Leslie Doyle teaches first year writing at Montclair State University. Her work has appeared in Cobalt, Front Porch, MARY (which awarded her their 2015 ​​Editor's Prize for Fiction), Gigantic Sequins, The Fourth River, and elsewhere. She lives in New Jersey, home of many boardwalks

​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

L E S L I E   D O Y L E

                T H E   B O A R D W A L K   H A S   M A N Y   T R A P D O O R S  :  A   G U I D E

1.    Well, the obvious one first. For the crying child being dragged by the arm of the tired adult. She’s half-sick from whirling on the Teacups ride, and still wants to go on the Sea Serpent. If she does, partly-digested fried Oreos will be spewed on the patrons below. This trapdoor takes the faller to a world of peace—the usual rainbows and unicorns, of course, but also a quieter field of purple cosmos, tall enough to wave gently in the breeze over one’s head. When he returns, the father will pick up the child and sing to it. 

2.    For that guy who’s spent forty-three dollars trying to win a ten dollar stuffed great white shark for his girlfriend. The fall will be a hard one.

3.    That one outside the T-shirt shop—the shop that displays the ordinary offensive/sexist shirts on the outside. You need to go in, look back toward the opening in front, to see the Confederate flag shirts hung above the opening; shoppers walk, oblivious, under a rainbow of them as they enter. You turn around, and maybe you laugh. Or you’re a little embarrassed. You think your cousin back home would love one. Do you have the nerve to carry it up to the counter, to pay for that—it’s a joke, right? No one here means it. It’s New Jersey, for fuck’s sake. But you don’t buy it. You’re fairly proud of yourself. You do know better. You reach for the “Watch the Tramcar, Please” t-shirt instead, but at the last minute, you buy the other one, too. You walk outside with both tucked under your arm, and then--Wham! You never see it coming. The door drops open under your feet. Your picture is posted on the walls of vacant buildings for months, before the paper disintegrates in the rain. None of the “Call this number” tabs that fringe the bottom have been plucked off.

4.    That’s not one that the roller coaster is plunging toward, into the darkness beneath the amusement pier. It’s an opening cut in the wooden floor of the pier; the cars filled with screaming patrons zooming almost to the sand beneath the pier before rising up to the next hill. Just part of the ride. You really need to be able to tell the difference.

5.    The young girl, she’s ten or so, holding her hand up to her mouth. She just rode the Scrambler, the wild jerks of its gyration whipping her face into the metal safety bar. Her trapdoor throws her down a long, long tunnel. There are flashes of scenes along the way, going by too fast to recognize anything, faces blurred, colors swirling. She lands on a bouncing safety pillow, the kind at the end of the giant slide. The one she didn’t go on, because her parents only gave each child enough tickets for two rides, and she chose the Scrambler and the Ferris wheel. She was too afraid to go on the wheel, after they took her tickets. Her father got into a huge fight with the ticket guy, to no avail. Her mother pulled her over to the Scrambler, which looked dangerous, and said, “C’mon, it’ll be fun,” and it was, till she cracked her tooth. 

You look at her, and you think she looks familiar. You go up to her, extend a hand to help her up, but you don’t brush her off; that would be weird. Instead, you tell her to be careful about things like what rides to choose, and what flags to wear.
Your hand goes up to cover your own chipped tooth, a reflex you’ve never outgrown.