Read More: A brief interview with Taylor Koekkoek
In the first week of the last season at Thrillville, USA a boy got all fucked up in the Haunted Mine. The animatronics tore a wasp-nest apart somehow, and the kid came out stung to hell. Poor kid was riding alone too. I’d always thought you could slip from the lap bar if you really wanted to, but I guess not. So then the minecart ricketed out to the loading zone with this kid shrieking his head off, all pink and lumpy, and his face pinpricked with bruised dots of blood. Denny and I didn’t have any clue what to make of it at first. This deranged, swollen child shrieking like a cat set on fire. Then Glenn hobbled up on his prosthetic leg and his forearm crutch, shouting for us to kill the ride and release the frickin lap bar already.
It took us a while to figure out what had happened. The kid didn’t know those were wasps that attacked in the dark. He believed the Haunted Mine was really haunted, and with such conviction that I felt a bit skittish around the ride afterward. Glenn and I had to walk through the Haunted Mine with flashlights and find the shredded wasp-nest buzzing to realize what had happened. I got stung on the hand. The kid was hospitalized, but he was ok. Glenn settled it out of court. He knew the kid’s mother. We suspected they’d been sleeping together. She used to hang around, and he’d made a point of introducing her to everyone. She and Glenn strolled about, sometimes disappearing into his office trailer, while the kid roamed the park off-leash. Women seemed endeared to Glenn after they’d slept with him—we’d met a few of his short-stint lovers by then. He was a good guy, but we guessed it was the leg. The missing one.
“I mean, he looked bad,” I told Joanie. “Really fucked. Probably got stung in the eyes.”
“How bad though?” she asked. “Like medical-wise?”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” I told her. I was so hungover the whole day felt like an anxiety hallucination. “It looked like a pissed-off witchdoctor just went to town with a needle on like a little voodoo doll version of the kid.”
“Oh my god.”
Denny said if voodoo was real he’d carry a little doll version of himself around and jerk it off all day and lick its ass and stuff. He knew the kind of jokes I liked and told them watching me from the corner of his eye. He was my very tallest friend. When he was drunk he tossed me around like a little dog. It was great. His metabolism had recently started catching up with him. There’d been this new puffiness to his cheeks, and beneath his chin, which he hadn’t learned to expect in his reflection. Joanie told Denny to grow up. The ambulance hadn’t even left yet, she reminded us. That was the boy’s mom in hysterics with the paramedics. Poor lady groaning belligerently.
Joanie glowered at Denny with an expression that seemed to say, oh aren’t you naughty? The two of them were having a secret affair that everyone knew about. My least favorite part of the affair was how obviously they conducted themselves and how I was expected to pretend nothing was afoot. They snickered like perverts all day and they fiddled with each other’s genitals when they were at one side of the game counter and me at the other. I couldn’t see the action, but I knew what was happening down there. Their mouths were half open and eyes half closed. I don’t care if it’s Adam and Eve. Unless I am witness to the business end of it, it’s just unsettling to watch a shiver run up someone else’s spine. Denny and Joanie thought they were doing the most interesting thing in the world together. When they touched, they seemed amazed that something hadn’t stopped them from touching. Nobody cared at all, but to them it was magic.
One time Denny was on a bender and I was having trouble hunting him down. So I asked Joanie where was he, and it disturbed her that I’d think she’d know Denny’s whereabouts. “I’m not his keeper,” she said all aghast, as if I were the one who should be embarrassed, just for knowing the facts, just for being anyone other than the most ignorant person in the room.
Denny was seeing a high schooler then. Girl named Darla. She was pretty and freckled, but she was too young, legally speaking, so they just kissed cheeks, he said, and wrote each other dirty texts. “Sow the seed,” he told me, “and pluck the tomato a little sour, little green, before anyone else snatches it for their own caprese.” Then he touched his fingertips to his lips and did this flicky Italian thing, like big kiss, muah. He always used nonsense gardening metaphors to talk about Darla. Shucked corn and mushy peaches, etc. It was all geared toward the eventual eating of something. He was twenty-five and she was sixteen. One night, when Denny was super fucked, he told me they did hand stuff sometimes, but when he sobered up the next day he said he was just joking.
