Sunday, 22 September 2019

Roller Coaster

by Leon Coleman

cherry cola

 There we were, standing on Blackpool promenade.  I couldn’t believe it, that after all Dad’s promises we were here.  In the car, he’d said he’d give five pounds to whoever spotted Blackpool Tower first.  I won and spent the last ten minutes of the journey waving the five pound note in Jane’s face. She didn’t like that.
Seagulls squawked as they hovered in the wind, their beady eyes searching for food.  I hoped we wouldn’t have to walk on the beach like last time; I was tipping sand out of my Nikes for months.  The sounds of arcade and slot machines were slowly drowned out by the screams of the terrified as another rollercoaster swished down from above. The carriages pounded the tracks. 
We queued at the entrance to the Pleasure Beach.  Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as Dad bought us tickets at the kiosk.  I was twelve years-old. My sister Jane, she was ten.  And my parents, well, who knows?
‘Who wants to go on a ride then?’ Mum said.
‘I do,’ I said.
‘I do, too,’ Jane said.
‘What do you fancy then?’ Dad said.
‘Alice ride.’ Jane’s head was obscured by a ball of pink candy floss bigger than her head.
‘Alice ride is boring. It’s for little kids,’ I said.
‘No it’s not,’ Jane said.
‘Come on, Tim, you can go on the Alice ride with your little sister.’
Dad looked at me in that way adults do when they’re trying to talk you into something. I knew because he wasn’t blinking. He squinted and his head tilted to one side and his voice sounded funny. Not funny ha ha, just funny, funny. You know, different. He always spoke slowly when he asked me if I wanted to do something I had to do: if I don’t do what he wants then I’m going to pay for it later. But if I do it, then I usually get a treat. He played this game a lot, ‘I’m sure you could let Jane use your keyboard,’ or ‘I’m sure you could take Jane to the swimming baths.’ Blah blah blah.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll go on the baby ride.’ Fortunately, I’d brought sunglasses, which I’d kept in my shirt pocket. They would come in handy for my disguise.
Jane stomped her foot and crossed her arms, her face on the verge of tears. ‘I’m not going with him.’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘We’ll all go,’ Dad said, clearly thinking fast.
If Dad thought this was going to help matters he was wrong.  Jane and I climbed into the front seats of a carriage shaped like a giant white cat. (Yes, a cat).   Despite wearing my shades I kept my hand over the side of my face, just in case. Mum and Dad sat behind.  We headed off, passing under the ten of spades, up towards an ivy-covered tunnel. 
‘Wow, that was amazing, wasn’t it?’ Dad said grinning like the Cheshire cat as we climbed out afterwards.  I think he actually meant it, judging by the snorting noises he’d made all the way through.
‘I loved it,’ said Jane.
‘And you, Tim?’ Dad grinned at me with a, didn’t I tell you it would be fun look on his face.  He practically dribbled like he does when he watches Baywatch.
‘Boring. For babies like Jane,’ I said.
‘No it’s not,’ Jane said.
‘Okay then, spoil sport, what do you want to go on then?’ Dad said.
‘Something fast.’
‘Maybe later,’ Dad said.
Why did he bother asking me? I looked up at the sky; I put the shades back in my pocket.
