By SARAH WU
Waking up is like falling down a rollercoaster. In the crowded amusement park, this is what I tell my brother and mother and father. The sky is lined with the curling edge of sunset, warm oranges and yellows blending into the clouds. It makes the outlines of my family into something warm and soft.
My brother snorts at my statement and looks away.
I want to say something rasping, sharp. I instead say, When you were younger, you had hypnic jerks that took over your limbs and caused you to convulse like a puppet jerking on a string. When you woke up, you would gasp that you were falling. You should know about falling while waking up.
He mutters something about ridiculousness. I open my mouth again, but on the other side, my mother presses her hand on my shoulder. Her gentle outline is unfamiliar with the sharp grace of the growing shadows.
She says, Stop dreaming, silly, and she really means, There’s never time after you both left for college, but we are here together now. So stop.
I shake off her hand and look away.
The amusement part is filled with things that are more metallic than bright: strips of LED lights flash across the steel winding structure of rollercoasters; the plastic sheen of the Ferris wheel cars that tip and shiver with the creaking machinery. Shoulders brush against our own with a ghostly presence — without any substance, but still there.
Our family stops by the row of stalls with carnival games. There are dangling stuffed animals filled with plastic beads, rows of bright orange basketballs and wiry hoops, the tinny sound of the announcer’s voice — Come right up! Win a prize for only a few dollars!
My father ambles toward the prizes. He turns back to my brother and me, a wistful smile on his face. Do you remember when we used to bring you both to amusement parks? I won that massive teddy bear for both of you.
I say, That was more than ten years ago. I was eight.
My brother says, I was six.
He sticks his hands in his pockets and adds, Also, you kept on missing the basketball shots. You said you spent 30 dollars on a cheap plastic stuffed animal, and I thought I wasted all your money and that was all of our money and we couldn’t buy any food anymore, and my dad says, Oh, and laughs and shrugs.
We end up walking past the carnival games and rollercoaster rides. We decide to ride the swing carousel, and when I am up in the air alone, I dangle my feet from the seat hundreds of feet in the air and pretend that I am flying. Below, the people are ants and I imagine destroying entire homes in one step.
At the end of the day, exhaustion swallows when we return to the car. My family’s breathing creates a living creature, rumbling and sucking in air. It is a comforting, lullaby-like sound, easy to fall asleep to, and that’s what I do, my head tilted uncomfortably to the side.
I dream back to the time when my mother cut slivers from cardboard boxes — brown, sturdy little things — and place them into brother’s shoes. That way, when the attendant passed by, my brother was just tall enough (Not a centimeter over! the attendant would exclaim) to ride the largest rollercoaster. The gates! someone would cry, They’re opening! and in we rushed through, surrounded by the flickering trails of lights circling the ride. The plastic seats shone. Help me up! my brother would announce, and I would gently gather my brother’s hands and hoist him up — there you go! I said, and he would beam so brightly that I told him he smiled just like the amusement park, glittering and silver-sweet. When the seatbelt came down, he didn’t let go of my hand, and this was how we soared through the stars, our hands warm and sweaty, as we rose up, up, up! into the air and forever pressed by the skies’ soft exhale.
But the dusky, shimmering sky is too large and beautiful for any sky that I know in real life, and this is when I realize that I am perhaps more like my father than I thought, a dreamer of the past. It is surprisingly less heartbreaking than I think it would be, to remember the present, perhaps because I know that the way I remember my brother — slight and cheeky and brilliant — was never how he truly was.
In the sparkling expanse of night sky, I turn to the dream version of my brother; I tell him — it is okay. You don’t have to stay. He grins and glimmers sadly and says — dreamers don’t usually remember what they dream — and I want to ask him what he means, but we have climbed to the top of the ride, and I already know it is too late. The last thing I feel is his touch, his hand still clutching mine, and the rollercoaster/dream jerks/falls —
— and I gasp
When I wake up, it is dark. I am in the container of the car leaving the amusement park, and my cheek is pressed against the icy glass of the window. The sky is coldly bright and clear. Outside, the trees are already dressed in hints of magnificent golds and reds and oranges that swirl past branches and carpet the bare grounds, lit by moonlight puddling.
How was your nap? my brother next to me asks, offhandedly. His face is lit up quietly in the glow of his phone. I try to remember what I was dreaming about, and I only remember sweet stickiness lingering, like a piece of sugar candy long dissolved.
It was okay, I say, and he nods, not listening. Our conversation ends. In silence, we sit in the back of the car, and behind our reflections against our respective windows, the colorful leaves celebrate the arrival of another new season, another fall passing and awakening.