Maybe Joanie was not quite as pretty as Darla, Denny theorized, but that might have been a virtue of Darla’s leg up on her youth-wise. I thought they were both handsome ladies. Joanie’s hair was so black that, right when I met her, I decided everyone I’d ever thought of as having black hair really had very dark brown hair. And she was mean too. I loved that. Joanie was technically married to a badass Mexican guy from Salem. He had a left shoulder full of cigarette burns. Dozens of mottled ring-shaped scars overlaid, like a gory octopus arm. He burned himself whenever he drank too much even though no one had dared him to since middle school. He and Joanie had a courthouse marriage in a spur-of-the-moment situation just before he shipped off on his first deployment. They didn’t talk anymore, but they were man and wife legally speaking and in the eyes of the Lord.
What inconvenienced me though, about the affair, was that I had to move out of the one-bedroom apartment Denny and I had shared. It made getting to work a hassle if I missed my ride with Glenn, since Denny and I’d gone in together on an old, $200 Ford Pinto. We loved it. We drove it around like a go-cart. The rear bumper was torn up like a busted lip and the front bumper just dropped off one night on its own. Technically Denny and I shared custody, but he kept it mostly. I was reasonable about parting with the Pinto and apartment both. The apartment lease was in Denny’s name anyway, and it was his mom that helped with rent. It was her old raggedy sofa I slept on too, so fair was fair. Denny’d told me his stepbrother was moving back to Turner, and needed help getting on his feet, but then his stepbrother never showed and Joanie was always over there, her clothes all over the bedroom floor, beauty stuff all over the sink rim. Well, I put it together. Glenn let me crash on his couch though, so it wasn’t like I was out on the street. Glenn had a massive old tube TV and a bachelorly place in the mobile home park at the exit next down I-5.
The foot was the first thing I noticed about Glenn when we met a few years before. It didn’t move right. I was only twenty-one then, and I asked if his foot was fake during my interview. He said that’s poor interview etiquette. Then he bent forward conspiratorially and hiked up the cuff of his jeans so I could get and eye on the metal prosthesis. He told me in the nineties he was hand-propping his ex-brother-in-law’s Cessna, but when he yanked the motor running the brake block beneath the tire must have jimmied loose because the airplane budged forward just a hair and the prop caught him right above the ankle. He said it flipped him a rotation and a half onto his head and it shot his foot across the hangar bay with such force it dented the hanger wall. “The foot,” he said solemnly, “exploded.” He took painkillers for his phantom limb pains. Said somedays it felt like his foot was still there, ghost toes wiggling on command, but it also felt like the foot was smashed up in a vice. The pain flared up when he was stressed out, or lonesome, or feeling ashamed, which accounted for all his time on earth. Denny and I figured he probably just had a pill problem same as everyone, but we left him his story because, first off, we partied too, and secondly because we liked Glenn, and also because Denny snuck us pills now and again from Glenn’s stash. Glenn stowed his pills in his office desk. He didn’t like to keep his meds on him because he ended up relying on them too much, he said. I told him, sure, the desk was a fine stowing place.
Glenn had owned Thrillville, USA for four years then, and each year of business was a miracle. The wasp incident was shit timing. It came on the heels of another bad one, when the previous season a heavy drunk managed to launch himself from the Magic Carpet Slide, then plummeted a floor and half down to a concrete walkway. We didn’t think that was possible even, but then this guy came soaring overhead with his shirt off. Cracked his pelvis clean through. Shit his pants on impact, instantaneously. He shit his pants so fast we thought the shit in his pants might have been a preexisting condition.
Insurance and maintenance would have been enough trouble, but park attendance was at an all-time low. We broke low attendance records every month. We shut down midday all the time. Stood attendant to the idling rides, humming and vibrating for no riders. Money vanished into the park as into a pocket with a hole in it. Glenn though, even desperate as he must have been, seemed to grow more affectionate toward the place with the loss of every dollar. He only loved it more, and more, as in the way, a parent might love a dying kid more fiercely, and with more tenderness, than the healthy sibling.
