Wet Slide

A hot afternoon in the barrio. I breathe in a lungful of water mist spraying off an aqua blue sculpture. Disappearing into the hot blue sky is a tall structure made of metal, plastic, polymers, concrete, and of course, gallons and gallons of water piped around and around. It is surrounded by pools at its base. The pools contain warm green water and are all saturated in chemicals. Faux stone walkways branch up from the hot concrete base, curve around, disappearing into a mound of brush, and re-appear stories above, at the top of the labyrinth of curvy snakes. All the slides empty out into the green pools, which are all filled with sloshing hot chlorine and foamy chemical afterbirth.

I forgot my sandals, so I am barefoot. With each step I take, into small puddles of super-heated, stagnant water on cracked concrete, the bottoms of my feet scream. I'm walking over a stovetop. Patches of heat throb around my shoulders, the backs of my legs, the tops of my feet, the back of my neck, and my cheekbones. Those areas will be sore and cracked by sunset. Might as well climb to the top again.

I stumble up the path. A small group of shirtless kids wearing Raiders swim trunks pass me on the right and shove me into the side wall. My arm, already tender with sunburn, scrapes the rough surface of the fake stone and it stings like mad.

"Hey, watch out, ese!" one cries. "Donchu mess wit mi novia, white boy!" They scramble up the path to the top of the slide. Another one spins his head back and yells, "fucking piece of shit! Why donchu slide on this!" Laughing at his own joke, he crabs his crotch.

I get to the top of the slide. It's a rickety square platform made of thick, stiff blue plastic, discolored with chlorine chemical stains. Small guard rails skirt the sides of the platform.  There is a stunning view of the landscape from up here - all parched earth and untended lawns. I even imagine somewhere far off I can even hear the impotent sputtering of faulty sprinkler systems and the steady buzz of cicadas. All the while, here, on top of the world, it feels as if the the deep blue above is broiling my scalp.

There are two slide openings, one on either side. Water bubbles up and streams down in thick, strong currents at the edge of the platforms, disappearing into dark, gaping maws.  Everyone steps gingerly into the mouths, as if climbing into giant cups of hot tea, but before long they are sucked away violently into the dark, their screams echoing over the polymer tubes.

I'm ready to step in. I take my first step when someone else jumps in front of me and knocks me back.

"Fuckeen slowpoke!" he intones, before being sucked away. I hear his laughter echoing up through the tube, and I jump in after him, headfirst. The 'slide operator' yells something about 'not allowed' but I'm already surrounded by rushing water, enveloped by darkness, speeding along at a quip. Pockets of hot sun flash along the pipe as I twist and turn. I'm having a great time. It's exhilarating.

I spill out, finally into the pool and smack right into wet flesh. I hear a pop and a snap and there is someone next to me in the water, floating limp and lifeless. My arms and elbows must have popped him in the head. I don't know. I'm backing away from his body, up toward the steps. I wonder: can I just run, over the concrete, through the vendor stands, out through the gates, into my car, and speed away? I can still make it. Nobody sees the body yet.

Before I can make up my mind, a deep voice is yelling.

"You kill my nephew! You fuckeen murderer. That's right, you holmes! I'm talking to you holmes!"

The man already has the kid cradled up in his arms.

"Dis is my nephew!" he cries, his face contorting in rage and grief. Other guys have surrounded the pool. Another guy, a big Samoan with tattoos around his eyes, pulls me up out of the water with one hand. In his other hand, he clutches a half eaten ice cream sandwich. My shoulder socket pops as he pulls on me and draws me toward his face. I can see flecks of chocolate and vanilla ice cream in his mustache and all over his lips. As he screams at me, bits of the frozen treat spatter all over my face.

"Fuckeen pop your head in, man!" he cries. I try to get free, and his strong grasp only gets tighter. "No, wait til the cops!" he screams, looking around at the others for approval. "Wait til the cops!!!"

I try to explain it was an accident, that I didn't mean to hurt the kid, that he was supposed to get out of the way, but no one is listening to me. Everyone is watching the limp kid in his uncle's arms, at the edge of the pool. Meanwhile, sliders continue to whoosh out of the tube mouth, slapping the water one by one like stones skipping across a pond. I can smell stale beer on the big guy who holds my arms back. I can't get free; I am imprisoned. I desperately hope the kid wakes up.

In every direction the heat shimmers across the concrete and distorts everything. I watch, helpless, at the huge monuments spurting geysers of cool water out over a sea of deep blue tile. The water mist enters my lungs again and tastes my poison. All the buildings sport patches of brown rust, leopard spots on faded paint. My heart is pounding so fast I don't feel the sun on my head anymore. The smell of funnel cake wafts over the crowd. I wish I was anywhere but on this hot stretch of land.

Everyone is screaming. The park security shows up, but they're just teenagers, and most of them seem to know the crowd around me and the Samoan. I hear one of the guards say, "do what you want, I didn't even call the cops."

That's all the posse needs to hear. My legs and arms and neck are lifted up by a seeming hundred wet hands and I'm carried up the walkway, the sun beating down on my face and chest and stomach. Everyone is scratching me where I'm sunburned, screaming for someone to drop me, or knock me out. Soon long they've got me at the lip of the slide. Someone is muttering behind me, 'I got my crew down at the pool!" he is laughing giddily. "They gonna clothesline him at the bottom!" His voice draws up next to my ear. He is standing right behind me. "We gonna knock you out like you knock out our boy, fucker!" It is the boy's uncle. He kisses my ear and shoves me into the maw.

This time, the darkness is not exhilarating. I scramble to get a foothold as the water mercilessly drags me down with unrelenting sped. The moment I see a patch of light I reach up and try to hook onto the tube skylight. I'm moving so fast, I can't catch it. My hand is whacked so hard it almost breaks my fingers, but I keep trying. The last patch of bright sky before the bottom of the slide is fast approaching. I grab the last handhold and despite the pain, I hold on. The water tears through my swim trunks and threatens to yank them off. I hear the deafening sound of water and distant voices.

Minutes go by. The tops of my fingers, curled around the top edge of the tube, burn intensely under the sun's punishing gaze. My body is growing numb; it's a rag doll tossed about in the dark tempest below. I can already imagine the group of onlookers waiting below, all gathered together, sneering, holding their arms out to snap my neck as I drop into the pool.

Just then, something whacks my back and neck, and a dark shape passes me in the water, disappearing before I can make it out. Another whack, this time feeling like hard metal. Soon I'm being pummeled by an assortment of items - bags, poles, pieces of brush, clods of dirt. The mob above is trying to Drain-o me from the pipe. It works, because a giant limb of brush knocks my right arm from the tube and I go flying into the darkness, swirling around in the wet dark at high speed.

My stomach lurches when I spill out of the tube. The pool below is filled with tree branches, handbags, pieces of metal. The green water has gone brown with dirt. I land in the muck, noticing that the crowd, once waiting for me in the pool, is now running en masse to the top of the water slide to yell at their friends and relatives for tossing junk at them. In their fury, they've momentarily forgotten me. I jam out of the pool and knock over tables to get to the exit. I can't run fast enough. The late afternoon sun edges closer to the horizon. I hear voices behind me when I reach my car.

Before speeding from the giant lot, I spot the large, kitschy gaudy water park sign, sun-bleached and rotting. I think of plastic and chlorine and metal. My skin is boiling. The chemical water has leeched moisture from my skin. My hair drips and my heart pounds. In my rear view, I see the mob at the gate, raising fists, typing furiously into their phones, pointing and yelling.


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