‘The grit I am’

By Amber Dawn
Special to Lesbian.com

*** The ghost’s voice ***

I could scream continuously the whole length of the Cyclone roller coaster. It wasn’t about being frightened, it was about making the gentlemen believe I was scared. Men love a scared female!

I perfected three screams. Which one I used depended on the fellow I rode with. Most often, I did the Fay Wray scream-for-your-life because by 1940, even Ontario farm boys had seen King Kong a couple of times and were dizzy for that siren. For the skittish—the ones who looked like they might spew before the ride was done—I did the laughing-gas scream, a delirious treble that I threw my whole body into. I got my elbows pumping and my head rolling and my legs all tangled up in theirs. Sure enough by the third drop, the most edgy man had forgotten about his “coasterphobia” and was cracking up right along with me. Finally, there was the cat in heat—my golden scream. The cat in heat is only for the megabucks misters who kept my room in roses and my wrists fastened with jewels. Riding the roller coaster was foreplay to them. They wanted to hear what type of whoop I’d make if they were lucky enough to lead me to the bedroom.

Funny, I thought I’d make my living dancing. Turns out, what these men really wanted was a scream queen to share a car on the Cyclone. Like the radio jingle said, it’s the thrill of a lifetime!

So how did a little gal like me get herself a reputation as a scream queen? Practice and nerve. I rode that coaster nineteen times in a row—once for every year of my life—before I could grin and bear it. The Cyclone was the most terrifying of the infamous Terrifying Trio, the three meanest roller coasters in the world. I ought to have thanked the madcap engineer Harry Guy Traver for his twisted layout. Amen to Traver’s two hundred tons of steel and four miles of track—and not just any wooden track, but Douglas fir shipped all the way from British Columbia. (A gal must know her facts so she doesn’t come across as a dud.) At night, a thousand incandescent lamps lit up like Broadway. Perfect for my performance.

The one flaw was the reek of the loading and unloading platform where smelling salts and upchuck stung the nostrils. The only woman more popular than me was the nurse stationed to care for the fainters and the spewers. Luckily, she was an old broad, and married too. She kept the sick ones. I didn’t want ’em. It was for the fellas with nerve that I kept my hair perfumed with Chantilly. I cuddled up as we waited in line, positioning my hair right under their noses. The boys on military leave were particularly sentimental when it came to scent. They didn’t have Chantilly Houbigant in the barracks.

Once we were loaded in and the safety bar clicked across our laps there was no turning back. The chain lift heaved us up ninety feet in the air, which made the Cyclone the tallest standing structure north of the Ellicott Square building in Buffalo.

The first drop was so steep we plunged ninety miles per hour, pointed right at Lake Erie. The twists and turns that followed were real knockouts too. This was right when limbs started mingling unwittingly. A jazz track, it’s called. Imagine the jazz pizzicato of an upright bass. Or better yet, Leroy Anderson and his entire orchestra. “Fiddle Faddle” performed live at the Boston Pops. Now that’s the kind of snaps and hops the Cyclone put us through. Jazz tracks were Traver’s signature. That roller coaster man was a real pain in the neck.

But the real screamer was the final drop, which sent us into a figure eight. The mind surrendered at one end of the loop and the heart quit at the other. And what’s left of a person without a head or a heart? A frightened lump of wildly firing nerves is all. The Marquis de Sade said, “It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.” (A gal must know her French revolutionaries so she comes across as sophisticated.) That coaster was painful enough to make many a big spender feel like they loved me. Damn fools.

Harry Guy Traver got stinking rich off his coasters and his electric Tumble Bugs, his Flying Bobs, and his fun houses. And I suppose his terrible creations helped keep me from working myself flat-footed and swaybacked. Or worse still, becoming a wife and mother.

“Sodom Road Exit” by Amber Dawn. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018. Excerpted printed with permission from the publisher. http://www.arsenalpulp.com/bookinfo.php?index=476

Amber Dawn is a writer and creative facilitator living on unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, Canada). Her debut novel Sub Rosa (2010) won the Lambda Literary Award for Debut Lesbian Fiction and the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize. Her memoir How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir (2013) won the Vancouver Book Award. Her poetry collection Where the words end and my body begins (2015) was a finalist for BC Book Award’s Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. She is the editor of two queer anthologies Fist of the Spider Women: Fear and Queer Desire (2009) and With A Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn (2005).

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