The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Tumble On Home
By Bre Northrup
Billy Berman liked Florida fine. He didn’t care much for the humidity, nor did he enjoy the gators at the swamps. Just the thought of gators made Billy panic. He was prone to panic attacks. Panic attacks were actually how Billy maintained his figure (though, in fairness, his figure was not very impressive). Despite his distaste for humidity, cold weather gave Billy congestion. So he made his choice. In Florida, he learned to love old people, hate vacationers, and to speak Spanish. He wasn’t fluent, but he got by. He could understand Spanish better than he could speak it.
Florida didn’t do much well, but there was one thing that made Billy stay: Disney. Billy loved Disney, despite his age. Disney was designed to make people happy: capitalistic joy. Billy was smart enough to recognize that Disney was an absolute mindfuck, chemically engineered to make you feel certain things. He didn’t care, though. “Let it,” he thought. “Let it make me feel.”
And so it did. Billy felt more about Disney than he did for his mother (whose nails were always claw like, and whose dried-out hair reminded Billy of a tumbleweed). The only dry thing about Disney was Frontier Land, which was Billy’s favorite. He particularly enjoyed Big Thunder Mountain and the turkey legs which you could eat off the bone. He once heard a rumor that they were actually ostrich legs because of Florida’s superfluous ostrich population. Eating the mysterious animal legs made Billy feel savage like, and he enjoyed this feeling.
Billy felt like a tourist in Disney, though he had had season passes for most of his life. He tried to go once a week, and often did, except for when faced with reality. Billy was unsure if he felt like a tourist because of what he wore, because of all the tourists around him (as in some kind of tourist contagion), or because he never really knew his place anywhere. But at Disney, everyone was a tourist, and in this way, Billy fit right in.
Billy clipped his backpack around his waist. This wasn’t because he had a bad back, necessarily (though he did), but because Billy lived in constant fear of losing things. What if he stopped feeling his arms and the backpack just rolled off his shoulders? This phenomena is similar to the way that Billy always double Ziplock-bagged his sandwiches, because he didn’t want them to go bad sooner. He cared a lot about things. Things that most people wouldn’t give a second thought to: an empathy complex, of sorts.
On a good day at Disney, Billy would complete an autograph book. The classic Disney autograph book has exactly 100 pages. However, Billy always reserved the first page to sign his own name in his chicken-scribble handwriting: Billy Berman. He would complete an autograph book and add it to his stack of already too-many completed autograph books. He would watch the fireworks with his squishy earplugs (loved the look, hated the sound). The colors, the magic, all of it. All of it was Billy’s, even for a moment.
To avoid going home once the park closed, Billy would sometimes take a bus to Kissimmee or Four Corners (otherwise known as Citrus Ridge). He wouldn’t do much once he got there. He’d maybe go to a movie, or sit around the deck of open motel pools. Billy always kept his eye out for the Disney character actors around town. One night while he was moseying around a 7-11, he ran into Aladdin. Aladdin had always reminded Billy of a gay stripper. Billy knew it was him because of his disturbingly photographic memory. He didn’t need the little vest and chiseled shirtless body to confirm.
Aladdin stood outside the 7-11 with red stains around his lips that resembled leftover lipstick. Billy noticed the cherry Slurpee in his hands.
“You’re Aladdin,” Billy said with his customary brevity.
“Billy, right? I remember,” he retorted, smacking his lips against the plastic straw.
“Yeah. You’ve signed my autograph book.”
“Like a hundred times.”
“I’ve got dozens.”
“Why do you keep coming back?” Aladdin leaned against the cement of the building.
“Disney makes me happy.” Billy retorted.
“Get out, man. This place does stuff to you.” Aladdin’s eyes rolled back in his head. Looked like drugs to Billy.
He didn’t understand what Aladdin had meant. He stood there, puzzled, with change jingling in his sweaty palm.
“What’s your real name?” Billy inquired.
“You afraid of the cops? I don’t trust ‘em.” Billy huffed, “I’ve watched the news.”
“Nah, man. Not the cops. Just this place. It’s like, once you’re here, you can’t get out.”
