A Winter Dream
Sam sat quietly in the back as the subway car traveled over rickety rails, gasping for breath in the chilly February air. Little by little, the subway car emptied at each stop until she was the last remaining passenger. “Last stop, Coney Island!” echoed in the empty station. “Last stop, Coney Island!” The door closed behind Sam as she headed toward the stairs. She walked down the steps of a lonely corridor, out of the vacant terminal, and into the sunlight of the silent street.
She crossed the street and saw the giant Wonder Wheel motionless, holding only the ghosts of summer-tanned bodies. There were no hearts to spin giddy by a Tilt-a-Whirl that stood still. There were no blinking lights, no explosions of color, and no music to fill the lifeless air. Sam walked a little farther to the boardwalk. A lone bicycle leaned against the rail, waiting for someone to return. Behind it, an endless blanket of sand and the smooth ocean waves also waited patiently for someone to return. Everything was closed at Coney Island.
As Sam turned around to leave, she saw the Wonder Wheel sign flash, just once. She heard a low groan that turned into a slow whirring sound. She walked closer and saw the Tilt-a-Whirl slowly begin to turn. At the same time, several blue and red and yellow lights began to blink on and off. Sam took a step inside and saw the amusement park begin to come to life around her. She looked up at the giant Wonder Wheel that had just begun moving. Someone bumped into her, causing her to look down again. She blinked, not believing what she saw. People populated the spaces all around her. Music, voices, and squeals of delight filled the air. A man on stilts and a clown passed her as a young boy ran by her on the other side. Unconsciously, Sam began walking forward, further into the amusement park. Flashing lights surrounded her and an exotic melody filled her ears.
“Cotton candy, miss?” A young man called out to her, waving what looked like a giant blue Q-tip at her.
Sam didn’t say anything. She tried, but she couldn’t utter a sound. The young man smiled at her, walked over, and handed her the cotton candy.
“It’s just for you.” He smiled and walked on.
Pulled forward by some external force, Sam continued to walk on, holding her cotton candy with both hands. She stopped in front of the Tilt-a-Whirl where screaming girls and boys exited with flushed faces. She stared at their faces, so full of life, and could almost hear their hearts beating wildly.
“Step up, young lady. Take a turn.” The ride operator smiled and held out his hand, as if to usher Sam through the gate. “I’ll hold your cotton candy.” He urged her forward.
Sam felt herself handing over her cotton candy and walking forward. She sat down in the last empty car, and almost instantly she was spinning. Music filtered in and out of her ears as she spun left and then right and then left again. Lights blurred all around her: blue, green, purple, yellow, red, and orange. She heard squeals of delight that seemed to come from right next to her, but there was no one else in the car with her. The car slowed for just a moment, enough for Sam to catch her breath. Then it sped up again. The faces, colors, and music continued to blur all around her as she spun left and then right and then left again. She heard the squeals again, and this time, Sam realized they were coming from her own mouth. Finally, the cars slowed their spinning and came to a rest. The ride was over.
As if in a dream, Sam stepped out of her car and walked toward the exit. She felt the flush in her own cheeks and in her heart. Her own once lifeless heart had been spun full of giddiness.
“Here you go, young lady.” As she walked past the ride operator, he handed her an ice cream in place of her cotton candy. Sam took it and smiled.
“See you soon,” he said to her as she exited the ride.
Sam walked back out into the sea of people. The lights were even brighter now and the music even louder. Her ice cream suddenly had a rainbow of sprinkles on it. She tasted it. The daring combination of bananas and pistachios tasted surprisingly sweet and pleasurable, and the coolness on her tongue felt refreshing, the chilly winter air having been replaced by a quiet June breeze.
Sam continued to stand in the current of people as she finished her ice cream cone. A clown stopped and placed a balloon puppy at her feet. An older woman, who looked exactly like Sam’s late grandmother Constance, placed a candy necklace around Sam’s neck and held her hand gently before walking away. A juggler walked by but slowed down just to perform for her. The amusement park had come to life all around her.
When Sam had finished her ice cream, she walked back toward the Wonder Wheel. So high up in the air, the cars looked like little red and yellow and little blue and yellow toy boxes. They swayed delicately back and forth as the giant wheel moved slowly and, it seemed to Sam, almost gracefully. Sam looked around at not only the giant Wonder Wheel in front of her but also at the lights and colors and faces. She felt the gentle breeze in her face as the melody of that exotic yet familiar music filled her ears. She placed her hand over her heart and couldn’t help but smile.