I finally submitted an entry for NPR’s 3 minute fiction contest. The rules are: 600 words or less, one charachter has to tell a joke and one has to cry. I had two entries, but could only submit one. Here’s the one that didn’t make the cut:
The Big Wheel
“I might pass out,” I gasped.
“Don’t think about how high up we are,” James tried to reassure me. “What a beautiful view.”
James had been hesitant to go to Paris at first, not being much of a traveler. But I had dreamed of this trip, and any time he would suggest a city in the States my one word response was: “Paris.”
Finally we arrived. James was clearly in love.
I was shocked at the garbage, graffiti, panhandlers. Despite parts of it being beautiful, it was still a city with the same challenges we saw at home.
I tended to do this – to build up my expectations too high, and so I occasionally managed to create devastating disappointments for myself. I always thought the grass was greener elsewhere and didn’t seem to learn that lesson easily.
Despite my acute fear of heights, I let him talk me into going up in the Ferris wheel, La Grande Roué at Jardin de Tuileries, in an effort to renew the romantic mystique I could no longer find. But it was too late, the curtain had been pulled back.
James began to tell jokes to distract me. “What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?”
“Elephino,” I gulped. “New one, please.”
“Okay.” He thought for a moment, “What’s the quickest way to a man’s heart?”
“Just smile. That’s how you won my heart.”
I rolled my eyes. “I was already fighting getting sick.”
He gave a weak grin and I realized guiltily that he was being earnest. “Any others?” I asked, trying to sound upbeat.
“What do you get when you cross a donkey and an onion?”
Just then the big wheel lurched to a halt. We were nearly at the top. I groaned as the car we were in swung like an autumn leaf threatening to part with its branch. I tried to focus on the Arc de Triomphe instead of failing bolts.
“You know, it was only meant to stay up for a year.” During our stay James had developed a habit of conveying what we called factlets. This one was particularly ill-timed.
I must have turned white. “Not appreciated.” 90 feet below us other lucky riders were disembarking.
“I’m sorry!” He said “That was bad. I didn’t mean…” he trailed off.
He put his arm around me through more stops and starts. Just the day before we had skipped the Eiffel Tower – James didn’t like the long line and I couldn’t face the spindly, looming frame. Now I was controlling my breathing, wishing to be earthbound, sad about Paris, mad that James insisted on this ride. I wiped the tears off the bridge of my nose.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw James fumble with something in his pocket. Somehow I knew what it was as he held the little velvet box against his thigh. Not now, I thought. Maybe not ever.
“I feel like I’m going to be sick,” I said hurriedly, not giving him a chance to place it before me, pretending I hadn’t seen. “This is the worst idea,” referring not just to the ride.
We had finally reached the end. The attendant opened the door as James put the little box back in his pocket.