‘Rugrats,’ Jane said. The candy floss on the stick was nearly gone, most of it now on her face.
We all ended up at the Rugrats Lost River, but only three could sit in a log: Jane in front, me in the middle and Mum behind; Dad had to take the next log by himself.  All the mums were screaming in parts, including ours, though I still don’t understand why. This was beyond embarrassing.
‘So? How was that?’ Dad asked. He had that look again.
‘Are you joking? I said, but by the expression on his face I could tell he wasn’t.
‘I’m not going on anymore baby rides.’ I said, and Mum and Dad looked at each other like I’d just shown them a dead mouse.
Mum suggested we take a break. Jane and I ate doughnuts as Mum and Dad drank coffee. Later we wandered around like homeless people. I hadn’t spoken since the last ride. We passed the Big Dipper; there were queues, with people scuttling around excitedly.  I turned to Dad expectantly, ‘Dad, can I go on this? Please.’ My fingers intertwined tightly, pressed against my chest. I gave my best smile.
Dad, unsure, turned to Mum, who nodded.
‘Okay.’ He handed me the ticket.
I craned my neck to see the giant structure above and then looked at Jane. She was terrified. ‘Come on Jane, let’s go,’ I said. I knew she’d be too scared to come. I left her behind with Mum and Dad as I made my way, a little nervous as I joined the line.  Mum kept waving and calling but I ignored her. As I waited someone nudged me from behind, and I turned around to see Jane stood behind me. ‘What you doing here?’ I said but she didn’t answer. Before, she’d jumped up and down excitedly and grinned showing her missing front tooth, but now she stood still as a scarecrow, and she wasn’t smiling.  Her arms were crossed, and between her eyebrows and the top of her nose was a crease like the letter H. If I had to guess I would say she looked more angry than scared. The fact she wouldn’t answer meant she was mad at me.  As we arrived at the front, three sets of four blue carriages arrived; we got in the second set.  I trembled, then rubbed my arms and complained about the cold.  I turned to Jane. She hadn’t said a word since she joined the queue five minutes ago.  This was unlike her, believe me. 
As the carriages clicked and clacked we began to rise. A metal chain, a bit like the one on my bike but larger, pulled us upwards, and the monotonous grinding of machinery rang through the air. I gripped the hand grips and checked on Jane, she was clutching tightly with her fingers, still silent.  She looked white as a sheet.
We rose higher and higher, and just after we passed the DO NOT STAND UP sign she started to scream. Then, in the distance a silver dome came into view ahead to the right, and she stopped as we reached the top, only to catch her breath before starting again as we passed the letters B.I.G.  We followed the tracks to the left before we dropped, the air hitting us square in the face and our bodies jerked upwards as we rose again but at speed. I must admit that after the initial fall, I felt pretty calm and turned to face Jane when we came to a stop. She looked tired.
‘Did you like it?’ I said.
‘No.’ She punched my arm.
We returned to Mum and Dad, like astronauts back from space, I asked if I could do it again,
‘Not straightway, let’s have a walk around first,’ Dad said.
I would have to wait.

