Drive-in II

The Party Is Almost Always Over, 2014, photograph by Anthony Hawley

The Party Is Almost Always Over, 2014, photograph by Anthony Hawley

In the best stories, your party is always almost over.

You arrive at the roller rink, the sign flickering pink out front. In the empty foyer covered in green carpet, the woman behind the glass is slow to answer when you enter. She watches reruns on a tiny television with an uneven picture. You wait for a minute at the window. She turns her chair and asks whether you’d like in-line or regular, as if to say I already know all your stories, all you need to do is enter. ‘Regular,’ you say; to which she responds ‘five dollars,’ head tilted.

You hand her the money. She turns, ever so slowly, fetches you a ticket from a large red roll. She slides it carefully under the foggy glass window. You nod, take the ticket, and enter.

And even before the story starts, the party knows you’re coming. There is a snack bar stocked with candy. There is a glass case filled with glow sticks, plastic rings, light-up bracelets, sunglasses, and princess crowns just past the entrance. There is a single pair of skates just your size resting atop a wooden counter. A few rows of benches and empty tables. On them sit plastic place settings. At the center of the tables: big single-layer cakes covered with bright frosting. Atop the cake, the candles are still burning.

And when you enter, it’s about to be the last dance just like always. The air hangs heavy. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion. The dance floor is empty in anticipation. A few colored lights scatter across the floor. Gradually, the disco ball starts spinning. A faint beat. At first just a few synth chords, then a little more, fills the building.

Bright white light comes up on someone in the middle of the dance floor and you notice that he or she is the only other person. Then, a moment later, a ring of uniformed skaters appears, circling the center figure. A sound like smoke fills the space and makes you feel a little nostalgic, also a little embarrassed, maybe for everything that will have happened, maybe for everyone you were hoping to kiss. The ring of skaters keeps circling and begins its clapping. Wax drips from the candles on all the cakes at all the tables.

And even before you manage to stand the end and the beginning are already written.

You go to put your skates on, but they don’t fit around the ankles.  It feels unusually warm and sweat drips from your brow. Every time you try to tie the laces, they slip between your fingers. Lights flash. At the tables, the frosting on all the cakes is melting. The figure in the middle of the floor hums, moving towards you. Worried about your skates you try to crawl in the opposite direction, but nothing’s working. What sounds like synchronized clapping builds atop the rhythm.

Then you hear it: the roar of a car engine. You look again and notice that actually, no, it’s not a person, but a small car in the middle of the ring of skaters. It bounces slowly, inching forward. It looks a little clunky and vaguely futuristic. The engine gets louder as the ring of skaters starts approaching where you’re sitting.

You manage to pull yourself up, holding onto the wall, and try to get away, but your crotch is sweaty. The floor beneath you seems like it’s covered in thick syrup. The skaters are getting closer. A strange smell fills the air. You feel worried, but for some reason begin laughing.

The group of skaters picks you up and puts you atop their shoulders. Cheering, they make their way to the center, following the beams of light from the car’s headlights. In the background, the woman from the ticket booth watches you through a crack in the door. As the skaters approach the rink’s center, the doors to the car open. The group of skaters carrying you turns sideways. Throughout the rink, the lights start flashing. The bass thumps. A sound like glass falling fills the air. The skaters kneel to place you in the passenger seat. The smell is getting stronger.  But wait, you say, laughing sleepily, your eyelids closing. Wait. The cake, you say, the cake; the cake is burning. But no one seems to hear you.