Before Thrillville, Glenn ran a carpet cleaning business that did ok for a while before it went out. He opened a bait and tackle shop once by the reservoir, but that was practically DOA. He said he wished he knew how to work for someone else, but he was always the first guy fired. Glenn was left by two patient women in his life too, though they were on friendly terms now. Somedays they brought him meals wrapped in foil. They worried about him. It had always seemed obvious to me that Thrillville wasn’t built to last, and that Glenn had practiced his whole life to see it off. He was its perfect hospice worker. Or he was like the servant who buries himself alive with the pharaoh.
Thrillville, USA had been owned by a series of unlucky men over the years. Each built additions without any thought of continuity. Just a total thematic fiasco. The feeling it had was like some madman’s roadside collection of carnival antiques. Themed over one end in forest critters, and over other end in a combo of Greek and Roman gods. The Screamin’ Eagle was either patriotic maybe or aviary. Glenn hadn’t added any attractions in his tenure, except for a new photobooth, and a penny press machine, which mashed pennies into ovals, thin as a guy’s toenail. The machine imprinted the pennies with “Thrillville USA Since 1977.” Denny loved to watch the penny press work. He thought it was like a magic trick. He said, “You gotta spend money to make money.” But he said that all the time. Buying a beer at the Golden Nugget, buying a pair of shiny orange bowling shoes at the Salvation Army: gotta spend money to make money.
Glenn decided to host a firework night every second Friday of the month for that summer season. We shut the rides off except for the Ferris Wheel and the Rock-O-Plane cages so that from the highway visitors might still have been drawn in by the flashing passenger carriages turning like kites on the evening dimness. That was fanciful thinking, I said. The surrounding county was ready, had long been ready, made its demands of city council already, for Thrillville to shutdown. It was by all accounts an eye sore, a noise pollutant, and a death trap. They would be glad to see it gone, and to see us gone with it.
That first firework Friday I was turning down The Ripper, an old steel coaster. You wouldn’t believe it to look at it then, the paint-chipped track rising in the dark, but that was the oldest steel coaster in Oregon over such and such height. So claimed Glenn anyway. I removed a few handfuls of pocket trash from the footwells and then I wetted a rag with disinfectant and rubbed down the seats (asswells shaped in such an impression as I have never met a living ass to match), then the shoulder bars, the buckles. Called it good and hit the lights. Then I spent the next quarter hour or so wandering around beneath the coaster with a flashlight looking for dropped wallets and cellphones. If any jewelry turned up it was usually faux, plasticky stuff. That night I didn’t find anything except a flipflop, which I left floating upturned in the little, leechy pond.
Denny was bouncing between the park, where Joanie saved him a spot in the yellow lawn, and the untenanted gravel lot that lay adjacent to Thrillville. Some high schoolers had assembled a bonfire there and ringed their parents’ cars round it and laid out on the hoods to watch the fireworks. Darla was there, hoping Denny would sneak off with her for the finale. I told Glenn those high schoolers were seeing the show for free, but Glenn didn’t mind. He thought it was a step in the right direction.
We’d set floodlights up around the concessions pavilion, low and dusty, and the light, at that upward angle, cast long shadows off all the passerby’s so that things looked like a shadow puppet show for a while. Glenn was over in the launch zone, which he’d stanchioned off and fixed with handwritten warning signs. Andy, a rail-thin seventeen-year old who’d started at Thrillville partway through the previous season, was selling beer on the downlow out of a cooler for three dollars a piece. He was drunk early. When he was drunk he winked a lot and drew a finger gun excessively, clicking his tongue.
“That little alien dude does a shit human impression,” Denny said.
I went back through the park to claim a spot for the show, and came across a low rustling in the dirt along backside the Scrambler. I didn’t think anything at all, I just flashed my light on the noise, which revealed two teens groping each other frantically. The guy rose up on an elbow and shielded his eyes, and he called out, “What the shit, man?” I stood there blinking at them, pelting them in the eyes with light. The girl was giggling in a low tank top. I saw the bluish color of veins in her pale chest. That killed me for some reason. The guy gathered himself upright, huffing indignantly, and he told the girl come on, and they darted off into the dark like a pair of deer. I heard her ask her boyfriend, “How much could he see?”
