We know the gondola will drop before the gondola drops.
See girl step into Ferris wheel gondola. See door of gondola shut. See girl alone in gondola, braces braded with bubble gum, fingers funnel-cake sweet. See Ferris wheel stutter to life, see metal-joints, steel-limbs. An impossible skeleton with joints of ribbed iron.
See girl’s friends on the ground, watching girl’s ascent. Friends who were too afraid to ride. Friends who saw gondolas swinging like heavy plums waiting to be picked and felt something in their hearts slant toward no.
The gondola will drop when it has reached its highest point, when it has the most to lose, because that’s the way life is, right? Things never go wrong when it’s convenient, right?
See girl want to hold the edges of the gondola but try not to, because her mother once told her all public surfaces are covered in germs. See friends of girl with their sunburned knees and webs of cotton candy laugh as girl waves from up above. See girl find scratched graffiti on the gondola bench: AJ <3 DW
We don’t need to see the gondola drop, because we’ve already had that nightmare.
See girls with burnt knees and painted toenails chipping against concrete.
See girls before that, painting toenails with polish from glass vials, heels propped on the edges of sinks, the edges of trash cans, the edges of sofas. See polish in shades of fuchsia, aruba blue, bahama mama, pink-a-boo. See girls waving colors dry with their older sisters’ rolled up tabloids.
See girls before that, picking out colors from the dollar bin, loving the feel of glass vials in their palms. Glass vials that seem so small but never seem to go empty.
See girls before that, learning to paint their nails by first painting their dogs’ nails. See Fluffy tap through the house with vermillion paws. See Bonus with his coral dewclaws.
We know that the Ferris wheel stops every ten degrees in its rotation so that passengers in the lowest gondola can exit the ride. We know that girl has almost reached the zenith. From her place in the sky, she can see the Great Bear Roller Coaster. From there, she can see the parking lot.
See the way cars look like squares of foil gum wrappers from up above. See the way birds fly under her instead of over.
See the way her friends can’t take their eyes off her. See the way their faces look like tipping bowling pins.
See two weeks before that, when they go to the bowling lane and rent shoes too small for their feet and giggle-skid across the polished floors and share cheesy fries and girl loses the game by thirty-three points but doesn’t care.
See before that, when girl’s mother drops all three of them off in her minivan, saying be careful, don’t talk to any boys.
We don’t need to see the gondola drop, because we’ve all had nightmares of falling, because we’ve all imagined, from some high vantage point—a plane, a roller coaster, the twentieth story of an office building—what it’d be like to fall. There’s nothing more we can learn from the drop.
So instead, stay in the moments before. See girl pick at braces with her tongue. See girl suck funnel-cake sugar from her knuckles. See girl wave a princess-wave at her friends down below. See girl. See girl.
In response to artwork by:
Russ Island, Maine, 1971
5 15/16 x 5 15/16 in. (15.1 x 15.1 cm)
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Purchase
“I couldn’t shake this image: three girls, knees and feet casually knocking. It is at once anonymous and deeply intimate. We’re drawn into this private girl-moment, and yet we’re not allowed to see the subjects’ faces. In my story, I wanted to capture this duality. I wanted the reader to feel close to a character who was nameless. I, oddly enough, found myself channeling newspaper articles while writing this piece. A newspaper article will occasionally reveal something deeply personal about a person – a tragedy, a crime they were involved in, etc. – while also upholding his or her privacy. The subject might be referred to as “a father of four” or “a college student” or “a girl.” I became fascinated by the idea of someone being anonymous and well-known to us simultaneously.”
Dana Diehl is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Arizona State University. She currently serves as editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sonora Review, PANK, Hobart, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere.