Laura Maylene Walter
My girlfriend set her sights on the euthanasia coaster from the beginning, when it was built to its wobbling height on the seaside cliffs outside of town. Not even astronauts or fighter pilots could endure the coaster’s five-hundred-meter drop, its seven consecutive loops, the g-forces sustained past the fatal limit. It was an engineering wonder, a spectacle of physics topped with rainbow-colored flags whipping in the wind. We went one Saturday to watch, and the atmosphere was all dazzle and cotton candy. Vendors sold
popcorn and snow cones while clowns wandered the crowds, offering children balloons. It reminded my girlfriend, quite fondly, of the years she’d performed as a circus acrobat.
She and I met all those years ago after one of her performances. She was breathless, her face still slick with sweat, while I held out a circus program for her to autograph. That was our beginning, the moment when the drama of the circus veered away to make room for our future. One year together, five years, ten years and more—all ups and downs, a kaleidoscopic theater of a relationship, and still we failed to marry or conceive. Our fights were full of glitzed-out streamers, blasts of firework splintering across the sky. After each argument, she hurled herself into aerials and told me she was leaving but always came back, where she knew she’d find me waiting. This was our cycle, the way we soared for a time before the crashing descent, and so I was not surprised when I started to lose her, bit by bit, as the euthanasia coaster climbed across our
That Saturday we stayed to watch only one ride cycle because I felt sick, my mouth stained electric-raspberry blue. I held the soggy funnel from my snow cone and watched as the coaster chugged its passengers up the massive hill. Some people put their arms up. On the way down, they let out ferocious
amusement-park screams. But by the middle of the second loop, the screams stopped and the arms fell limp. The ride grew quiet, silent wind turning upside down five more times before disappearing into the distance, where the unloading process was concealed under a billowing blue and yellow tent. All the while, my girlfriend clutched my arm so tightly I could feel my own heart pounding under her grip.
Afterward, when we went home and got into bed, she couldn’t stop talking about it. The ride promised a blind, bloodless, flying death, the kind she always pictured for herself under the circus lights. She became consumed by the possibility of a final euphoria, a transcendent passing from this life to the next.
“We could do it together,” she told me. She explained how fun it would be, how fast, how full of light and wind, but I couldn’t accept that two dozen live people strapped themselves into safety restraints only to be reduced to dead weight. When I finally said I wouldn’t do it, she locked herself in the bathroom and cried, then smeared glitter into her cheeks and resolved to ride alone.
She bought her ticket for a foggy April morning. She wore her old circus costume, white and gold spandex shimmering with spangles. I waited with her in line. All around us, passengers stood with their families or doctors. My girlfriend was a bright spark beside them. I held her hand, felt her pulse. “You could stay,” I told her. “Things will be different.”
The gates leading to the coaster swung open. “Things are never different,” she said. “Not enough. That’s the problem.” She patted my hand and boarded, lowering the shoulder restraint until it clicked over her chest. She did this without looking at me.
I told myself this was just another one of our fights. Any second now, she’d rush over to promise she was done being so reckless and selfish. She’d swear it on all she held dear: her fringed leotards, her acrobat training, her gift of flight. During the coaster’s slow climb up that monstrous hill, I remained convinced she’d change her mind. Her arm was stretched to the sky, all aglitter and gold, and as she neared the peak I swore I heard her voice. She was asking to stop time, to go back and live it all again: the circus, our relationship, her perilous past. I pushed to the front of the crowd, trying to close the distance between us. As I did, the coaster tilted over the top. It paused mid-air as if to take one last breath, and against the blue of the sky I saw her: lit up and golden, ready to fly.