From wherever you are you can see The Big One. It’s huge, and we stopped every now and then to stare up towards the sky. The carriages rose up towards the clouds, and those on it, their faces like dots, were so far away. We listened to their screams as they plummeted downwards. Maybe one day, when I’m older but not today.
I saw the Avalanche. ‘Wow, look, there’s no tracks, please, please, please, let me go on, Dad, Mum, please?’ I pleaded.
They gave me the tickets, I looked at Jane. She definitely wouldn’t do this one, not after the Big Dipper.
‘I want to go, too,’ she said.
‘You? But you were scared on the Big Dipper; this one goes even faster and has no tracks.’ 
‘I want to go, too,’ she repeated, and crossed her arms.
I recognised that stubborn look, the one with the scrunched eyebrows. So did Mum and Dad by the expression on their faces.
We got on the ride; she sat in front between my legs and we moved off.  The speed was crazy, and we were even higher than before, above everything, nearly.  When we reached the top we were transferred from the tracks onto the ice part – although it wasn’t ice – like on a bob sleigh. At the top we came down slowly, not dropped like the dipper. The speed picks up, gradually, but within seconds we were flying, and as we turned, my cheeks moved one way and then the other.  Jane was screaming again, even loader then last time, destroying my eardrums, and to top it all off the bones in her back were digging into my chest.
My head spun after this one. By the way Jane stumbled out at the end I think hers did, too.
‘So? How was it?’ Dad said.
‘It was alright,’ I said. In truth, it was the best thing ever.
‘Only alright?’
‘Well, it was pretty good, apart from Jane screaming down my ear the whole time,’ I said to annoy her.
‘I wasn’t. Tim’s lying,’ she said, though I’m sure no one believed her.
Dad rubbed his stomach.  He forced us all to go with him while he got burger and chips.  Mum and Dad began to argue; I’m not sure about what.
As we walked around the Pleasure Beach we passed The Big One. It towered over us, it was much bigger close up.  Nearby I saw another ride, the Revolution.
‘Dad.’ I pointed at the loop.  The carriages moved off, the track dropping before rising into a full 360 degree loop before coming up again and stopping.  On this you went upside down while moving forwards then repeat the track, this time backwards. And it moved fast too.
As we queued and people climbed into the carriages we got a close up view of those on the ride – the way the carriage would shoot off before dropping as though off a cliff. You then saw them coming up into the loop and then back down, before coming back up to the end. And then it stopped. And just as the screams died down, they’d shoot off again but backwards, following the same track.  I admit I was terrified, but I didn’t show it to Jane.  She just seemed tense, like before.
I shut my eyes going forwards into the loop.  I shut my eyes going backwards into the loop, too. I think I missed most of it.  The worst part was the turning in my stomach as we dropped on the return, which was pretty scary, especially after the doughnuts.
‘How was it?’ Mum said.
‘Really good,’ I said.
‘Really good,’ Jane said as we glared at each other.
‘You guys had enough? Fancy going for something to eat then? Dad checked his watch, he looked hungry again.
‘But you’ve just eaten,’ Mum said to Dad.
‘Yeah, but the kids haven’t, and anyway, it was only a small portion.’
Mum shook her head.
‘Yes, fish and chips,’ I shouted.
‘I want to go on this one.’ Jane’s little finger pointed upwards and towards the sky. At first I thought she was pointing to Blackpool Tower. Then I realised, she was pointing at The Big One.
Dad and Mum laughed. I didn’t.
Jane gave me the look. The one she wears when she’s on a mission.
‘I’m not sure, sweetheart. You can’t go by yourself, it depends if Tim wants to go with you…’ Dad said. 
My first thought was, why doesn’t he go with her then? ‘I thought we were getting food, I’m hungry,’ I said.
‘Scaredy pants, scaredy pants, Tim’s scared,’ Jane sang.
More people screamed as more carriages dropped down along the tracks on The Big One.
‘I’ll go with you, but the queue goes back miles, do you think you could wait? Aren’t you hungry?’
‘No.’
‘Oh.’ I watched her, trying to figure out if she was bluffing. Eventually I came to a conclusion.  She was serious.
‘Okay, well… let’s go then.’ I said.
Mum and Dad looked at me funny. This time Jane led the way, I followed her.  She practically marched to the queue, although small she powered through, and I ran to keep up.
I looked around. She must have been the smallest one. Please god, let her be too small and not let her on. That would be amazing. I crossed my fingers. I saw a height restriction sign; balls! She was over the minimum, but not by much.
As we stood in the queue, everyone seemed so big. I had doubts; maybe we shouldn’t be going on anyway.  I thought about telling Jane but couldn’t find the words.  Eventually we got there, and to make things worse we were in the front car.  We pulled the lap bar down. I pulled and pushed the bar twenty times to make sure it was secure, even then I wasn’t sure.  I checked with Jane, and she said hers was fine, though I think I might have put some doubt in her mind.
Like the other rides there was the big climb, but this one was ridiculous, it seemed to go on forever. We were so high up you could barely hear the music, the amusements, or the voices below. From up here you could see over everything, the tower, the sea the other rides, everything below was tiny.  The clicking of the motor dragging us up only made me more nervous.  There was a knocking sound on the floor of the carriage as the motor pulled us upwards. My knuckles clung to the hand grip, and my foot pressed so hard to the floor I got cramp in my leg. Terrified, out of breath, I stared forward waiting. We reached the top, and the clacking stopped, there was only the whoosh of the wind blowing into my ear. At the highest point we virtually stopped dead, then slowly we began the drop, and when I say drop, I mean drop, vertically.  I can’t remember if I screamed, I can’t remember if Jane screamed, in fact, I can’t remember much after we reached the top…

This was all a long time ago now but I still remember it like it was yesterday.  Well, apart from that drop.  Now I’m all grown up and so is Jane.  She’s a successful businesswoman, and her achievements put mine to shame.  They say to be successful in the business world you’ve got to be tenacious. Well, after our day at the amusements park, I don’t think her success was in any doubt.
As for me, I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Never leave valuables in an open shirt pocket when going on a rollercoaster.
And don’t annoy your little sister. 


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