by Amanda Miller
My name is Idora. Today is my fourteenth birthday. This is the first time my birthday hasn’t fallen on a day I was in school. Every first week of the school year is the same: I get a new home room teacher and they read down the list of kids for attendance, and they stop right at my name in the middle of the list. The teacher, guy or lady (it doesn’t matter), stops and their eyes do a little dance in their skull.
“Idora?” They all say. Pause and reflect. “Why, I haven’t been there since I was a child,” and a faraway look comes over their face.
Then they’ll ramble on for however long about some memory of being a child in the old amusement park. The kids in my class will stare at me and the teacher curiously. Some kids think my last name is Park. But it’s not. Or they know me as the carousel girl. Or that I hold the secret recipe for french fries. Big joke. Thankfully most kids my age have no idea what the teacher is talking about and forget about it after that. I think sometimes the teacher, whoever it is, expects me to share the same excitement about my own name, but how can I? I was born long after the park shut down. Obviously it’s my parents and not me that they should be talking to. I didn’t pick out my own name, like everyone else. I’ve only been to the site of Idora Park a couple of times, most recently with my grandma. But she got lost on the drive back home so I haven’t seen it in a while. Whatever is left of it, that is.
I thought today was going to be a good birthday but so far it’s not. My grandma sent me away to my parents’ house while she bakes me a confetti cake. She lied and said that my parents want to see me on my birthday, but they don’t. There are only two houses between my parents’ and my grandma’s so I’ll just slip back there when my parents have forgotten about me again.
My mom is getting ready for work and claims my present is in my dad’s car. I haven’t been here all week, or all summer for that matter, and I just woke up so I’m hungry. I find a bag of chips in the cupboard.
“You shouldn’t eat that garbage,” my mom clucks at me while applying makeup. So much makeup, just to go to work at the grocery store. Her hair is brown with blonde streaks today but in that same 80’s-style poofy hair. She probably still thinks some famous person will stop through town on their way to a bigger, better city and that extra layer of mascara will be her saving grace. She’ll be whisked off away from all of this…from all of us.
“It was either this or popcorn. There’s nothing to eat here,” I say. I almost sit down at the kitchen table with her.
“Miss Queen of Sheba always being waited on hand and foot with three meals a day down the street. Some people have jobs you know,” she says.
I decide the bag of chips would taste better on the porch. There’s no porch swing like at Nana’s so I stretch my legs out on the steps under the summer sun. The birds are singing and it’s getting hot. My hair starts to frizz so I practice braiding it without a mirror. I heard if you put lemon juice in your hair it will turn the hair more blonde. I see no change in my hair though. It’s still just brown, but it smells nice.
The neighborhood is quiet except for the noisy birds. A moving truck at the corner house catches my attention. A boy is unloading stuff off the truck. He is dark-skinned with black hair. I watch him from behind the porch banister. He looks like he’s from a foreign country but about my age. Then I watch as the new kid starts fiddling with the chain on his bike. It looks like a pretty decent bike. I wonder how fast it could go. My mom comes out of the screen door on her way to work and needlessly slams it shut. I give her a look.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Nothing.” I pretend to be interested in the peeling paint on the porch.
She follows where I was looking anyway. “Jesus, there goes the neighborhood. It was only a matter of time before people like them moved in. Do you think you’ll grace us with your presence tonight or what? If you’re not in the house when I get off work I’m locking you out.”
I just shrug and she leaves. Her words echo in my head about the new people on the block. I search for the new kid but the bike is abandoned.
“Why are you watching me?” a voice from my side makes me jump. It’s the new kid.
“I’m not watching you.”
“You’ve been watching me all morning. I saw you.” Up close his eyes are so dark you can’t see the pupil.
I don’t have an answer so I ask, “How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” he says as he crosses his arms.
“I’m fourteen too. Today is my birthday,” I cross my arms in the same fashion.
“Happy birthday,” he says and I realize he doesn’t have an accent at all like I imagined.
“Thanks. What school do you go to?”
