First I remember the silence. I remember the silence before I remember the noise even though the noise came before the silence. It was bone-chilling. It was hair-raising. It was blood-curdling. At one point, my friend turned to me and said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, till human voices wake us and we drown.”
My friend had a point. Like if I didn’t think about it. Like if I thought only of nothing and nothingness. Like if I put myself into a trance. Like if I followed the flight of a bumblebee or just looked at all those super sun drenched blonde girls in short shorts and mid midriffs waiting on line with us-like if I just thought about one of my favorite things-I probably wouldn’t feel so scared.
We got closer and closer. “Think of the girls we’re meeting tonight,” my friend said. “Think how impressed they’ll be when you tell them you were on Windy Mountain.
He was right about doing this for the girls. I usually had nothing to say to girls. Talking to girls usually made me more nervous than jumping off Windy Mountain in a row boat.
We got closer. We got in our boats and moved slowly through a haunted forest—squirrels and birds sang in a haunting tone as if warning us of impending danger. The late afternoon light blinded us-boats in front of us kept disappearing into the void.
That night we went out to dinner with my friend and two girls he knew from work. Their names were Maxi and Roxy. The only reason I could tell the difference between them at first was because Maxi was a waitress in a diner during the day and still had her name tag over her dress. My friend introduced me as so and so from New York vacationing in L.A., which wasn’t exactly true, so, happy to at last have something to say, I said, “That’s not exactly true,” to which Roxy said, “Oh you mean it’s not exactly true that you’re vacationing or that you’re from New York or that your name is . . .”
“Not exactly vacationing,” I said.
“He’s also attending a conference for college English teachers.”
“That’s so exciting,” Maxi said.
I looked at the table next to us where people were talking and laughing and drinking and apparently having a good time.
“So what did you fellas do today?” Roxy suddenly asked. “I mean besides going to an English teachers conference.”
“We went to Adventure Land,” my friend said.
“Adventure Land!” Maxi exclaimed. “Oh, I just love Adventure Land.”
“Aren’t you guys just a tad too old . . .” Roxy said.
“No one’s too old for Adventure Land!” Maxi said so loud the people at the next table went completely quiet for a moment as if they had just heard a disturbing announcement over the loud speaker.
“I haven’t been to Adventure Land since I was about 12,” Roxy said.
“That’s your loss,” Maxi said. The people at the next table had gone back to having a good time.
“My friend here seemed to need a little excitement after a long morning of boring lectures on the English language so I decided to take him to Windy Mountain,” my friend said.
“Windy Mountain! exclaimed Maxi. “Well, now you’re talking!”
“Yeah,” Roxy admitted. “Now you’re talking.” My friend looked at me like you- see- now- we’re- talking.
“So how’d you like it?” Maxi enquired.
“Yeah,” Roxy said, her interest a bit more peaked now. “So how’d you like it?”
“The squirrels were terrifying,” I said. Roxy laughed. Maxi giggled.
“But the ride. That final . . .whoops!”-she said– is everything isn’t it?”
“The whoops is everything,” my friend said.
“Just give me that whoops every time!” shouted Maxi. “That’s all I need.”
After she said this, one of the guys at the next table began to ignore the people at his own table and just look at us and at the girls in particular.
“Yeah, it was a great ride all right,” my friend said.
“What about you?” Roxy asked me. “Did you enjoy it?”
“Well. . .” I looked at my friend. He looked back at me, one eyebrow raised as if to say, “Hey it’s your call, but just remember girls like this don’t come along every day.”
But I couldn’t lie. If I know something is not true, I have a hard time making it seem like it is. That’s why I could never be a fiction writer. I’d be too self-conscious- it would always seem too obvious I was making things up.
“Well, to tell you the truth,” I said. “We were evacuated.”
“Evacuated?” Maxi asked.
“You mean,” Roxy said, as if to explain to Roxy what evacuated meant, “it never happened? You were removed from the ride?
“Yes,” I said. “A bunch of elves came over and removed us from the boat.
