The father wanted to go to the top. The boy wanted to back up, but it was too late to back up. They were forty steps into her gown. The herd behind them pushed them upward, forward. It was a cave of smells now (dust, sweat, foot powder, makeup), cooked by the heat of the spotlights. Shoes clonked on the planks. The steps wound round and round. Was the father thinking about the mother left behind? The father had other things on his mind. Maybe that was why the boy needed to sit down and rest. If the father had done his share of the work, the boy wouldn't have had to worry for two.
The mother trembled inside the gift shop on the ground. The boy felt her down there, even if he couldn't see her face. He didn't need eyes for that. Her heartbeat—he heard it. Her posture—he felt it in his back. She smelled a little like starch—or bread, but bread taken out of the oven too soon.
Then the father and he were in the crown. The room was so tight that he looked up at the father, who didn't look down. Legs knocked him this way and that. He couldn't get to the window. They were at the top of the world now. Only the torch was higher. People were shoving him toward the back. They wanted the windows. There was something to see down there and they were going to get to it, no matter what it took. But when the stranger carried him forward, lifting him up under the armpits— where had the father gone?—he didn't see the mother he'd hoped to see. All he saw was some girl, some fleck in the grass. She raised her fist, held the invisible book to her chest, as if laughing at the statue that cast a shadow on her.
They got down, the father and the boy. Somehow they made it without falling through the gown. But where was the mother? There was no mother. And when the boy looked up at his father to see how he felt about this, the father smiled, eyes drifting to the take out stand. Would you like a hot dog? he said.
The boy shook his head yes, though he didn't want a hot dog.
Then order it yourself, the father said, as if such a thing were obvious.
The boy took the dollar and put it on the counter. In minutes a hot dog was passed over to him. It lay in its bun, in a crinkled paper boat, with a red checkerboard pattern. A pump of yellow paint sat on the counter, and the boy wondered why anyone would want to paint a hot dog bright yellow.
Still, that didn't stop him from pumping the handle with abandon, splashing himself.
Where is my husband? the voice said. I lost my husband. What did they do with my husband?
It was the mother. crying so hard, she didn't feel the boy tugging at her jacket. She didn't see the yellow paint all over his face, which felt like another end. It tasted of mustard, and he kept on eating it off his fingers, waiting for her to look at him again.
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