The fire in Peter’s belly flared with every twist and drop. Maybe hopping onto a roller coaster the day after he got out of the hospital wasn’t such a great idea.
But if he didn’t do it today … well, when? There might not be a tomorrow. Almost certainly wouldn’t be a next week.
The tumor wasn’t shrinking any more, was starting to grow again, in fact. The doctors said there was no use flooding his body with chemicals. They were killing him faster than the cancer, which would take him soon enough.
Eventually, the bastard would grow right up under his rib cage, crush his lungs.
Something to look forward to, he supposed.
For today, there was the searing pain, but also the rush of the wind against his skin, the warmth of the sun on his face. He would have to talk to his family soon, tell them the truth, but that could wait a few hours more.
By the time the coaster finally lost power and glided to a stop at the station, Peter was feeling good, better than he had in months.
It was amazing what a little fresh air and carefree fun could do for a guy.
He climbed out of his car and nearly bumped into a man fiddling with something on his wrist. It took a few seconds for it to register with Peter — it was a watch, and the fella was winding it.
How long had it been since Peter had seen a wind-up watch? He couldn’t even remember.
“Watch it, kid,” the man said as he looked up just in time to avoid a collision with Peter.
Peter frowned. Kid?
Before he could think any more about the strange greeting, a hand wrapped around his shoulder and pushed him to one side. He turned to find a young blond woman towering over him, two children at her side.
“You’ve had your turn, sonny,” she said. “Let the rest of us have a shot, will you?” She wore a long dress, and her hair was done up in curls and pins even though it was the middle of summer. And there was something else about her that Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Suddenly, he was swept up in a sea of a thousand legs, and the sun was blocked out by the crowd, every one of them taller than him. He had no choice but to walk along with them until they finally dispersed and dumped him out at the head of a bustling midway.
Men in brimmed hats and women in heels and dresses walked side-by-side with slick-haired boys and penny-loafer girls. They stopped to eat Dreamsicles or run through funhouses … and all of them were missing something.
What was it?
Peter fairly floated down the boulevard until he stood in front of the strong-man bell-ringer, manned by a clown with a big red nose.
“What’s it gonna be, kid?” the clown asked. “You going to try your luck?”
He stuck his big nose right up in Peter’s face, and that’s when Peter figured it out — that nose should have been red, but it wasn’t .
It was a drab brown-gray, same as the clown’s shoes. Same as the polka dots on his pants.
Peter took a step back and looked at the people passing by. All of them looked happy, and the scene was idyllic, but the entire canvas was rendered in sepia tones — all the color was gone.
A siren sounded to his right, and he looked back to the roller coaster entrance where a sparkling new red-and-white ambulance screeched to a stop. The paramedics jumped out and ran toward a crowd gathered around a prone figure on the platform.
The medics wore bright blue uniforms, and the fallen man wore a bright green shirt — it was Peter’s favorite color.
“Peter!” a voice called to his left, at the other end of the midway.
He snapped his head in that direction and was flabbergasted to see his mother standing there beside the Tilt-a-Whirl, young and beautiful. She wore a bright yellow dress, and even from that distance, her deep blue eyes twinkled at Peter in the golden sun.
“Come ride with me, Peter!” she said, smiling and beckoning with a hand.
“Well … what’s it gonna be, kid?” the clown repeated. “You gonna take a chance?”
The lifeless nose was in Peter’s face again, and the pain burned bright in his gut.
“Come, Peter!” his mother called like sweet music in his left ear.
Tears filled his eyes. There would be time enough for them to ride together later on. For the moment, he had obligations to take care of.
“Not today,” Peter said to the clown. “But I’ll be back.”
He grabbed his belly and opened his eyes.
“Back to the hospital?” he asked the paramedic standing over him.
“Afraid so,” the young man said. “Want me to call your family?”
Peter nodded. It was time.