“I’m starting at the high school on Monday. I just had a tour of it this morning with the principal.” He gestures in the general direction of the high school. When he says this it gives me an idea.
“You want to have a bike ride and go on the real tour?”
“Okay,” he looks towards his house but smiles back at me, “my name is Adair.”
I show him where the freshmen gather before first bell. Showing him around eases my worry about starting high school. It’s not like I know everything about being in high school so I bluff a lot of the information. We part when it’s time for dinner with my grandma. I get to eat breakfast at dinner time on my birthday since it’s my favorite meal. The whole works: pancakes, sausage, eggs, toast, bacon. And even though my grandma doesn’t make things from scratch I still look forward to it. However, there are a lot of shells in my eggs tonight. I don’t say anything and try to pick around them. My grandma doesn’t notice and eats it all down. I tell her about Adair.
“You have to watch out for guys like him. They make their women walk behind them,” is what she adds.
“He wouldn’t make me walk behind him,” I know I didn’t really know Adair or anything but I was pretty sure about that.
She places the confetti cake and my wrapped gift in front of me. It’s wrapped in the funny pages from the newspaper. I take a big slice of cake, but in the first bite something is wrong. It tastes nothing like it should.
“Nana, this cake tastes funny,” I eat the icing off but push the cake away.
She rubs her forehead and thinks. She looks around at the kitchen counters. The kitchen is the biggest room in her house, still decorated as it was when my dad was growing up in it.
“I must have forgotten an ingredient,” she says.
“It’s okay,” I say as I open my gift. All disappointment disappears when I see what she has given me. It’s her old camera from the 50’s. It’s heavy and boxy.
“I found it in the basement a couple of weeks ago. I thought you’d enjoy it. I don’t remember how to work it though.”
She used to tell me stories about wanting to become a photographer before she married my grandpa. When he died she thought she was too old and too out of touch to take it up again. I’ve looked a few times for this camera but thought it was lost. I will just search for how to use it on my phone.
“Thank you Nana,” I hug her and go to the second floor. The whole floor is mine since she stopped coming up the stairs a year or two ago. I have my dad’s old bedroom, a small room that was used as storage and a bathroom. I have to clean it all myself but I don’t mind. I search the internet on my phone all night about old cameras.
The next day Adair finds me on my grandma’s porch messing around with the camera. I suggest showing him around the neighborhood and we take pictures all day. I’m pretty sure the film is exposed but we sit back to back together in front of it for a long time like it was one of those pinhole cameras. I don’t think any of it worked but it was fun.
When I return to Nana’s there’s an ambulance in the front of her house. I take off running towards it.
“Nana!” I yell and I see my dad in the yard with his oil stained flannel on.
“Where were you?”
“I…what happened to Nana? Is she alright?”
“She fell down the basement steps,” he looks at Adair then back to me, “where were you?”
“We were at the park. I was taking pictures.”
“She laid there for over two hours, Idora. Get in the car. They’re not letting your mom out of work so she’ll meet us there after her shift.”
Tears well up in my eyes as Adair waves goodbye to me. I didn’t see my grandma in the ambulance but I imagine her lying on the hard cold floor of the basement. It was probably so scary. There are so many cobwebs and it’s so drafty. She probably cried out for help. Cried out for me. I feel so guilty.
“The good news is that they think she fell off the last step or so. So she didn’t tumble down the whole thing. The paramedics think she just broke her hip. She can’t be going up and down those steps anymore, Idora.” I can hear it in my dad’s voice. I am to blame.
Nana has to spend a long time in the hospital and I only get to go see her when my mom or dad feels like visiting her or feels like driving me up there. Usually I just sit and tell her about what’s going on in the neighborhood or how I’m doing in school. I can’t wait for her to get out of the hospital so I can stay with her again. She doesn’t blame me at all. In fact, she says she can’t even remember it happening.
