The Last Grand Attraction

Donald Ryan

When there were no other options, they’d get to go on business ventures with their father. Their real father. A real treat. Not like when Ted takes them out for ice cream, win or lose, after those ball games they were not very good at. But where they’d get to roam the ship. The mall. The ship was the mall. Docked and renovated. Where they would venture three escalators up, to the top level, to the arcade, while their father did the business. He’d give them a whole roll of quarters. Not to share. A piece. Quarters from the paper slip they’d slide into the Marvel vs. Capcom. The best game. For miles around. The giant screen seen for miles around, battles fought for supremacy for the world to see. A game that could have been anything, their favorite because the sheer mass of it. Their craned necks in awe of the screen from the floor to the ceiling. Played with quarters they’d never tell their mom or Ted about, even when they suspected they knew. They knew. Like needless to say, they never told on each other. Like nevertheless, Mom and Ted would give them five dollars pocket money. “Just in case.” Which meant just in case they needed more lives or just in case they needed to buy the victor’s victory milkshake. Like otherwise, they’d have to return the change that remained unspent. Like therefore, they’d treat themselves to ice cream, win and lose, after that game they loved. / They’ll go, like usual, to the Port Side: that old-timey diner on the second level with the old-timey countertop service and lined with old-timey pictures of the boardwalk full of old-timey folk in old-timey clothes; photographs where everyone seemed to wear hats. “What’s that one?” they’ll ask Sally. She takes orders on a pad and dishes out faint smiles under sad eyes. To them, she always seems to be there, which is good since she’ll ring up milkshakes as sodas and not ask too many questions about their being there. “That one, boys, is the amazing diving horse. It brought people from all over just to watch him walk the plank.” “That what brought you here?” they’ll ask. “It’s a good thing you boys are cute.” She’ll smile faintly, not reciprocating the curiosity of their being there. “Did the horse have a name?” “Of course it did. Everything’s got a name.” “What was it?” “You know, I never asked. But legend has it the rider of the horse was blind.” They’ll pay what Sally says is owned and leave, but they won’t go back to the arcade. They’ll wait along the boardwalk, a place neither condoned nor punishable, among the eve and lights. They’ll choose to brace their legs over the top rung of the railing beside an open bench and lean as far back before falling to look up to where they guess the horse would have jumped. Then they’ll imagine a giant screen. And they’ll watch the fireworks the pier shoots off the last Friday of the month burst into their fizzled fall of ash and dusk. The pier does this in lieu of horses. They don’t know this. Nor have they ever been here this late on the last Friday. And it’s only getting later. They’ll decide, if it comes to it, they’ll sleep under the pier in the sand. Like camping bivouac. Something they’ve never done described without a word they’ll ever know. Nonetheless, they’ll find this prospect most exciting. \ Sally approaches, still in her apron. “What are you boys hanging around for? Mall’s closed.” “Waiting on our father,” they say. “He usually this late?” There’s never a set time. He has a knack for appearing when he sees fit. “You at least know where he is?” They never do. “Then is there someone you can call?” Like most things concerning their father, their real father, their mother will not be pleased. Sally doesn’t know how unpleased. She hands them her Nokia. But the call will not go through. They do not know a planet looms over the shore. For them, the darkness, vast and sleek, seemingly impenetrable by the stars through the city lights, is no darker. For them, the night is no different. “It’s a shame the arcade’s not still open,” Sally says, not knowing the power is to go out in validation of her words, proof to what’s inexplicably certain. A wall of ocean Babels towards the inevitable, the crest stretching, stretching to caress the incoming planet, up, up, a touching welcoming to the imminent—to connect this world with the one impending. One they don’t see coming. How could they when all a-gasp by the sky beyond where the horse would jump now pinpricked by billions of galaxies? “Look,” they say, their breath taken away, as the ocean plunges the coastline, drowning out the planets’ collision. The marvel of the last grand attraction.

Donald Ryan's words appear (most recently) in Silent Auctions, Back Patio, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and @dryanswords.