I stood fidgeting for a while, electrified with longing and shame in equal parts. Then it occurred to me: it was those two that were behaving shamefully, wasn’t it? The guy had looked at me as if I’d barged into his bedroom, but they were the ones fooling around in my place of business. I decided I’d find them and maybe I’d set them straight, or maybe just keep an eye on them. No, I didn’t have any idea what I really meant to do, but I was already on the move. I had something to live for all of a sudden. Far off in the distance there were voices speaking in that tone they speak in when a show is about to begin.
I’d nearly given up searching when I heard one perfect laugh ring out from The Magic Carpet Slide. It was as clean and clear a note as from a swiftly struck marimba. I switched off my light. The slide was pink fiberglass and eight lanes wide, descending to the earth in a series of gentle waves. The underside was all cobwebbed rafters and beams, like the space beneath a set of bleachers. Denny had told me he’d seen shadowy figures porking under there before, where he’d sometimes cut out to get lit and nod off. The trouble now was the lighting, because I couldn’t see for shit. I edged up around corner of the slide and crouched there by a buggy shrub and trained my eyes blindly at where the action sounded to be. I felt lightheaded. It sounded like chewing. It sounded like they were eating each other alive.
Then the first mortar reported overhead and the sky exploded with golden light and then green light. Red light, blue. One flash at a time I saw the teenagers going at it. The reports grew in frequency, choking the sky with light and the eggy smell of combustion. I felt the mortar concussions in my chest, like ka-kunk ka-kunk. And my heart doing something similar, ka-kunk, ka-kunk. The boy spread himself over the girl as if he meant to cover her entirely, the way a soldier jumps on a live grenade lobbed into the bunker, like in movies. And then, in the fiery light, the girl adjusted herself, turned beneath her lover, and I saw her illuminated. She lay her head in the golden nest of her hair, and her face was like the golden baby bird of a face, and it was perfect absolutely. She had one of her pale breasts out and her boyfriend held onto it for dear life. Of course I lit up too. Like the lighted statue of a pervert. I saw her and then she saw me, unmade, each of us, into the dark every other second, made back again in the light. She patted her boyfriend in a panic. “He’s back,” she said.
“You’re shitting me,” he said. “Where?”
“He’s there,” she said, pointing. “That’s him.”
They rose again and ducked out from beneath the slide. “Get fucked, creep,” the guy said as they passed, holding hands. The girl didn’t even glance up at me. By the time I thought to plead for their forgiveness they were already gone. I sat slumped beneath the booming sky, feeling flat-out rotten about myself. Then the show ended and everyone went home.
“See,” Glenn told me at the house, “I knew a firework show wouldn’t be so hard to set up. It’s a scam—all the permits and paperwork.” Instead of the legal channels, Glenn had taken a Tuesday and trekked out north to the Chehalis Rez in Washington, where even the fireworks that were illegal in Oregon in any season were sold year round. “Next time I’m thinking maybe we put the show to music.”
I shrugged. “I mean, knock yourself out.”
“Yeah. Ok, I will,” he said. Then he was quite for a while. “Ah heck. You’re probably right.”
“None of this makes a difference, does it?”
I told him I didn’t mean anything by it. And he told me it didn’t make a difference anyway.
So we kicked our shoes off and slumped into the couch and watched his behemoth TV. He’d seemed bummed to me for last few days. It was more than just the financial straights. At close each night he walked around Thrillville with a glum smile, as though he’d just finished reading a long, sad book about love. “Think I’ll give her the once over,” is what he’d say. “I’ll meet you at the car.” Seeing him low messed with my buzz.
So I asked him what gives. Maybe it was the wasp incident, something about the kid’s mother, I thought, but no. Glenn said there was this girl he’d loved when he was a kid. He’d always thought that he’d see her again somewhere down the line, and who knows, maybe things would sorta click. So then last week he thought to himself, “I own my own business, right? I have the respect and admiration of my employees. Still one good foot. Heck, next year I’ll probably have less than I do this year. That’s been the way of things.” In a manic spell of bravery, he’d looked her up on the internet, guessing she was probably married, but then it turned out this girl he hoped to love again had died of a heart infection in the mid nineties.
“Shit,” I said.
