Crash Pad
M.E. Parker

“You’re such a dork.” Lark slipped her hair back behind her ear. “Frontier Park? For what this place costs, you could’ve taken me out—like for real.” She followed her rant with an eruption of laughter, tossing her head back, staring at Pete as though she were looking at him through the bottom of a pair of bifocals. “You should see your face right now. You kind of look like one of those Dr. Seuss characters,” she said waving her finger under her nose. “The ones with the big honkin’ space between their upper lips and their noses.”

The glassblower placed a black strap under the lustrous mass, still spinning it, polishing what would eventually become one of the trademark Frontier Park beer goblets in the gift shop. The glass blob turned. Pete fixed on the longitudinal red streaks that had formed, what might have reminded him of Christmas candy had his mind not been hijacked by hearts, enlarged ones. “And there’s the veins.” Pete said. He could even hear thumping in his own chest, his aorta quivering like the D string on his bass guitar.

Lark had told Pete what happened to her brother. 16 years old. Dropped dead from an enlarged heart. Almost an hour after she told him the story in the shadow of Miner’s Mountain, Pete still couldn’t shake the idea of a kid with a brontosaurus heart exploding under his ribs. Every fist-sized thing he saw was an engorged thumping heart–the snow cones, the flower blooms around the ride lines, the pomegranate in the trash can, everything, except what was left of his funnel cake. It looked like powdered intestine.

Pete and Lark had only known each a couple of weeks. Pete had been the cook on Lark’s first night at Grill Masters, a great gig for a guy. All the waitresses wore skimpy outfits. She cornered him after work, and they spent that night at his apartment, where she’d been ever since, because, she had told him, she was practically homeless. Pete had only had one real girlfriend to speak of, and he had certainly never lived with a girl. When a girl like Lark, a bona fide nymphomaniac with the body of a music video dance extra, and on top of that, a girl with no place to live, took an interest in him, Pete figured he should stop playing the lottery; he would never get much luckier.

They had packed a lot into those two weeks, even an abbreviated version of shit awareness week, that inevitable period of time in any relationship when, according to Pete’s mom, the veil is lifted and all the annoying things about each other surface. He had already dealt with the fact that Lark’s feet smelled like gorgonzola cheese when she took off her work shoes and that she had a couple of missing teeth up front that she concealed with a temporary bridge on a retainer that sometimes came loose, not when they were just kissing, when they really got going.

The glass, it really did resemble an enlarged heart. Absolutely, it did, a bulging orange mass slick with heat that could burst any moment. Pete never intended to vocalize this, but his thoughts had suddenly become tethered to his mouth with no delay, the way an inadvertent fuck on the radio might miss getting hiccupped before it sullied the airwaves.

“Why would you even say that?” Lark snapped. She glared at him all surprised.
Pete practically raised his two younger sisters. He knew drama, and he had pegged Lark as one of those girls who got off on being indignant. He didn’t know why he said it. Enlarged hearts had invaded his brain, his eyes drawn to that glowing orb of glass, to its transformation, its elongation, as the man in the leather apron blew into the end of the rod, ever twirling it between his palms.

“Oh my God. See if I ever tell you anything again.” Lark gave him a half slap on the cheek.

“What?” Pete shrugged.

“I tried to actually have a real conversation with you. That’s what. So, I told you about my brother. Deal with it. I swear. You are such a hypochondriac.” She pulled a tube of lipstick out of her purse and gave her lips a fresh coat of aubergine.

“I just don’t feel so good. Strange. You know?” Pete rocked on his heels back and forth, feeling taller and taller as he stared into the kiln fire where the man in the black apron twisted the bulbous glass at the end of the rod. Pete’s eyes followed the arc of a spark as it popped from the kiln. Beside him, Lark stared at the orange orb, or maybe, Pete guessed, she was eyeing the glassblower who she probably thought was hot. “What? You want to do that guy or something?”

“That is so freakin’ cool.” Lark tilted her head, obviously fixated on the transforming glass–not the glassblower. She looked different, not slutty or even sexy. She reminded Pete of his little sisters when they used to watch those educational half-cartoons with talking stuffed dinosaurs and reading dogs, her mouth the shape of a gaping, up-ended crescent moon.

“If it gets any bigger–that thing will explode.” Pete ran his finger along Lark’s cheek, stopping in the pothole of an acne scar. Normally, he hardly noticed those acne divots on her complexion; they were small. But today, it was as if her face had absorbed the brunt of a meteor shower, leaving him in awe of her facial topography, of the tiny, irregular craters caked with makeup.

“Oh my God. What are you doing?” She asked, never looking away from the molten form of glass that had finally begun to resemble a beer goblet.

“Come on.” She grabbed his hand. “Let’s go back over to Miner’s Mountain.”

