In the last two weeks at Vertical Leapland, fifteen kids have broken a leg. Taylor’s boyfriend, Alejandro, shows her the security footage in the back office after work. A kid soars above the trampoline, lands, snap. Fifteen times, and only a few of the trampolines are repeat offenders. Vertical Leapland is only six months old and Alejandro worries the trend in vitamin D deficiency will send him into homelessness. Everyone has to sign a waiver prior to jumping, so he’s legally protected, but business could thin to a freckle of regulars if it doesn’t stop. “I only have a GED and all my Underbelly money went into this.” His eyes are restless when he says this. His lip quivering and chapped.
Underbelly used to be the favorite venue for local metal band Team Arson, but a rafter fell on Alejandro during a show, snapping his shoulder, and he sued. Underbelly went under, Alejandro developed a permanent droop on his right side, and he opened up Vertical Leapland after his step-father told him to invest. Crazy part, he pointed out the flimsy rafter a couple shows prior to his accident. It sagged low, water logged by a leak, maybe, but nobody thought anything of it.
Taylor dates Alejandro because he’s older and she feels like she’s supposed to be doing this kind of thing right now. She’s nineteen, has the requisite diploma. He is her boss, twenty-seven, and wears one of those real beards. The kind that burn her lips. Other girls her age have all been with someone five years older at least. Alejandro makes her feel culturally relevant. She hasn’t slept with him, yet, nor has he really dropped his pants. There’s a Platonic complacency between them that neither feels compelled to disturb.
After work she buys Vicodin from her old high school English teacher because that’s the only way she gets to see her. Mrs. Lawrence (or Carley, as Taylor likes to think, though she never says it aloud) meets her every Tuesday at the lifeguard station that was smashed up by a hurricane. They talk politics, modern literature, and other things of which Taylor pretends to be aware. Seagulls hover too close, overfed by townies. She’s had a loitering crush since her days in sophomore English, but hadn’t recognized it then. She believes Mrs. Lawrence likes her, maybe in a reciprocal fashion, and Taylor does her best to seem available. She mumbles things like, “You’ll have to show me that sometime,” and, “Remind me to give you this book I just read,” and, “You’re too pretty to be married.” Mrs. Lawrence’s marriage is about as old as Vertical Leapland, and Taylor’s mind disappears when she mentions her husband, some film he wants to see. “I can get you in for free,” Taylor tells her. “It wouldn’t be a big deal.”
“I’m a little too old for a place like that.” Mrs. Lawrence is only twenty-nine and smiles even younger. Her golden hair is shoulder-length and capped with pink highlights. Taylor likes to picture it floating while they bounce on one of the trampolines. Mrs. Lawrence slings Vicodin to help with student loans. “School insurance hooks me up with a liberal doctor,” she said. Taylor imagines one night they will split a bottle of gas station wine in Mrs. Lawrence’s car before jumping together after hours. Alejandro will be cool because he’s old enough to not care about girlfriends anymore.
“It’s really for all ages. I’ve seen parents leave happier than their children,” Taylor says. The sun is unrelenting on these afternoons, but she won’t let a little burn crush a romantic metamorphosis.
Mrs. Lawrence pockets the cash, tucks a small bag in Taylor’s breast pocket. “My husband’s cooked a special dinner,” she says and waves goodbye.
Taylor lingers long enough to watch her drive away in a door-less jeep. There’s a scant creak as the lifeguard stand splinters a little more. The sea gulls drop shits on the soiled wood.
The next week, Juno, lead vocalist of Team Arson, comes in and threatens to burn Vertical Leapland into dead soil. “Nobody will book us,” he says. “The magnitude of our metal is a liability.” He kicks in the side of the shoe cubby. “You’ve stolen a commodity from the citizens. I will not tolerate your withholding.” He does some of the thrashing he’s known to do on stage. The kids around cheer wildly. They jump into each other. When he’s gone, suspense shimmers through Vertical Leapland like the final second of a countdown.
