Coney island

Summer reading by Joey Comeau

The roller coaster creaks under our weight while it pulls us slowly up into the sky. There's a chain underneath our seats. I can hear it clicking. Click click click. I would feel better if this structure was metal, but it isn't. And the wood is creaking all around us. People are seriously injured on these things every year, but they keep them running anyway, protected by that sign out front. Not liable.

"If we die," I say to Becky, "they'll probably close down for a week. Tops."

She nods. Down below I can hear the attendants laughing about something. Greasy bastards. I can still smell their cigarette smoke. They don't care what happens to us. We're reaching the top. I feel dizzy.

"I am going to haunt the fuck out of these people," I say.

This high up, we can see the closed down sections of Coney Island. I can see the water. There's a moment, right as we roll over the top, where I feel free. The sun is shining off the ocean. The air is cool and the clicking has stopped. Then the roller coaster is pulling me down and I am yelling, "You assholes," at the top of my lungs. "You assholes! You assholes!" I feel safer when I'm loud.

The roller coaster is brutal, snapping me to the side, slamming me into Becky.

"Holy," Becky says. It snaps us around another corner. "We shouldn't," she says. It takes the corners so fast that we're slammed into the sides of our seats, elbows digging into each other, heads knocking together. "We shouldn't have sat in the back," Becky says. Then we go up, and we come back down. My stomach is somewhere behind us, struggling to catch up.

"Fuck." Joey yells in the car ahead of us. I just want it to end.

When we're finished, we climb out of our seats. I glare at the bored-looking attendant who tries to help us.

"It's only four dollars if we go again," Joey says. "Who's with me?"

"I'm in," Becky says.

"How about you?" Joey says, and I shake my head. Becky turns to me.

"Maybe we'll die this time," she says. I shake my head again. "Come on," Becky says. "You don't want to die? It'll be an adventure."

Next up is the aquarium. I stand in front of the blue glass, watching the walruses underwater. Joey and Becky are further along the tour. I can't get over the walruses. Every few minutes, one will swim right at the glass and then go up for the surface at the very last second. They're beautiful. Enormous. I've never seen anything so large.

I put my hand against the glass and I watch them swim.

"You see the octopus yet?" Becky comes up behind me.

"No, not yet."

"Jesus, that's big," she says. Then she's gone.

When they come close, I can see their eyes clearly. I've seen walruses before, on TV. I've seen pictures in books. I knew they were big. But seeing them in person, it staggers me.

Upstairs, I stand on the other side of the fence and watch them surface and dive. They're so large. I can't get over it. One of them is up on the rock, pink in the sunshine.

"They're like cows," I say when Ann appears beside me. "They're like big underwater cows."

"That's very poetic," Ann says. I can hear the laughter in her voice. She's eating popcorn from a plastic bag. Another walrus surfaces.

When my mother died, I lived with my aunt for a year. She used to take me around the city on the bus, leaving little religious pamphlets wedged between the seats, or taped to the window. Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? What does Jesus think about sex before marriage?

These walruses remind me of my aunt, heavy but agile. She was light on her feet, hopping onto and off the bus. Running down the street, waving her arms, hollering, "Wait, wait," at buses we'd missed.

I don't think about it. I climb over the fence, onto the edge of the walrus tank. There are rocks all along the side and one of the fat bastards is sunning itself. Its skin is bright pink and grey, and its eyes are bloodshot. I step closer, and it turns its head toward me. I feel cold in my stomach, suddenly. Further down the rocks, another walrus has turned to stare at me.

I'm not afraid of cows. Why should I be afraid now? This doesn't make any sense. I take another step closer and it keeps looking at me with those bloody eyes. I can't do it. I can't get any closer than this. A walrus surfaces beside me and I almost scream.

I think about jumping into the water. Swimming down to those dark blue windows, and waving at the children lined up on the other side. The walrus is still looking at me. I can't move. I can't go any closer, but I don't want to back off. I want to stay.

Joey Comeau is the author of Lockpick Pornography and A Softer World, and he has a new book of short stories out this summer, which you can find at:

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