Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
DO NOT ENTER
She’d read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Euclid Beach, the famous amusement park, was being demolished. It would be open for two days to allow the curious one last look. And of course she was going. But not just yet. She wanted to experience the park alone, to have a tete a tete with The Laughing Lady, to peek inside The Fun House, to view The Flying Turns, one of four roller coasters. She wanted her memories to carry her away.
And visit she did.
She was no longer young. She no longer lived in the lovely four-bedroom house in Chagrin Falls, with her husband and six children. A home so lovely it was featured in a magazine with the front lawn made all of English ivy (“no mowing!” she laughed in the article) and an arbor covered with small English tea roses as guests traveled up the sidewalk to the house.
Her home now was an assisted living facility on “Death and Dying Row” as it was known. What did she care? Her life was over. Playing Bingo, exercising with Miss Pat who told her “you have the strongest legs here” and having wheelchair races out in the parking lot was hardly her idea of being alive. If she could snuff herself out like a candle, that she would, but the staff shadowed her and the other residents, so the idea became futile until now.
She wrote a note in her shaky handwriting and buried it in her lingerie drawer. What a laugh, she thought. Lingerie for the likes of her! What was she now, eighty-eight years old. Her daughter Leslie was apparently the one assigned to the bedroom attire category, while son Michael would bring her books to read. She was sorry she would not have a chance to finish “Around the World in Eighty Days” by Jules Verne. She hoped they would give it to someone who would appreciate it.
Buccaneer Manor was a hard place from which to escape. As its name implied, the theme of the place was cowboy lore. Posters of Roy Rogers, John Wayne and singing Gene Autry adorned the walls. After a rather delicious breakfast of a cheese omelet over whole wheat toast, she approached the aide.
They nodded to one another.
“Enjoy your breakfast, Mrs. Polenski?”
“As always, Angie. The food is the best part of this place.”
“How can I help you then,” asked Angie.
“I’d like to take a little stroll in the garden,” she said.
Angie said that would be fine. She was simply to wait a few moments while an unoccupied aide was fetched.
“I understand,” said Mrs. Polenski. “I’ll just be outside in the healthy sunshine.”
And so she walked out, free as a bird, picking up speed as she made her way with a silver cane, with a bird on top, her daughter Becky had bought her. Finally she made a turn where she knew she couldn’t be seen.
As she walked, she thought of all the dead Polish refugees killed by the Nazis in World War Two. Both she and her husband Janesch were Polish, here before the war, proud Polacks, who withstood the cruel jokes – “How many lightbulbs does it take?” – and becoming well-established in their city of Cleveland, Ohio.
Janesch was first apprenticed to a master printer and then finally bought his own print shop, where orders arrived unstoppable. This is how they bought their fancy house in Chagrin Falls, where she raised the six children.
Euclid Beach was getting closer. She could smell the fishy smell of Lake Erie and then heard the unmistakable sounds of the demolition machines. Her heart quickened. Ah, to see the old place again after forty years.
At Buccaneer, birdsong had been the cheerful sound at the home. Dozens of painted birdhouses swung in the yards and residents were permitted to go out and put food in the feeders. Food the squirrels could not get, though she knew back in Warsaw, where people were starving, people would eat anything, birds, rats, squirrels, anything to keep alive and defeat the bastards who wanted nothing more than to conquer the world and spread evil like black tar all across the land.
Indeed the sounds coming from the amusement park were like that of the war. Demolition instruments that exploded – she could even see the black smoke – but she wasn’t interested in that. Those were men’s things. All she wanted was to see her beloved park again.
As she approached, she found three machines that were so engrossed in their digging and swiveling around they paid no attention to her. Good. She made her way to The Laughing Lady and stood outside the glass window. With her hands on her hips, she commiserated with the Laughing Lady who soon would be silenced for all time.
It would be far too dangerous to step inside. Although she felt like a waltzing girl in Warsaw, Mrs. Polenski constantly had to remind herself she was an old lady.