“I’d help you leave. If you wanted.” Billy wanted Aladdin to be happy.
“Can’t. Contracts and bullshit.” Something about Aladdin swearing gave Billy a sense of security.
Aladdin finished off his Slurpee. The sounds of the last bits of fluid being sucked up rung in Billy’s ears. “This place does stuff to you,” Billy thought to himself. This was the only town he’d ever known. The pink flamingos, the symmetrical houses around the cul-de-sac, the town choir which Billy was never good enough to join… this was the world. 34747.
Celebration. Every winter, the town installed an ice rink made out of fake snow. Snoap. That’s what they called it. They sprayed it all around town in winter time so Florida could feel the chill. Florida was not a cold place—still isn’t. The people weren’t particularly cold either (both literally and figuratively). Hospitable people sweat in profuse amounts. Nice, sweaty people.
“I’m worried about you.” Billy said with genuine concern. Aladdin laughed.
“Man, you’re really something. Look, I gotta head inside. They’re waiting for me.” Aladdin pointed to a group of skinny young guys in tank tops.
Billy watched Aladdin enter the 7-11 through the double glass doors. A little bell rung when he entered, and Billy could hear it faintly outside. Billy watched one of the guys in tank tops ruffle around in his baggy pockets. He pulled out the smallest plastic bag Billy had ever seen. Billy began to panic. He ran to the bus stop.
After the bus ride he spent sweating, he crept home, hoping not to wake his mother. He knew what would happen. He tried to be subtle and coy, but those were two things Billy was really awful at. His mother was still awake, sitting in her favorite wicker rocking chair that reeked of secondhand smoke. He froze (not cryogenically speaking, but in his step). Though, in truth, Billy wished it had been cryogenically. He began to think of her tumbleweed hair and her Pepto pink claws. He began to think of the crumbs that got stuck in her sun-wrinkled skin.
“You know the rules, Billy.” she crackled.
“I know the rules, Mom.”
“My roof. My rules. I don’t care how old you are,” she stood up from the chair and he knew what was coming next.
After a night like that, Billy treated himself to Disney. His bright orange t-shirt clung to his armpits, leaving stains upon previous stains from years of distress. Billy liked orange best. Orange reminded him of hot things and of an autumn he’d never seen.
“Hiya, Billy!” Billy imagined the characters would say.
“Hi, gang! I’m back! I’m here! Billy Berman’s back in style. Billy never left, really, when you think about it. Billy’s here. I’m here.” He imagined he’d cheer in response to their overly enthusiastic welcome.
I’m here. I’m home.
They did not greet him with fanfare, nor with familiar eyes. They stuck to their typical routine: standing off in tiny, character-sized crevices on Main Street, lines forming around them. Wave, sign, smile, click of the shutter, goodbye. At least they’re consistent, Billy thought to himself.
Billy strutted his way down the peachy road. He waved to the woman at the candy store, who did not wave back. He wanted to find Aladdin again. He wanted to talk about the night before, where they shared a moment outside the 7-11. Billy was always better at sharing things than he was at asking for them. He panicked, as he tended to do after a bad night. He wanted to make sure Aladdin was OK, that he got home safely, that he showed up to work on time. Dozens of unfamiliar faces swarmed with their little hats, stench of sunscreen, and foreign languages.
“I’m looking for my friend!” Billy huffed. Droplets of sweat were getting caught on his spider web eye lashes.
“Are you lost, sir?” The Disney cast member (that’s what Disney calls all employees, even just the people cleaning tables) asked, scratching his near hairless knee.
“No. I know where I am. I’m trying to find my friend. Aladdin.” He grunted.
“Wow, wow. Alright, alright. You’re friends with Aladdin? Oh wowee, I bet you are, sir. I bet you are. Well, he is making his way through Fantasyland right now, sir. Won’t be back on the Main Street for quite some time, buddy.”
“I am not your buddy.”
“Wow-ho. You are right. We are not buddies. We don’t even know each other. Haha! Friendship! So vague in this day in age. We’re all friends here, though. Don’t you want a friend?” The employee spoke like he was amidst a three-day coke binge.