I develop the pictures from the old camera of Nana’s in art class and though most of the pictures are unsalvageable I am able to save some shots that are of my dad when he was small at Idora Park. It’s weird to see him without a hat on even if he is just a little kid. My dad is never without his cap. I take my usual meal out on the porch at my parent’s house, instant macaroni. It tastes like cardboard covered in fake cheese. It’s windy and fall is approaching now.
“When does your grandma get out of the hospital?” Adair pokes his head through the banister, the peeling paint frames his face.
“Next week,” I reply.
“Good thing, I don’t know how long a person can live off junk food.”
“Ha. Ha. My mom, or dad for that matter, doesn’t cook. And I don’t know how to cook. So it what it is,” I hold up the chipped ceramic bowl.
“You want to come to my house for dinner?” he actually looks shy for once when he asks.
“Sure,” I say then think about what I’ve gotten myself into. But Adair eats cafeteria food every day at lunch so it’s stupid to be nervous.
“It’ll just be me, you and my mom. My dad’s staying at the university to grade midterms.”
“That’s cool,” I say and throw the macaroni in the yard for animals to eat.
I’ve only caught glimpses of Adair’s mother, Mrs. Mazin. When I’m in their dining room she sucks all the beauty out of their house because she is one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen in real life. Mrs. Mazin has high arched eyebrows, dark curly hair that soars around her head and thick outlined eyes that turn up at the corners. She dresses so stylish for not having a job. She shakes my hand and has rings on every finger. Her accent is thick and charming. I feel plain in my t-shirt, jeans and shoulder length hair. We eat stuffed vegetables, flat bread and rice that is spicy but not hot. It was all so good. She tells me about how she makes each part and how her mother used to make it.
“Idora, I’m so happy you came over. Adair rarely eats traditional food anymore. All I make all day long is chicken fingers and hot dogs,” she laughs. I look over at Adair and he picks apart the food. And here I thought he was eating this stuff day in, day out.
“It was delicious. Thank you,” my voice wavers and Mrs. Mazin catches it.
“Please, if there is anything else you would like to know just ask.”
“I was just wondering why you don’t wear the…you know…” I make a gesture around my head and my cheeks grow hot. I am so curious and she is such a nice woman. I want to hear it from her, not Adair. Mrs. Mazin is not offended and smiles.
“I wore a, how do you say, headdress when I was a little girl. Adair’s grandmothers on both sides wore them until the day they died. But we have a choice in my culture you see. I choose not to wear mine all the time. Only on special occasions. Why don’t you take a look at something?” she gets up from the table. I look at Adair but he just shrugs. I hear her go up and down the stairs then shuffle around in the living room. Adair and I get up at the same time. The couch is now draped with scarves in every color from black to bright pink.
“They’re beautiful,” I say. I want to touch and feel every ripple of fabric, every shiny tiny bead and complicated pattern but it strikes me as very personal.
“I got married to Adair’s father in this one,” she holds up an elaborate, very long scarf. “I bought this one at a shop in Istanbul,” she touches a metallic burnt orange one. Each one has a story. I listen to her dip in and out of English to describe them all. I stand near one a deep purple colored one with silver swirls of stitching. I give in and place my hand on it.
Mrs. Mazin sees and says, “Here, let me show you to properly wear one.”
She takes the purple scarf and drapes it over my head then she crisscrosses the ends and tucks it all into itself. She smooths it over my head and whispers, “There”. She steps back and I blush remembering Adair in the room. He’s staring at me, hands in his pockets.
“You may leave it on if you’d like while you play today,” she gathers up the other scarves. I think Adair takes that as a cue to go back outside and I follow him out the back into the yard. I catch a glimpse of my reflection on a window. I look so much older and so pretty. As soon as we step off the porch, he takes my hand and he looks over his shoulder. We run to a small patch of over grown bushes and trees at the edge of his yard.
“What?” I say out of breath.
He says nothing. He touches the headdress and looks me deep in the eye. I pull the scarf from my hair and we lean into each other and kiss.
