On the Fourth of July 1994, I attended a
fleet show with my two older sisters-- Sam, who was 6 months pregnant at the
time, and Stephany. Originally I declined the invitation but the two of them
nagged and insisted, twisting my arm the way a set of controlling sisters would.
They implied that I could use a nice day out and they didn’t want me home alone
on a holiday just three weeks after my girlfriend dumped me. So when the phone
rang that Monday morning, with more of the same maternal nagging on the other
end, toward the end of the conversation I assured Sam that I would join them
for the holiday. After I hung up I dragged myself off the couch, splashed cold
water on my face — debated whether or not shave (the scruff kind of looked good
on me) then threw on some clothes that passed the sniff test. I grabbed my keys,
double checked that the door had been locked behind me, and then drove to the
Bankston County Bay. The strange thing was (of course I never would have admitted
it to them then) I was kind of happy to get out of my stuffy apartment that
morning, something about the day seemed… pleasing.
The fleet show took place along the port, which is encompassed by boating docks, tall city buildings and parking structures; there are Seafood restaurants and non-seafood restaurants and quaint high-end gift shops where a person could purchase twenty dollar key chains and overpriced postcards that read, We visited the Bankston County Bay. There’s even a historical museum filled with relics of early marine life where you could purchase passes to our operating lighthouse. Each pass includes a walking tour up cascading stairs, several flights up, which lead to the keeper’s sleeping quarters, kitchen and the famous oil lamp room, and of course, at the end of your tour, you get a free bumper sticker. Bankston Bay has it all, nestled nice and neat along the harbor’s cul-da-sac. Most of the harbor’s largest buildings surrounding the impasse rise high above the water then jut out over it, so you can imagine the amount of tourist our bay attracts-- “Come visit the floating town! It’s a sight to see.”
The air that morning was hot, sticky and humid and smelled of ocean water and raw fish as thousands of people flowed from parked cars, minivans and campers and proceeded to their favorite watching posts, off to see the colorful ships sail by on America’s birthday.
Two identical Bankston Bay parking garages stood opposite each other on both sides of the narrow bay and were both opened for onlookers to view the fleet show from within their structures. When we first arrived we decided to climb up an arduous mountain of stairs, since the elevator line was miles long, and as we slowly trekked upward I kept wishing I had worn my old sneakers because my new shoes (mainly the left one) kept rubbing against the side of my heels, forming red-hot blisters (and I hated getting blisters, everyone does I guess). The building rose twenty-five floors above the harbor, but we were only given access up to level fifteen, and we climbed, passing the lower levels, that were already jam-packed, and continued our languidly march upward until we finally found a decent spot on level ten. Some people, if they arrived early enough, were able to drive up and park and by noontime there were numerous cars parked alongside an impossible- to-breathe-in sea of people. We found a small nook up near the front where the safety gate was stretched across the siding of the building. It seemed a little high up, but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t show up at the ass-crack of dawn for these sorts of things.
Inside of the Bankston Bay Parking Garage #2, there were hundreds of men and women dressed in reds and whites and blues’, holding the hands of chatty children whose small fingers were tightly wrapped around pint-sized American flags. My sisters and I had a nice view right up against the safety gate or as close to it any person would feel comfortable being. Not to say I didn’t feel safe being so close to a gate that rose ten feet above water; it seemed sturdy enough. The gate was strong and thick and rose up to about the height of my chest, if I were standing, and in the center of it, welded on tight, a cautionary sign stated in bold white letters against a red backdrop, DANGER! NO CLIMBING! - along with its Spanish interpretation underneath. And we all knew why. I looked down and saw how long the drop was. There was of course a safety catwalk; if you were to somehow find yourself on the other side of that danger sign. But who would want to climb over the gate? Maybe some punk, trying to impress his girlfriend would try it. Or maybe even a small child, whose parents were too busy, not paying attention, could somehow climb over due to innocent curiosity and take a daring swan dive from the narrow walkway.
Being that high above the water and looking down just gave me a mild since of vertigo, that’s all, but I felt safe.
Across from where we stood or sat, in those umbrella chairs you bring to little league games, I could see our twin structure, Bankston Bay Parking Garage #1, standing opposite the bay. It too was filled with thousands of folks staring down into the water, waiting patiently for the festivities to start and those wonderful ships to start their sailing.
Our bodies were pressed elbow to elbow, faces glistening and sweating, we were all solidly packed together, and I felt like a sardine. Mouths sipped on cold drinks, purchased from passing vendors as we gaped down into the harbor with excited expressions painted on our sticky faces. At times the weather would become almost bearable; a hot and sticky heat accompanied with an on and off again breeze from the bay, an acceptable combo. From where we stood there was hardly any elbowroom, but it wasn’t too bad. Crowded? Yes. Hot? Yes. And there was also this intangible odor seeping from the pores of everyone standing around, speaking all at once, but still, it wasn’t too bad. Then, while looking down at the crisp blue water, with all the excitement wafting from everyone and swirling around, leaving the port and heading east was the very first ship.
