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Breathing Easy

Cappy Jack ©2002

            The sudden appearance of the segmented mechanical dragon made Henry smile. The clack, clack, clack of the coaster came at him, suddenly turning in front of him, chest high, at thirty miles an hour easy. After the hard left turn it stopped suddenly and he thought of the negative “G’s” that he liked. It was fun to be back here at Point Pleasant Park.

            Bright June, not a cloud in the sky with only enough humidity to carry the scent of clover and honeysuckle, all three of them pulled in a deep breath through their noses. John, on Dad’s left, and Frankie, on his right, all in line standing patiently for their turn.

“Like this, boys.”

The smell of the roller coaster brakes mingled with grease, Frankie didn’t like it and wrinkled up his nose.

 “Smells like roses, Dad.”

John looked sideways up at Henry trying not to cough.

 “What do you say? I’ve ridden this thing many times, do you want to?”

Both boys looked at each other and back at their Dad, “You bet!”


            “John, go buy two tickets at the ticket booth. Frankie, would you get me a cherry snow cone over there? I’ll hold our place in line.”

He was pointing two different ways but both boys were reaching in their pockets. They were the accountants on this trip and he was their guide. Henry grew up here at ‘The Point’ in many ways and was ready to point out some things to his two boys now.

“What about you, Dad? Don’t you want to ride “Dragon Breath”, too?

John picked up too but Frankie beat him to the punch. Smaller was quicker in many ways.

Whenever Frankie did beat his older brother to the punch, John said the same thing, “You talk too much.”  They stopped in their tracks, still turned away, but waiting for Henry’s reply.

“Nah! I’ll sit this one out.”

Henry brushed his forehead, raising his cap and shaking the sweat out of it.

“Now go, the line is short. We won’t have to wait too long.  Just before lunch is the time to ride whirly gigs, not right after”, by Henry’s line of reckoning anyway. It might slow their appetite but  not make them sick. He knew he’d throw up if he rode the rides that went around and around real fast, he’d done it before. Puke would spoil the day, woozy wouldn’t.

            When the boys were back, in line, and ready to go he explained.

 “When you ride for amusement you balance the feelings of sickness and excitement all at once. For a few minutes, at most, you have no control.”

 Frankie sorta jumped the gun on this puzzle, “You mean I might get sick?” 

 He was all for excitement and John had tried to teach him about matches. When he was eight and John was ten he lit the airplane glue on the wooden floor instead of mopping it up.

“It’s easier, watch”, he told his older brother.

 Their combined stomps on the floor drew Mom out of the kitchen.  Not enough smoke to alarm her but the yellow patch on the floor never went away.

 “Henry, do you think the cat did it?”

“No, Lily.  It’s a wax discoloration that could come from any number of things.”

He knew and we had a meeting in the cellar. He wanted to be in on all the pyrotechnics because he liked them, too. He had a point there. He liked excitement so both boys were puzzled by his refusal to ride, “Dragon’s Breath”. 

“Well, Dad, what’s up?”

John had few words but always meaningful. Henry tipped his head back, squinted, and pulled his lips thin in a smile.

 “I’ve had my share of sickness and excitement. Neither one interest me anymore, that’s all.”

Henry chewed off a piece of snow cone and offered it to the boys who chewed on his comment.  They each got a mouthful, Frankie slurping some melt. The paper cone got wrinkly and fuzzy that Henry knew was slippery. He held the snow cone like a baseball now. He had popped out before.

 “You know how anger and worry go hand in hand?”

Both boys nodded, which looked funny on Frankie because he had brain freeze and showed his teeth in pain. They could see how anger and worry accompanied each other after Henry pointed it out to them in other people’s behaviors.

“No use trying to tell them that if they quit worrying their anger would go away, right boys?” 

Both boys had offended a few people with frank statements before realizing the truth in this wisdom also. Frankie made the mistake of doing it when Chuck was still hot and had to run for it. Nobody got a beating, if they could avoid it. Rule number one, no harm no foul, was eager defense when they explained their actions to their Dad.

“The matrimonial vows say, ‘in sickness and in health’, and they should say sickness and excitement. Those two are true opposites. Sickness and health don’t balance, know what I mean, boys?”  Balance was a true yardstick to measure by and John knew its economy.

“You pay for what you get.”

“I don’t want to get sick.” Frankie looked crestfallen and stared at the clown that judged if you got to ride the big wooden roller coaster or not. He shrank a bit but knew he would go.

“You won’t, Frankie, the ride is too fast. It’ll be over before you know it and the stop sorta brings you back. Don’t worry”, John said. He got the connection between opposites. Frankie didn’t get it yet.

“You know that you won’t crash and you know that you won’t fall out, especially if you hold on tight. You’ll like it, trust me.”  John was trying to be convincing. He didn’t want to go alone. Frankie wasn’t too sure; John had egged him on before. Some of his ideas weren’t so hot. Frankie thought back to that knot on his head, thanks to John’s idea of tumbling down the stairs. And the headache before from breathing car exhaust straight from the tailpipe was John’s idea of fun. But the old man seemed to trust him.

“Will they stop it if I yell?”

“No way to stop it. That’s the exciting part. Once you go over the crest of the hill, you cast your fate to the wind. And it always stops right here.” 

The line crepe up the ramp and they were next for the car coming in. The operator was a man who put his whole back into the wooden handle that stopped the coaster. He only looked at the track and listened. Henry thought he recognized him.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ll stay here with you, Dad. You can go twice, John.”

 Henry’s smile moved as fast as his young son’s frown, “It’s your decision, Frankie. I think you should flip a coin. Excitement can be fun.” Both boys looked up at him now. The car was almost empty and the platform girl was ready to count the next carload through the turnstile. A little sun had poked through the tin roof and Frankie twisted his head to catch it with the bill of his cap. He still squinted from taking a shot of bright light to the eye. He looked first.

“Heads you ride, take the good with the bad, hopefully amused. And tails you stay with me.” Henry had the lucky coin out and on his thumbnail; ready to flip. The look in their eyes said, ‘go for it’. Back down on the back of his other hand he held it out for them to see.

“Heads, you win, Frankie! Now go with your brother for a thrill, I promise you.” Henry felt proud of his sons, now moving forward with the others, neither worried nor angry, holding hands and excited. Another day they would recall this and give themselves a chance.

A happy man sat on the bench with the sun dappled through the trees, sipping a snow cone. His back full of “Dragon’s Breath”, he breathed in relief waiting for his sons’ breathless return.



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written using Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition