Leslee Rene Wright
THE PRINCE OF GLACIER KINGDOM
They were the keepers of Glacier Kingdom: youngest son, middlest, and oldest. They lived over the Pizzeria and the ski-ball hut, in a beetle-infested apartment that smelled of ripe pepperoni. Each night, when the Scrambler stopped scrambling and the Ferris Wheel stopped wheeling, Mama would pass out brooms that matched up with their height. Youngest was the tallest. His broom was the perfect dance partner, slim at the hips and easy to lead. With their brooms in hand, the sons were sent out to sweep up Glacier Kingdom.
Youngest was true to his duties, and guided his broom up and down the midway using even, precise strokes. The path to wisdom came through observation and hard work, Mama said. Her three sons wouldn’t leave Glacier Kingdom until they’d made a name for themselves, and none had earned a single name yet. Oldest kicked his broom behind the ticket kiosk, and middlest left his on the pebbled beach of the lake, not far from the bumper boats. The entrance to Glacier Kingdom was a soaring bell tower, and oldest climbed to the top each night, where he would gaze out to the East, past the inky slums to the glittering city. In the rise and fall of the skyline he saw the flair of a woman’s hips, the flutter of a golden eye. Oldest leaned into the open air and masturbated, his fevered growls carrying out over Glacier Kingdom. Youngest swept diligently and tried not to listen. Mama rolled her eyes from her tattered chaise.
“The path to wisdom is sometimes rocky,” she was fond of saying. Her jeweled cigarette holder gave birth to one smoke ring after another. Her given name was Gloria. This name had been a stranglehold on her life in a litany of ways. “Gloria,” she said, lilting over the edge of the chaise. “Can you imagine? I never stood a chance to be anything but.”
Middlest son didn’t hear the oldest son at all, his ears too full of icy water as he swam in circles around the lake. The real Glacier Kingdom was to the West, at the lake’s far end. There, bluish-white giants loomed like the crest of a Japanese tidal wave that would, one day, smash the fake Glacier Kingdom out of this world and into the next. Back and forth middlest swam, his body like black ether, until the sun came up and he emerged from the lake as a pale and puckered thing, as far from a name as one could be.
“What’s it like?” Youngest asked both his brothers, when one surfaced from the depths and the other came down from great heights. Oldest shuffled and grunted, sweat glazing his brow. Middlest shivered and gulped, his skin wrinkled wet paper that, with one false move, would softly split apart. Either they had little reason to speak, or had little reason to remember how.
Youngest hadn’t given up on earning a name. He swept each crack and crevice of the Kingdom with care, picking up grease-spotted napkins, dented soda cups, and wayward clumps of cotton candy. He tried to stitch up each piece of trash to one of the faces he’d seen at Glacier Kingdom. He liked to watch the faces from his bedroom window above the Pizzeria, noting how they changed from summer to summer. One year all the faces seemed to be shrouded by long hair, even the boys, who wore sideways ball caps and brass knuckles. A few years later the faces were stark and naked, hair braided back to show off their cheekbones. Sometimes, Youngest would realize that one face was a face he’d seen before, and he was struck by how much it had changed since he’d seen it last. He was certain that his own face had never changed at all, it had always been short-haired, always dressed in a set of snappy blue coveralls.
He only knew the name of one face. It was Sherry, who always wore tee-shirts with her name stenciled across the chest. Over the years, her hair changed from short straw to springy coils, and her teeth went from white to silver-studded, then back to white again. But her name was always there, stretching a little broader while the rest of her grew taller. Youngest grew taller, too.
Youngest never connected a dented soda cup to the face that drank from it, not until the night he swept up a hollow paper cone, the kind meant for serving up snow. The white paper was rimmed with a wide, peachy “O,” a kiss left by glossed-up lips. Youngest cradled the cone in his hand, remembering Mama’s warning not to look out the windows that faced the snow-cone stand. “A haven for hot-headed bad girls,” she called it, a place where predators gorged on Polar Punch and Tiger’s Blood.
It was Sherry’s snow cone. Youngest recognized the peach tint. He wrote her name on the paper cone, Sherry, and pinned it to his bedroom wall.
From there, it was easier. The rinds and detritus of Glacier Kingdom were touched with more than just fingerprints, but only youngest could see it: evidence that when person gulps down what they want, they give back more than they know. The crusty pizza plate belonged to a young metal head with splotchy skin. Beau, youngest wrote on the plate, pinning it up next to Sherry. The handful of ski-ball coupons became Chaz, a cowboy in high-tops, and the bucket of hot wings was Lila, a lady meathead with bulbous muscles. Only Sherry remained a mystery, just a tee-shirt spelled in two syllables. But the more names youngest discovered, the closer he felt to scrounging his own.