“What a shame,” Maxi said.
Roxy said nothing. She just looked at me like– despite the fact I went to a college English teacher’s conference in the morning– there might be something to me yet.
“What do you think of that, Roxy?” Maxi asked.
Everyone waited anxiously to know what Roxy thought-even the guy from the other table.
“Pretty cool,” said Roxy.
“I’ve been on this ride hundreds of time,” my friend said. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Wow, evacuated,” Roxy said. There’s something kind of . . .
“Disappointing” filled in Maxi. “Weren’t you disappointed?” she asked me in particular.
“Well . . .” I said.
“No!” Roxy said. “ It’s kind of . . . sexy to be evacuated,” she said putting her hand on my thigh.
“Right!” I told her and the more I told her the more her hand kept moving up and down my thigh. “It’s like everyone expects the plunge. You know—that inevitable plunge—you get closer and closer and then . . .”
“Nothing!” Maxi said.
“You’re evacuated!” Roxy said.
“It’s really no big deal,” my friend said.
“Well,” I said. “It is a little bit like . . .”
“Exactly.” said Roxy.
“I mean you can’t help thinking that the whole time,” I said.
“You get closer and closer . . .”
“To nothing,” Maxi said.
“No, no, Maxi,” Roxy said. “You’re missing the whole point. It’s not like that at all.”
“I think what Roxy’s talking about, “I said, “is that moment right before evacuation.” I could feel her hand moving further up my leg.
“I don’t get it,” Maxi said.
“You know,” Roxy said. “You’re not there yet. You’re almost there. You think all sorts of things but you’re not there yet and the whole time you’re not there yet you’re thinking how great it’s gonna be and the closer you get the more excited you get and then just like that . . .”
“You’re evacuated,” I said.
“And that way. . .” Roxy said.
“You’re never disappointed,” I said.
“That all depends on how you define “evacuation,” said the guy from the other table-the guy who had lost interest in his own table and had been listening to ours instead.
“Did you say definition?” Maxi wanted to know.
Then he pushed his chair a little further from his own table and a little closer to ours.
“Yes,” the guy from the other table said. “Definition. You should know the definition of a word before you start throwing it around in your head like it means something it doesn’t really mean.”
Then I recognized him. He was the guy who gave a lecture that morning at the college English teachers conference on the art of definition entitled “What Does it All Mean?”
“There are other factors . . .” I started to say but he just kept on talking like he had done this morning at the conference when no one could get in a word edgewise. I would most likely have to wait for a question and answer period at the end.
“You see,” he said. “You really have to be removed from an imminently endangered area in order for this removal to qualify as evacuation.”
“But most likely we were in danger,” I said.
“Not real danger,” he said. “Fake danger. Ill-defined danger.”
“Maybe we should just order dessert,” my friend said. I mean who really cares . . .”
“I care,” Roxy said, suddenly removing her hand from my thigh and putting it on the guy from the other table’s instead.
“Well if there’s no danger, “said Roxy. “I mean I’m not saying you have to go through with it—I mean make the plunge-but still if there’s no danger, no edge to it then . . .well then,” said Roxy, “it’s not that. . .well you might as well make the plunge.”
“Yeah, the whoops,” Maxi added.
“There is no evacuation if there’s no danger,” said the guy from the other table. “That’s the point.”
“Hey, but that’s a good point,” said Maxi. “I think.”
“No. It damn well is,” Roxy said.
“Look,” I said. “What about connotation? What about the feeling or emotion a word gives you-I mean it sure felt like we were being—uh, evacuated,” I said.“ This is when I started to get a little weak in the confidence department. I looked at my friend and all he was doing was trying to get the waitresses’ attention to order dessert.
Then my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “Whatever you do don’t mention the elves again.”
“Well,” the guy from the other table said, “there is also the other definition of evacuation, the second definition, you know definition number two which of course is the discharge of waste matter.”
