They dug for pesos in their pockets. The pesos were round and shiny and heavy. The man took the money from their outstretched hands without a word. Jackie had seen this ride and wanted to try it. She had long dark hair and slender fingers that might have played piano well but did not and a dimple that only appeared when she smiled.
The ride spun two ways: first, it threw its mechanical being into a circular motion, with arms like spokes on which buckets hung, orbiting the center. And second, one’s own bucket—ensconcing two people in a spinning world—would also spin itself, twirling passengers as if they were caught in a pinwheel. One could tug at the metal, round plate in the bucket’s center and make everything spin faster. Jackie put Steve in charge of that. He had more muscle, she reasoned.
They were 28 and had known each other five months.
Steve had pale skin, like winter, and thick eyebrows and green eyes the shade of a sea she had only seen in pictures.
Jackie remembered rides of her youth when her father sat between her and her sister and tugged at the same kind of metal plate, tugged so that she and her sister could only see the blur of the world. They squealed, begging him to pull harder, and he always did.
Steve acquiesced to the ride, though later, Jackie would wonder whether he ever wanted on in the first place. That’s what love does: makes you promise things you want to yank back later.
The man charged with the ride had a face tired of containing emotions. It was flat and somber and silent. After he took the money, he ambled to a bucket, lifted its metal rod of an arm, let the young couple in, then shoved the bar into place. It clicked, like a gun, the sound both of a beginning and an end.
There was no one else on the ride. It was a warm late July afternoon in Acapulco. Jackie and Steve had gone to Mexico to be in love, to adventure into the unknown future. They decided days before the ride to spend their lives together.
Between them they knew enough Spanish to order simple food—tacos with pollo, or enchiladas with salsa verde—and they could manage to ask for one hotel night or three or four, and if they fumbled for words, they could laugh about it later, and this language had served them from Oaxaca to Huatulco to Puerto Escondido and now in Acapulco. They had eaten paletas every day, popsicles of creamy coconut and juicy mango, and they had slept well and slept in and stolen AC for two hours in the cinema. They juggled guidebooks and pulled out maps and folded them back up along lines not quite clear but close enough. They heaved a striped and woven blanket onto buses and out, a blanket whose weight was so heavy it felt the way doubt can feel. They did not think twice about it. They kept on heaving, sure they had what they needed and would always need.
And now, on this desultory afternoon, they waited for the man to amble to his booth. He looked bored, as if he had done this a thousand times and could not possibly once more.
But then, he cranked the ride going, and it lurched into motion, and up, up they rose, their bucket lifting toward the heavens and down, down to earth, and up, up again so that, though the bucket spun, they glimpsed the rest of the amusement park—a temporary collection of rides that jangled and clanked and of people who up and moved wherever the rides went, who served fried foods and cold candy and drinks sweating in plastic cups, and plastic toys you could win if you knew how to throw, or had luck, which as they rose in their bucket, they might have guessed, if someone asked, they had plenty of, not knowing luck was a scent—like buttered popcorn or caramel apple—that drifted in the other direction with one capricious wind.
The man charged with the ride—a man Jackie would conjure up later with dark hair, slicked back, and droopy eyelids—began to throttle their small bucket, and it only occurred to her then that the man could say how long, how much, and that the spinning, which was now quickening, could only end if the man who was bored allowed it.
The ride threw them up, up and down, down, and their bucket spun so fast they slid into each other, smashed skin to skin, and the fair and everything they could see blurred and washed together in an uneasy glimpse, again, again, and neither one laughed as the pace quickened, as they spun so fast everything Jackie had ever eaten tossed in her gut, and round and round they went until the sky was in their laps and their bodies felt as if they could not press harder against the bucket’s back, and up they tossed and down they came and up again and down and up and down and up until the dizziness felt like failure.
The ride slowed, and stopped. The bored man ambled over. He lifted the metal rod. He let them loose. They staggered off the ride they had paid for. They held their stomachs and could not bear the scent of sizzling meat, nor could they have looked at fruit in market stalls, seen the peels broken open and the fruit’s flesh sweltering through. They could not have looked at scarves swaying in the breeze nor born the sound of water beating ocean shore.
They returned to their hotel room and lay on separate beds. They turned on their sides and on their backs, but nothing kept the world from free falling in their room.
Outside, the sun dropped its yellow, heavy head. The last of light then drained out of the sky.