Lost in the Waterpark by Elisse Sophia Ahmet (Lucent Dreaming Issue 10)

The chubby olive-skinned boy wearing orange armbands and blue goggles on top of his head tried to jump ahead of Luna on the path that led to the queue for the Aqua Loop. Though she was walking slowly and calmly like an adult should, she still did not want him to go on the ride before her, and even if she was old enough to know better, she felt a flush of irritation at the injustice of the move, so she intentionally bumped into his passing body to block his passage. The boy collided with the pink rubber ring hugging Luna’s waist and he slapped forward onto the wet tiles like a cut of raw steak. She stopped, worried she had killed him. As she crouched down beside his body, half-naked children hurried past, squealing in delight.
“Are you okay?” Luna asked.
She stepped out of her pink rubber ring and rested her hand on his clammy back. He did not stir. There were two younger boys beside him speaking an unfamiliar language. They prodded him and he lifted his head, muttering something in reply. The boys looked to Luna and shrugged. And then they ran off. She was certainly relieved she had not killed him.
“Are you okay?” Luna asked again.
She was sure she recognised him. He pushed himself up and sat back on his legs.
“I think so,” he said.
“You slipped. Here, hold onto me.” She held out her arms. “Jump on,” she said, crouched in front of him. He did what she asked and she hugged his squishy body into her own. He was lovely and warm and suddenly Luna felt like she might cry.
“My name is Luna. Have we met before?”
“Hi Luna,” the chubby olive-skinned boy wearing orange armbands and blue goggles on top of his head replied. “I’m Leo.”
“I’ve always loved that name.”
“Oh yeah?”
Luna continued hugging Leo as she walked to find a seat. All around them at ground level children crawled like ants, and up above they screamed hatefully as they soared down rainbows of red, yellow and blue, the water rushing and whooshing. Luna hated them all. Except Leo. He was a sweet darling.
“You shouldn’t run in waterparks, Leo. It’s dangerous.”
“I know,” he replied. He dropped his eyes. “I was just excited to go on the Aqua Loop.”
Luna considered this a moment. “Who were those other boys?” she asked finally.
“What other boys?”
“The ones that left you.”
“I don’t remember.”
Luna found a spare seat and clutched the boy close. She didn’t want him to leave her. Her pink rubber ring looked lonely on the tiled pathway.
“Where’s your mother?”
Leo climbed off Luna’s lap and into the empty wet seat beside her. She let him go because she couldn’t hold onto him forever.
A group of teenage boys in speedos ran past, a blurred kaleidoscope of mahogany skin jumping carelessly over her pink rubber ring. The fronds of the tired palm trees lining the path whipped and sighed from their passing speed.
“You shouldn’t run in waterparks,” Luna called after them. Where were their manners? Had they not been taught any? Manners were Luna’s number one priority.
“Who are you here with?” Leo asked.
She looked around. “I don’t remember, we got separated. How’s your head feeling now?”
Leo took off his blue goggles and used his adorable hand to rub the front of his head. She could just eat him up.
He shrugged. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”
“Where is your mother?”
“I don’t know, I lost her.”
Luna bit her lip looking down at her soggy fingertips, soft and rippled white waves. She didn’t want to lie to Leo, but in her experience people didn’t like it when you told the truth. It made them feel uncomfortable.
“I lied to you earlier.”
“You did?” Leo said, adjusting his orange armbands which squeaked in reply.
“You didn’t slip. I pushed you. To teach you a lesson.”
Leo used his big toe to circle a tiny puddle on the tiled floor in front of him. Luna hoped he liked her, which was strange, because she never cared if children liked her, especially male children.
“Not to run?”
“Well, yes, that. But also not to push into queues.”
“My mother says English people love queuing. Are you English?”
“For my sins. But only half.”
“Does that half of you get a real sense of injustice when people push into queues? I don’t know what that means by the way, but that’s what she says, my mother. And also that you talk around the subject.”
“Why does she know so much about English people?”
“She is half English.”
“And where is she now?”
He shrugged. “She might be my mother, but I don’t think she likes being around me very much.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“How do you know?”
“I suppose I don’t. I’m sorry to hear it. My mum is dead.”
Leo looked up at the Aqua Loop that loomed above them.
“Shall we go on it together?” he said. “Just while we wait to be found.”
Luna eyed her pink rubber ring. “Okay,” she said, walking over and stepping into it. “But just while we wait to be found.”