It was a sailboat called The Riftroamer IV; an early 1800’s gaff-rigged schooner with beautiful old sails ruffling wildly against the wind. The water spread before it as it slowly crept by and the crowd cheered and waved, lips blew out fine whistles and fingers snapped pictures as all eyes stared down at the old fashion ship. Across the narrow bay, our twin structure seemed stuffed with waving and whistling and a blur of red, white and blue flags shook wildly spreading a contagious exhilaration about. Some dads held their smaller kiddies up on their shoulders; kids whose small, sometimes easily distracted eye balls would often drift away from the water and onto something else. One small girl, maybe four years old, high up on her dad’s shoulders cheered excitedly. I imagined she was letting out big ‘wh-hoooo’s and ‘yaaaaaay’s, clapping her hands while her legs bounced up and down against her father’s chest at regular intervals. I cheered loud and full-mouthed as well, waving my flag wildly. I even blew out a few whistles to boot, it just came out naturally. Kind of like being at a baseball game as you’re sitting in your seat, restlessly waiting for the pitch, ‘cause your team is up at bat. Eagerly watching and praying like hell as the pitch is thrown and the batter swings hard, you hear the cracking of the bat against a fast one and watch as it silently screams over the outfield and into the bleachers. The crowd roars like an approaching tsunami as you jump and cheer wide mouthed, spitting popcorn into the fan’s seats in front of you. And as I looked down at the bay, I cheered. I cheered because it was the Fourth of July and because the sail boat was awesome. I cheered because I got the day off. I cheered because it was hot and humid in this crowded garage but my drink was ice cold. And then I heard it, that wonderful deafening sound coming from within the schooner and bouncing off the buildings surrounding the bay. A cannon’s blast, and it was thunderously loud! The sound frightened Sam; I saw her brown eyes almost pop out of her head. “I almost peed my pants,” she said over the lively cheers. I laughed. Then again, BOOOOOOM! The crashing sound was so intense I thought I’d go deaf. I said back to her, “I already peed my pants.” She laughed loudly. Stephany stood against the fence holding her ears tightly, oblivious to our pee conversation as a baby started to cry and scream from behind us, probably scared shitless. Another BOOM from the sail boat; each thunderous crash from the cannon excited the crowd further and made that baby scream even louder; her voice clawed at the air, horrified. A thick, pale plume of smoke rose from the cannons as men dressed in 18th century, naval garb fired them off. They looked as if they had been pulled right out of an antique naval painting, wearing brown, wavy wigs under tri-corner hats, their blue ornate waistcoats buttoned up to their necks as white, ruffled cuffs poked out of their coat sleeves. They stood in white, wide-legged breeches that bellowed out with wind as knee-high stockings were pulled out of black old fashion shoes. We waved and whistled goodbye as the sailboat continued gliding to the east and was out of sight.
The second ship to stream past was large enough to hold a marching band on it and surprisingly from up high, we were still able to hear those fine, dulcet tunes. The ship must have had an exterior sound amplification because we heard the band loud and clear. Brass horns and clarinets filled the air, along with the light tapping from percussions, playing the Star Spangled Banner as it gently sailed by. I remember looking at my sisters and hearing them sing along with the melody, as well as a few behind me, all duteously holding their hands to their hearts. But I didn’t sing. Well, not really. I just mouthed the words a little. I was never a fan of public singing so I just pretended as I glanced at my sisters and smiled, thinking to myself that it had been a good idea for me to get out of that apartment that day. That morning I wanted to stay home, maybe watch the sports channel and catch some highlights. I was going to order a large pizza and have a beer or two. But being there at the bay with them, right at that moment, I was glad I came.
Soon the tune was fading, trailing its echo behind as the boat drifted out of sight. I gripped the gate still smiling as I stared out across the bay at our twin garage. The people across were stuffed tightly behind the fencing, within every grey concrete layer. My eyes drifted away from the top of the building, dropping down to the bottom and then slowly rolled back up to where the crowds of people stopped. I looked at the folks in platform 15 and saw how high it rose above the bay and a stupid image flashed in my head of me falling. I figured a person couldn’t help but imagine themselves accidentally falling down there —way down there, it was only natural. But once you went flying off that catwalk, down into the deep bay, there was no turning back. Bye-bye, see you later. Don’t pass go, don’t collect two hundred dollars. There might be a rescue boat or helicopter rushed out to rescue you if you were still alive, hoping your bones hadn’t splintered through your skin. I imagined a person, helpless and struggling to swim in the deep and briny water after that long fall, trying to keep their head above the surface as they treaded with broken, bleeding limbs… immediately I shook the sickening thought away – It was stupid.
