Fiction by Nan Wigington
Whatever happened to Sandy Shores? I blink, think of the women Uncle Len dated, his “conquests” – the freckled Esther Long, the 14-year-old Lena Miles (she looked 20), the fat and loyal Patricia Lovato, then stop.
The amusement park? I say
My sister lifts a cigarette, puts it to her plump red mouth.
I sigh, shake my head more at her bad habits than the question.
I wonder if it’s still open. She sees me disapprove, wrinkle my nose, then withdraws her smoke, plucks phantom tobacco from her lower lip, aims the cigarette at her glass, misses. The cigarette rolls off the table, hits the floor.
I put my hand over my glass. As if she would leave something foul there. This whole funeral business has turned us into the little girls we once were, will always be, sisters, friends, enemies.
It probably died when he did. I see my uncle clutch his chest as the Wild Chipmunk falls to the ground – tracks, cars, railing, board by rotten board. I think on the afternoon at the graveside. The minister with his haystack hair, neck tattoo. In a hurry. Like he had better things to do, carnivals to be, roller coasters to ride. He kept calling our uncle Leo. No one ever called him Leo except the lady at the funhouse ticket booth.
Did you look forward to going? She means our annual summer pilgrimage.
I don’t answer because I’m hearing our mother hurrying us, packing the station wagon, the cooler full of beer and hot dogs, the bags of yellow puffs and circus peanuts, the bug spray, our own little suitcases, mine with its diary, my sister’s with its makeup. Off to Uncle Len’s, off to afternoons at the lake, Friday nights at Sandy Shores. After our father’s suicide, it was the only vacation we got, the only possibility of joy we knew.
I guess so, I answer. I think of the night sky, the ride lights, one of my drunken uncle’s sweaty palms on top of my head, the other on the small of my sister’s back. Our mother never went with us, too drunk or getting too drunk. She had our father’s death to relive.
What was your favorite part?.
I admit to loving the train ride, the boats that went in circles, the bumper cars.
That’s my Alma, she says, close to the ground. You know what I liked?
She nodded. We were both fascinated. They were incognito princes, like Uncle Len, with their their muscles and beards, cigarette packs rolled up in a short sleeve of a wrinkled shirt, wrinkled shirt open to a white t or a bare chest. They had tattoos, secret messages cut into knuckles – LOVE HATE, FUCK THIS, KNOW HOPE, FEAR LESS. Their scent when they cinched you into your ride…the little grunt of effort made you think of wet lips and kissing. I, in particular, loved the way they’d settle on their stools after the cinching, slump to pull the lever or press the button, then light a cigarette as the ride made its paces.
My sister laughs – Losers and lost boys every one, then adds, Remember the Loop-O-Plane? How you got off that thing and threw up? And threw up. And threw up.
I nod my head, sip my whisky, feel that old shame drop through my stomach. It was one of our last trips to Uncle Len’s. We’d just come in from Colorado. Uncle Len was effusive, kissing us all on the mouth. Look it how grown up you got. So when we went to Sandy Shores, we were going to go to all the grown up rides. I was scared, but wanted to prove myself. At the Loop-O-Plane, Uncle Len let my sister get her own car. He pushed in next to me. The carnie grinned when he cinched us in, slammed the cage door, backed away. The motor whirred. The arms began swinging. Our cars swayed back, forth, higher, higher. Uncle Len dropped his hand on my thigh. It wasn’t momentum that pushed my shorts higher, higher. Uncle Len grinned when the car went upside down and his hand flew away from me. He touched me, again. We were upside down, again. When the ride was over, Uncle Len patted me on the back. I got out, ran, threw up in the nearest trashcan.
Did he do that to you? I say, look at my sister, see a similar anger and guilt. Do you think mom knew?
Like mom knew anything beyond her next beer? Uncle Len was Uncle Len. Her baby brother. A boy who would be a boy..
I’m glad we buried him, I say.
We sip our drinks, friends for now.
Nan Wigington recently retired from the Denver Public School system. She misses the kids, not the chaos. Her flash fiction has appeared in New Flash Fiction Review, The Ekphrastic Review, and 100 Word Story.