*drag & drop the wee yellow person onto the square to listen and explore*
This time I don’t run. I am conscious of every step, choosing with care where each foot lands and drinking in the details. The colours of the broken glass from the Ferris Wheel lightbulbs that have fallen like nights and scattered. The litter. The harsh edges of the tall grasses.
It’s clouding over but not cooling down. The air is tight and oddly wet; an uncomfortable embrace. I can feel my hair frizzing, even if there’s no mirror to check myself in. I pause next to yet another beached swan boat under some small trees and breathe deeply. With nobody else around there’s no need to be bashful anymore. I can finally stick my hand up the back of my t-shirt and scratch the damp patch of skin that has been so irritating all day.
There’s a lump between my shoulder-blades, an exaggerated insect bite. I lean on the swan’s neck, tipping over dramatically to reach the centre of the bite and some relief. A flap of something comes away in my hand as I scratch with wild abandon. A leaf must have been stuck there the whole time.
The swan shifts under my weight. I drop whatever came off my back, stumble and fall. My hand lands just next to a lethal-looking splinter of rusty metal. There’s a quiet crack and I look up, half expecting something to be collapsing down on me.
Nothing except my phone, lying just over there by a block of concrete.
I forget about the itch because there’s a slow syrup of awfulness oozing out of the centre of me and through all my limbs. I pick the phone up and a spider web is etched across the screen.
Time yawns. My life has smashed. Then – against all the odds – the phone lights up. I have never been happier in my life. It still works.
I scroll and check and swipe and pray. Everything functions. The crack is only cosmetic. Mum will still – she’ll not be pleased. She’ll yell. It’ll be too expensive to fix, but who cares? And when I tell people how it happened, it’ll be a badge of honour. Every time I look at my phone, it’ll remind me I’m the girl who said yes. I’m the girl who got the invite. I’m the girl who completed the dare.
A drop of rain kisses the side of my cheek. Just a little smooch. I think about how I’m surrounded by trees and tall shards of metal. What if there’s another thunderstorm, like last week? The skyline of Berlin lit up with dramatic lightening and Mum and I eating cereal for dinner in our PJs and talking to Gran on Messenger.
I step out from under the trees to get a better look at the sky and my foot kicks something solid and wooden: the edge of a track sleeper. Across it run a set of red-brown rusting rails leading further into the trees.
The rollercoaster. Perfect.
I follow it.
It twists up a little. Down. Through another set of trees. I balance along on the rail with arms spread out and drink in the countryside smells of dirt and leaves here in the heart of the city. I jump from one sleeper to the next. All I can hear are birds and the occasional aeroplane overhead. This is more what I was expecting, what I was hoping for. Alone in the world. I am waiting for the tracks to become steep, a dramatic place to write my name and get the photo sent off to Katya. Then she’ll send me the location to meet her for the party. Then we’ll – well.
Another couple of drops of rain light on my arm. The tracks disappear into dense bushes and push my way through, face scrunched against the small leaves and trying to think about anything but spiders.
I teeter out of the branches and step forwards on the tracks before I realise they are stretching out over a lake, skimming the surface. The water is carpeted in patches with green weeds and smells stagnant. On the far side, the tracks rise up over the tops of the next set of trees.
The track is as wide as a cycle path. Plenty of room to step without wobbling. It doesn’t matter that it’s set in rotting wood, rollercoasters are built to last, right? I look at the water and think about how my phone slipped out of my pocket before. I wonder how deep it is, whether any of the lingering tour groups would hear me scream if I fell. What if I knocked my head and drowned – would sniffer dogs find my body? Or might my skeleton not turn up for a decade, until a drought exposes it for a new generation of tourists and illicit partygoers to gawp at.
The surface of the lake starts to ripple between the weeds as the rain begins properly. The tracks are going to get slippery. It’s now or never.
Never. I turn back and put my arms out to divide the branches and retrace my steps, but I hear voices horrifically close. A man – more than one. Deep voices.
I think of the guards with their guns on their hips. Snarling dogs on chains. Mum’s shoulders shaking with disappointment. Then I stop thinking and instead I panic. My legs run me out into the middle of the tracks over the lake before my body just melts and I’m kneeling down, gripping the cold metal of the rails.
Deep breath in. Slow breath out. I’m even more exposed out here than I was in the bushes. The rust cuts into my palms unpleasantly. Come on. One inch at a time. Sliding my way forwards as the rain hisses like snakes all around me.
My neck aches from staring ahead with ferocious intent. I will not let myself be drawn into looking from side to side at the yawning darkness and green of the water. A thousand years pass and then I’m under the trees on the far side, where the ground is still dusty and dry, and I’m lying on my back in the dirt and I’m crying and I don’t even know why.
My phone pings. Mandates of disaster no doubt; I can’t look at it right now. What if it’s Mum? Everything ok plum-pie? Call me if you need to be walked back from the concert. Doesn’t matter how late. Love you xxx. Or, worse – I know you’re not with Susie’s children. She called. Get home now.
Or from Katya, saying that rain has stopped play. That I’ve taken too long. That she has a headache and will be staying home this evening. That she knew I was full of it.
Right now, the idea of the party being cancelled is too much relief for me to process. My top is wet and my shoulders—the itch has spread across them. I must have brushed something, running through the trees. What does Poison Oak feel like? Can you get a delayed allergic reaction from the formic acid in ant bites?
No time to Google it. I pick myself up and start to follow the tracks as they rise from the dirt. I climb past some low branches, too tired now to have emotions beyond a desire to eat something and take a shower. I break out of the shelter of the leaves and am exposed again to the elements just as the first shudder of thunder breaks.
There’s a spectacular view across the wet, dilapidated theme park, although I’m not that high really. You can see the tracks I climbed to get here: that has some cache, surely? I brace myself against the tracks and reach into my pocket for the marker pen, careful not to dislodge my phone.
Wrong pocket. My shoulders are getting unbearable. I reach my hand back again to rub at them although I know that’s the worst thing to do with a rash. Another flap slides loose and I think gross, more leaves but this time I look closely at what’s on my hand and it’s not a leaf.
Another groan of thunder and then, right on the heel of it, a spear of lightening, clearly visible against the heavy, grey clouds.
I drop whatever came off my back and I reach up and behind me, wobbling slightly on the rails, and I pull another piece off. Then another. Then another.
I’m peeling. My whole upper back is peeling off. Thick, greasy slabs of what looks like dead skin. But what should be entirely disgusting somehow is the opposite. My plimsolls squeak against the wet, rusty metal underfoot and, without giving it much thought, I pull my wet t-shirt off and bend my head down. That’s when they sprout: white, fully feathered wings that cannot have been contained within me, could never have fitted in my body or under my shirt. Wings that somehow my tired muscles recognise and flex and which catch the slight breeze and lift me up until I am standing – straining – on my tiptoes.
Before I take off, I pull the black marker pen out of my pocket and let it drop out of sight too, inaudible against the rain.
Then I fly.