Outside, I say, “Why did you do that? Lie to my parents?”
He smooths the hair out of his eyes and pulls on the red cap. “Because it’s not a lie if it’s how you feel.”
“What does that mean? Even your handwriting was lying.” For some reason, this makes me maddest. If he’s not real with them, maybe he’s not real with me. I want to say, What else is a lie?
He leans on the open passenger door, the sun behind him so I can’t see his face. “Sometimes, Ultraviolet, things feel true to us even if they’re not.”
John Ivers is a polite, soft-spoken grandfather with a white baseball cap and a mustache. He and the missus live on a large farm way out in the Indiana countryside. Thanks to a website called Unusual Indiana, I have his telephone number. I’ve called ahead, just like the site said to do, and John is in the yard waiting for us. He waves and walks forward, shaking hands and apologizing that Sharon’s gone off to the market.
He leads us to the roller coaster he’s built in his backyard—actually there are two: the Blue Flash and the Blue Too. Each seats one person, which is the only disappointing thing about it, but otherwise it’s really damn cool. John says, “I’m not engineer educated, but I am an adrenaline junkie. Demolition derbies, drag racing, driving fast—when I gave them up, I tried to think of something I could do to replace them, something that would give me that rush. I love the thrill of impending, weightless doom, so I built something to give me those feelings all the time.”
As he stands, hands on hips, nodding at the Blue Flash, I think about impending, weightless doom. It’s a phrase I like and understand. I tuck it away in the corner of my mind to pull out later, maybe for a song.
I say, “You may be the most brilliant man I have ever met.” I like the idea of something that can give you those feelings all the time. I want something like that, and then I look at Violet and think: There she is.
John Ivers has built the roller coaster into the side of a shed. He says it measures 180 feet in length and climbs to a height of 20 feet. The speeds don’t get above 25 mph, and it only lasts ten seconds, but there’s an upside-down loop in the middle. To look at it, the Flash is just twisted scrap metal painted baby blue, with a 1970s bucket seat and a frayed cloth lap belt, but something about it makes my palms itch and I can’t wait to ride.
I tell Violet she can go first. “No. That’s okay. You go.” She backs away from the roller coaster like it might reach out and swallow her, and I suddenly wonder if this whole thing was a bad idea.
Before I can open my mouth to say anything, John straps me into the seat and pushes me up the side of the shed till I feel and hear a click, and then up, up, up I go. He says, “You might want to hold on, son,” as I reach the top, and so I do as I hover, just for a second, at the very top of the shed, farmland spread out around me, and then off I shoot, down and into the loop, shouting myself hoarse. Too soon, it’s over, and I want to go again, because this is what life should feel like all the time, not just for ten seconds.
I do this five more times because Violet still isn’t ready, and whenever I get to the end, she waves her hands and says, “Do it again.”
The next time I come to rest, I climb out, legs shaking, and suddenly Violet is taking a seat and John Ivers is strapping her in, and then she’s climbing, up to the top, where she hovers. She turns her head to look in my direction, but suddenly she’s off and diving and swooping and yelling her head off.
When she comes to a stop, I can’t tell if she’s going to throw up or climb out and slap me. Instead, she shouts, “Again!” And she’s off once more in a blur of blue metal and long hair and long legs and arms.
We trade places then, and I go three times in a row, till the world looks upside down and tilted and I feel the blood pumping hard in my veins. As he unbuckles the lap belt, John Ivers chuckles. “That’s a lot of ride.”
“You can say that again.” I reach for Violet because I’m not too steady on my feet and it’s a long way down if I fall. She wraps her arm around me like it’s second nature, and I lean into her and she leans into me until we make up one leaning person.
“Want to try the Blue Too?” John wants to know, and suddenly I don’t because I want to be alone with this girl. But Violet breaks free and goes right to the roller coaster and lets John strap her in.
The Blue Too isn’t nearly so fun, so we ride the Flash twice more. When I step off for the last time, I take Violet’s hand and she swings it back and forth, back and forth. Tomorrow I’ll be at my dad’s for Sunday dinner, but today I’m here.
The things we leave behind are a miniature toy car we got at the dollar store—symbolizing Little B*****d—and two dollhouse figures, a boy and a girl, which we tuck inside an empty pack of American Spirit cigarettes. We cram it all into a magnetized tin the size of an index card.
“So that’s it,” Violet says, sticking it to the underside of the Blue Flash. “Our last wandering.”
“I don’t know. As fun as this was, I’m not sure it’s what Black had in mind. I’ll need to ruminate on it, understand—give it some good, hard thought—but we may need to choose a kind of backup place, just in case. The last thing I want to do is half-a*s this, especially now that we have the support of your parents.”
On the way home, she rolls down the window, her hair blowing wild. The pages of our wandering notebook rattle in the breeze as she writes, head bent, one leg crossed over the other to make a kind of table. When she’s like this for a few miles, I say, “What are you working on?”
“Just making some notes. First I was writing about the Blue Flash, and then about a man who builds a roller coaster in his backyard. But then I had a couple of ideas I wanted to get on paper.” Before I can ask about these ideas, her head is bent over the notebook again, and the pen is scratching across the page.
When she looks up again two miles later, she says, “You know what I like about you, Finch? You’re interesting. You’re different. And I can talk to you. Don’t let that go to your head.”
The air around us feels charged and electric, like if you were to strike a match, the air, the car, Violet, me—everything might just explode. I keep my eyes on the road. “You know what I like about you, Ultraviolet Remarkey-able? Everything.”
“But I thought you didn’t like me.”