Glimpses of mortality always seem to interrupt otherwise perfectly fine days.
Freddie Tweed is traveling westward on a gurney towards a half-opened window that is letting in a good mouthful of late afternoon-sunset. Certain he is to go crashing through it and into the sinking sun, he releases his vise grip on the sides of the speeding bed and raises both his arms up and into the air.
That same day only earlier, the reliably regular rhythm of the roller coaster’s heavy, clacking chains begins to slow ominously, badly out of tune with the song of a standard roller coaster’s climb. Each thick steel chain link groans and strains to pull them all up and over the first of several, plywood supported mountaintops in this carnival ride. The machine itself appears almost baffled by its lack of strength. He hears more than one rider in the front cars coaxing the machine to try harder. Their fear seems to pour backward over the cars reaching him with a syrupy alarm. He is in the very last car.
The first two wagons manage to reach the peak, then slowly the third and forth creep over the top. The twelve-car train will not make it over its midmost threshold, so it just hangs there, looking from below into the sun’s glare, like a speared caterpillar on the knuckle of a shadow hand. Everyone is silent or screaming. The coaster begins to drift backward toward where Freddie’s dad is waiting for him at the ride’s end, where they had stood to skip turns to get him into the very last seat by himself.
The steel towline tries to stop the backwards plunge but it snaps and flaps wildly about like a guillotined garden hose, barely missing the faces of the people in the first seats. Each parent swings their arms around their children, looking like those water ballerinas from the black and white movies of the thirties, the ones where their feet never touch the bottom of the pool, and everyone has to wear rubber swim caps. The littlest children seem thrilled, absent as they are of any memories that could set off alarms, but the adults knew what is happening and turn around in their seats, to look back downward to where they just given up their tickets to board this fated train.
Freddie sits alone in his last car, at first supposing that all the rubbernecking is about him, that they think he is to blame. He is so afraid.
The swelling, cotton candy-scented breeze, from the summer’s hot air on the back of his neck, the very place a wind should not be coming from, links him back to the promise he made to himself before getting into the coaster. His father had said to him,” And if you want to be really brave, you will let go of the bar on your lap as you go over the top and wave your hands above your head.”
Now, as the train shot backwards down the hill, Freddie Tweed raises both his arms into the air and closes his eyes, fulfilling his promise.
The wheeled hospital stretcher stops short of the yawning window and it’s twilight sun and curves left into the operating room; Freddie’s arms are still stretched high and straight. His dad stands in the room, wearing his own white mask that does not hide his eyes. “Did you see me dad, did you see me?” he yells. His father looked at his boy, raises his own arms up above his head and starts to cry.