“I know it’s terrible, but the whole time I keep thinking, what did I lose then? Because it feels like I lost something, me personally, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Nothing seems to have really changed for me, on the day-to-day, but I have this feeling now like my life is over. Or like it’s been over for a long time and I’m just now realizing. I always had this feeling like the real thing was about to begin.”
“That’s a tough one,” I said. “That’d fuck anyone up.”
“Yeah, I think it must have messed me up.”
“Sure. I know that’d fuck me up.”
Then Glenn winced and I asked what was wrong. “Foot,” he said. I asked what was wrong with his foot. “No, the left one,” he said, tapping his left knee.
“It wouldn’t be so bad,” he said, “the phantom sensation alone. It’s the pain. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t feel like a dog was chewing on it all the time. Otherwise I might find some comfort in it even. Like, close my eyes, think: yeah, still there.”
Then I learned that Glenn had recently swapped meds. His doctor switched him from short-release Vicodin tablets to long-release Fentanyl patches. He showed me one of them, and then thumbed it delicately onto his arm. The patches had a sort of opiate jelly inside. He told me not to tell Denny about them. “You gotta be careful Denny’s not a bad influence on you,” he said. “Why?” he asked unprompted. “Well, all I know is, I see you on the one hand, right, my best employee. The best employee I ever had in all my enterprises. Honest to God, Coop. And you know who’s my worst employee?”
“Denny is. Who else?”
I asked what’d Denny ever done that was so bad. Glenn scoffed and said just last week Denny barfed on some kid’s sandals, which was true. No way around it. “Ok,” I said. “But what’ve I ever done right then?” Because I’d barfed on a lady’s handbag one time at the Lancaster Mall and I felt awful about it. I thought it had the ring of the one small last thing that would tip the scales and send me to hell.
“You’re a quick thinker, Cooper” he said. “You’re not afraid to take action.” So I asked Glenn for an example, and he said didn’t I remember when I shutdown the Haunted Mine to help that kid out. Saved the day. “That was quick thinking.”
“I only stopped the ride when you told me to though.”
“Yeah, exactly. You stopped the ride exactly when I said so. You took action. Denny doesn’t take action. He just steals my meds. I know he does. But what am I gonna do, get the dummy arrested? Those aren’t just party favors, you know? I need them. Look, I love that kid, but he doesn’t have any folds in his brain.” Glenn said he knew he should just leave his meds locked in his car, but the walk was uncomfortable on his prosthesis. He was running out of hiding places in the office. “Don’t know how Denny does it. Doesn’t matter where I hide them. He’s got a sixth sense for it.” Maybe he’d hide them in his office mini fridge, Glenn said. I told him the fridge was as good a spot as any.
He wasn’t going to give me one of his patches but I dogged him into it eventually, and then we split a pack of tallboys and we both had patches on our arms. Later Glenn went to bed and I slept where I usually did on the sofa. I felt like I was floating in warm, black water. And then it felt like the dark was throbbing around me with my heartbeat. And then it felt like the couch was breathing beneath me. It was like I laid my head on a giant, benevolent chest that was breathing. Then I slept like a dead guy.
That first firework Friday resulted in a modest bump in business. No one but Glenn had actually guessed it’d have any effect, but we didn’t close down midday all through the rest of June except for twice. Glenn even wanted to talk longterm future of Thrillville, which I thought was sort of dubious, but I indulged him. He drafted wonky expansion designs on a pad of graph paper. I didn’t know about those. Glenn lacked spacial reasoning or something.
We did some internet research and went to Fedex and doctored some papers up to look like a permit for a firework show. Nothing too convincing, but enough to flash the sheriff if he showed up with any questions. The Sheriff did come around too, but he came with his wife and told Glenn, “Not here in any official capacity, Glenn. So if you blow yourself up, I’ll treat it like part of the show.”