Leo stood up when Luna held out her hand. He put his blue goggles back on top of his head and he joined her. Slipping his hand into hers, he smiled up at her as though she was the most important person in the world. It felt good.
No use crying over spilt milk.
They walked slowly and calmly along the tiled floor and up the flight of stairs surrounded by tropical plants. It wasn’t worth having another accident.
Now at the top of the Aqua Loop entrance, Luna looked around: no queue.
“That’s odd. I assumed there’d be a queue. There’s always a queue.”
Leo let go of her hand and climbed into the flume.
“When you assume you make an ass out of you and me.”
She blinked at the back of his head. “What did you just say?”
Leo turned around from the flume’s mouth, waiting to be swallowed. “I didn’t say anything. Let’s go on it now.” He pushed himself against the sides of the plastic and flushed himself down with the water.
Luna climbed into the flume. There was still no one behind her.
“Here I go,” she said out loud, and slipped down into the darkness. “Here I go.”
As gravity took hold she catapulted onto her back at its mercy and stared at the glowing red tube surrounding her. It was flying past in front of her eyes. From the outside it had looked blue, or at least, that’s how she remembered it. But now she was back inside the flume she remembered it had always been red.
Luna felt closed in – too close to herself – as though she had ridden to the inside of her body, had somehow climbed into her own veins. The water filled her ears and hammered into her brain.
It was taking forever to reach the end of the ride and Luna decided if she enjoyed it more it might be over quicker. Instead of feeling trapped and frightened she tried to imagine how reassuring and safe the space might be to someone else, using her overactive imagination to take herself to another body, another time, another life. Luna could be clever like that.
A warm glow enveloped her. She felt as though she had come home to the most glorious place in the world. She closed her eyes and considered her choices.
The flume looped on and on until Luna saw the light at the end of the tunnel where she emerged into the landing pool feeling born again. Leo was waiting for her like a good boy. He waved and she waved back.
“What now?” he asked, as she climbed out and tried to hold onto the good feeling slipping away from her. Slip, slipping, slipped. It always left her as quickly as it came. That was the problem with not being someone else all the time.
“Shouldn’t we look for your mother?”
“She doesn’t want me to find her.” Leo said.
And the years tick by, you try not too much to cry.
She looked at Leo. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“The music?”
Leo squeezed his eyes closer together, nose shrivelling into a button. His brows formed one furry caterpillar and it reminded Luna of her favourite childhood book, The Hungry Caterpillar.
“Never mind. Let’s go on.”

Just then Luna caught sight of a silver trolley half-filled with food. She walked over to it and plunged her hand into its wire guts. There was a box of eggs, bottled chilli sauce, olives, a multi-pack of Walkers, ice cream, chocolate, a steak, pickled onions, cheese, more pickles, bacon, a lemon, a loaf of fresh bread, pineapple chunks, a takeaway pizza, and some crunchy peanut butter. Losing interest in the items, she turned her attention to the trolley’s token slot where she spotted the spherical allure of a pound coin peeping out at her. She fiddled with the opening to try and release it but it wouldn’t budge. Luna pushed it too hard and it disappeared. It wasn’t a pound anyway, just one of those pieces of plastic that masqueraded as a pound. Luna always carried one of those so she was never caught short in the supermarket. She was organised like that, the responsible sort.
“What’s this doing here?” Luna asked, looking around for the culprit to own up.
No one around wanted to make eye contact with her, and all the faces she looked at were blurry and blank. Leo came to her side. She could see his face clearly and it soothed her.
“Where did your pink rubber ring go?” he asked.
Luna looked down; the pink rubber ring was indeed gone. She listened to the drip drip drip of the water falling from her body onto the tiles below.
“I don’t know. What should we do now?”
Leo’s eyes glittered.
“You’re it,” he said, slapping Luna lightly. She chased after him. Leo weaved in and out of the sun loungers, behind a giant plant pot, before descending some stairs. She followed him. She laughed. Until she slipped and a bruise began to form in front of her eyes. She moaned out loud but no one came.
Leo skulked from behind a giant banana tree just in front of her along the pathway. His head brushed against the plant’s dangling appendage, the scarlet red and puce petals of the flower bulging with fertile glory. Barely able to withstand its weight, the metallic blue pot containing the banana tree glistened in the sunlight pouring through the glass roof up above. It enclosed them in, domed like a greenhouse.
“Did you fall?” he asked her. She remained on the floor.
“I told you not to run in waterparks!” Luna shook her head furiously. “Didn’t I tell you that?”