Alejandro passes out glasses of milk before he’ll open the trampolines to the kids.
“I’m lactose intolerant,” says a pale kid wearing a Team Arson t-shirt.
“I’m vegan,” says another.
“This is better than the alternative,” Alejandro says. He tips the end of the kid’s glass to help him finish. “This will help with growing pains.”
Soon kids are puking everywhere and they have to close shop for an hour to disinfect. He gives away coupons for buy-one-get-one hours of jumping. Taylor drags a mop across the trampolines while Alejandro stares out the window. There’s a van parked across the street. It’s spray-painted and big enough to hold a drum set, he says. He’s afraid Team Arson means business. Javon, her co-worker, eats pad thai in the ninja course. He wants to help, but all the paranoia makes him hungry. Taylor likes Javon. He’s a graphic design major and doesn’t take anything too seriously.
Hours later a sophomore from Taylor’s alma mater snaps her ankle playing slam ball. She refuses to be carried out until she’s finished crying. Alejandro storms into the office, all sweat and shrill. He opens the safe (23-29-31, consecutive prime numbers, he told her) and fingers the cash he’s saved up. “Hardly enough,” he says. He shuts the safe.
Taylor holds him, kisses his forehead. She tells him to let her try. Even when she’s actively indifferent, Taylor can’t ignore a buzzing maternal instinct. She’s most attracted to Alejandro when he seems to lose a grip.
In the ninja course, she offers the girl a Vicodin, but only if she comes into the office. Javon carries her in, seats her in a wheeled office chair and Taylor tosses her a water. Alejandro disappears to inspect the springs. He suspects they might be rusted, impugning the elasticity. His mania is intoxicating.
The girl’s name is Xyanne and soon she’s spinning in the chair, excited to write about the experience in her English journal. “She has us write these prompt-less things and I’m always unsure what to put down. Now I have something to say.”
“You have Mrs. Lawrence?”
Xyanne nods, eyes shut. Her ankle is an impressioned peach.
“I think I’m in love with her,” Taylor says.
“She’s mad fake. Hipster hidden behind crusty novels.”
“If you say so.” Xyanne stops the spinning. “Wait, did you fuck her?”
Taylor looks out the window. Of course not, she wants to say, nor is she sure she really wants to. Her attraction to Mrs. Lawrence is soft. She’d like to feel their lips graze, the heat of her breath on her neck. Sex feels almost violent, anticlimactic. Before Taylor can say this, Xyanne has hopped out of the office.
By the time they close, the spray painted van hasn’t left the other side of the street. Alejandro sits at the computer, eyes glued to the footage from the parking lot camera. He tells Taylor he’ll probably stay late and he’ll see her tomorrow. When she accidentally hits the light switch on the way out, he doesn’t flinch so she leaves it off.
The next few weeks more bones snap but business grows thick. More and more high schoolers want to jump at Vertical Leapland. A young man in cargo shorts dislocates his knee and snags a Vicodin from Taylor. Another kid snaps his shin doing inverted backflips (which are hardly distinguishable from a front flip). He whines enough to grab two Vicodin before he crawls away. Xyanne returns and while she doesn’t break anything else, complains that her ankle still throbs from the original incident. Taylor brings her into the office and drops four pills into her palm. She’d like to keep Xyanne close.
After work, Mrs. Lawrence needs to meet somewhere closer to home, so Taylor brings her cash to a bowling alley by the community college. It’s loud and dusty.
Mrs. Lawrence dons cheap aviators and a sunhat. Her lips are front and center, her nose thin and acne-scarred. Taylor offers to buy beers. “They never card here,” she says. Pins roar behind Mrs. Lawrence. A man in his fifties shoots her a spotted thumbs-up. Mrs. Lawrence says she could kill a few minutes.
Taylor asks about the school year, about her husband, because she wants to feel genuine. She hopes to hear something like regret but marriage is exactly what Mrs. Lawrence wants it to be. Her husband is a freelance app designer, so he stays home or holes up in a Starbucks for a few hours. They have a six-year-old iguana. His pay is irregular, hence the pill dealing, but he is sweet to her. When she comes home, dinner is ready and the DVR is primed. School is rough, because her students seem out of it more and more lately. “I can’t get them to think in a logical progression,” she says.
