"You'll buy a funnel cake," Jessica says, "take two bites, say it's too sweet like you always say, and throw it away like you always do." She's mad about last night, when I microwaved a hot dog wrapped in tinfoil; it left a blur of electric blue and a trail of flames.
We live in a two-bedroom house in midtown Memphis. Our toilet leaks. I want to fix it, but my plumbing know-how starts and ends with the Mario Brothers. "The can is like your dad," I tell Jessica, "a cranky bastard who doesn't work."
"He's retired," she says, "and that's a clunky analogy." She'd know; she scored Highest Honors on her literature thesis: "I made William Faulkner my bitch."
Jessica teaches eighth grade English at White Station. I work on the phone, selling printer cartridges for a company out of Olive Branch. After we first got married, we'd spend our Tuesdays and Thursdays at Billy Hardwicks, Jessica hitting strikes and spares, her burnt almond hair bobbing in pigtails, her purple pajama pants low against her waist, and her checkered pizza parlor bowling shoes flopping, two sizes too big. "You're dressed for a slumber party on hallucinogens," I'd say. She'd fix me with her green eyes and a little curl of a smile, creasing the constellation of freckles over her nose like a secret whispered: Save this.
Listen to the chh against the windows. With this rain, we won't have to wait in line for the Zippin Pippin.
"Are you serious?" She jangles the rusted lever of the toilet. "We need to buy a new microwave."
I crouch and study the water valve. I twist it clockwise; I don't know what I'm doing but I'm doing it.
"If I get this thing to stop leaking," I say, "we go to Libertyland. If I don't, we get the microwave."
She wipes tile grime off her jeans. "You've got a deal, bub."
The water dribbles in tiny, persistent droplets. I turn it tighter. And tighter, until I can't turn it anymore. "There."
"How long do we wait?"
"Let's say a minute."
Please don't drip.
She crosses her thin arms and gives a sideways glance at her slip of a watch.
Please don't drip.
The air conditioner clanks.
"You win," she says.
"Put on your sexy clothes, your purple pajama pants, your bowling shoes. Let's go nuts."
"I hope you don't think my bowling shoes are sexy."
Her lips do the little curl and I kiss them; she tastes of salt and sweat.
The rain falls like a mist. I'm wearing a yellow poncho and Jessica tells me I look like the man from Curious George. I slosh through puddles on the concrete pathway leading into the park, my blue jeans turning black at the ankles. We see the Zippin Pippin, its empty red carriages under a low-hanging canopy, its wet wooden spirals stretching up into the foam sky.
A black man in a khaki hat approaches Jessica and me and tells us Libertyland is tearing down the ride, selling it, moving it to another town. "What you should do is play my pop-a-shot game," he says, "and win something for your girlfriend."
Her palm is slippery as it sinks into mine. "I guess I'm your girlfriend now."
The balls are puckered blimps in my damp hands. The hoops are too small, but I want to defy the laws of physics. I miss. Rain beads down Jessica's freckled nose. I look at the ring on her finger; it's a white band with a winking diamond. "Let's go home," I tell her. "This place is dead."
"Wait." She points her sleeve at a clapboard stand dressed in stars and stripes: Funnel Cake. "You want some, don't you?"
It will chalk my lips white. It will fluff my nostrils in sugar. It will make my stomach groan.
Jessica pulls a bill from the kangaroo pouch of her sweatshirt. "Go," she says, squeezing the money into my hand.