“Line’s probably still too long.” Miner’s Mountain was the ride that kept Frontier Park in business. The line rarely shortened. Pete rubbed his eyes. “I feel like shit. Just came on, you know?” His heart now felt enlarged, and all his blood vessels a thousand stretched rubber bands. The feeling reminded him of the tension headaches he used to get that blurred his vision. Only this was all over his body.

The official, mustachioed Frontier Park glassblower looked up at Pete as though he might start taking him. The glassblower’s eyebrows arched, the smolder of hellfire in the kiln behind him charring the souls of fallen glass figurines. He aimed his fiery glass trident right at Pete, as if preparing to penetrate the pony wall that kept tourists at bay and thrust the glass right into Pete’s ever morphing, fattening heart. The glassblower’s lips parted, prepared to do the devil’s magic on the molten glass when his eyes found Pete’s. Skip it, he mumbled to Pete.

“What? What did you say? Skip it. Skip what? Miner’s Mountain?” Skip it. His heart skipping beats–that was the it–the beat.

“Who are you talking to?”


“Who the fuck are you talking to?” Lark giggled, as if she were being held down and tickled by a group of fourth-grade girls between pillow fights.

Pete pointed to the glassblower who had begun to detach the goblet for cooling.
“Dude. You’re talking to that guy? What, are you telepathic?” She continued laughing, bending over to catch her breath. “And what did you guys talk about?” She sucked in a deep breath, trying to stop laughing.

“Look, I have to sit down.” Pete’s heart pounded. His whole body twitched the way his nose did right before a thunderstorm hit. “I don’t feel good.” He visualized Lark’s sixteen-year-old brother, what he must have gone through, splayed out on a gurney surround by white-coats and green-masks, a hefty nurse Ratchet type yelling clear right before she tried to zap the poor kid’s mega heart back to life. “I can’t breathe very well.” Pete wished his mom were still alive, standing right next to him, working her rosary.

“Dude.” Lark’s giggling continued.

Along with the various ailments associated with lupus, which Pete had been certain he had until his mom finally convinced him otherwise, Pete had memorized the heart-attack symptoms as a kid, worried even then he would turn out to be the one in a million to suffer an early coronary. Pain in the shoulder. His shoulder hurt. Shortness of breath. He had forgotten to breath, or so it seemed. The past few seconds, or minutes, he had just stood there, not breathing, or breathing softly, sipping, as though he needed to tell himself to breath instead of his body doing it for him without explicit instruction. Tightening chest. Someone, a giant, may as well have plucked him from the clutches of Frontier Park and crushed his grape of a ribcage. Lightheadedness. If his head were any lighter if would pop off his neck and float up to the top of the Miner’s Mountain. Irregular heart rate. Oh mama, there wasn’t anything regular about his heart rate. Feeling of impending doom. That was the symptom that had always thrown him. Doom for Pete was no longer impending. Doom had descended unto him cloaked in leather and told him to skip it. “I have to sit down.”

“We are sitting down you nut. This is hysterical.”

“Hysterical? I’m having a heart attack. My mom always told me that only old people have heart attacks. I mean, I worried about it anyway, but I always figured she was right.” The sentence flew out of his mouth as a flock of word doves suddenly released from a cage. “She always told me there were better things to worry about at my age. College, job, car payment, keeping my sisters in line. Of course, I fretted over the cancer too. My mom had it. My grandmother had it, but it was a woman cancer, you know, so I didn’t kill myself over it. Oh man, I’m having a heart attack. Really.” Pete jolted to his feet, rubbing his face, trying to control his heartbeat, which somehow made it worse.

“You’re not having a heart attack, you dork.” Lark lit a cigarette, laughing again, fixing her hair so it fell all to one side. She rotated the lit cigarette with her over and over, eyes never leaving the red ember on the end.

“No, I am. Really.” Frontier Park’s main concourse had taken a turn from its cheesy Old West façade book-ended by a double-loop roller coaster at one end and an infrequently-trammed parking lot at the other, to a twisted corridor of rotten wood and rusted steel, captioned in Cyrillic, which led straight to the mouth of hell. Feeling of doom. He had always wondered about the last symptom, as in how would doom manifest itself on the victim of a failing heart. He had imagined panic, all is lost, flashes of his soon- to-be-expired life, not being with some girl hammering his brain shut, not taking him seriously, all on the very edge, the Frontier of consciousness.

“Pete, sit down. You’re losing it.” Lark reached for his hand. “That whole hypochondria thing. I thought you were just kind of kidding around when you told me that. I didn’t realize how messed up you were. If it makes you feel any better, my brother didn’t really have an enlarged heart.”

“Why would you make that up?” Laughing at him, and now lying, Pete knew his mother would have disapproved of Lark. With his sisters, he had always slammed down the fist on lying, lumped it the basement of character traits right there with schadenfreude, something else Lark had exhibited today, laughing, smirking, lapping up his imminent demise right in front of his face. “Still doesn’t change the fact. I gotta get out of here. I can’t breathe.”