Today is my fifteenth birthday. I invite Adair over and I ask Nana if it’s okay to order pizza. She says yes. I do most of the cooking anyway since she gotten out of the hospital. Good thing she likes grilled cheese and canned soup most days. I have to clean the downstairs and upstairs now but it’s easy because she sleeps like 14 hours a day.
“You never told me what your name means,” Adair says lying on my bed. I give him one of my ear buds to listen to music and I place the other in my own ear.
“It doesn’t mean anything. My dad was obsessed with some stupid amusement park. Still is, really. You should see our computer room. He collects memorabilia from the Park. A picture of people on the Jack Rabbit framed in real wood from the coaster, flyers, signs, artist renditions…you name it he has it. He even helps run a website on the place.”
“I’d love to see it,” he says.
“It’s not anything really. Not like it used to be. A fire destroyed it when my dad was a teenager. I haven’t been there in forever. I know! Why don’t we go see what’s left of it?”
“How far away is it?”
“Half hour or so on our bikes. We’ll be back before anyone knows we’re gone. My dad is taking my grandma around today. It’s the perfect opportunity.” I don’t know why the idea becomes so important, but it is.
We go down stairs and get the pizza. Nana doesn’t know what to make of Adair some days. She just politely sits there and regards him with curiosity. I guess I’d be confused too. He always climbs up to my window, never through the front door then just appears at the table or in front of TV. She and I don’t talk a lot anymore. I’m always afraid the next words to come out of her mouth will be accusing me of leaving her last year to die at the bottom of the basement stairs. So I clean and make her lunch and dinner and don’t say much. And she leaves me alone but today I ask her about the Park.
“Nana, what can you tell us about Idora Park?”
She doesn’t say anything for a long time but picks at the cheese on her pizza. I look at Adair about to move on to another subject when she says, “that’s where I met my husband.”
Odd phrasing but I go with it. “How’d you meet him again?”
“Oh, at the skating rink. I would work all day in Kiddieland, and then play all night. Ride rides, eat cotton candy. Walk back and forth from one end of Idora Park to the other with my girlfriends. I never went home. One day after my shift I decided to skate the night away. Next thing I know Lloyd crashes into me. All knobby knees he was, and it was the first time he ever put on roller skates. From that day forward we went to every dance together. And when he was off in the war, I still went and watched people skate but I didn’t skate when he wasn’t there. Even when I no longer worked at Idora Park and got a job at the department store, I went as often as I could in the summer.” She looks like she is going to say more and I wait but it passes.
My dad shows up with a birthday card for me with money in it and Adair disappears upstairs.
“God Idora, this place is filthy. Don’t you ever dust or wash the curtains?” he says.
“I’m not cleaning on my birthday.”
“That’s one of the conditions of staying here and you know that. You need to take of her.”
I roll my eyes. He goes and sits with Nana but even she is more interested in talk radio than him. Once a week they make an outing to go to the grocery store, bank, or the doctors or wherever and her drops her off at bingo then picks her back up. He finally coaxes her out the door and Adair and I set off on our bikes. The ride took longer than I had imagined. One second we were passing big old houses some with people outside washing their cars and quickly they turn into boarded up, crumbling masses. Adair rides beside me and I feel we’re getting close. I slow down in a particularly shady neighborhood.
“Why are we stopping?” Adair asks.
“My grandma grew up in that house. My great-grandma never even learned how to drive.”
We’re in front a brick bungalow with overgrown shrubbery. The house itself is barely visible. Not even fit for an animal to live in anymore. Sadness comes over me, Nana had every intention of bringing her family up in that house and dying in it but the neighborhood got so bad she felt forced to move. I lift my Nana’s camera up to my eye and snap a picture.
“So, where’s Idora Park?”
“Through those trees,” I point.