“I hope you get fired.” Billy stumbled away. He felt like he was drunk from sweating so much. Suddenly, Billy was hit with a bat of guilt. He didn’t speak to people like that, like his mother did.
“Wait I’m sor—” Billy turned around and he was gone. Too late. Moment’s passed. Apology is not accepted, nor was it even heard.
The colors were too bright for Billy today. All the pinks and blues. All the children overdosing on Disney magic to the point of bursting into irrational tears.
Billy, rules are rules. You don’t want my rules, why don’t you move the fuck out of my house? No. No, I’m sorry Billy. Don’t move. Don’t go. I love you so, I do. Come here. I’ll cradle you like I always do, like I always did. Come here.
Swing. Smash. Sour berry blue.
He ran as fast as he could (which, in fairness, was more like a hasty walk) toward Fantasyland. He knew that on Tuesdays, Aladdin spent time near It’s A Small World. Was it though? Was it really small? Who could really tell?
He circled around Cinderella’s carousel a few times, pretending to be sitting on one of the ponies. He did this partly to kill time, and partly because he felt too big to ride with the children. He walked nice and slow, just like the ride. He bobbed up and down, down and up, squatting as low as he could, rising to the tiptoes of his blue Crocs.
The ride stopped and so did he. He carried on his way toward It’s A Small World.
“Hey, excuse me, have you seen Aladdin today?” Billy asked fellow patrons.
“Eh… Eh…” They kept walking. They did not speak English, nor did they have to in order to enjoy Disney. Disney’s universal.
“Aladdin, y’know? A-lad-din.” He tried to sound it out for them but they were disinterested, to say the least.
They were gone. Billy always found it peculiar that you could lose a large group so quickly. They traveled like schools of fish, following the molecular ebb and flow of each other’s pace and energy. An amoeba. Crowds getting lost in even larger crowds.
He thought maybe he’d kill time, but did time really deserve that? Not really. So he kept his momentum, huffing and puffing toward It’s A Small World. He stopped momentarily in front of Peter Pan’s Flight. The ride always had a 45-minute wait. He appreciated the attention it got (you know, for such an old, classic ride). Timeless. He appreciated the classics, too.
And then the eagle landed, as Billy used to say in Boy Scouts: directly in front of It’s A Small World, praying, hoping, that Aladdin would arrive. Billy scratched his curly hair, fingers getting stuck in the too tight ringlets. He searched frantically, like a dog chasing its own tail. One worried circle followed by another and another.
“Aladdin!” Billy screeched, filling his lungs with need. He felt the whole park freeze for a moment, like a scene in some sci-fi movie. Or dramatic thriller, too, I guess. Everyone turned yellow. And grew an extra set of arms. And all turned to face him with the eyes of his mother.
“Sir, are you lost?” A perfectly coiffed cast member asked.
Billy couldn’t respond. He just pushed the guy.
“Sir, please do not put your hands on us. We’re just doing our jobs. Keep your hands to yourself, or we’ll have to ask you to leave the park.”
“I’m never leaving the park.” Billy panicked.
“Everyone has to leave. No one stays forever.” The employee grew impatient.
“Me.” Billy stood his ground like a redwood tree, full of power with no idea how he got there.
“Right. OK, big guy. Right. Who are you looking for?” The young gentleman tried to be helpful. An appeal for customer service.
“Aladdin. Like I said.” Billy thought maybe the guy was stupid (anything’s a possibility). The man had a bulb of sweat trickling down from where his wig met his scalp.
“Right. OK. Right. Well, Aladdin is off riding his magic carpet. You know, taking it for a joy ride. A ride for pleasure, not for business. Which I guess is none of your business when you think about it. So yeah, just wait around. Try to keep calm, try to maintain a sense of self.” The young man walked away snapping his fingers and singing “Judy’s Turn To Cry” by Leslie Gore.