I didn’t have any cash on me and I wanted another beer, but Andy wouldn’t float me any more freebies from the cooler. I wasn’t about to ask Glenn for cash though because I promised him I’d be no-funny-business until the show concluded, plus he was liable to shutdown Andy’s operation if he caught a whiff of it. Then Denny walked up in some sort of daze and patted a kid’s head, who then looked at his mother like, “Did you see that?” But she hadn’t seen. Denny tried to sit down on Andy’s cooler, and Andy shooed him away. So Denny backed up alongside me saying, “All right, little sir. Keep your pecker holstered.” He leaned up against the concession stand wall and crossed an ankle over the other, then tweaked my nipples through my T shirt. I told him he looked fucked up. He asked if he’d look cooler smoking.
“Darla out at the bonfire?” I asked.
“She just left.”
“Before the show?”
“I guess so, man.”
I asked what for, and Denny said Darla had seen him in the Pinto with Joanie.
“Shit. That’s bad. What’d she see?”
“She got an eyeful anyway.” Denny said he’d been going down on Joanie in the backseat, his pants already off—this was a reciprocal situation being made good on—his bare ass backed up to the window, which turned out to be the window that Darla peered into through her cupped hand. Denny seemed to think something over. Then he told me, “Like, I always said she was more mature than us, you know, and maybe she is, but now I’m thinking I said that just because I knew she was too young.”
“Yeah. That sounds right.”
“She just kept asking like what’d she do wrong. Shit, man.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Poor Darla.”
Denny stared into the floodlight. He said, “I wonder what’s like the meanest thing I ever said about you. You know?” I told him to fuck off. “No,” he said. “Come on, not like to your face, I mean. Like, just about you. To someone else. Like, what’s the meanest thing I’ve said about you when you weren’t there to get all butthurt?”
“Yeah, I get it all ready.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, then seemed to think. A couple teenaged girls huddled up to Andy nervously and he sold them two beers for the price of one. Then Andy turned to me and said what was I looking at. He already gave me two freebies and two loaners, he said. Then Denny went on, “I guess sometimes when we meet new people I just want them to like me better than they like you. Does that make sense? Especially if it’s a girl. Is that just like human?”
And I said, “Yeah, I get you, Denny. You don’t have to explain more.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You get me.”
“Christ. Where’s Joanie at anyway?”
“I dunno, man. I think she’s messed up about the Darla thing.”
I asked if he was going to go track her down, and he said yeah, maybe he would. Then he said, “There was this one time, like early early on, Joanie asked me about you, like your qualities, and I said, yeah, Coop’s an ok enough guy, but if I never see him again, I won’t miss him. I said we’re only friends because we like getting messed up the same amount. That would’ve stung if you’d overheard.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess it would.”
“Makes you wonder what the meanest thing someone who isn’t your best friend
said about you. You know? Had to be brutal.”
Denny kept staring into that floodlight, swaying a little in his boots. Gnats appeared and disappeared in and out of the slanted column of yellow light.
“How you feeling, Denny?” I asked. “You look especially fucked.”
“Me, in a word, Coop: prettygood.”
He said I’d been right about the mini fridge. Glenn’s stash of Fentanyl was in the freezer compartment. He said the patches were like tiny slushy packs. He said the goo inside tasted awful.
“I think I tore the package a little. Hope Glenn doesn’t notice.”
I told Denny he better steer clear of Glenn until he wasn’t so messed up. “We’re testing his patience, I think.” So Denny said he’d go chill out somewhere. I told him to sleep it off in the Pinto. Denny started to go and I asked him, before he went, did he have any beer money.
“You dog, you,” he said, and rummaged his pocket. He offered me three pressed pennies. He jostled them around in his palm and told me to go on and take them already.
“For a brew, blockhead.”
I told him a beer was three dollars.
“It only costs a dollar to make a pressed penny, plus the penny.”
“Why’d you spend three dollars on these?”
“Three dollars and three, you know, pennies.”
“Ok. But why?”
“Gotta spend money to make money, man.”
Denny tipped the pennies into my hand and kissed my forehead smackingly. Then he pointed upward, and I think he tried to tell me something about the sky, but he couldn’t make himself clear. He kept calling it the ceiling. “Listen,” He said, “I know exactly how God felt when he made the ceiling because that’s how I feel when I look at the ceiling and when I look at the ceiling I feel so lonely!” Then Denny waited to see if I understood, but I didn’t, so he shrugged and wandered off.
