about the author

Arthur Boyle is a Minnesotan. He recently enrolled in Columbia University’s MFA program, and has work recently published in The Cantabrigian. For now, he lives in Paris, where he works at San Francisco Book Co. He earned BAs in creative writing and French literature at the University of Denver, where he won the Mary Cass Award.

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Embarkation for a Gingerbread House

Arthur Boyle

A boy and a girl hold hands in a line at an amusement park. They swing their arms back and forth. She wears a smooth small sundress. All around them people chat idly.

“I’m gonna take the kids to my mom’s place,” says one.

“You can eat carrots, I don’t give a shit,” says another.

“I lost my W-2,” a different one.

“Shut the fuck up, Stephen.”

They were all born here on this Earth, with different shaped nostrils and distances between eyes and cheekbones and jawlines, and then, as they lived, the world continued to write other things on their faces, to fold secrets into wrinkles and sew stories under scar tissue. All the infinite permutations of humanity. The fact of the universe running its fingers out to the very tips of the tendrilled ends of existence. Wonderful.

“Joey called me a cunt.”

“My mother is losing her memory and she’s only sixty. It’s like she’s not her anymore.”

“Because I don’t want to eat lentils, Rachel, I’m fifty-six. I eat whatever I goddamn feel like.”

Between others there is an odd shaped silence, thick paste that clings to their shared contours: two young people who have given too much of each self to the other and failed to replace it, or, suddenly realized new freckles or protrusions of bone and started to wonder which self was the version of self that existed without these key features; which new rivers this new self will now want to step into alone. They stare at the twisting green steel rollercoaster hauling bodies to drop them from new heights, or at each other, briefly, and they smile sometimes, or talk through small touches, little haptic assertions of love. Later, while the coaster carries them up man-made peaks, they make an effort to feel apprehension, and look at each other and say “here we go!” It is a pleasant six minutes, and afterward, when a friend asks them how it was, they will say “oh my god so fun you should really go,” and then become quiet again when they see that happiness doesn’t look like it used to.

But boredom is not the point here. Not at all. Not one bit. There is a much more interesting couple in line. They are children holding hands and they are not that kind of silent. The boy and girl swing their arms because the joy welling in them needs a physical outlet. They are ecstatic, and every time the turnstile clicks and fat men slip into the small red cars and the underpaid ponytail in a yellow cotton polo tucked into khaki shorts pushes the restraining bar into the large but forgiving guts, the children turn to each other with eyes wide and a grin eating their face opened just enough to let leak the pre-verbal groans of life’s thrill. The rumble in their small bodies colors the air and the sky looks deeper than yesterday.

“It’s going to go so fast!” the girl yells, and they start jumping in place.

“I’m gonna scream!” yells the boy, joy springing out of little tightened calf muscles.

“Me too!”

“We can’t tell my mom!”

“No way!”

There’s a man on the other side of the enclosed space watching this conversation unfold, and the bummer about the whole thing is that he’s touching himself through his trouser pocket, and nobody notices at first, so it’s occupying a pretty gray zone, morally speaking, since nobody’s getting hurt, right—I mean, is it right in a supposedly liberal democracy to crucify a victimless action just because you associate it with more drastic outcomes? That’s the argument, right? But then the father of the family behind him notices and the nature of the whole thing is changed through its observation. He tells his wife, and she takes a video, and then they confront him and he leaves, and the mother’s love for her children takes a pretty drastic turn about 75 percent of the way through her sudden memory of the movie Spotlight, and it surfaces as almost full-blown hate, yelling at the man as he walks very quickly out of the park, and his head snaps back when he feels the anger and he can see the father trying to calm her down a little bit but she’s calling a security guard so the guy starts to jog, which is not something he does lightly, because he is not all that light. Well past the BMI definition of obesity, actually. So when he finally exits the tall gates and gets on the shuttle bus to the parking lot, he’s sweating, which makes everything worse, because he knows that in this context he already looks sketchy, he’s a six foot something guy alone in an amusement park with no woman to take the edge off his shoulders, he should have fucking shaved at least, he thinks, and it’s more than just a little sweat mustache and some beads at the forehead’s corners, he’s actually dripping a little bit, which just makes everything worse, and now that’s he drowning in paranoia grown from parents’ lingering stares he can’t immediately remember whether he’s parked in Q6 or R3 or M5, and the hot self-hate and the shame swelling in his chest continues interrupting synaptic fire, so instead of the signal running down into the tail of one specific dendrite, the storage locus for “Parking Spot” keeps firing the entire memory set of all the previous weeks he’s been here and their sudden volume washes over him so that Q5 is R6 and the purple lion identifier might as well be the green lemur, and the depth of his situation stakes in heartroots and he begins to cry alone facing the window with his legs cramped up against the seat in front of him, and he’s already dripping in sweat, which as mentioned makes the whole thing just exponentially worse. Fathers distract their children with bad jokes quickly summoned, and mothers hook fingers into their toddlers’ belt loops. No one moves as he dismounts in a sea of silver Grand Caravans, wet-faced under the eyes of a yellow zebra.