There must be somewhere to sit. She was exhausted. A pine bench waited outside a ticket booth. She sat herself down and looked up at the sky. She and her children, when they were young, would play a game. What shapes were the clouds?
She was too nervous to think today. She tried to quiet the shaking of her hands by squeezing them together. The weather was as fine as it gets in the Cleveland suburbs, known for their sudden thunder storms that shook the houses, and yearly tornadoes where the sky turned a ghastly shade of purple.
She walked over to a refreshment stand and its faded sign, “Cotton Candy, Popcorn Balls, Fresh Peanuts, Hot Dogs, Candy Kisses.”
Those kisses were everyone’s favorite, the secret ingredient was vinegar – though if they stuck in your teeth and yanked out a filling, it was off to Benjamin Bell, dentist. You left his office with the flavor of Lavoris in your mouth and if you were a young ‘un, a prize from prize drawer.
Would she have the stamina to travel to the Flying Turns, the best of the roller coasters? Only one way to find out.
Mrs. Polenski picked up her cane and walked carefully along the strewn surface of the ground, pockmarked with every manner of litter to be found. It reminded her of photos she had seen on late night television of the surface of the moon.
You will not fall, you will not fall, she told herself, as she marched along, resting on benches, although it was difficult arising from them.
The Flying Turns looked nothing like in her memory. Certainly it was smaller than when she and the children waited behind the turnstile, which, as she approached, saw was missing. She craned her neck upward and remembered what her little Edward had said when he got off, “Mommy, I think I passed out on there.”
“Oh, hush up,” she had said. “What an imagination you have.”
Eddie had grown up to be a professor of art history at John Carroll University, a Catholic college, right there in Cleveland. He visited her to this day, but not with his sunny blond hair. He had gone completely bald.
Mrs. Polenski pulled her sweater around her with a shiver and walked slowly back to the entrance of Euclid Beach Park. Huge wrought-iron gates flickered under the sunlight in the distance. Ah, the beauty of this world. How she would miss it when the time came.
As she approached the fat, laughing lady, who looked, not like a witch, but rather like an old washerwoman dressed in a white apron – gone gray with age – over a red-checkered dress, a chill of loneliness floated over her.
“I hate being old!” she yelled out loud.
She thought no one could hear her.
She stepped inside the Fun House where barely any light penetrated. She knew what she would do. Carefully, she sat down in a cart, which in its heyday pulled thrillseekers along, spinning like a whirling dervish while screams of fright and laughter filled the darkness.
She felt the frayed strap that all were required to wear. She pulled it around her waist, like her dad or one of her older siblings had done for her. Closing her eyes and leaning her head back, she fell asleep. It mattered not what happened to her. Preferably, though, she hoped the Fun House would be her tomb.
Her cries had been heard. One of the excavating machines had stopped a moment to recalibrate.
How, wondered Ralph, had anybody gotten in? They’d used enough yellow caution tape to wind to California and back. With the two other machine operators, they searched the grounds, heading toward the center of the scream.
There she was strapped up in the seat of The Fun House. The three men and their families had all taken many a trip to Euclid Beach Park. At first they thought it was a sacrilege coming here to destroy it, but damn, the money was fine.
Shining a flashlight on Mrs. Polenski, Ralph watched her snore, a loud man-sized snore that shook her old body. He, Sonny and Mike began to laugh out loud. She woke up with a start.
“Oh, for Chrissakes,” she said. “What a way to wake me. I was having the best dream of my life.”
They were all silent a moment.
“I dreamt I’d gone to Euclid Beach Park and was eating a hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut.”
The men laughed. She was angry.
“Tell you what,” said Ralph. “We’re gonna drive you home, wherever that is, but first we’ll stop at Levy’s Hot Dog Stand and buy you whatever you want.”
Finally, the old woman smiled.
“I’d like that,” she said. “I’d like that very much.”
She even got them to promise they’d visit her once a month in Buccaneer Manor.