Halfway through the fleet show the humidity let up just a bit, while snack venders continuously came around pushing around insulated rolling carts, selling hot dogs that sizzled inside of shallow warming pans, or warm pretzels with melted nacho cheese. A variety of chip bags were pinched and held to long plastic rods that hung along the sides of their carts; I could hear the plastic wrappers crinkling as the carts wheels rattled by. Some street vendors sold sweet, ice-cold lemonade and canned soda sitting on top of crushed ice, buttery popcorn, kettle corn; by then I had had a little of each, and a man in a big straw hat spun cotton candy for the kids, he had all sorts of flavors: bubblegum, strawberry, blueberry, just to name a few. Soon, the warm air began to smell of soured ketchup and hotdog grease, which drifted up from the paper boats that were strewn on the ground and abandoned by sticky fingered tots and teens. A rank odor of melted cheese mixed in with the loud and sweet scent of bubblegum-centered lollipops floated around and hung in the air above us, like a thick cloud. Excitement and a bustling amount of hoopla also hung in the air; the cheering of children, sharp whistles randomly floating about, and the rambling of lively voices sloshed around together, weaving in and out of the gaps as we all stood around watching the festivities. We saw a yellow ship filled with juggling acrobats dressed in baggy, star spangled pants stream past blaring whimsical circus music from its speakers, a 1960’s aircraft carrier that carried retired jets, and a couple of red and white fire boats that shot gallons of water out from their nozzles. They all sailed east, gliding out of the bay then along the ocean, down to the beach goers who sat under large umbrellas with thick globs of sun tan lotion smeared across their bodies. We waited a few minutes after the whistling and cheering petered out for the next ship to arrive but none followed. The bay waters soon became settled and the voices behind me lowered to a heavy murmur when suddenly, something from the structure across from us, within the 15th platform, grabbed my attention. I was muddled at what I was seeing— no witnessing. A rather large black woman in a bright, teal blouse was climbing over the safety gate. No, not climbing, more like hopping. What she did was hop over the gate and in a hurry; quickly stepping out onto the narrow catwalk. My jaw swung open and hung there forever. What is she doing, I thought. I wondered if anyone else could see what I was seeing, if anyone else was watching her. I looked over at my sisters and said, “Look… look at that la–” I didn’t get a chance to finish because I saw her fall from the catwalk and plunge down past the lower platforms. Her arms were stretched out like wings on a failing airplane, her eyes yanked wide open and her mouth was pulled into an eerie grin (I’m sure of it). She dropped down like a heavy stone, motionless, except for her hair and clothes that seemed to come alive. I remembered hating the way her hair and clothing ruffled against the air like clothes that were hanging out to dry, because clothes being hung out to dry was normal with a sense of tranquility, a woman jumping from the structure during a fleet show on the Fourth of July, was bad, really bad! I tried to make myself believe that it was just a stunt to get the crowd more energized. Like the act they have at Ocean World. The ordinary family man from the audience volunteers to participate in the show. “Come feed the killer whale a piece of fish,” but then he accidentally falls into the tank and disappears. The audience roars in a hundred gasps but in an instant the volunteer is propelled from the tank like an animated jack in the box, somersaulting, and then he lands perfectly back to safety. The audience quickly realizes he’s a part of the show and then they erupt into applause and cheers, instantly relieved. I too wanted to realize that this was— “only part of the show ladies and gents. The people here are all professionals.” But this was no act, and if it was, it was a sick and twisted one.
As the fat woman fell from the catwalk, someone within our structure shrieked loudly from behind me. It was like a dream, both fading and unreal. As soon as I had heard the shrill cry it quickly drifted into a ghastly oblivion. The obese woman had finally reached the end of her failed flight and had smacked hard against the water, belly first. It made a bad sound like a kid stamping down hard onto an oversized water balloon-- spl-aaaatt! A distant shhheeeee sound from the spray of water hitting around her body crawled inside my ears as we watched her body sink down below the surface. It felt like forever, but I’m sure only a few seconds passed until we saw her body resurface. She didn’t try to swim, she only floated there face down, staring into the bay. Another shriek and that time I think it came from me. I felt if rise from within the pit of my stomach then up into my lungs and crackle out of my throat. And soon other shrieks and screams came from behind and I began to notice people, eagerly approaching the fence, gently pushing chairs out of the way to get a better ‘look-see.’ They crowded the gate, gasping and watching. Heat poured down my neck as the crowd behind me grew nearer. My sisters pulled me closer to where they stood; their shocked faces were drenched in terror. I looked out at the woman floating on top of the water and wondered why she had hopped out onto the catwalk. Maybe she dropped something like her purse and thought she could maybe reach— then I heard a mannish, guttural yell of, “Oh my God look!” which came from someone off to the right of me. He had been pointing at the structure across the bay; his finger large and grave extended with skillful urgency. I looked over at the top of the structure where the fat woman once stood and saw what had caused his yell; what had now caused many others to scream and holler out, including me. Another woman had climbed over the gate and was standing out on the catwalk.
She just stood out on the walkway as if waiting for something, seeming eerily nonchalant with her small purse hung across her chest as if she were about to walk through the double doors of an outlet mall. She waited for those make believe glass doors to slide open, and we watched in disbelief as she gently bent her knees, as if to hop across the mall’s welcome mat, and lastly we saw her leap away from the skinny catwalk. As she dropped down her tiny purse floated up above her head like a rectangular balloon and she plummeted down, down, down to join the floating, teal blob lying on top of the bay. Why did she do that! I shouted into my confused head where a tangled web of reasoning began to interlock and make no sense, causing my face to contort and twist and form a look of horrid desolation. Then I thought I knew the answer as to why the second lady had jumped, or rather why she believed she had to jump-- to save the fat woman of course. I told myself. (Which I quickly took back– it was too incredible) And when the lady with the rectangular balloon, who jumped without a speck of recreance, landed, smacking hard against the water. Her neck did a very strange thing that was sick and unnatural. When she dropped towards the water, her body had been facing downward but after she sank a little and then resurfaced, she was facing upward. But only her head had been facing up, as for the rest of her body, it was still facing downward. Down, into the direction of the deep and daunting bay.
My breathing became erratic and my heart pumped fast like giant subwoofers, as more screams piled high on top of yells, stacked on top of ‘dear God’s, layered in with a heaping dollop of ‘what the fuck just happend!’ More and more those horrified screams arose becoming like an unstable cinderblock pyramid, leaning over about to crumple and crash down on top of all of us— JENGA!
And as if things couldn’t get any more sickening, as we continued staring across at our twin parking structure, out from over the gate came another pair of legs.
