The Ferris wheel compartment was painted like a popcorn machine, and it was about the size of one, too. Only a sliver of space separated Keldon from Anne, but his shoulder still pressed uncomfortably into the side. As they ascended through the air, he craned his neck to survey the crowd below.
Keldon spotted a boy standing near a wood post emblazoned with letters that read 48 INCH MINIMUM. A red line ran across the post, and the boy giggled as he shifted himself beneath it. Stand straight, the mother must have said, because the boy put his chin up, inflated his chest, and extended his neck towards the sky. But no matter how he stretched, he fell short.
Keldon understood what the boy was about to feel. Seeing the Ferris wheel filled the boy’s imagination with possibilities. If he stepped into a compartment, if he rose up, who knew how far he could go? For a boy that age, everything will exceed expectations because you have no idea what to expect. But Keldon knew what to expect. He knew that a sudden rise often precedes a precipitous fall.
“What are you looking at,” Anne said.
“Those people down there,” Keldon said. “That kid.”
Keldon glanced away from the boy and peeked at Anne. A tattoo of a phoenix wound its way down her arm. The tail of the phoenix extended to the back of the thumb on her hand resting on the leg nearest him.
“What’s wrong?” Anne said.
“He’s too short,” Keldon said. “Can’t get on.”
“Poor thing,” Anne said. “He’s going to be so disappointed.”
Keldon shifted his attention back to the boy. In the second he looked away, the boy’s smile eroded to a violent quiver and his straight back curved to a caved-in hunch. The mother wrapped her arms around him and lifted him off the ground. With the boy’s chin resting on her shoulder, the mother passed her fingers through his hair and calmly rocked his body. She pressed her lips against his ear and, Keldon guessed, whispered I love you, it’s alright, there’s so many more things to do. But the effort was pointless. The boy cried with a face so scarlet and so broken that Keldon was sure the child would never be the same.
“They should have just let him on,” Anne said.
“They should have,” Keldon agreed.
The compartment grew silent except for the boy’s whimpers below. The conversation stopped. Anne leaned away, propping her shoulder against the window, and settled both hands on the leg furthest from him. Keldon felt the sliver of space between them grow, from a small inch to an extensive chasm. He remembered all the moments before where he was that boy. Opportunities rested just an inch from his nose asking to be gobbled up, only to be thrust away at the last minute. Sometimes because of a red line you couldn’t quite reach. Or, perhaps worse, because of a moment you couldn’t seize.
“It’s too bad about the boy,” Anne said, staring out the window.
“Yes,” Keldon said.
“It’s nice up here though,” Anne said. “The sun feels good.”
It was late afternoon, and the sun had begun its descent. It rested above Anne’s shoulder. The sun’s rays kissed her hair and refracted amidst the strands, so that her hair seemed the brighter of the two. In the light, the tattoo of the phoenix, the red of its feathers, the gray of the ash, came to life.
“It feels refreshing,” Keldon said
“This is nice,” Anne said. “Being here.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve done this,” Keldon said.
Keldon looked back down at the crowd. It took a few moments for him to find the boy, who was now out of his mother’s arms and on his own two feet. She followed behind him as he walked toward a concession stand, lifted both hands, and directed them at the banner displaying the menu. He reached for the funnel cakes, the corn dogs, the popcorn, the hamburgers, the coke, the pickle, the whole vendor’s booth. He reached, Keldon thought, without remembering the fall he had just taken.
Keldon looked at Anne. She was still leaning against the window; her hands still resting on her far leg. But in the light, the phoenix tail on her thumb began to flutter. And Keldon sensed that if he didn’t do something, it would permanently fly away. Breaching the space in-between them, he reached forward, felt the warmth of her hand under his, and hoped they could stay up there a while longer.
Kent Steinberg is a graduate of Northwestern University. While there, he majored in English with a focus in Creative Writing. Currently, Kent attends the University of Virginia School of Law, where he serves as an Editor on the Virginia Law Review.