We pedal through grass until we hit a thicket trees and walk our bikes in as far as we can. We abandon them and make our way until we come to open land. We walk over uneven concrete with tufts of grass sprouting. We comb the ground looking for something, anything resembling what was once here. I answer Adair’s unspoken question. “This is the right place, but it’s a ghost town.” Worse than a ghost town. Nothing is here to haunt. Nothing but rotting wooden posts and a rusty chain link fence. I’ve been here before but have forgotten. The memories people dump on me fill my brain to the brim. Somewhere along the line I have constructed the amusement park in my head from all those adult’s stories. I expected us to find a salt water pool and grand ballroom lit up for a band to take the stage any minute.
“I thought there would be something here, you know? The way people talk about it and all. A sign or statue or memorial…even part of a coaster,” Adair kicks at the ground and looks around.
I close my eyes and strain to remember what Nana had told me all those times she brought me here when I was little. I can still feel her hand clutching mine as if I were a little child. I’ve been here before, I know these stories. I can own them. I snap my head up and say, “over there. That’s where the main entrance was. A big welcoming sign would have been right there.” I jog over to the spot. “I’m sure of it.”
I think hard and run to the next spot, “this is where the Jack Rabbit stood. In my dad’s day they actually renamed it and made it go backwards to draw people into the park.” I laugh to myself, “which means the ticket booth would have been around this area.” I splay my fingers towards the ground. The picture is starting to become clearer and I make my way around a tight parameter.
“Did you know the Wildcat was on America’s top ten best coasters?” I twirl in the spot where I think it rumbled and dipped countless souls. I cross over the other side up a ways. “This has to be where the ballroom was.” Adair and I search aimlessly for any sign of existence, any shred of a memory, but it’s all locked in people’s heads. He takes my waist and dances old-fashioned with me. We spin and pebbles crunch beneath us, not a hard wood floor and no guitars to serenade us.
I run and try to map out Kiddieland would have been. I want to see the place my Nana spent so many days and nights. “There are pictures of my dad riding in the mini fire trucks, and trains. Kiddieland was built over a pool. My grandma told me the first time she swam in it she imagined she was in the ocean.” Adair and I drop to the ground and try to listen for the sounds of a spring but like the all the laughter that took place on this land, it has dried up too.
We may be looking at foundations to old rides and buildings but it all blends in. It has all decayed away. I take some pictures of the land and a couple of Adair when he’s not looking.
I take out the pack of cigarettes I got out of Nana’s purse and light one up. We sit on the only structure around, dark stone steps carved out of the earth that lead to nowhere. We smoke one cigarette after another until our heads are buzzing and swimming. I carve the words Idora was here into the stone with a pocket knife. We kiss on the hard incline, he feels up under my shirt and my hands go under his. I get the sensation that someone is watching us so I suggest we leave. The whole way home I try to distinguish the desolate land from the colorful memories that so many people have told since I was little.
My grandma and dad return home from their day. I sit in front of the TV with the fan directly pointing at me. I was going to help Nana with my cake and birthday dinner but she never mentions it. She stares at the TV for a while and I ask her a few questions about her day. It was the first birthday I went to sleep without confetti cake.
I haven’t seen my mom in a few weeks, so I decide to pay her a visit one day after Nana makes her usual breakfast, listens to her radio program and goes back to sleep.
“Your dad is telling me grandma is getting pretty bad,” my mom says while her head is stuck under the kitchen faucet. She’s forever worried about gray hairs showing.
“What? No she isn’t. She’s fine. We’re fine,” I say back.
“You see her every day. Of course you don’t notice the little things. I only see her every other week and believe me she’s different.”
“You’re just trying to start a fight. This is why I don’t come down anymore.”
“Oh, she’ll never forget you. Not her golden grandbaby. She’ll always remember you even if she’s already forgotten me.”
I leave while she rinses, holding back the urge to say I would choose to forget her too if I could. My dad is not so easy to avoid. If I have any hopes of getting my permit I need him to teach me how to drive. I join him in taking Nana on her weekly outing. We go the long way to the stores and offices and that agitates Nana. We go into the park on this one particular day and there’s road construction. I drive deeper into the park on the winding roads.
“Hey, we’re close to Idora Park. You hear that mom? Idora Park!” my dad says back to Nana.