A pair of dark-haired covered stems poured over the fencing ardently, almost losing his balance. He meant to save the poor woman with her head twisted up at the sky, I suppose, but that too was a futile attempt. After he jumped from the catwalk he simply landed right on top of her. Loud ‘UGH!’s came from behind and crying and screaming as he came down hard, smacking against Ms. Twisted-Neck’s body, then they both sank down a bit, but quickly resurfaced. Fortunately he was still alive but a dark red substance began to flow out from the top of his head. Without any attempt to swim to safety, or save the two ladies, he only treaded in that area looking up at something – someone. The dark substance began to cover his face like a red veil as our eyes peered down into horror. Our bodies stood stiff like blocks of ice, frozen solid. Then my mind returned to its tangled threads of confusion as I watched the man wearing the red veil do something just then that made me feel as if the entire world had completely gone mad. He waved up at a little girl and beckoned for her to come on down and join him, as if promising her the water was ‘A-Okay.’
At that instant I decided that it had had to have been a dream. And at any second, I would awaken from this sick and twisted nightmare; wake-up inside my bedroom, back to reality, damn-it if only someone would reach over and pinch my goddamn arm. But in the pit of my stomach, somewhere way down deep, I knew it wasn’t a nightmare, not this time. No pinch on the arm, no bell from the alarm clock to yank me out of this bad dream, no puddle of sweat soaked into my pillow from perspiration brought about by nothing other than pure unadulterated terror. I stared over at whom the third jumper was waving at, his daughter I guessed. She was wearing a red and white, striped dress with spaghetti-traps that had blue ribbons sewn into them, she almost resembled a human candy cane. Little Suzie got all dressed up to see the Fourth of July fleet show, eat hot dogs and kettle corn, then take a refreshing dip into the bay to join her lunatic father with the red veil draped over his face. Oh heavens, poor little Suzie is going to miss out on all the fireworks tonight. Better not jump dear, wouldn’t want to ruin your dress or break any bones just yet, you’re still growing dear, bones may not heal up right you know.
Seconds later the little girl in the festive dress did what I hoped to God she wouldn’t– and why didn’t anyone grab her! She couldn’t have been more than seven years old, 50 pounds of growing adolescence, someone easily could have grabbed her and brought her back over the gate. But no one did. She simply climbed over it and stood out onto the catwalk. My heart banged in my chest like an angry native banging down on a buffalo hide drum as I prayed she wouldn’t jump. That maybe she’d be too afraid and turn back– but she didn’t. She wasn’t afraid either, because I think she had also been smiling. Was her father smiling down at the bottom as well? Strangely, I sensed he was. I imagined a mouth stretched out like bubblegum as his white teeth gleamed with mania. No—no, no, I pushed the thought away. I’m just imagining that. Why would he smile, why would little Suzie smile? Why would any child be happy to jump stories down from the safety of the parking garage and into that bay? Suddenly, the light bulb flashed again as it came to me. I knew why they jumped, of course, why hadn’t I thought of it sooner? There was a mad man up there, toting a gun or something, threatening everyone’s safety. Why else would they have jumped? Maybe he had already killed someone. That was logical. That’s why the fat woman jumped, the second jumper, and now the father; the dad wanted his daughter to be down there with him, to be safe… right? I struggled with this thought since it seemed hardly logical and a little extreme, but it was better than nothing; however I hadn’t heard a gunshot or panicked screams from across the bay. I strained my ears listening out for the coast guard sirens or even the heavy whooping sound of a rescue helicopter to come and save the day, but the only thing I heard was gasping and crying and constant, panicky yells from behind. We all peered over at the young girl, still frozen in our shoes, and watched as she bravely pinched her small nose and leaped off the catwalk. Dropping feet first with a perfect, straight up-and-down plummet, her dress lifted above her head like a candy-striped umbrella forced up by the solid air. Wild hollering filled the air behind me and I imagined we were like lab monkeys trapped in a cage that had been set afire. We raved there, helpless with eyes pried open watching and yelling at the top of our lungs as the brave little girl finally hit the water and shot down below the surface like a torpedo. I counted the seconds, which seemed to drag on forever until she plopped up at last, gasping for air. Her arms began flapping against the water, wildly, as her body bobbed up and down. She can’t swim! My God, she can’t swim! I either yelled in my head or yelled out loud (I don’t know). Where the hell is her father, and why isn’t he saving her! Then I saw him, a few yards to the left. The nut was performing the backstroke; his arms stroking backwards against the water like he was at a family backyard pool party, waiting on the BBQ. He lapped back the waters oblivious to his drowning daughter and in addition, to top it all off, he began waving up at the others from within his parking platform. His right hand motioned once again for others to join him and his drowning little girl, into the comfortable water – Come on in, the water is fine and dandy.
I felt my stomach sink down into a pit and I almost lost my balance as my head began to surge with vertigo. No way could a gung-ho, murdering bastard, that’s even sicker and nastier that the devil, cause this. People aren’t that much afraid of guns that they would risk their own lives to get away from them. No, this was grimmer, more sinister. The people in that structure wanted to jump and they were smiling, weren’t they? The ones that jumped earlier had been smiling, I know it. The fat woman happily jumped, then the second lady, the crazy dad and then his daughter, and by now everyone within our twin structure probably had sickening smiles stretched across their screwy faces. Staring down at the bay I noticed that the little girl in the striped dress had ceased her flapping and was now floating on her belly, I cringed. She was dead just like the first two jumpers and her crazy father, floating on his back, as imaginary burgers grilled above white-hot coals, was summoning more.