I was doomed. I knew I had lost Roxy but maybe Maxi . . .so I looked deep into Maxi’s eyes and it was like looking into a long dark empty tunnel -like the one we had to walk through after we were “removed” from Windy Mountain—where the only thing we knew that was waiting on the other side was the other side.
“Ohh! Yuk!” said Maxi. “It’s like evacuating before being evacuated.”
“Like premature evacuation you might say,” Roxi said.
“Hey,” Maxi said to the guy from the other table. “Why don’t you sit here with us. I mean unless. . .”
“Oh, sure,” the guy from the other table said. “I don’t really know those people anyway since they all removed their name tags.”
So he got up to sit at our table instead, but there weren’t enough chairs. We called over the waitress to see if we could squeeze in another chair. For the time being he was a man without a table, seemingly lost, yet his intellectual and emotional grip on all of us was undeniable and it was I who began to feel tableless, as if any moment I might be pushed off my own chair-the one I had been sitting on all night. And I wasn’t far from wrong.
As soon as the waitress came with another chair, she squeezed it in between my friend and me. It was only a matter of moments before I had trouble breathing like I was running out of air. “Are you all right?” I heard someone ask me but I think my head was already down on the table. I remember thinking I didn’t want to give any details of my condition because I was afraid I might use the wrong or misleading terminology-exaggerate or distort my symptoms and have everything I say contradicted by the guy from the other table. I began to think that way about everything. I began to think that maybe my life had been wrongly defined that the things I had done I had done yet not really done or at least not in the way I had described them to others or even myself. What was to stop me from thinking or speaking like that for the rest of my life? And it wasn’t just definition I feared but derivation, origin; in other words where I did I really come from? Who was I really and where would I end up? I thought about going home but was home really what I thought it was or did it mean something different than what I thought it did and if I began to think differently about it if I changed my definition would I ever be able to get there again?
Oh, had I wished now that I took that plunge down Windy Mountain-how simpler-how more accurately defined things would have been! Then my head began to spin. I began to imagine squirrels and birds and little elves coming over and escorting me away from the table.
After what seemed like several minutes, I said I was fine but I don’t think anyone believed me. When I picked up my head again I saw the guy from the other table already eating dessert-dessert probably meant for me. Then my friend said to the whole table but looking at me the whole time-“You know I think he might need to be evacuated.” Everyone laughed. Even people at other tables in the far reaches of the restaurant seemed to be laughing. My friend seemed to have betrayed me for one last cheap joke.
All seemed lost. I picked my head up and said I had to leave but that I would leave on my own. However, my friend said he’d come with me. Then he turned to the girls and the guy from the other table and said, “I’ll be back.”
As I walked away I could see Roxy’s hand on the left thigh of the guy from the other table and Maxi’s hand on his right thigh. Then I heard Roxy say,” I will never think or speak the same way about anything again. You’ve changed my life forever.”
“Ditto,” I heard Maxi said.
Once outside, my friend said, “Look, it was your call, but I warned you.”
“Warned me of what?” I asked him.
“That being evacuated or whatever the hell we were might not go over so well.”
“Is that what one raised eyebrow meant?” I asked him.
“Exactly,” he said. “You have to know the signals.
“I guess I’m screwed if I don’t know the signals,” I told him.
“That’s the only way you’ll get screwed tonight,” he reminded me. “But hey,” he said. “There’s always tomorrow.”
But there was no tomorrow, at least not in the dictionary definition of “tomorrow,” that is “the day following today,” for within the narrow confines of that tomorrow, I reminded him, I was going home—“the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered”-the second definition of “home”-the closest one to where I wanted to be going and the one I hoped would be enough to get me there.
Photograph © Still from Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another
About Mitch Levenberg
Mitch Levenberg has published short stories, essays and reviews in such publications as Fiction magazine, The Saint Ann’s Review, The Common Review, Fine Madness, The Delta Review, The Same Press, Big City Lit.com, MiddlebrowMagazine.com, The Cream City Review, and others. His book of stories titled “Principles of Uncertainty and Other Constants” was published in 2006. He teaches Literature and Writing at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, NY.