by Kate Gehan
He always made tremendous noise knocking into furniture when he came home late, especially the time his wife laid a goddamn trap of books at the base of the stairs and he slipped on War and Peace, hitting his head so hard on the tile he fell asleep right there on her flotilla of college Penguin Classics. At daybreak his daughter sat on his gut, pulled at his eyelids, and whispered Daddy Daddy in her baby fawn voice. His wife whispered that’s enough and told him to leave. That was a month ago, but he still came by to mow the lawn because the town threatened a $300 fine if the grass grew higher than twelve inches. A letter had arrived, warning random inspections. She needed his help. The mower was broken, and she was too shy to borrow from the neighbors, but it made people feel kind to lend a hand and who was he to keep them from feeling good? While his wife and daughter were at an amusement park, he enjoyed a leisurely mow, making tight stripes in the grass as he imagined the rollercoaster’s metallic tink tink as it pulled his family up the tracks of the first monster hill. It was the summer solstice and that affected the look of the checkerboard pattern he created; because the sun was so very high, it would take quite some time to appreciate what he’d done.
All she wanted were answers—from him, from herself—about how it ever got so bad. He’d mow the lawn while she and her daughter were at the amusement park because she didn’t have the energy to fight the city’s warnings and for some reason he still cared. Xeriscape it! Pave it over! She didn’t care! Worrying about the height of the grass was truly the last goddamn annoyance she needed as the universe spun the roulette wheel of her emotions. Where would the needle land? She’d taken up kickboxing to handle rage; meditation for the anxiety; yoga for depression; forest bathing for denial. She longed for emotional boredom. All day she and her girl rode amusement park rides called the Scrambler and the Spider, and now they were on a wooden nightmare named the Monster, although she was thrilled about the idea of her brain smashing around her skull a little as they tink tinked up the first big arc. She let go of the bar across her lap and reached out to hold her daughter’s hand, but it was wrapped around the metal. Why was their lawnmower’s engine beyond repair? Because he had forgotten the oil for too long. She was squirreling money away to buy her own machine. As the rollercoaster crested the hill a bird flew overhead, and she hoped they’d never come down. If they did, she’d tear up the grass to plant milkweed and wildflowers to create a sanctuary for bees and butterflies. Without nourishment, eventually there’s nothing left to save.
For courage, she pretended the tink tink of the track pulling them up the first big hill was the sound of Thor’s hammer being formed in fire. It took so long and the endless white wood lifting ahead of them rose into the sky until—nothing. Terrifying. I don’t like this at all, she told her mother, whose hands were tightly wrapped around the metal bar across their laps, and she wished her mother would let go to hold hers. She imagined looking at the back of her father’s ahead in front of them, of her dad sitting where he belonged. Why can’t Dad just be here with us, she asked her mother, whose permanently puffy eyes were closed. When her father moved out, she told her mother it had always been depressing. As they crested the top of the hill and tilted forwards her stomach went to Mars and the car in front of theirs detached from the whole train. She and her mother floated for a moment, suspended in midair, their seats tugging at their bodies slightly. As their thighs slipped over the safety bar, feet tipping out, nothing fell from their pockets—not the $3 super gobstopper stuffed into her nylon pocket, nor the change from the purchase—and she knew the nets below the Monster would catch them if they fell that far, catch them before they splattered on the asphalt, even though her mother told her they could never hold the weight of a person. She knew the nets would keep them safe because she could see them and if you couldn’t believe what was right there before your eyes, what was there to trust in this universe?
Kate Gehan’s debut short story collection, The Girl and The Fox Pirate, was published by Mojave River Press in 2018. Her writing has appeared in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Find her work at kategehan.com.