“Look, my brother OD’d okay? I just didn’t want you to freak out. Start mothering me like I was one of your bratty sisters or something. I can handle my shit.”

“OD’d? Bratty sisters?” Both of Pete’s sisters werein college, working a couple of jobs apiece to pay for it. One played the clarinet. The other played the flute. Pete had toted them to and from band practice and dance lessons and girl scouts while his mom slowly faded away. Just because he never let them do drugs, took away their cars, fought with them physically and mentally, practically locked them in the house to keep them from getting into drugs, which had pretty much been his mom’s last request, did not mean that he had mothered them or that they were bratty. He let them do pretty much anything else they wanted. Lucy, who was only three years younger than Pete, had two abortions before she graduated. He had tried to keep them clean, but keeping them off drugs in their neighborhood had been a full time job.

“You’re just so preachy about that shit.”

Pete didn’t have the energy to argue, with the sky, now a pink silkscreen, folding him up inside it. He trembled all over, fever with chills on a summer day, his favorite songs mashed into an oompah collage, the people in Frontier Park scuttling by as countless Benny Hills chasing the skirts of women in front of them.

Drugs. Strike three on his mom’s girlfriend disapproval meter. Though he couldn’t seem to conjure the image of his mother, not anymore. She had died only two years ago. Her face should still be fresh in his mind. He thought it was before today, but he wondered if the world had always been this way, hues of pink and green over a backdrop of trembling trees beneath a corrugated sky. The door to the taffy parlor on the other side of the concourse sulked in shame, the novelty of its colors and shapes usurped by asphalt walkway. In his assessment, if such a place as heaven and hell existed, his life to this point would have been much more worthy of heaven than hell, but as the iron gates of the underworld creaked open to receive him, he saw not silver and fleece but craggy, barren mountains so hot as to burn a hiker’s feet right through the sole of his boot.

“Pete. Are you okay?” Lark grabbed him by the shoulders, her icicle fingers cold-branding his bare arms.

“I don’t know.”

“I know that look. First, the heart thing and now this. I can’t tell you anything.”

Pete rubbed his face. He scanned the park for a water fountain to splash his face, finding only a shallow puddle near the vending machine where he could wet his cheeks.

“Oh my God. Pete.” After an initial chuckle, her laughter trailed away. “You’re freaking me out. My brother was a speed freak. Trust me. You can’t OD on acid.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re not going to have a heart attack and you’re not going to OD. You needed to loosen up. Live a little. See that drugs aren’t all bad. I just figured if we were going to an amusement park, we might as well be amused. Just laugh. Enjoy it. That’s what I do. That’s what it’s for.”

“Trust you? Enjoy it?” He had trusted her. She had violated that trust. Or so he thought, but thought had changed—he thought. And he could not recall what thought was like before his synapses started misfiring behind a screaming wall of pink. He wondered had he always thought this way, pushing back on logic like a salmon swimming upstream in search of a point of origin. Would his decisions forever, from this point forward, consist of questioning whether or not he had always felt the way he felt at that moment, a feeling that he couldn’t manage to remember? Above him, a tower of twisted steel, the Miner’s Mountain rackety-crackled up its initial ascent, to the summit where the answers must lie, each of its passengers having resigned the worthlessness of their lives for a chance to see Frontier Park from soaring height, catapulted from the highest knob, all for a chance to stop their minds as quickly as they could.

Lark’s smile faded. “Oh shit. Shit. Double shit.”

Pete jumped, her fear as palpable as ants marching up his arms. “What?”

“It’s Julian.”

Orange Julius. Pete remembered those. “You don’t see those anymore. Orange Julius. Smoothies took over. There used to be one in the old Sunset Place mall.”

“What the fuck is Julian doing at Frontier Park? Is he following me? Oh, man.” Lark grabbed her purse and held it up beside her head. “Quick, get down.” She kneeled down beside the bench.

As if on a lazy Susan, the bench came around back into view with Lark plopped beside it, holding up her purse. The sight of her hunched over on the sidewalk, a fat pigeon pecking for bread crumbs, was funny, showed him a glimmer of life beyond the fires of cerebral hell.

“It’s not fucking funny.” Lark waved Pete over closer to her. “You won’t be laughing if Julian recognizes me. If he did this to me,” she said pointing at her mouth, “imagine what he’ll do to you.”
“Some dude knocked out your teeth? That’s what happened?” Pete continued to laugh, having imagined a twelve-year-old pre-slutty Lark tumbling over her bicycle handlebars, teeth hitting the ground.

Her lip sucked in a little over the gap in her teeth. Pete doubled over laughing.

