Stranded at the Top of a Ferris Wheel with Judy Long,
County Fairgrounds, April 7, 1982
Oh hell yeah.
What we're talking about here is your basic case of fortune smiling. You haven't planned this in any way; you didn't slip the flanneled mossy-toothed carny a five to accidentally slow the ride, any more than you planned for Judy Long (Judy Long, oh, Judy Long!) to be behind you in line, than you did for this Quasimodo of the fairways to thrust her stumbling into your carriage, wedded to you for what would seem to be the briefest of durations by the descending bar. Could be this is fate's way of making up for the lack of height and proper bone structure, the acne, myopia, and crooked teeth (being straightened as we speak by the very Union Pacific of oral gap-bridging steel ultra-gauge orthodontry, not to mention head-gear to wear when sleeping that virtually eradicates the ability to sleep, a mask-like face-dependent mobile that would have made the Marquis de Sade himself proud). Could be.
Thrust together so close in the dangling car, her black hair actually almost near-about drifting over to you, her denim-jacketed shoulder against your cheapass nylon windbreakered one, her saying, Well hello, Walter, fancy seeing you here, as you are ratcheted away skyward into the cool clear spring night; you saying Just Walt before you take time to think that maybe Walter sounds more like a boy who could end up promming it with a Judy Long, a boy likely to lose his braces if not his virginity in the next fourteen months leading to graduation.
Click click click, clanging away into the up yonder, your breath short as if you were having to pedal the whole wheel around in its cycle, and here's your chance, the moment you've constructed and fabulated on so many late nights lonely dangling here just as the car dangles, your time to be urbane, witty, elegant, a four-eyed young Cary Grant in braces, and you sputter, So, that Geometry test was tough, huh? and you almost think you can feel your innermostheartdreams reel away into the night like a hub cap spun from a tight-cornering Chevy Impala, and then, the grinding of metal, the clashing of gears, the moans and sighs of patrons trapped like flies with tiny wings beating vainly as the tree sap envelops them, amber in the long slow making, the car perched at the very top, pendulum swinging back and forth for a moment, Judy Long's indrawn breath, the horizon dipping and rising like the sea, the distant lights of town winking at you, perhaps saying, Well, well, well, Walter ole buddy, there you go. One perfect moment, free of charge.
Hanging in that cradle endlessly rocking. Oh yeah. Right above the funhouse, baby.
Time stretches out around you, settles over you like a heavy quilt, weighing you down, shackling your arms and muzzling your mouth and burying the slow burning synapses of your mind itself as the seconds tick tock past slo mo as in t i c k--
You know what Chad Ledderman would say, Chad Ledderman the tight end, letterjacket wearing Ledderman, blonde hair blue-eyed and tall damn him Ledderman, he'd lean over and say, Give me some sugar, honey, that Chad Ledderman, a man who knows who wrote the book of love, whose F150 four-wheel-drive Ford truck contains a state-of-the-art sound system, cassettes not 8-track, a well-rounded shoebox of tuneful potential, songs for every occasion, Skynrd for snuff-lipped beer-sipping town-cruising with the buds, Rick James and Kool and the Gang to show he's got the funk, Chicago for leaning over and getting some sugar true. How can you possibly compete, still taking the bus home, you who just recently realized the other kids think your Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly albums are more than a little yesteryear, you who flew solo at homecoming, heels kicking against the bench in the gym?
Oh, she looks away; oh, she bites her lip; oh, the night wind teases her hair. Oh, Judy Long, Judy Long. Speak, Walter, or forever hold your peace; speak.
Boy, that Geometry, you say, your face flushing in rueful embarrassment before she even acknowledges your feeble attempt at communication, Some test, huh?
She responds, she does, she says something like, Yeah, sure was, and now, the irony, the desperate bitter irony, you must speak again. That's how it works.
But maybe Geometry is the key here; maybe through examination of this circle you ride, of its radii, bisecting connecting pillars radiating from the central hub, maybe this can help you navigate this plane geometry of the heart, and so you say, You know, I bet ole Mr. Berry could measure the radius of this wheel and come up with the diameter and count our revolutions and figure out how fast the whole thing was going. If it was going I mean.
She favors you with a different glance than the one you've known before from Judy Long of the black hair like spider-spun midnight, and she says, Yes, I guess he could.
And to be saying something pretty much damn near anything, and because your insides are cycling and whirring nigh out of control, you say, Be kind of neat if the thing detached, after it got up some speed you know, and we just rolled on down the road, going round and around and around.
She laughed, and oh the night air parted around her for you then, Yeah, that would be pretty cool, she says. Rolling out of here, seeing new places.
And Walter, you know this is the moment, the clock has stopped its inexorable tomorrowtomorrowtomorrow pace for you, only you, and for her you want to liken your life now to the bottom carrier on the wheel, wallowing in the very miasma of awful sixteenhood, many cars and the bisected length of the circle below Chad Ledderman, the letterman, but the wheel does turn, you want to say, and Chad, his eyes aren't on the horizon, those far lights like signal beacons, no, he looks to the ground, at all the height-shortened people that look up to him because they always do, that's their job as he sees it, but the wheel does turn, Judy Long, it does you want to say, and you want to go on, telling her how as you carve your way machete whipping into the future it picks up speed, and if your eyes see far enough and take in those red and blue and particularly green lights from up here, up here so high where you see so much further, you can hold on tight, and if no when the wheel spins off like a whirling top you can ride it out, maybe, and head for those horizons....
But these are things you may not say, Walter, though they pirouette and reel through you, drawing your breath from your very lungs--
Yet time has stopped for you, nobody but you, and you owe time, and you owe that Walter still to come at the top of the wheel something, and so poised there, gently listing in the April breeze, the space and time between you and Judy Long abbreviated this once, just this once, to inches and the half tock between seconds, you can speak, you have to speak, and you do. And maybe it ain't Kool and the Gang or the J. Geils Band, but it isn't half bad: You send me, Judy Long. Honest you do.
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Scott Yarbrough has had short fiction recently published in The Clackamas Literary Review, In Posse Review, and The New Orleans Review, among other places; he teaches at Charleston Southern University, and lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife Leigh, his brand new baby girl Marie, and his excellent golden retriever, Sadie.
"Stranded at the Top of a Ferris Wheel ..." copyright 2003 by Scott Yarbrough.