Experience the Fun
by Gabby Bess
“He cheated on me.” April made her eyes wide and exaggerated to preclude interest in Maria’s story. Maria was always telling stories. Sharing fragments of her life with April, as if they were friends and not coworkers. Maria and April sat close together on a bench, watching the children play on the playground behind the rec center. Really, they should have been standing but the heat and the kids had beaten them down. Their supervisor wasn’t around to supervise either Maria or April, or the kids, so they simply sat and melted.
Maria lived across the Potomac River, about an hour out from their job in Virginia Beach, in Hampton. Once, on a field trip to the Air and Space Museum in Hampton, April pointed to the Potomac River and tried to convince the kids that Maria lived inside of the river with the Loch Ness Monster’s American uncle. Maria and April laughed and shared a look between them, like friends. “Alright kids, hold on. We’re about to fly,” April said, as the bus drove across the incline of the bridge. The bus descended over the other side, picking up speed, and Maria, April, and the 25 5-8 year olds in the city’s summer camp program, held out their arms as their voices blended into a chorus of “weeeeeeeeeeeee.” They sounded like strangled, joyous birds. “We’re flying! We did it!” April said.
April had to constantly try to turn work into a game where the only way to win was if all 25 kids were laughing in unison. “Look!” April pointed to an old bell tower. They were approaching historic Hampton. “That’s where Quasimodo lives.” One of the kids asked April what a Quasimodo was. “A Quasimodo,” April said, “is a very sad man that lives alone in that tower.” April pointed again, for emphasis. “His job is to ring the bell so that everyone remembers that time moves forward. Quasimodo, himself, cannot forget about time. Not ever.” The kids looked confused but impressed by her knowledge of Quasimodos. “Shall we visit him instead of going to the museum? He is very sad and lonely.” “NOOOOOYESYESYNOOYES,” the bus of kids responded.
It was July and the sun seemed to swell, fat and overfull above the playground, directly into April’s eyes causing them to produce involuntary moisture. April’s entire body was involuntarily moisturizing itself. The wetness sat in-between her shoulder blades and peeked through her blue shirt. The words “The City of Virginia Beach — Experience the Fun” were highlighted in sweat. “Oh honey, it’s okay. You don’t have to cry, I’m not sad. I’m over it. He was a bastard. I’m glad he cheated on me,” April’s coworker Maria tried to console her. Maria’s hand made light vertical motions across April’s dampened back, mainly hovering but sometimes accidentally touching it. April blinked back sweat and emotionless tears. She wasn’t sure how one could feel glad about being cheated on. It must just be a thing that people say, she thought. She didn’t know. She had never been cheated on. April felt like the heat was preventing both of them from experiencing emotions correctly.
“Oh, I wasn’t crying,” April said as she swiped at her eyes quickly. “It’s just that the sun… It’s hurting my eyes… One of these kids probably needs a bathroom break by now, right? I’m going to make one of them go to the bathroom. I need to go inside. Fuck. I’m sorry. I’m an asshole. You just got cheated on and I’m complaining about my shitty eyes. Shit. I’m sorry. That sucks. I am crying. Really, I am. Shit. This should probably be the opposite, right? Do you want me to rub your back? I just talked a lot at once. I’m sorry. Shit.” Maria laughed and continued to touch the air behind April’s back. April wiped her eyes with the outsides of her hands and grinned.
Maria suddenly removed her hand from the air behind April’s back and started flailing it in front of her face. “Ryan!” Maria yelled across the park. One of the boys, Ryan, was revving up to take a running start at the slide. “Ryan, don’t you even think about running up that slide.” Ryan’s face looked like the face of raccoon that was caught in the beam of a flashlight as it was digging through the trash. Alert, but uncaring. “Ryan, are you listening?” Maria made the word ‘listening’ have five harsh syllables. “Ryan, look at Tyquan. Do you want to look like Tyquan?” Maria pointed to Tyquan and Ryan looked where Maria’s finger was pointing. Tyquan had attempted to take on the slide during a game of tag. His squat legs scrambled up the slide as he groped for something to hold onto. Tyquan’s hands grasped air as he fell back down the slide, head-butting it with various parts of his face. Tyquan’s lips were now swollen and puffed to where his face was ~40% lips. His lips hung open like broken, blood-crusted gates. Tyquan noticed Maria pointing at him, waved, and said, “Hi Miss Maria!” enthusiastically. Maria and April tried not to cringe as they watched Tyquan’s mouth form words but Ryan was not as tactful. He contorted his face into crazy, exaggerated shapes with his hands and pulled at his own lips to make sure they felt right. Ryan made eye contact with Maria, considered the slide, and then walked over to the swing set.