Leo’s eyes filled quickly. They brimmed with grief until he could no longer hide it. He wept openly like only a child can.
Cautiously, he tiptoed across the wet tiles. She beckoned again and he moved with haste. He fell into her arms and she hugged his squishy body into her own. He was lovely and warm and suddenly Luna felt like she might cry.
Leo pulled back and pointed towards the Subtropical Surfer’s Café. “Can we get something to drink? Maybe a snack?”
Luna looked around and saw the café for herself. She got up and readjusted her swimming costume, which had ridden up into her. She held out her hand.
“I’ve had such a craving for pickles lately. Do you think they might have pickles? I keep running out because I’ve been eating so many of them, at least a jar a day.”
“I’m sure they sell pickles.” Leo pulled on Luna’s hand.
“What about tea? There’s nothing a good cuppa can’t fix.”
“English people love tea, don’t they?”
“Another truism.”
They walked slowly and calmly into the Subtropical Surfer’s Café, which was a curious mix of yet more palm trees and potted greenery among sterile red plastic chairs and tables. They looked at the wipe-clean menu. Burger and chips, hot dog and chips, fishfingers and chips. No pickles.
“How can I help you madam?” A service woman wearing a red and yellow cap and a red and yellow shirt asked Luna.
She realised she was starving but she knew it was character building to be hungry. Her mother taught her many great lessons like that.
“Two hot dogs with chips and two coca colas, please.”
The service woman wearing the red and yellow cap and the red and yellow shirt leaned across the counter and looked around.
“Eating for two?” she said, patting Luna’s stomach.
Luna blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” she flustered. “It’ll be out shortly.”
Luna paid somehow, then moved down to the collection desk, closing her eyes briefly. When she opened them, two hot dogs with chips and two coca colas were there. She took the tray and said, “Thank you, pickle” out loud to the air, before finding a table. All the people in the café had blurred and blank faces.
“Hot dog and chips, my favourite. How did you know?” Leo appeared at the table with her and grabbed one of the hot dogs. He started to devour it. Luna tapped the side of her nose and winked in a knowing way. A blob of ketchup fell onto Leo’s chubby olive-skinned legs.
“Such a mucky pup. Here, let me clean you up.” Luna licked a napkin and wiped Leo’s leg.
“You’re embarrassing me, Luna!”
She pulled back. “You shouldn’t be using my name like that.”
Leo apologised and took another bite of his hot dog, more red sauce falling onto his olive-skinned legs. “Do you think we’ll ever be found?”
“It depends if anyone is looking for us. I’m not sure anymore.”
“Are you not eating your hot dog?”
“I don’t want to get fat,” Luna replied. But she didn’t want to teach Leo bad eating habits either, so she picked up the hot dog and took a big bite. A stream of ketchup rained down on her own crotch and thighs.
“Huh. Look at that,” she said, laughing. “Do you think there’s something else we should be doing, Leo?”
Leo shoved handfuls of golden yellow chips into his mouth, soggy and floppy with grease. “What else is there to do?”
“You sound like my mother now – ‘What’s the point in your life?’ – that was one of her favourite lines.”
“What about waterparks?”
“What about them?”
“Can’t they be the point? Having fun in waterparks?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Your mother sounds stupid.”
“Hmmm. She can be. Could be, I mean. Especially when she listened to what Simon said.” Luna sighed. “‘Simon Says tell your daughter to stop dwelling in the past. Simon Says tell her she can’t act like a child her whole life.’ I’m glad I don’t have to listen to him anymore.”
Leo picked up his coca cola and slurped at it until the ice rattled at the bottom of the paper cup.
“Do we have to wait two hours before we go back in the water now?”
“Two hours?”
“Yeah, you know. Wait two hours after eating to swim or you’ll sink like a stone.”
“Who told you that?”
“My mother.”
“Your mother sounds stupid.”
“Hmmm. She can be. Could be, I mean.”
“Come on.” Luna prodded Leo’s orange armband. “Let’s go look for our people.”
Leo scraped back his chair and stood up. He was holding a box of tea and a jar of pickles that he handed to her. “Here, I got you these.”
Luna took the box of tea, and the jar of pickles, letting tears swim down her cheeks. “That’s so sweet. My lovely little boy.”
Leo smiled, taking her hand.
She sighed. “I think I need to take you back now.”
Leo dropped his head, then lifted it again. “Can we go on the Aqua Loop one more time?”
Luna took Leo to the Aqua Loop and they laughed and laughed as they shot down the inside of the red flume. The backs of their legs burned from the speed, born again and again each time they emerged into the landing pool, baptised by chlorine.
