Invited to a birthday party via facebook. Am I a desired guest, a pitied acquaintance, the result of selecting select all? How to tell who on the accepted list will show up? I know no way. It is always a gamble, and I hope the fortune teller in my stomach is not a good one.
What gift to bring? With an ice cream cake in hand, at least I can predict that I will be temporarily popular with those who are easily bought. I take the price tag off; no need to announce that my $5.95 gift is cheaper than it appears.
I don't remember who's day it is, but judging from the facebook lists it is someone from my high school. Strange that I would be invited, I haven't kept in touch with any of them. But maybe it's the same for them as it is for me; thinking about you, just never enough to say hello again. More vulnerability I associate with parties.
I pull my vehicle off the main street of the small town where I bought the cake, slip through a wide and sunny alley way framed by a red brick building and an autumn hill, an fruit orchard in the distant background. I continue around, driving behind a row of three reddish orange brick buildings. Behind the second one sits a farmer dude, wearing a straw hat and jean overalls, nonchalantly sucking on a piece of barley with his back against the wall. I look to the left and nod in acknowledgement; he signals with a near motionless motion of the head.
The quickest way to my destination is down a cliff. Beyond the third brick building, on the same side, the land slopes downwards, dangerously close to a right angle drop into oblivion. A potentially fatal route to take to a birthday party, but I don't let that sway my decision because I know I will be successful as long as I pay perfect attention and keep control over the speed and angle of descent of the vehicle. Without pausing, I sharply cut the wheel towards the cliff, and begin a slow plummet towards the bottom. Once on track, I descend through the gears: down to third gear, and again into second gear. The engine roars loudly as it fights against the acceleration of gravity.
The descent is incredibly long, and feeling the world coming up to meet you in the face is disorienting to say the least. This is no road either; dirt and gravel litter the pathway downwards, and occasionally pieces of lumber, patches of grass and bush, and old fast food containers enter my path, taunting me to turn in avoidance. But I do not, knowing that such a move would likely break my perilous traction, placing me in freefall. Not the way to arrive to a birthday party.
In two spots on the way down, large overpass bridges pass over the descent. I cannot tell if vehicles drive on top of them, as I dare not spare my attention from my road. Five, ten minutes of intensity pass by, more than I can handle. Then the road downwards begins gently declining into a nearly horizontal gravel road, and finally onto a hilly, grassy field. Small yellow buttercups dot the landscape here and there. I release my grip on the wheel, and it feels like I'm taking my first breath in forever.
I mop the sweat from my face, grab my bag and my cake, and go inside. Indeed there are many people from my high school class here: Steve (it's his place we're at, or perhaps his birthday; I'm still not sure), Poops, Adam, Matt, Erin, Leanne, Laurie. Bull and Jeremy arrived just before me, so nobody pays much attention to my arrival. I place the cake on one of the cafeteria-like tables strewn haphazardly around the unlit room, and take a seat in one of the plastic school chairs. I sit and observe. They haven't changed much since back then.
After a while, Maria (not sure when she arrived, or how she knows these people) comes and leads me into a large, dimly lit room with a swimming pool. Strange, it is as if the center of gravity is at the far corner of the room, and the water runs up two of the walls as well as along the main pool in the floor. Some others are already in the water; Steve, Poops, and a few others I don't recognize. I hesitate to take off my shirt. Well, I was never very confident about my physique. But I suppose that I should just ignore those feelings now that I'm older. I strip down to my shorts and hop in.
The strange gravity in the room makes swimming a fun challenge. Swimming up the walls is like swimming up a huge, gentle wave. Some people have floating alligators and pool noodles, but I make do with just my body. The water swooshes every so often, causing the corners of the stationary waves to merge and split off into opposite sides. The others start leaving the water one by one, and I realize how exhausted I am. I reach the water's edge and feel it clinging to my body even as I rise above the surface, as if I had worn a t-shirt into the pool after all. But I look down and see only my body, white, pasty and overweight.
I look for my bag, with my towel and fresh clothes inside. It is sitting next to the wall, at the top of a flight of tall and steep stairs that line half of the room. I begin climbing towards them, but find myself so exhausted that I seriously question whether I will be able to make it to them or not. I devolve into a four legged creature and scramble my way up, quite pathetically. I make it to my bag and collapse against the wall for a minute, eyes closed. After most of the people have left the room, I manage to come back to my senses and dry myself off. I put on some dry shorts and an ugly second hand blue and red sweater. It's not something that I would normally wear, and I wonder what I was thinking when I packed for this.
I rise to my feet and follow some people out of a door; one of only two exits from the pool. Once through the door, I find myself alone in a dim corridor lined with metal pipes and wires, standing on a greasy metallic walkway suspended over darkness. To the right, the walkway splits into two and heads up some stairs; to the left, it eventually turns around a corner and goes out of sight. I try to return through the door I came in, but it is locked. Unsure of which way the others went, or which way I came in originally, I panic and begin jogging to the left. Nearly at the corner, someone calls out for me from behind; Steve and Leanne are standing at the stairs leading upwards. I stop and listen to them. They say that Poops went somewhere and they were looking for him. I stand motionless; I want to just get out of here, but know inside that I have been volunteered to check down this way. I stay standing still, looking incredulous, for an extended period of seconds. Just as they begin coming towards me, someone else calls out from out of my sight. Poops has been found, and I follow them through the now unlocked door, to find myself back in the room with the cafeteria tables.
Everyone is sitting at or on the tables, talking and laughing with each other. The package from the cake I brought is empty, except for some smeared frosting and crumbs, the legacy of a cake I never tasted. I sit down next to my bag and observe. Nobody is paying attention to me. After a minute I am scheming to leave, thinking of ways to escape unnoticed. Well, nobody will care if I go anyways, so no need for a complex plan. I get up with my bag and quietly walk out the door, hands in my pockets and eyes on the floor.
The sky is clear and blue, the sun high in the sky. I get into my car without looking back and step on the gas, leaving curved brown tire tracks in the emerald green grass. I turn on my radio and tune it to listen in on the party I just left, cautiously wondering if anybody will mention my name despite feeling confident that nobody will. I am right for the time being, but their conversation bores me to turn the off switch. I approach the steep climb home.
My mind is wandering, so I fail to pay attention to the degree that I should. Not one hundred meters up I let the steering wheel slip and nearly lose it. Heart racing, I pull the vehicle back into the proper orientation just in time, and continue straight up. I can feel the front tires practically pulling away from the vertical road, maybe less than one inch away from toppling backwards and downwards to my doom.
I come to gaps in the road, as if I were driving along a bridge with parts knocked out. I speed up to jump the car over the gap to the other side; somehow gravity decides to lean in my favour and the jump works just fine. I make a second jump, and have to readjust the steering wheel on the other end. The third jump is final, yet there are still miles to go. I drive underneath a bridge, not confident that I will ever make it to the top again, but somehow knowing that I will in the end.