Inside, the kids formed a line for the water fountain and devoured the metallic tasting water. The water was metallic tasting, to a kid, for a number of reasons. The distinctly metal taste of public water is from various chemical treatments or a lack thereof but each of the kids, uniformly, had a very concrete and recent reference point for the taste of metal. One after the other, they would step up to the water fountain, either bending down, or reaching up on their tip-toes, turn the fountain knob with their tiny hands, and wrap the expanse of their mouths around the spout. The thin skin around their mouths would stretch to accommodate spout and then bloat as it rapidly filled with water. They would become the water fountain in their eager search to fill themselves of everything. What is this, Miss April? Okay, but what is that, Miss April? Where does the water the water come from? When I flush the toilet does the water go into here? What if I drink a fish!? Each kid would hover over the water fountain wearily, questioning all of existence, before devouring it.
Toward the back of the fountain line, the kids were getting restless. They started to secretly punch and kick each other with theatrical slowness of movement. There was a group of boys, Conner, Madden, and Billy, who especially liked to punch and kick and dare the other kids to kiss each other. Insofar, they had not succeeded in fostering any kisses but they would not give up, no matter how many times they were scolded. Conner, Madden, and Billy would form a circle around their targets, punching and kicking the air and whatever else was around them while shouting “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” They called this Kung Fu. All provocation was simply Kung Fu to a seven-year-old boy.
Conner, Madden, and Billy were the jokesters, the good-natured pranksters, the class clowns. Everyone laughed at their antics. They couldn’t help but laugh. The kids were adorable. April could see Conner, Madden, and Billy’s life trajectory. They would grow up; they would be athletic and popular, but also smart. Their humor would turn into wit and their round, smiling faces would turn handsome. She would help them become this, April thought. As long as she kept them behind the line; as long as she kept them from crossing over to bullies. She felt a strange responsibility and obligation to these kids. On a summer weekday she saw them more than their own parents did. For an entire summer she was a surrogate mother to 25 children and she felt it. Her feet swelled and her skin sagged deeper. For $8.65 an hour she was Miss April.
Before interrupting the merry-go-round of shouting and kicking boys, April watched them, in an envious sort of way, tilting her head up to try to steal some of their lightness. Kissing is like Kung Fu, April thought, in the way that one person always gains the upper hand and has the option to deliver an open-palm-punch straight to the other’s heart area. The boys jumped and kicked and laughed and said the word kiss without any hesitation. They said the word kiss so carelessly, tossing it up and then playfully punching and kicking it. April thought about kissing and wanted to feel the force of three seven-year-olds consistently punching her heart area for the rest of her life.
“Alright, cut it out boys.” April jogged from the front of the water fountain line to the back of the water fountain line to break up the gang of boys. At the site of April the boys froze mid punch and tried to affect a look of innocence. “Miss April we were only playing!” said Billy. “Yeah,” Madden cut in, pumping up his fists and grinning, “we were just playing kung fu.” April wanted to shout at the boys. Stop making my life difficult, she wanted to say. Or rather, stop adding to the difficulty of my life. Life felt like too much for April sometimes. She wanted to scream and cry like a child, only to be comforted by a version of her herself, Miss April, that would try to calm her or make her laugh. April wanted to non-ironically scream “FUCK EVERYONE” until she became light and floating, like a helium balloon.
April looked at Madden. Madden was pudgier than Billy or Conner. This made him cuter now but would surely morph into a disadvantage in later years. Madden was picking his nose and then smearing the boogers onto his shirt and then onto the wall. She had to get away from him. April knew that if she kept looking at Madden and his boogers she was going to become dangerous. As she watched Madden make abstract art with his boogers, April empathized with school bombers. She felt very capable of bombing a school or at least making an earnest bomb threat. April felt serious and non-sarcastic about bombing a school. She felt afraid of herself. “C’mon, boys,” She heard herself saying. “Let’s go inside and have snack time.” April’s voice was gentle and calm. “I think the snack for today is animal crackers but I can sneak some Scooby Snacks for you guys.”
Gabby Gabby (b. 1992) is the editor of Illuminati Girl Gang. She has work appearing in [PANK], 3am Magazine, The Scrambler , and various other publications. Her book, Alone With Other People, is forthcoming July 2013 via Civil Coping Mechanisms.