We watched with morbid faces, our shoes trapped in dried cement as two more climbed over the gate of a lower platform and leaped down into the bay. Another pair jumped in followed by a group of four. Five more, then ten more, all jumped from different levels of the parking structure, all smiling like loons. More shocked screams and shrieks, and full-throated yells from behind me. All watching… all terrified of the chilling sight. I heard far away screams and cries come from my sisters’ grief-stricken mouths as they stood squeezed in right next to me, watching what seemed like a stampede of savage creatures, scratching and clawing their way out and over the fences, then dropping down like dead flies. Our upturned faces, full of pain and disarray, looked on from behind our safety gate at an old woman who slowly began to climb over the barrier. She wore a red starry shirt and beige, loose fitting, knee length shorts. She too wanted to take that mortal dip into the bay but it was too hard for her to climb over the gate. Lucky for her she had others nearby who were glad to lend their helping hands. As her fellow deranged constituents helpfully lifted her onto the gate, an eager hand from within that blur of chaos, unexpectedly pushed her over it before she had a chance to get her leg across. A wave of sounded like laughter suddenly erupted across the wind as her body front- flipped over the fencing. Her silver hair flew forward like a child being turned upside down and her body was tossed over the wiry barrier. She slid down head first, colliding with the hard, concrete surface of the narrow walkway and a dark stream of blood gushed down the side of her head. It poured out onto her hair like red ribbons then she passed out and slowly rolled off the catwalk, falling rear-end first into the water. More and more people were jumping from the structure as the onlookers beside me and behind me continued screaming at the top of their lungs; it was now becoming hard to breathe. My chest was thumping and I was struggling for air. As we watched in terror, it felt like an invisible cloud had rained buckets filled with madness on top of us. I imagined the rain turning into a steaming gas after it hit the warm pavement, then rising up and misting through the air, snakelike, whipping and swirling up around us like a poisonous hydra. I didn’t want to breathe it in but I had to. I didn’t want to look across the bay but I was forced to. My chest felt tight as my throat wheezed in oxygen, and our eyes, glued open, watched in horror as hundreds of people eagerly jumped with a lust-filled obsession in reaching the bay’s waters. They reminded me of the contestants on the game show, Grocery Market Sweep. The contestants had to race around a giant grocery store, grabbing all sorts of stuff: boxes of cereal from one aisle or giant raw chickens near the meat counter. They’d dash through the frozen food section, snatching bags of peas or hamburger patties, or skirt around corners to the baby aisle, tossing large boxes full of diapers and jars of baby food into their carts and then they would quickly speed away. At the end, the contestant with the closest grocery bill to the money amount framed in the flashing, neon lights was announced the winner and would receive the Mega Prize. The one who lost got to take home a butterball. This horrid act reminded me of that game show. The gleam in their eyes as they jumped from the catwalk was the same gleam those game show contestants had. The jumpers’ eyes glistened with delirium, as they reached out for their wonderful prizes. Oh yes, because they wanted to win and take home that Mega Prize, no booby prize for them, no sir-ee. They wanted the big one and they could hear it, see it, and smell it. They could taste it in their mouths as if the air had been dipped in it. Their tongues lapping against the wind like thirsty dogs as they slowly sailed down, one right after the other, resembling carnivorous birds diving for silvery fish under the waves.
I looked down at the bay and saw what looked like hundreds of people swimming or drowning like tiny ants in an abyssal rain puddle. Newer jumpers landed on top of previous jumpers and the next group landed on top of them. Bones were ripped through cotton t-shirts with old glory silkscreened across them, as more bodies continued to plunge, slapping down on top of one another. Heads cracked against other bloody heads as they touched down. Bodies splashed and jounced, causing the bay to swell up and wave as a thick film of blood floated on top of it like an oil slick. Soon there was hardly enough room in the water for any more jumpers to land, at least on that side of the bay. My God I wanted to close my eyes but I couldn’t. I felt as though someone had torn away my eyelids because they remained pried open, wide as marbles. Faint gasping and coughing came from behind, combined with more of the same terror streaked bawls and wails. In desperate need of seeing the faces that belonged to the howling caged animals standing behind me and for reassurance that I hadn’t been in a place of desolation, I turned around and looked towards the back. Moms were screaming wildly, dads were cursing and yelling as tears ran down their faces, mixing in with sweat. Children were crying and screaming because their parents were and some woman lay near the back with the side of her face kissing the asphalt. Her yellow dress blown up over her back, I assumed she had fainted, and while she lied there near a door-less, faded jeep with her ass cheeks exposed to the everyone and God, no one went over to assist her or even to help pull her dress back down. (excuse me ma’am. here allow me. there are children here you know. that color sure looks good on you. would you like to take a dive in the bay? everyone’s doing it. the water is fine and d…) No one helped her. We were too preoccupied, away from the office, and every single eye in the crowd was peering over the gate, glued to the imaginary television set, arduously watching this exhibition of mass suicide.