“If I were still there I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off of you.”
To this, Mrs. Lawrence nods her head, takes a swig of her beer.
When the bill comes Taylor realizes she doesn’t have enough cash leftover to pay for the Vicodin. Somewhere between romantic impulses she misplaced conventional budgeting. She apologizes, her words clinging to her throat. Her face boils beneath the skin. Looking at the table, she tells Mrs. Lawrence that she can pay her the rest later.
“Just give me what you have and we’ll tack it on to next week.”
After the bill is paid Taylor has three dollars and change.
Mrs. Lawrence examines the crinkled bills in her palm. Her mouth is shut, lips tight, and through the aviators the rest of her seems frozen. She stuffs the bills into her purse, places a single pill under a napkin. Her unwillingness to soften is devastating. “Have a good rest of your day,” she says.
Taylor waits long enough that she won’t run into Mrs. Lawrence in the parking lot. The man with the spotted thumb raises his glass, shoots her a wink. “Where’d that beautiful smile go?”
On the phone, Alejandro says he’s busy staring at the camera footage again. Juno stopped by with a single stick of dynamite, tossed it to Alejandro and promised there was more to come.
“I swear I saw a lighter flick in the window of the van. I tried to have it towed but there’s a certain number of days before–”
Taylor hangs up and heads home.
She steals a bottle of her parent’s rum and sips it in her bed. A mist of embarrassment hovers in her room. She sends Mrs. Lawrence a text message. She apologizes for her immaturity and promises it’ll never happen again. She blames it on her unconditional affection. She tells Mrs. Lawrence that she’ll be here waiting if her marriage fails, or if it doesn’t. She reminds her that she’s nineteen now, that there’s nothing in the way of their being together, and should she ever want to hide away in the ninja course, Taylor would be willing and ready. She tells Mrs. Lawrence that her heart is a spilling well. She quotes Sonnet 18. She tells her next time they meet, she’ll be ready to drive away somewhere, to hold nothing back. They could journal it, win the Pulitzer.
Taylor sends the message and sips from the bottle.
The next day a few more teenagers break their legs jumping the trampolines and Alejandro calls in a specialist to inspect the entirety of Vertical Leapland. The specialist is a tiny man with a large wrench and a burgundy jumpsuit. Alejandro directs him between trampolines by waving the stick of dynamite. Taylor hasn’t received a response from Mrs. Lawrence.
When the teenagers stop by the office, Taylor tells them she doesn’t have any more Vicodin and to make an appointment with their primary care physician. The kids curse and demand she supply them with relief, that they didn’t break their legs for nothing, but Taylor can only remind them that she cannot help. A few of them leave, but one girl stays back. Her shin bends about fifty degrees to the right. She wears blue eyeshadow and a Team Arson t-shirt over a sundress. “I know you have to be practical, but if you can’t help me, I will die. What’s more pragmatic than saving a life?”
Taylor turns her back to the girl, grabs a couple of Excedrin. She drops them into the girl’s hand, flashes a wink and Javon steps in to carry her out of Vertical Leapland.
Xyanne floats in after, ankle healed and thin. She’s prettier now that she’s happy.
“I don’t want to lie to you, nor would I prefer to break any more bones,” she says.
Taylor pulls the single pill from her purse, but doesn’t drop it into Xyanne’s hand. “This is my only one, and you have to do me a favor.” She rolls herself to the safe, spins the lock, and grabs a few twenties. “Promise you’ll give this to Mrs. Lawrence?”
“No doubt,” Xyanne says. She takes the cash and the pill and fades out the office. When she’s out of sight, Taylor is hopeless.
The specialist doesn’t find anything wrong with the trampolines and demands he be paid cash for his trouble. Alejandro slips him a few bills and throws a tantrum when he leaves. He kicks everyone out of Vertical Leapland, and jumps alone for almost an hour. His legs remain whole and narrow. He bares his teeth each time he lands safely.
