Unreal City

Tria Wood

It’s 100 miles north on 59 at 55 miles per hour on a school bus, windows down, and everyone’s already drowning in sweat. Hurry up, please. You drink a Sprite because you once saw that boy drinking a Sprite, and your friends pass tapes from Walkman to Walkman: Kim Wilde, Madonna, Samantha Fox. You arrive and cross the Astrobridge to where they made the whole world walkable. Hurry up, it’s time! Chase that boy past Oriental Village, past Plaza Mexicana, past the River of No Return, and in the back, dead center, is Western Junction, which looks like home except nothing’s boarded over because Wal-Mart hasn’t come here yet. In the dark Crystal Palace, the girls of the Red Garter Revue spin and sing, lift cancan skirts to kick their hearts out and even though you don’t know the words, your narrow hips jerk along, your mind afire with footlights and spangles and hordes of applauding lovestruck boys. In the photo booth you can be the southern belle or the saloon girl—always choose the saloon girl, because you get to wear feathers in your hair and a ruffled garter stuffed with cash, and no one will call you a whore because it’s all sepia toned. The shootout stunt show in the streets echoes, cowboys fall from balconies and bullets ring bells. No horses here, but in Alpine Village—hurry up—you catch the carousel, choose the jeweled Hippocampus to take you round and round, then find a studio where you spend the last of your allowance to belt out “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Over and over, you ride the Texas Cyclone to make your heart beat the way it does when that boy kisses you in parked cars, your stomach flying up—could that boy do anything but love you, if he saw you dance in skirts that bloomed and bustled? Please, it’s time. Nearby, the Sky Screamer drops, and someone tells you how its car once busted off the track, landed in the reflecting pool, became a cage where everyone drowned, and the thought of the safety harness holding you down as water invades you won’t shake free. The chaperones shout “Hurry up, please! It’s time!” and you have to leave before the fireworks start. Back on the bus, in the back of the bus, that boy kisses one of the girls he always kisses in public, so you turn your back and pop your new cassette into your Walkman: Set me free, why don’tcha babe? Rewind, repeat. You pour your own voice into your ears as the city gives way to country darkness, and lullaby yourself the long way home.


Tria Wood is a writer who helps children and teachers become confident creative writers through the Writers in the Schools program in Houston, Texas. Her writing has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, and Mom Egg Review, as well as in public art installations.