I glanced further towards the far back of the our parking lot and noticed a strange man in a khaki colored trench coat, wearing a baseball cap and thick spectacles. He was leaning against one of the green and white pillars eating something, maybe ice cream, out of a small paper cup. He just stood there, relaxed, dipping and licking a small, plastic spoon. My eyes shifted to the right and I observed a man crouched on the ground, his face was beet red. He looked to be crying as his head rapidly shook left to right like he was trying to dispel a fly from his hair; his face cringed and wrinkled while he did that weird jerking. I glanced away as an invisible string pulled me back into the direction of mayhem. More coughing croaked in the air as I gazed over at the jumping idiots from the other side of the bay. Still trying to connect the dots and with shameful hope I waited for the structure to come crashing down from a bomb’s blast, crushing the levels below it one by one, but that never happened. There was no explosion. The only thing that did happen was more jumping, more indefectible insanity, more coughs and screams and yells from behind and no fucking organized police force. Not even one goddamn firefighter. My eyes began to burn up again, but the tears stuck inside, when something made me glimpse back at the man in the khaki colored trench coat. I wondered how he could wear a coat in this heat. I watched him as he dipped his spoon back into his cup, scooped something out and slurped it down like he was sitting on a swivel stool at a counter of some ice cream parlor maybe listening to some Bill Haley flowing from the jukebox that spun those miniature vinyl records. Not noticing any of this wicked pandemonium, he remained in the back, dipping and licking, concentrating on getting down to the bottom of his dessert cup as Bill Haley sang “Rock around the Clock.” And suddenly, as if he knew that I’d been watching him, he looked up from his treat at me and curled his skinny lips into a smile. It wasn’t a friendly smile either; it was odd like he was interested in… eating me. Like he was saying, from behind those spectacles along with that haunting smile -- you’re next. And after he had finished eating what was in his little cup, he would eat me too. And it was his greedy little secret. He’d lick his cup clean and toss it into the receptacle, walk up close with his plastic spoon, his head bobbing to the tune, “ganna rock, rock, rock, till broad daylight,” and scoop my body right out of the crowd and swallow me down– whole. With weary distrust, I tore my eyes away from that man, returning them back to the imaginary television screen as jumping idiots on the tube were charging out of the started gates to be the first ones down to win the Mega Prize. “Ladies and gentlemen, run wild! Grab anything you can get your hands on!”
My lungs became even tighter and began to squeeze in on themselves. My chest heaved in and out as my insides became under attack by anxiety. Anxious butterflies wickedly fluttered in and around my intestines while my heart pounded hard and fast like two boxers in the last round, caving each other’s faces in just before the final bell dinged. My shaking palms were dripping wet and again I wondered, what the hell is going on. Then a crazy thought popped into my head and for no reason at all, I started to wonder about what those jumping lunatics knew that we over here did not. My mind started to fog up with black smoke and I began to feel …a little irritated. They seemed to know something, just like the man wearing the trench coat seemed to know something too, and they weren’t telling-- it was their little secret. Baboon-like shrieks escalated from behind me, guttural coughs, and ‘Oh please Jesus’s, tumbled around monotonously scraping at the hot air while more demented men, woman and children jumped into the harbor. More bodies touched down and broke apart, landing and crashing on top of each other like a football game pileup. The blood on top of the water thickened and grew darker as more and more continued to jump into the bay to their sickened hearts’ content. There was even a guy who climbed out of the platform along with man’s best friend. After he jumped he held tightly onto the dog’s leash, dragging Fido down through the air with him, he hit the water a millisecond before the dog did.
I shook my head feeling more irritated, as confusion and anxiety arm-wrestled inside; the black fog became even darker, pitch black, as I started to feel…well, hatred. I…I hated them. At that moment I began to hate the jumpers. Them with their stupid, smiling faces racing down to get some Mega Prize and I was way across the bay not winning. Oh, what’s wrong with me, what am I thinking? I rattled my head, trying eagerly to click the pieces together as more bizarre coughing scratched at the air and the screaming was now approaching its climax. My head started to spin making me lightheaded and dizzy and the damp skin on my face strangely began to tingle. A chilling sensation coiled around my body like a fat serpent, causing my head and face to numb over and when I touched it, it felt like silly putty. Panic rushed over me like a rolling wave, starting from my curled toes up to my hair fibers. I became so full of panic I thought I’d splat open. But then, just like a bad smell cruising along the passing wind, the panic quickly began to fade and was soon forgotten. It melted down my body rolling past my hips and off my toes, letting my shoes become unstuck from within the cement blocks and I suddenly felt as light as a feather. The confusion and chaos began to untangle into fine silk threads and I felt it — a smile gently stretching across my face, shaping my checks nicely, into tight, round balls. A chuckle slipped from my lips like an unexpected belch, and I felt somewhat flustered. It was funny you see, I realized that I had been the one coughing. You know what else, the caged monkeys from behind me grew quiet and I could hear the breeze drifting in over the bay. From behind me a mingling of deep heavy breathing, as if a snoring giant were fast asleep, surfaced and from somewhere close and hidden a thin peculiar sound dangled high out of my reach—a tinkering.