Glenn said I only had two responsibilities during the firework show. First, I was supposed to start the music on his mark. He asked me to guess the music, and I said I’d rather it be a surprise, and he loved that. What was the second responsibility, I asked Glenn. “Find a perfect seat and take it all in,” he told me, grinning. Also, he said to take some mental notes if any improvements occurred to me. It was high time I started pulling some of the strings around here. So I told Andy, when Glenn signaled for the music over the walkie I needed him to press play on the sound system for me. I showed him the button, clicked my walkie off. Andy winked and finger-gunned me. “Gotcha ya covered, big guy.”
I eyed Andy for a moment and then I told him if he didn’t give me another beer I’d tell Glenn about his operation. He looked up at me with pure heartbreak in his eyes. But I trusted you, is what his expression seemed to say, though he only stood there, searching my face over for something. Background info: I was an only child. Was this how a little brother looks at an older brother after a wedgie or a nut kick or whatnot? My brother, why have you done this to me? Then Andy hung his head and turned and he lifted a beer from the cooler, a tallboy too, God bless him, and he held that out to me. I looked at the beer.
“Ah, shit, I was kidding,” I told him. “I was only kidding, Andy.”
Andy smiled and nodded. “Ok,” he said. “Yeah, ok, Coop.”
Then I left the lawn. I went off through the central corridor of Thrillville, looking for wallets, looking for phones, and in particular I was looking for teens fooling around again. I couldn’t help myself. Look at me, a man hard at work. I absolutely did not think a pair of teens would invite me to join in their lovemaking. There was no reason for it. They’d have to be crazy. They’d have to be stupid drunk.
I passed Joanie on my way. “Where are you going?” she asked. “You seen Denny anywhere? Are you looking for him?”
“He’s all whacked out.”
I shrugged. I told her I wasn’t his keeper.
Then I saw that she’d been crying. She tried not to look at me squarely, but I saw she was raw and puffy around the eyes. “Make him call me if you find him, ok?” So I said sure, and asked did she have any petty cash, but she kept walking. “Hey, Joanie,” I called. She stopped and she turned back. Joanie, at that distance, in the darkened aisle, was all shadow, her wet eyes buried darkly in the shape of her face. I wanted to tell her I heard about the Darla incident. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say about it. Maybe not to beat herself up too much if she could help it. Or that it was mostly Denny’s fault anyway. Or that I thought she was a good person all in all, even though I had a shit barometer for that sort of thing. None of it seemed particularly useful, or true. Then a mortar shell whistled up white into the purple night and exploded downfield. Joanie lit up blue in all her heartbroken loveliness. “I’ll keep an eye out for him,” I told her.
Joanie nodded, and then she turned and she left.
Fuck it, Andy, where was the music? Here were the fireworks. Here was the sky very obviously exploding with fireworks, but no music. I knew I was going to catch hell from Glenn. I gave Glenn up in my heart, just like that, and hurried on, thinking of nothing but teenaged lovers. Then next thing, I’m standing all jittery before the Magic Carpet Slide, listening for the sound.
There was not a pair of lovers underneath, but there was someone sitting upright against a support beam. I was too horned up to be surprised or unsurprised. I encountered the world the way a trout encounters the world: without the capacity to imagine it might have been any other way than the way it was. The sky flashed and flashed and one glimpse at a time I studied the seated figure. Then the music began. Take Me Home Tonight, that old Eddie Money song. The arpeggiated guitar lick throbbed through the mostly empty park. Glenn’s favorite song of all time. I could have guessed it. He’d played it at both his weddings, he said, after the vows and kiss and everything. If there were ever a third marriage, he’d play it there too. “I feel hunger,” it went, “It’s a hunger that tries to keep a man awake at night.”
“Hey,” I called out. “Denny, that you?” But there was no stirring. […]
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Taylor Koekkoek is a writer living in Oregon. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Tin House, Los Angeles Review, The Iowa Review, Witness, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere. Recently his story “Emergency Maneuvers” was selected in Best American Short Stories 2017 as Distinguished Story of 2016.
“Thrillville, USA” originally appeared in Glimmer Train and was runner-up in the 2018 Editor’s Reprint Award
Read More: A brief interview with Taylor Koekkoek