purity—”
“But I’m afraid if she doesn’t lose it soon that 27 is going to turn into a 30. And that 30 is going to turn into a 35.”
“Well if she and Ashley move out here and Purity works at Improv Olympic, she won’t be a virgin for long. She’ll be like some underwater candy that only jellyfish eat and all these iridescent purple jellyfish’ll just come from every direction up and down Hollywood Boulevard and glom onto her from every side and they’ll eat that bitch alive, sucking onto that bitch and puncturing her virginity from every side and it’ll be like a Hollywood-style Purity deflowering. She’ll be fucking ex-members of The Real World cast, which is all that hang out at the IO anyway—”
“For real. Especially the Hollywood cast. It’s like they imported all these mid-westerners out to Hollywood and they’re still here eeking out their Real World money trying not to go home. You know that one brown-haired girl from The Real World: Hollywood, kind of a mousy face, long straight hair? I can’t say her name here or she’d sue me—”
“Yeah, I know the girl you mean.”
“That girl is always hanging out at IO. I even took her home one night.”
“Yes!! That girl is a fiend for doggy style up-the-ass then stick it in the puss then back in the ass, then puss, then ass, then puss, then ass. Pull on her hair a couple o’ times and she squirts all over your fucking cock balls and everything.”
“Jesus Christ,” Clarity says, snorting her wine.
“Don’t worry,” I say, “if they move out here, your sister will lose her virginity in like the first five, ten days—I’d place money on that.”
“Thank you. I feel very reassured.”
“Plus, playing Wonder Woman. Fuck. Guys’ll be walking up to her giving her their business cards twenty-four seven. So there’s that angle.”
Clarity says, “Would you fuck my sister?”
I look at her and try to gauge how drunk she is.
“With the Wonder Woman costume, in her bed, no condom, if she shaved her pussy..then maybe. But I’d rather fuck you.”
Clarity almost chokes over her wine.
“Did you just say that?”
I sip my wine.
“Did you mean it?”
“I did. I mean, chalk it up to being in LA too long, but you just don’t meet a girl like you here. You know? Phoenix isn’t country but it’s the same thing as a New York boy meeting a girl west of the Mississippi. He’s so used to city-hardened girls cut to look like boys or else top-dollar chicks that take a thousand dollars to get ready every morning that when he meets somebody west of the Mississippi—someone friendly—it’s almost always love at first sight. So I’ve either got to hook up with you or move to New Mexico or Arizona or something.”
“I have a saggy pussy.”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you know what that means, to have a saggy pussy? It means after I gave birth to Asha my pussy, instead of being like *this..*is like this. It’s very unattractive.”
“I want you anyway.”
“Even with a loose as a goose pussy?”
“You know, did it ever occur to you that what I like about you isn’t your pussy? That maybe it’s your spunk, your spark, your bad-ass attitude and with that attitude..I could put up with some variation in pussy.”
“Look, you should come to visit, as a friend. Come back to Phoenix for a weekend. Play with Asha—she loves you. And meet Ruiz.”
“That’s my fiancé.”
“When are you getting married?”
“In two months.”
“Is this like a for-sure thing or a tentative thing.”
“It’s for sure.”
“There’s a perfect girl out here for you, I’m sure.”
“Well try living here for a couple years and then be sure. The only thing girls drop trou for out here is if you’re a movie producer—no matter how small—or if you drive a really expensive car—like a five-hundred-thousand dollar car. These are the same girls that back in Ohio, when you met them at college, would go all the way with you the first night you met them on some fifty-cent draught beers in your dorm room on the flip-n-fuck.”
“What’s a flip-n-fuck?”
“It’s one of those cushion chairs that turns into a bed by unfolding it—it’s just a cheap piece of furniture that college kids fuck on, forget it.”
I pour Clarity some more wine.
I pour some for myself.
We drink. It’s good chianti. She gets me smiling again. She winks. She kicks me under the table.
“What are you gonna do after this?”
“Prob’ly go to my drug dealer’s house get high on crystal meth risk my life overdose end up in the hospital and die.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Why don’t you try online dating?”
“This doesn’t need to turn into a troubleshooting session for my love life, ok? If all I wanted was a girlfriend, I’d have one.”
“You want true love—like a Disney film.”
“It’s like this: this weekend: yesterday and today, with you..was true. I can live off this for a couple more years, just in memories of two days that actually meant something, that were pure, and yes, maybe that weren’t tarnished by sex. I’ve got ‘girlfriends’ here..me and Mike I think have fucked all the costume girls in the city—that’s the one class of film person who isn’t so full of themself they won’t fuck anyone who drives anything less than a Lotus.”
I stare up into a palm tree. Then I realize it’s fake, and it’s just a holder for a security camera.
“Hey,” Clarity says.
I look her in the eyes.
“You fell in love a little bit, didn’t you?”
“You did! I can see it in your eyes. The things that thrill us..sometimes kill us.”
Clarity laughs and drinks her wine.
“ ‘Cause you know unless you come to visit me Asha and Ruiz, you and I are never going to see each other again—you know that, don’t you, Matthew?”
I lean in toward Clarity, over the table.
“You know Jem?”
“No,” she says. “What’s that?”
“That’s music. Something you just said reminded me of her. She has this song, it goes: It’s just a ride, it’s just a ride. No need to run, no need to hide. It’ll take you all around. Sometimes you’re up. Sometimes you’re down.”
“Sing me more of that.”
“Ok. Then she goes: It’s just a ride, it’s just a ride. Don’t be scared now. Dry your eyes. It may feel so real inside. But don’t forget—enjoy the ride.”
I roll my body with the tune in my head.
And soon Ashley and Purity arrive at Fabiolus.
And they grab bread and swipe some of me and Clarity’s food.
Then me and Clarity stand and we all kiss and hug and Clarity gives me a lovers’ hug—touching all the way down—and she whispers to me:
“I have to tell you something.”
“When we went down Goliath, I peed myself.”
Our foreheads are pressed together.
“I tried to walk a certain way so you wouldn’t see—did you see?”
“But I figured it would be going against the nature of our weekend for me not to tell you. So. There’s my secret to you.”
She lets go of me.
She and Ashley go to the car.
Purity stops for another bite of the gorgonzola.
And then it’s just future Wonder Woman in black glasses turning halfway ‘round to kiss a peace sign and throw it up from her lips like a rapper (in slow motion, of course) and the three girls get in Ashley’s Honda and they pull out of the parking lot onto Sunset Boulevard. And though Purity and Ashley did move to LA and we had many adventures together, that turned out to be the last time I saw Clarity, ever, in this short life.