But anyway, not the point. The point is, I think, that the children’s little ribcages are pressed up against the turnstyle. The coaster pulls up to the platform now and two gelatinous bodies vacate their car. A car designated just for them. The little girl is white by the way. Pretty much everyone is white; it’s Minnesota. Anyway. They don’t notice the sweat on the vinyl seats, they don’t really notice anything, the adrenaline coursing through their bodies locks their vision on to the Wild Thing. The little girl almost forgets, but then finds a yellow poloed figure that has the stature to occupy the title of grown-up but is in fact sixteen, and she pushes an epinephrine needle into its hand and says

“This is for if I get stung by a bee or smell a peanut,”

and then she runs off back to the boy who doesn’t realize he is licking his lips. When she gets there they squeal and contort their faces and shake their little arms in a frenetic expression of the joy of being. That has to be the point, doesn’t it?

“Sure Rachel, sure. Me not eating steak will save the fucking polar bears. Yeah. I get it. Coal miners are the Antichrist, sure. Your generation needs to...”

“No no, no, do the other one, the—yeah the slutty bunny filter.”

“Listen I’m not saying I endorse racism, it’s just, I’m just saying you can’t erase history, is all.”

“...all arms and legs inside the car at all times, and don’t forget to smile.”

Tocketta tocketta tocketta tocketta as they crawl up to the clouds. Tocketta tocketta tocketta scraping blue and mounting pressure in tiny sternums.

It was roughly during the time of that ascent that the sweaty and at least semi-pedophilic man arrived at his car that had been sitting in direct sunlight and 83 percent humidity for at least four hours, and opened the door, and got in, and continued to sweat, very aggressively. Between the sweat and the tears he was actually pretty close to a significant level of electrolyte depletion, but his primary concern was infection of the curled ingrown hairs heavily populating the pale skin of his neck beneath the salt-crusted beard. None of this is the point for him, though.

The point, for this man, at least, was that even now while he sat in the slowly cooling car, terrified of apprehension, shame, and self-hatred quitting the body in various fluids, he couldn’t make himself put it in reverse. His hand and the well-fleshed appendages were on the gear shift, his thumb had even depressed the small button on the side of it, and he just couldn’t pull it toward him and drive away, because he was totally, utterly fucked. On the one hand, unable to exist in this theme park, the one and only realm that all of his self longed for. On the other, completely unequipped to handle the horrors of returning to the quiet no-place where he lived; thirty minutes outside of the major metropolitan area and dominated by the glass and concrete carcinomas slathered over whatever stories and lives and histories existed there before it was claimed by the rapidly metastasizing urban sprawl. And he was drenched in sweat.

“So now just because I eat meat and apparently don’t pay enough taxes I can’t even enjoy time with my daughter. My own child.”

“Oh for Christ, I forgot to put the bars in the freezer.”

The children wasted no energy looking at each other anymore, they hung their lowest ribs on the restraint straining their vitality against something anything willing to offer resistance


“I hate politics. I hate this. I’m on a fucking rollercoaster why do I give a damn. First your mother on the right with conservative brainwashing and now you’re a socialist.”

“I am trying to reconcile the world I live in with the world I grew up in.”

The cars strained up to the peak of the twisted metal, all the complexity wrought in steel engineering these emotions, and a wasp flies past the little girl who says

“I am so fucking excited,”

and the little boy doesn’t know what that word means but the sound somehow looks like a disgusting tawny paste, and he looks at her like somehow he’s about to get his own ass kicked for her comment, and they pass this first most awe-inspiring summit, and then the tockettas stop.

She wondered, right then, if it was a response to her language, if some spell had been broken or cast or a cosmic transgression marked because now everyone felt their bodies pressed against the restraints but not moving. Cars rested on the downward slope, waiting, gravity pulling at loose-hanging flesh.

“Did you do this,” the little boy said, and didn’t feel himself push his shoulders into the car’s wall, trying to drive space between them.

“No! Nuh uh! I didn’t!”

“Gosh dang,” he said, and he started to cry.

And not long later so did she.

A plane passed at a distance that felt far too close, and the slow crawl of caravans and SUVs drivelled far past the horizon on concrete arteries, and there they were, a perfect pair, wailing under the domed blue and clouds’ naked bodies bathing. Washed in the soft gold of a day dying just for them.

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