In his office he watches security footage. “Look at this shit,” he says.
Taylor joins him. On the screen, in grainy black and white, is the front parking lot of Vertical Leapland. The spray-painted van sits cold in the distance. A man in a bear costume walks back and forth on all fours. Alejandro fast forwards the tape. The pacing continues for hours. At the end, the bear-man stands up, and over his costume is a large Team Arson t-shirt. He waves a stick of dynamite and walks out of the shot.
Tuesday comes and no word from either Mrs. Lawrence or Xyanne. Alejandro opens Vertical Leapland for limited hours. It reduces the breaks but doesn’t stop them from happening. After Taylor turns a few teenagers away consecutively, they stop coming.
She texts Mrs. Lawrence: Usual spot? Maybe if they return to the lifeguard station, things will reset for her.
Hours pass with no response. Alejandro asks if she could watch the floor while he steps out for a bit.
Javon eats curry in the dodgeball cage. Adults in tank tops and bandanas bean each other with the urgency of a guitar riff. Taylor takes a seat next to Javon.
“Maybe it’s something in the tap water. Do bones rust?” Javon says. He waves his chopsticks. “This place is incredible. It could be the magnitude of its potential. My bones bend thinking about it.”
Taylor scans Vertical Leapland and agrees. It is incredible. She imagines the insides of Mrs. Lawrence to be a similar warmth. Her heart a single trampoline that snaps rule breaking jumpers. Her mind a dodgeball cage. Her vagina a ninja course.
She sends another message: I’m free anytime. Probably not doing anything later.
When Alejandro returns he’s slung a crossbow over his shoulder and carries a case of energy drinks. He pulls one of the wheeled office chairs to the parking lot where he stations himself for the night. The crossbow rests in his lap and he keeps his face turned toward the spray-painted van.
Taylor watches him through the security footage until they close up shop. He only breaks to piss in the trees nearby. She still hasn’t heard from Mrs. Lawrence. On her way out, Alejandro doesn’t acknowledge her. A thin mutt sniffs the door of the van and barks a few times before trotting after a cyclist.
Her alma mater is a neighborhood school and she remembers that she would spot Mrs. Lawrence walking home during lacrosse practice. She would take a right out the school and then a left at Seaweed Street.
The detour isn’t too out of the way. If Taylor makes her way towards Seaweed Street then all she has to do is take Sixth down to Pablo and her home is a straight shot from there.
The last time she and Alejandro ate a meal together, she spent most of the evening mulling an idea for a film. Alejandro scooped something rice related onto a plastic plate and she invented a character named Gabriella. Gabriella was sweet, overly empathetic, and hungry to become a vet even though she feared blood. Her favorite color was aqua, her favorite book Emma. Her movie begins with a Florida panther on the side of I-95.
Alejandro put on a real film, something Tarentino, and Taylor built a resentment for Gabriella. Not because she couldn’t see the rest of her story, but because it was incredibly easy to. Gabriella had a goal, a real desire, and as that desire took shape in Taylor’s mind, she found herself finding Gabriella less and less familiar.
Taylor watched Alejandro shovel food into his mouth. The light of the television carved shadows around his moving jaw, giving shape to his contentment.
“Anything else you want?” Alejandro said, his shoulder with an extra slump.
“I don’t think so.”
Seaweed is a shaded street. It’s dark and the windows glow yellow. Moss hangs low and trash cans await the morning pick-up. Basketball hoops dot cul-de-sacs, shingles ice roofs.
A man in a ball cap and pajamas walks a drooping iguana in the middle of the street. He waves at Taylor and asks her for a light. “The wife threw mine out and this is my only chance to smoke.”
She tells him no and the man shrugs, disappointed. He’s rugged, athletic, and handsome enough, despite the break in his nose. She gets another idea. “Do you want to go somewhere?”
“What do you mean?”