Mama studied his wall of names, pointing at Sherry with a fisted wine glass. “Don’t be smug,” she said, and the way she said it, youngest know it was a name she preferred he not have.
Youngest decided to be smug. He went into the Kingdom before it closed, while the Twister was still twisting and faces flooded over the pathways, awash in neon. He sandwiched himself between the balloon booth and the fortune-teller’s tent, a mere ten feet from the snow cone stand.
“Hello, Travis. Hello, Mackenzie. Hello, Jacqueline.”
The faces of Glacier Kingdom regarded him with surprise at first, then warm recognition, as if having bumped into long-lost friend whose name they couldn’t quite place. Hello, they said back, waving a corn dog here, a candy apple there.
“Hello, Sherry.” It was right there on her shirt, but her name wept through youngest’s lips with a muddled, melty sound.
“Hello.” She smiled behind her mound of orange snow. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled back. “Waiting for you.”
They walked along the pebbled beach and watched the bumper boats careen into each other while the sun dropped lower, tinting the real Glacier Kingdom the same flaming color as her snow cone. She’d seen him before, she said. Everyone had. They’d seen him but hadn’t known him. He was just the guy in the window, but his oldest brother was The Masturbator of Glacier Kingdom, and his middlest brother was The Swimmer of Glacier Kingdom.
Youngest was startled instead of smug. His brothers had earned names without even knowing it.
“But I’m not in the window now,” he said.
“How does it feel?” Her lips were peachy. From gloss or snow, he didn’t know.
“Better,” he said.
For a solid summer they met every other Sunday, swapping kisses in the Spook Shack. The little car rattled through the dark, past staggering ghouls and a hag with a chainsaw, until they were both left panting and possessed.
“Why won’t you tell me your name?” she asked, gripping the sides of his head as if hoping to shake gold from a piggybank.
“Why won’t you tell me yours?”
She pointed at her tee-shirt. “It’s Sherry. You know that.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t know that.”
She sighed. She told him he was impossible. They climbed down the steps of the Spook Shack on shaky legs, and at the bottom she waved to him and ran off to join her boyfriend.
“Hello, Jason,” youngest said, watching the other man tear into his curly fries with uneven teeth. Jason, a hockey player with a pet parrot and a gambling problem and a girlfriend named Sherry.
“Hey,” the boyfriend said, his smile surprisingly welcome, just like Taylor’s, Aaron’s, and Eric’s. Sherry’s snow cone didn’t quite hide her frown.
Back above the Pizzeria, Mama tore Beau, Chaz, and Lila down from the wall, along with the others. Her bony shoulders shook with rage and palsy. “You’re impossible,” she said. “You’re doomed.” Youngest poured her wine and brushed her hair until she was calm.
“Forgive me,” she finally said, patting his hand. “But you know how I am.”
They sat on her chaise together, looking out at Glacier Kingdom. “They’re melting, you know,” she said, pointing a gnarled finger. “When you are old and I am dead this will be the only Glacier Kingdom left.” She laughed hard at this, wine leaking from the corners of her lips.
Several Sundays later, Sherry sat in his lap while they rode through the Spook Shack. “You’re always here,” she said. “I keep thinking that one day I’ll come to Glacier Kingdom and I won’t be able to find you, but I always do.”
He looked into her eyes, which were a color he didn’t know the name of. “I keep thinking one day you won’t come to Glacier Kingdom,” he said. “And I won’t be able to find you.”
She cradled his head against the curve of her neck. “But you always do.”
“No, I don’t.”
She laughed and it carried over the noise of other people screaming, over the noise of the hag and her chainsaw. “Guess what? I have the perfect name for you.”
Her breath was a hot buzz his ear, imbued with a hymnal authority. Youngest heard and felt himself melt away, until there was nothing left but what she had made of him.
Years of Sundays later, youngest, who was getting old, still kept Sherry on his bedside table. She had long stopped coming to Glacier Kingdom, but at night when he woke up, he opened his eyes and both felt and saw the ghost of her lips. Youngest wondered if a name still exists when there’s no one left to say it.
He joined his middlest brother, The Swimmer, at the pebbled beach. The water was higher and the beach narrower, but the bumper boats still bobbed on the silent surface, as they always had. Somewhere behind them, the Masturbator was still in his tower. He’d long forgotten how to climb down.
“Could you swim all the way to Glacier Kingdom?” Youngest asked his brother.
The Swimmer shook his head, and it was a slow, side-to-side sweep. The dissent of someone forever trapped under water.
Youngest unbuttoned his coveralls and stepped out of them. He left his glasses and his shoes on a rock. With or without them, he was the same. However far he swam, his place would be the same. Mama was old, and he would never not be the youngest.
He knew all that, but the water was fierce and cold, and he was certain that when he got to the real Glacier Kingdom, there would be someone waiting. That someone would say hello, their words full of warmth and recognition.