And Billy was alone again. Alone with the crowds of tourists and costumed characters. Seeing the pink costumes made him think of his mother’s nails, the way they clawed over like talons. He thought about hating her but always felt sick after, you know, at the thought of hating his own mother. He hated her nails, though. He hated her slowly graying scalp. She was decaying, fossilizing. But then, where would he go? If he could live at Disney, he would. He would have chosen the manufactured happiness, the foreign languages, the turkey legs. But, Disney felt different today. “It’s just this town. It does stuff to you.” He wanted Aladdin to be OK and safe and happy. He saw shows about that white stuff. It looked like the snoap from Celebration. Except it didn’t mean winter, it meant digging yourself into a hole where the cops find you and you had no family left. Just be alright, buddy. Just be alright.
But just then, like by way of miracle, Aladdin emerged with a swarm of folks around him. What a beautiful sight. Aladdin was not Billy’s favorite character, nor his favorite Disney movie, but what did that matter?
“You! It’s you!” Billy huffed and puffed over to him.
“Um. Well, hi there, Disney man! Want an autograph?” Aladdin averted eye contact.
“What? No, I have yours. I have it already. I want to talk.” Billy furrowed his brow.
“About what, pal? About the magic carpet?”
“No. About Florida. And you.” Billy started sweating.
“I’m confused, big guy. We talk about Disney. And Jasmine. And your day. Like a ‘How are you?’ of sorts. Those are our topics.”
“How am I? I’m terrible. I’ve been searching for you all day. I have been thinking lots about our talk outside the 7—”
“Buddy, there’s a line forming. Let’s get ya that picture, then you have to move along.”
Billy’s posture stiffened, requiring more muscle than Billy even had. There was, in fact, a large line forming behind Billy. The line was being orchestrated like the Philharmonic—you stay here, you wait here, you go now. The crowd was growing irritable, a feeling that Billy knew well. His eyes started to sweat.
“I need to talk to you! Why don’t you like Florida? Why do you want to leave?” Billy tried to get physical with Aladdin, attempting to tug at his purple vest.
A fellow Disney cast member accompanied Aladdin. She stepped between Billy and Aladdin saying “Sir, please do not touch Aladdin. There’s not enough of him to go around.”
Billy tried to fake her out, moving right, then left, then right again, in an attempt to get around her, to get closer to Aladdin. She didn’t budge. She has done this before, he suspected.
“Enough, sir. Please go about your day here in Disney. No more problems, or we’ll have to ask you to leave.” She huffed.
“You can ask me, but I won’t do it.” Billy grunted at her like a child. Back talk, that’s what his mother called it.
Don’t you dare talk back to me, Billy. I am your mother. This is my house. You can’t live alone, can you, Billy? No, you can’t. You are fucked in the head, honey. Your nuts aren’t all bolted down, are they? No. No, they are not. So be kind to your mother, honey. You're stuck with me.
“I am me. I can do whatever I want.” Billy snarled like an animal.
“Sir, I don’t know what makes you think you have the right to speak to employees this way, but if this behavior continues for another second, I will call security and have you escorted out of the park.”
The crowd behind Billy watched with startled eyes. Some of their faces laughed, others grew impatient. He saw a mother holding onto her child through some kind of chest harness. The baby slept, crust forming over his tear ducts. The mother bounced up and down gently, rocking the infant so he had good dreams, so he felt safe. Billy was whizzing his head between the sight of the child and Aladdin and the other worker. His eyes started sweating harder.
“P-please. Please. Don’t make me go. I have nowhere.” Billy’s eyes started sweating so hard he began to taste the bulbs of salt over his dry lips.
“Tumble on home, buddy.” Aladdin said, with some remote form of empathy.
He lost. He shut his eyes and remembered the way the snoap fell from the fans over the ice skating rink in December. He remembered spinning in circles on the rink like a silly windup toy, hoping he’d spin so fast that he’d bust through the roof and into space. Billy remembered the way her nails felt across his cheek. He remembered the faint smell of cigarettes and years old potpourri. He remembered the bounce of the oak floor boards. He remembered the circle of moisture around his groin as he fell to the ground. He remembered the way her voice sounded like sand paper. He remembered home. He remembered home.
#TumbleOnHome #BreNorthrup #ShortStory #Disney
Visit our shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.