Then they walked hand in hand towards the shower.
“I usually shower to a song by a band I like.”
Leo nodded at Luna as he concentrated on her words.
“It’s 6 minutes and 54 seconds long, which is enough time to wash while contemplating the futility of being alive.”
“Okay,” he replied.
And the years tick by, you try not too much to cry.
Luna turned the shower on and it hissed and spat hot water at her but she did not turn the cold tap on. She preferred it to scorch her skin so she could really feel something, and she thought it was high time Leo learned this lesson, too.
When Luna looked down at her body, her clothes were back on, and so were Leo’s. They were no longer in the shower.
“Let’s see if we can find what we’re looking for over there. Hey, I like your t-shirt.”
“Thanks, orange is my favourite colour.”
“Do you have a jacket?”
Leo shook his head no.
“How irresponsible.”
The electric doors that appeared in front of them opened and they were greeted with a wall of warm air, the wind blowing against their faces gently. Luna pointed. The pickles and tea were gone from her hands.
“We’re at the entrance again! Let’s not waste any more time, we still need to find the best ride.”
They walked towards the big pool with the real but fake plants, past the sunbeds occupied by towels and children’s toys. Luna squeezed Leo’s hand to comfort him, but she was starting to feel weighed down. She willed some music to silence the thought and was pleased to hear her song start again. She sang along.
And the years tick by, you try not too much to cry.” She tapped her hands on her thighs. “Now you are forgotten and hung out to dry.”
Luna looked at Leo. “I feel like that all the time. Do you understand that feeling?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Sometimes I’m really happy with my life the way it is, and other times I’m not so sure. Do you understand that feeling?”
“I don’t think so.”
Luna was getting more and more uncomfortable in Leo’s company. They were going round and round in circles with their conversation. She looked around the water park to see if there was a ride worthy of her discomfort. At that moment, she saw there was an even bigger flume than the Aqua Loop, and she knew they had to go on it right away.
They passed the rows of colourful flowers, and the queues of people waiting to go on the other rides. The queue for the ride they wanted was the longest. Luna reasoned that this meant it was probably the best, worth the wait. Probably.
The bright orange letters came into focus: The Infernal.
“All good?” she asked Leo. Luna started to think it was too scary a ride for a child, and that maybe he wouldn’t want to go on it like she did. As much as she didn’t want to, she needed to act like an adult, be the brave one.
“Fancy it?” she asked in her big girl voice.
He gave her a double thumbs up.
As they climbed the stairs slowly and carefully, awaiting their turn, Luna considered what to talk about with Leo that would be neutral territory. Luna found any type of idle conversation incredibly boring and pointless, especially those about the weather. That was her non-English half shining through.
“I was thinking: why don’t I get a cat?” She searched Leo’s face for an answer. “A cat might be nice. Loads of people do that at my age. Loads of women.”
Leo sighed.
“All good?” she said again.
Leo sighed once more.
“All good,” he replied, finally.
Luna shrugged and closed her eyes. He was right, it was all good.
Then again, maybe it wasn’t.
After the thirty-nine years of queuing, she made it to the front of the new ride. The blue ride. Or was it red? Suddenly, Luna wasn’t sure what to do. She sat in the flume’s mouth as water pushed up against her. It was trying to force her to go down before she was ready, and she wasn’t having any of it. She folded her arms and pouted.
“What’s wrong?” Leo asked her.
“I don’t know if I want to go down anymore.”
“Really?” Leo said. His orange armbands had appeared again, but they had deflated slightly. “Would you like me to come with you?”
The other people in the queue looked at Luna with their blurred and blank faces. Even though she couldn’t see them clearly, she knew they wanted her to go down the flume so she could be like everyone else and it could be their turn. But Luna still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
“You’re running out of time, Luna.”
“I know,” she said sadly. Because it did make her sad.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Leo repeated. “We could go down together. Here look, I found this.”
Leo handed her the pink rubber ring.
“But what if that’s the wrong decision? What if I change my mind later?”
“That’s not possible, I’m afraid. It’s now or never,” someone shouted anonymously from the queue. A man’s voice.
Leo tried to climb into the ring hugging Luna’s waist but it was too tight, so instead he began to manoeuvre himself onto her lap. She pushed him away and the boy slapped forward onto the wet tiles like a cut of raw steak. Luna worried she had killed him.
“I’m sorry, Leo,” she said and pushed herself down into the depths of the ride, alone.

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