She steps a little closer, presses her chest out, gives her eyes a deliberate laziness. She imagines the humidity awards her a gloomy kind of glisten. “There’s this trampoline place if you want to bounce around.”
The iguana hisses.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” The man pulls the leash and walks the iguana away, around a corner past a stumpy palmetto.
Soon she’s alone and her phone buzzes: I can find you a new dealer if you want.
She replies: I’m in the neighborhood, can we talk?
Taylor follows the path of the iguana. A couple of teenage boys in Team Arson t-shirts cruise by on long boards, one of them shoots her a middle finger, the other mimes masturbation. The stumpy palmetto rustles in the night. Around the corner she finds Mrs. Lawrence’s door-less jeep. When she reaches it, she slips into the passenger seat. Through a small window near the front door, Taylor spots Mrs. Lawrence at the dining room table, sifting through a stack of papers.
She sends another message: We can meet at the stumpy palmetto.
Mrs. Lawrence grabs her phone from the table, reads it, and peeks out the window.
Taylor ducks in the seat. Her hand finds itself in the front of her pants. She waits to be discovered and massages herself, soft at first, then more deliberate. She thinks about Mrs. Lawrence circling something on the paper, and moves her fingers in a similar fashion. Maybe if she’s caught, Mrs. Lawrence will understand, will drive them somewhere more private. She imagines hiding in the ninja course. There’s a magnetism bouncing from her chest, something indicative of subterranean potential. Something worth planting a flag in.
Her phone buzzes: Go home, Taylor. I will call the police.
Taylor scoots herself up and catches Mrs. Lawrence reading one of the papers. Her husband comes from a hallway, glass of wine in hand and sets it on the table. They kiss, and Mrs. Lawrence holds his face. He smiles.
Taylor slips out the jeep, her hand out of her pants. She turns her phone off and leaves the neighborhood.
Alejandro is on his feet, crossbow raised, when she returns to Vertical Leapland. He tip-toes across the parking lot towards the street.
“Come out! I saw you!”
He fires an arrow into the side of the van. It whistles and it thumps.
Taylor walks to his side and Alejandro reloads the cross bow. She asks him what he sees.
“That bear-man was thrashing about back there.” He raises the crossbow, fires another into the side of the van.
The shirted bear-man dashes from behind the van and sprints down the street. Alejandro fumbles with an arrow and the bear-man is gone before he can reload, a consequence of his drooping shoulder. “Shit!” he says.
They cross the street together. Taylor’s gloss has turned into a sweat. She wishes it would rain.
Up close she can see how erratic and uneven the van’s paint job is. It looks honey gold in the street light. The arrow punctures curve in and tight like a steel belly button. Alejandro pulls but they won’t budge. A breeze whips through and they get a whiff of something fruity and rancid. It feels like poison in Taylor’s sinus cavity.
Alejandro says it’s coming from the car. No one’s in the driver’s seat so they pull on the handle of the side door.
The door slides open, and sitting up, leaning against the back window is a rank smelling man. He dons a Team Arson t-shirt and a rubber hose around his elbow. His skin is see-through and his mouth is rigored upward at the corners.
Taylor can’t watch for too long before she feels sick. She steps away and crosses the street. She turns her phone on. There’s a new message: I think it’s best this way.
Down the street, Juno marches forward, torch in hand. Behind him is a group of teenagers, all covered in Team Arson t-shirts. Some of them gallop on crutches, others wheel themselves forward in chairs. There might be a chant, but all Taylor can hear is the sharp hiss of the iguana echo in her memory.
Alejandro grabs her hand. He pulls her close. He’s as warm as her pockets. “Are you okay?” he says.
Taylor bites his shirt, and while she doesn’t say a thing, knows that she isn’t.
Caleb Michael Sarvis is a writer from Jacksonville, Florida. He is the fiction editor for Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and received his MFA from the University of Tampa. His work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Hobart, Panhandler Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Barrelhouse, Fjords Review, Literary Orphans, Atlas and Alice, Oyster River Pages and others.