She stood up and slung her purse at him. “It’s not fucking funny,you dick.”

“I’m sorry. I just can’t stop.”

“This bridge is only temporary until I get my teeth permanently fixed. Dick.”

Pete sunk back into the bench, his arms outstretched as if he were swaying in a hammock on the beach. His girlfriend had drugged him, and good, all because he needed to loosen up. Hell had returned.. He could practically feel his teeth falling out after a punch from this Julian guy, who would certainly double up his fury on a man.

“What are you doing?” Pete asked, confused as to how Lark could go from terrified damsel to ambivalent park primper.

Lark moved her compact mirror from side to side. She reapplied her makeup, giving the acne scars a fresh fill, Pete imagined. “I don’t want Julian to think I’ve let myself go.”

“What? That guy knocked out your teeth.”

“Yeah, but he needs to know what he’s missing.” Lark smacked her lips together after a swipe with the lipstick tube.

Pete eyed Lark’s purple shirt. It struck him as an odd design. Tight in places, loose in others flapping in a breeze. He imagined all her other clothes, the mound of club outfits and bras and shoes, all those shoes. How, he wondered, could someone “without a place to stay” accumulate so many shoes? Then he imagined those shoes flying out the window of his apartment, scattering, bouncing off the hoods of passing cars, being carried away by stray dogs, tight tops and skirts littering the sidewalk. Next he’d toss her hair products, pour them out the window, glop, glop onto the ground. He could put up with a lot, but deception was the elevator down, and now a mental assault, a mind fucking without his consent had sentenced him to this bench in cerebral Purgatory, longing to see his sisters, to tell them he really could see their mother in their faces, the sharp nose and wide hopeful eyes. He had always seen his sisters as such a burden. Now, he wished hard for one of them to call him, ask him for a favor, anything.

“Oh dude. That’s some crazy shit. That’s not Julian,” Lark said as the man in question walked by them. “That doesn’t even look like him. I don’t know what I was thinking.” She began to laugh again. “To the mountain.” Lark pointed to Miner’s Mountain, the tall, inverted corkscrew roller coaster with half its track in the dark.

Pete’s confusion and fear had provided him with clarity. He replied with what his mother told him to say when he first started middle school, the way he should handle it if someone pressured him to do something he didn’t want to do. “I don’t feel well. I’m going home,” he proclaimed, not knowing what daunted him more, the idea of a corkscrew flight through a sound rainbow in Miner’s Mountain or making his way home, wishing he could soar above the park for a look at the park map with you are here next to a sign to the restroom.

“Look, Pete, I’m sorry. Really.” Lark never looked up, continuing to study her reflection in the compact mirror. “My bad. Forgive me?” She crinkled her nose, still looking in the mirror.

“No. No. What? Are you kidding?”

“Come on, Pete.”

“Come on Pete nothing. I’m just a place to stay, aren’t I? Just some crash pad until you find the next, better-looking guy like Julian you can shack up with. What? You need me to smack you around like Julian? Is that it?”

“It’s not like that, Pete. I swear. Don’t do this.” Lark finally looked at him, eyes desperate, as though she were a non-swimmer neck-deep in a swimming pool.

“Don’t do what?”



“You’re not just a place to stay. Okay? I really have had it pretty rough, Pete.”

Pete wanted to call his sisters, make sure they were okay, remind them to stay away from guys who might smack them around. When he was seventeen, those two wrecking balls around his neck kept him from doing anything. One sister to band practice, the other to after school tutoring, one suspended from school, the other needing someone to go on a Brownie campout. At seventeen, Pete hated his mom for dying such a long and painful death. At twenty-seven, he was glad to have something left of her in his two sisters. But he knew, no matter what they had gotten themselves into in college, neither of his sisters were liars, and neither of them would even think about drugging someone. He, had something to do with that. He had harped on them in place of their sick mom and threatened them the way a dad might have if they had one. If only Lark had been lucky enough to have a brother like him.

“I am telling you, I’m not getting on that thing.” Pete pointed in the general direction of Miner’s Mountain. He had never had a problem with Miner’s Mountain before, but the sound of the cars sliding across the rails, zooming through a maw in that concrete peak, made him think of wrecking his car in the twelfth grade, all crunched up inside a soda pop can with wheels.

“Fine. We’ll go on the Log Flume. Nice and peaceful. With birds tweeting and water gushing.” She made a fluttery bird with her hands and laughed.

Pete really did just want to go home, by himself, and change the lock on his door, but he didn’t think he could be alone right now. He was relieved that the line for the Log Flume was not long. All that waiting made him jittery. He resigned himself. Really, it was all just a wait.

M.E. Parker is a closet antiquarian masquerading as a technophile, as well as a writer, an editor, web designer, and a carpenter who imagines a world of wooden computers with leather bound keyboards. Find him at