A beautiful sound, like melodic tinkering from a child’s toy, faded in and out teasingly as another chuckle slipped out and I quickly cupped my mouth, was I was laughing. Why was I laughing? Was it because I had finally figured out the riddle? The jumbled puzzle had finally begun to fit itself together and I could almost see its picture. Then without warning, as if everyone had gotten the message all at once, the shuffling of many footsteps began; the sound grew closer and closer as folks began to approach the metal barricades. I could feel their body heat radiating and spreading forward as they wandered nearer and nearer, and that, which had first started out as a slow paced walk, quickly turned into a nervous scurrying then changed speed, cranking up to a full powered, raging stampede. The crowd rushed towards the gates, legs tripping and trampling over each other. I noticed a small child become swallowed up inside of the large mass, falling under long legs and huge feet then being crushed and squished into the ground under the weight of adult men and women. Their smiles were wide and their arms dangled out in front of them full of fevered hysteria, elation and something else; I couldn’t put my finger on it, (fright) but it had a sense of exultation. A teenage boy who had been in a full sprint for the gate was bashed in the head by a male senior citizen waving a cane. The man finished his swinging when the teenager finally dropped to the ground in a twitching fit, then in a hobbling fashion; the old man rushed the gate, climbed over, and dove down. All at once, a cooling sensation ran down my spine causing my privates to shiver as I watched loads of them race to the gates that ran along the side of our building, climb over and jump. I suddenly had the painful urge to want to pee. My privates began to tingle as the, I have to hurry up and get there before time runs out and I won’t get a prize, pee sent a message up into my entire body, wanting and demanding. I began to feel anxious and angry all over again as more continued to jump over, pushing and shoving chaotically around me. The puzzle’s final pieces began to click in and fall into place like heavy tumblers inside of a thick lock. The vault is open, we cracked the code, I see the light! It’s there, right there at my fingertips. I could finally see the picture, its hues now crisp and clear, the edges sharp and un-fuzzed-- why didn’t I see it before. How dare they try to keep it all to themselves, jumping as they tried to hide their stupid smiles. What about me, I want my share!!!! Shiver, tingle, shiver, tingle. I managed to squeeze the urine back up my urethra. I wiped the sweat from my face with my sleeve. I felt the tightness in my lungs loosen up a bit and began to pull in a peculiar sweet air. Saliva began to well up in my mouth, almost over spilling and I immediately became (doped, drunk, on a trip, spaced-out) intoxicated. I had to go now! I had to JUMP! If I waited any longer I was going to piss my pants and then explode. Those people down there were going to take it all! I shouted in my head or maybe out loud, “those greedy fucks!” Then upon instinct, I snapped a glance back as if I heard someone coming or maybe even smelled them getting close, and saw a man standing right behind me, wearing a stupid red, white, and, blue bow tie with a silly grin yanked across his face. He must have known something too, I could see it in his eyes, his big greedy eyes, and I could smell it dripping from his stinking flesh. It oozed, drop by drop like noxious venom, splashing acidic poison onto the ground then sending sizzling, snakelike plumes trailing up into the air. He wanted it too but not as bad as I did, HELL NO! I would kill him first if he tried to cut in front of me, go find your own gate, asshole. My heart was pounding hard like pistons on a locomotive, wheels storming fast, slipping and sliding off the tracks as they caught fire. Adrenalin rushed through my veins that ran along the back of my spine, flashing up then down, then under, sending it curtailing down into my shivering and tingling sack while that tinkering tinkered faster, sounding like a wacked out mechanical xylophone. Finally, impulse took control and my hands gripped the top of the gate’s railing and I began to stick my left foot up and up and up into the wire meshing when that bastard with the bow-tie, grabbed hold of my shirt and pulled me backwards and away from the cusp of glory. Furious, I clenched the gate tighter as he only pulled harder making my entire body an inferno of fury. His thick and clammy fingernails began to dig down into the back of my neck as he pulled, and instantly I felt as though I had been combed with a torched rake. My blood began to boil as I squeezed my hand into a tight fist then swung it around with whipping speed, driving it square into his thick nose. I vaguely remember hearing a hollow breaking sound as he tumbled to the ground, holding his nose tight; a stream of blood leaked through his fingers that muffled back some garbled nonsense. I didn’t wait to see if he got back up, I didn’t care. I was predisposed, out for lunch, on the other line, so I eagerly spun back around as quick as a whip, to return into the mists of monomania. All I wanted was right down there and I was going to get it. Then suddenly I glanced over my left shoulder and a feeling of irresponsibility arose inside my throat, I had completely forgotten about my sisters. I saw the gleam in both their eyes as they stared down into the water, surging with a dubious and delightful glee. Go on, I urged them without moving my lips. My eyes begin to nag them just as they nagged me this morning. Better hurry up before it’s gone, I’ll twist your arm back just like you two did mine. And soon Stephany was climbing over the gate. I watched for the man in the bow-tie to return, fist balled up, ready for a brawl, but he was nowhere in sight, lucky boy.
Stephany had been wearing this long, flowing dress that dragged against the ground when she walked and it was now snagged on the gate’s pointy tips. It tore high up the back creating a huge hole, revealing the back of her thighs and her blue underwear. The three of us laughed as her dress became entangled with the sharp tips of the fencing, and tore so much she decided to rip the shredded bottom off, turning her malfunctioning wardrobe into a mini dress. She didn’t care while laughing through tears as she stepped down from the gate and onto the catwalk. She was going to get something so sublime a torn dress was worth it, well worth it. And soon it will be my turn, I thought, as the tinkering sound rose and tinkered faster inside my eardrums, and my balls began to quiver with goose bumps that prickled up evenly over their skin. I wondered if others could hear it, that copper tinkering-- if their privates quivered and tingled and were prickled all over like mine. My vision became blurred and I started to drift away and lose focus. My hand lifted as if by some clear string and I slapped myself square in the face, snapping my mind back into the fold. My eyes shot out in attention then I gave big sis a nod, letting her know it was okay to jump and she smiled back, nodding eagerly. Better hurry up before it’s gone. The shreds of her dress, fluttered near her blue underwear like flags dancing in the wind, then one–one-thousand, two–one-thousand, three –one-thousand, and off she went, just like a bird. Her arms flapping comically as she dropped down, down, down and out of sight. I didn’t get to see her landing; I had been too concerned with my other sis who needed help getting over the gate. Her belly wasn’t being very cooperative so I hoisted her up, making sure she climbed over safely. She laughed giddy like a kindergartener when she was finally standing out onto the catwalk. Her brown eyes bulged with excitement and… and something else (fright) I couldn’t tell. Then a faint and distant bell sounded quietly in the back of my mind as if warning me of something, but only briefly, it quickly dropped away, becoming infrasonic and was swiftly replaced with a much welcomed xylophonic tinkering. A growing rumble of laughter and verbose mutterings of nonsense swam through the crowd as my sister Sam stood up on the catwalk looking back at me, still giddy. Then she waved, and then she jumped, quickly disappearing from the catwalk. She sailed down through the air like a kite slipping out of the wind stream, down into the direction of the bay. Good sissy, I thought, good girl. But why did she wave? Maybe she feared I wouldn’t make it on time! I had better hurry, hurry, hurry up. I looked out over the bay and saw a thick golden mist shimmering above it, then the clock began to tick and tock loudly in my ears. Pins and needles tingled all over my body sending shivers back up and down my spine. I just had to get down there, now! It was waiting for me! Glinting and twinkling like the gold on the other side of the rainbow. Gold? No, it was better than gold, better than riches, even better than sex; better than any orgasm you humped and grunted so hard for. Yes, it was better than anything! No human words could explain it; if I could only get my hands around it. Then I felt it. It started to rise up from the water, up through the air and at me, hugging and smothering my entire body. I could even taste it now, my tongue wanted to stretch out and lick the sky. The flesh and my bones under my skin began to vibrate and purr as more prickly goose bumps rose on top of every component of my body. My toes curled under and I squeezed back the pee again, my chest rose up and down, faster and faster, while an itch deep in my loins shouted out and pleaded fiercely.