“She’s not deaf dad.” He irritates me sometimes the way he treats her.
“Let’s go that way and take a look at her, whaddya say?” He points me in the direction.
We approach the lost amusement park, my namesake, and Nana is getting antsy. She’s pulling on her seatbelt and mumbling something to herself.
“I think we just better turn around dad.”
“Don’t be silly. I just want to take a quick peek. Just pull up right there,” he insists.
He gets out of the car and looks for himself what has become of his beloved park. He goes into the backseat and gets Nana out even though she starts to fight him. He holds her elbow and walks her as close as he can to overlook the desolate concrete land. I get out of the car just as my grandma starts to wail and moan. It quickly turns into something animal-like. She drops to the ground and starts having a fit. I’m so scared I can’t even touch her.
“Help me with her!” my dad yells.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She been doing this in the grocery store and throwing fits in the middle of the pharmacy for a long time now, Idora. I don’t know why or what’s wrong. Just help me get her back in the car.”
It’s the first sounds I heard from Nana in days. I try to help him but she’s dead weight. Her skin paper-thin, I can feel straight to her bones. This isn’t my grandma lying on the ground. Who is this? My dad sits her up and now she’s yelling at the top of her lungs. She cursing and I never thought she even knew those words. I want to be in a different time. My grandma cooks me dinner and lets me stay up late. She’s not a writhing, out-of-control person. If we were in a different time we’d be crouching in the shadows of roller coasters.
“Maybe if you just talked with her instead of going around with that boy all day. Maybe if you sat with her instead of letting her sit there and decay, Idora.” He’s blaming me again but I don’t like how he says my name.
“Why did you name me after this stupid park?” I ask him as my grandma begins to calm down.
He braces my grandma and without looking at me. “I named you for her.” He pauses. “I grew up coming to Idora and hearing all the positive things about it. I love the park, and my memories as a child, dearly. ‘Good clean wholesome fun,’ everyone called it. The light that shone in people eyes when they talked about it was magnetic. When I came to work here, I was about your age. I stayed late one night after the park closed with some of my buddies. We were getting high. Yes, you heard me right. I was a stupid teenager. We were getting high and someone was careless and reckless…and Jesus. Next thing we knew half the park was lit up in fire. If I could take it all back I would. I never told anyone this, Idora. Not a soul,” he looks at Nana. “I forgot about the Park for a long time. I pushed it out of my mind like so many other people. It started to rot and no one gave a damn until it was too late. Nothing was left to save when we started to care again. When you were born I thought I could make peace. You were so innocent and beautiful, the way Idora Park was supposed to be, what it was to thousands of people.” Tears fill his eyes when he finally looks at me. He whispers he’s sorry to the ghostly park.
I don’t have anything to say. I look at Idora through the trees and hear an echo of laughter and the crackle of fire that isn’t there. We help Nana back into the car and drive home in silence. The doctor diagnoses her with Alzheimer’s shortly after. They think she’s been having tiny seizures for a long time now. They put her on a cocktail of pills, but what good will that do? There is no cure. I miss my Nana even though we occupy the same house. They hire a nurse to come in because it’s getting too much for me with school and all. Adair sleeps with me every night he can sneak out so I don’t feel so alone. I hear Nana shuffling around at night, searching for something. I’m sorry I can’t take of her the way she needs, and I hope it wasn’t because I didn’t talk to her enough or wasn’t there when she fell.
One night I hear her rummaging around downstairs and I go down to find her sitting in the armchair. I take her camera out and stand close to her to take one last picture of my grandma in the yellow lighting, before she completely fades away. She reaches out for my hand and I stand there a long time, feeling her cool hand in mine.
Amanda is a senior English major at Youngstown State University. Upon graduating she plans to pursue a master’s degree in one of her many interests. She is an avid reader, especially of young adult literature. Growing up in Youngstown, she is haunted by the stories her family tells her of the city. This story is dedicated to her grandma, Barbara Miller, whose memories of Idora Park and Youngstown are taken from her by Alzheimer’s disease.