Photos by Lisa. Text by Mike.
The ride was called Sizzler. A rollercoaster with giant loops in the middle. Upside down for seven seconds at a time. Long enough to see God, his friend Jose had said at school.
The carnies came once a year, selling bland churros and crowding animals under a circus tent. He’d been too small to ride last summer, but his father made him a promise. If you grow. Now his father was out-of-town (again). He was at the fair alone. The biggest attraction was the Ferris wheel. Girls in his class rode it together, squeezed in side-by-side. He imagined being latched in there with them.
What would he do?
A few feet away, blocking his path to the ticket booth, stood a giant woman holding a pink parasol. Something crazy about her. She kept the parasol perfectly perpendicular to her body. The sun cast her silhouette against the wall behind her. He watched this shadow instead of the woman. It felt safer.
It was almost dusk. Mothers taking their children home. Teenagers won’t show up to ride bumper cars and drink beer for another hour. Just him and the woman remained, though he could hear sporadic screams coming from a distant ride. He took a step closer. He needed tickets to ride the Sizzler.
She was a giantess.
The woman stooped down at the waist. Her nose inches from his face. The parasol remained rigid beside her.
“Would you like to know when your father will leave?” she asked.
“He’s gone,” the boy answered.
“That’s true,” the woman said, shaking her head, “but I mean forever.”
She stood upright, momentarily blocking out the sun, and reached to a little table beside her. She lifted a yellow saucer and light blue mug, perched them right below the boy’s face. He expected to see hot cocoa but instead there was a clock inside. He hadn’t heard its ticking but now the sound reverberated in his head. When he looked inside the mug a second time it was empty.
“As long as you hear that sound,” the giantess said, “you’ll know your father is alive.”
That night in bed he tries to imagine the cars of the Sizzler racing through the loops—to picture himself hanging on for dear life—but his head echoes with a steady tick . . .tick . . .tick . . . tick . . . and he can’t focus. His father still isn’t home, but as long as he hears that sounds he knows he eventually will be.
Filed under: Library | Tags: collaboration, fiction, mike bunn, pittsburgh, polaroid, spectra
This summer, I thought I’d switch it up a bit and feature a collaboration project each month: my friend Mike’s fiction paired with my photographs – or we may get tricky and he’ll send me a fiction piece and I’ll take photographs interpreting the text. This is the first in the series and I’m excited to see what we come up with these next few months.
City of Bridges
She brought a book when she came to a new city as a filter between herself and people who might want to know her. These outings were one-day affairs. She’d take a bus to the downtown and scour maps at the station, searching for the tallest points within walking distance. She never asked for directions. Her feet grew tired searching for elevation. She loved hilltops and bridges. Places the breeze whipped her red hair and licked at her neck, the way he had that summer and didn’t any longer.
She would stand on the bridge and imagine the photographs she could take, the angles and exposures. Sometimes she waited for sunset. Waiting. Listening to the sounds of traffic or birds and anticipating the wash of colors that would douse this temporary city. She never brought a camera, just the book, and she would use its pages on the hottest days to shield her face from the sun.
That summer they’d gone swimming in the public pool near his apartment. They spread faded beach towels on the damp concrete, two strips of fabric forming one. She could feel his hip press into hers when he flipped onto his stomach. She wore large-rimmed sunglasses. He talked about chemistry and honey bees. She watched as he carefully descended the metal latter and slipped underwater—out of sight—a preview of things to come.
The bridge she was standing on now was quiet. There wasn’t much of a breeze. She could still smell the chlorine of that swimming pool, feel the weight of her swimsuit after she’d soaked it in the bathroom sink, rinsing chemicals from the cloth the way she’d rinsed them from her hair the way he’d rinsed her from his life.
She turned away from the city and leaned her back against the metal railing, looking into the two-lane street in front of her. There were railroad tracks on the other side of the bridge and she imagined a longer journey, one that would take weeks or months or longer. She imagined sleeping in her seat on the train and waking in Paris or Istanbul or Sarajevo, clutching a book she would read in a nearby park a few blocks from the train station.
Michael Bunn teaches writing, media and pop culture at the University of Southern California. He is also the scarecrow who married Jeff and me at our Halloween wedding.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: homestead, mystery, polaroid, river town, rust belt, spectra
The first place I lived was on E. 9th Avenue in Homestead. My father worked at US Steel, a few blocks away, and my mother worked the front desk at the downtown Hilton. The mill is now closed – replaced by mall development – and so is the Hilton, a ghostly structure overlooking the Point where three rivers meet. The house though is still there, and it’s for sale; on Sunday, Jeff and I stood in front of it, imagining what it would be like to live there. I remember the dark, wooden bannister leading up to the third floor apartment where my aunt Linda lived; the fireplace in the front room where a Pepsi bottle exploded, shattering glass over my hair (this memory, my mother told me enough times it feels like mine). There were blue beaded curtains in my bedroom instead of a door. When Jeff asked me what it looks like inside, I tried to explain how the rooms were all cast in blue – that same blue that seems to cover all of Western Pennsylvania on most days: cloudy, chance of rain, a part of my historical landscape.
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: 31st bridge, polaroid, pz680, spectra, strip district
Sometimes there isn’t a plan: you get in the car, pick a direction and go. We choose west along Route 65, the Ohio River. Past Coraopolis (my hometown), and more company river towns that I’ve never lived in, yet feel as if I know. A derelict American Bridge Company building that I always think about sneaking into and exploring when we pass it, a four-story bowling alley. Green bridges dot the landscape. We stop at Sheetz to scarf down mac and cheese bites and Red-Hot chips, knowing we may regret it later. We continue driving to a Beaver Falls junk store and get lucky, finding a book on hypnotism. I know this route well because we’ve traveled it so many times, but each time I try to see it differently, vowing to take the pictures that I’ve only imagined, but have yet to do. It’s only when we get closer to home, my camera still full of film, that I make Jeff stop under the 31st St. Bridge. The shadows are so strong from the setting sun; I can’t resist the urge to jump out of the car and capture the light before it disappears over the horizon.
Filed under: Art Gallery | Tags: books, keys, natural light, old letters, robots, studio space
My “studio” is a narrow strip of space in front of Jeff’s workshop. Separated by a retractable wall, one can find me shooting my photo-a-day projects on one side, while Jeff is sanding/sawing away on the other. My equipment: a camera, an object and natural light; it isn’t fancy. I styled the photos in our store-front windows, or right on the floor in front of the glass door. The roughly finished pine makes a great backdrop. It’s such a tiny angle though that I often have to curl up on my knees, balancing on elbows to steady camera (or just set it eye-level on the floor with the objects) to get certain shots (see: “toy army”). Which is how it got its “magic window” moniker via Sarah: that intense afternoon light cutting through the large front windows gives ordinary house tchotchkes lives of their own.