Warning, warning. Those damn bells were ringing again, and as soon and they resurfaced they were quickly warded away, dipping back into some unknown like a drowned pebble. Quickly I returned to the fence and climbed back up. I pulled my left leg over, then my right, and hopped out onto the catwalk looking down. I saw a golden sea of people, drunk with bliss, their voices calling up to me. Their heads were like tiny black dots, celebrating and cheering and I wanted to be like them– down there. Standing out on the narrow catwalk I suddenly remembered the man in the trench coat and when I looked back, he was gone. Most of the people from our parking lot were gone by now but a few were still rushing the gate and jumping down– Afternoon sir, no time to talk, off to get to the Mega Prize y’ see, clock’s a ticking, don’t you know, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!!!! I barely heard the final warning bells because I had been carefully listening to the copper plates tinkering in my ears as the voices down below began to sing along to its enchanting melody, and what a sound it was. And finally, I was ready to jump. Get down there with the others and receive my rewards. My heart pounded loudly in my ears and banged, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump; the angry native’s drumsticks were set ablaze by its thunderous blows colliding with the drum. The pistons rattled and clanged threateningly, the blood in my veins rocked against their walls violently, the sockets of my eyes thrummed, my skin tingled with fine needled points, and even the bones from my head down to my curled up toes, vibrated-- all pulsing to the rhythm, all wanting to jump, jump, jump, jump. My fingers danced anxiously along the sides of my legs, the tongue in my opened mouth stirred restlessly, allowing spittle to slide down the center of my chin. Time was ticking away and my body cried out for me to Hurry, Hurry, Hurry-up! Times-a-ticking my dear old friend. (—up intheback he’llhave thefinal bid. goingonce-going-twice, sold totheman inthe khakicolored trenchcoat. We-have-adozen oddshapedthings overhere, thisonesells at retailprice for-abill-yun, we got it here with a start’n bid at one dolla, who’s-gottadollar? Onedolla, onedollar totheman behind the thick readingspectacles. Onedolla I got onedollar. howabout one-fithy—)
hurry up before it’s gone.
hurry hurry step right up and get two golden tickets into the gates of the everlasting.
Tick-tock tick- tock tick- tock tick- tock. Go, go, go, go— GOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
Therefore, I jumped. LAST ONE IN IS A ROTTEN EGG! Then suddenly, all at once, the pounding and the banging from the angry native ceased, and I could finally breathe clearly again. The pistons stopped their raucous clanging, the blood in my veins began to settle down, and my eye sockets became relaxed. The gooseflesh covering my arms, legs and scrotum began to flee, leaving my skin smooth and warm again while my bones from head- to-toe calmed down. My hands lost their anxious jittering as they spread wide open, letting the soft air glide between each finger, gently brushing off their nail beds. The butterflies in my stomach ceased their raucous fluttering and flapping and hushed as my body floated down towards the shimmering cloud. The only sound present was a mixture of soft tinkering from that exotic xylophone and gentle, otherworldly voices sang up at me from the bay. All the stress and worry I had ever had, disappeared as soon as my feet left the catwalk, and wow, did that air taste like the finest of all wine. My body floated downward and began to bend forward pointing me down headfirst, soaring towards the jumble of dots lauding in the water. Warm blood raced to the very front of my forehead, then my arms flew up against my sides and stuck there -- I felt like Superman. My hair fluttered up above me as I slowly drifted down; my body basked in the warm air while it gently caressed against my skin. It had indeed been a good day to leave that stuffy old apartment. The day was perfectly pleasant. An invitation had been given to me to visit a place filled with nothing but surreal sublimity, unimaginable tranquility. A place that smelled of sweet utopia flooded with rhapsodic tides of pure serenity. And there it was, right underneath me, slowly reaching out with welcoming arms spread wide — heaven. I could see the clouds sleeping on top of her and at last I stopped squeezing back the pee and let it go; it felt warm. Everything was going to be okay. The singing grew louder and that tinkering tinkered faster, still so mesmerizing and beautiful, as I finally touched down kissing my reflection in the bay…
And you know what…? the water was fine and dandy.
–and quiet.Later, tiny black eyes.
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