Noisy Water Review

Blueprints of the Moon

Lydia Taron

They looked at us like it was obvious. All of them. As if how we appeared on the outside truly dug into the root of our intentions, playing out in our nervous language. They could see our indecision, read our anxiety through our shaking hands stuffed deep in our dusty jean pockets. They watched us, all of them. We were the main attraction of the fair that blue August night. We won grand prize for awkwardest non-couple. We claimed the glory of the fairground with our uneasy smiles and butterfly stomachs.

I pulled some cash from the depths of the cave my hand had been sheltered in. Miles quickly reached out and handed the watchful cashier his card. “It’s on me,” he said, and I studied his profile carefully as he feigned nonchalance. He knew he didn’t have to spend money on me that. Miles took the plate of miniature pancakes generously lathered in butter, dusted with sugar snow, and together we slid into our place on the splintered park bench.

 

A bright eyed young man lounged in the crowd of engineers at the architect-hosted banquet of 1891. The room roared with brimming ideas and theories, wise men exchanging algorithms and prospective equations that represented sky-arching masterpieces. Daniel H. Burnham, a prestigious architect of the day, spoke of his frustration towards the high expectations held for his field. He smoothed his greased hair, eyes distant, threading through the prospective plans and sketches pushed beneath his nose by well-tailored, hopeful engineers. Burnham had been placed head architect for the project of selecting the next engineering phenomenon to be displayed at Chicago World’s Fair. The goal of the project was to dwarf the latest engineering marvel, 1889’s Eiffel Tower, an iron glory stretching one thousand and sixty three feet into the Paris sky. Left unnoticed by the crowd, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. sat quietly at a table, sketching blooming ideas of a giant spinning wheel across a wrinkled napkin.

 

Our minds geared and whirred and rocketed with worry, reading into each other’s every motion, every blink of the eye. We blueprinted movements and moments, hoping to make sense of each other and the ruckus surrounding us. But all I could graph was a spindly, wild-eyed eye boy across from me, with his flushed cheeks, ripped jeans, and lips dusted with powdered sugar. We were simple on the outside, the two of us. Too young for our desires, our skin so fresh and untouched. I appreciated the comfortable distance between the two of us, the splintered table and platter of pancakes bridging the nervous gap between our bodies. It was safer this way, leaving the guts of the matter--which were so vibrant to our observant crowd--uncovered. I was afraid to dig through to the unsure, because, after all, no one can take something apart and make sense of it without getting some grease on their hands. Frankly, it was a scary, fleeting thought, which I quickly discarded in exchange for a powdered pancake.

I let him eat the last pancake even though I craved it. If I didn’t have the guts to dig into the gears and thoughts brewing below that pretty boy smile, I couldn’t let him know how much I loved to eat--a well guarded secret. I gobbled that truth up and politely wiped the edges of my powdered sugar lips.

“You eat like a bird!” he said, as I kept up the faced.

The night strolled the boy with the dirt-stained jeans closer to my side, blue eyes beaming and crooked smile widening in tune with his summer stride. There was a gap between us still; we both felt it. Heavy. It was like our ride had stalled suddenly, midair, catching our breath is our throats and the ground was close, reachable. But we’d be stupid to take the plunge, right? We’d break something.

Eleven o’clock found its way to the trailing Ferris wheel line, snaking through the dry August brush. Miles fumbled with his last ride ticket, biting at his bottom lip. “It’s not enough, is it?” he asked me, nodding about the stationary wheel. It stood, timeless, against the black sky. A small-town girl in dusty shoes could close her eyes and it might as well have been the Eiffel Tower casting a glowing shadow across her cool skin. The Ferris wheel--a symbol of timeless love for the patient crowd of couples, proudly hugging their teddy bears, leaning into each other’s warmth.

I thought briefly about the two of us alone at the top of the wheel, stationary. I swallowed. “Yeah, I think it’s like, four tickets.” It was the truth. Ferris wheels come with history, and memories have a weight.

 

George W. Ferris, at the young age of thirty two, had already founded his own firm, G.W.G. Ferris & Co., a company which tested and inspected metals for railroads and bridge builders. Despite Ferris’ credentials, Burnham and the collective group of fair directors laughed away his ideas of giant spinning wheels which carry passengers through the air.  The men did not believe that the visionary could erect such a contraption. Eventually, the directors caved, giving the ambitious young designer a chance to construct his bright-eyed dream. Ferris assured the men that he would build a wheel that would astonish the world, dwarfing constructions which had come before.

Ferris went above and beyond any expectations. His invention soared with a circumference of 825 feet and a diameter of 250 feet, stretching 30 feet broad and weighing more than 4,000 tons. Two 140-foot steel towers supported the giant wheel, connected by a 45-foot axle, the largest single piece of forged steel ever made until that time. Thirty-six wooden cars  rose into the air, holding up to sixty riders within each cage.

 

I barely noticed Kat, waving anxiously at me from the front of the line. She hesitated at the gate, beckoning for me to join her. My eyes fleetingly found Miles’ face. He nodded towards my impatient, harried friend. His eyes were curious, laughing.

“Are you sure?” I asked him, as if he’d given me permission. “I feel bad...”

“I’ll be fine, I’ll see you after,” Miles shrugged.

I rushed to meet my friend in line, knowing I wouldn’t get a chance on the classic wheel that night unless I snuck in beside her. The carnie gave me a wink as he lazily closed the door on our little cab, locking us in for the duration of the ride. I tried not to notice that Miles’ eyes followed our car as it geared into action and swayed through the air. Dried dirt and sweat coated my tanned skin, cold in the shock of summer chill. I ran my hands over the goosebumps, relaxing into the cold plastic seat. It was calmer here, and I felt more comfortable suspended fifty feet above empty space than on the dusty ground. Up here, the moon painted us, and we were colorless.

 

June 11th, 1893 dawned in the crisp of fresh summer. The time came for the trial run of the great wheel. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’s wife, Margaret Ferris, eagerly volunteered to ride the high-rising wheel, to be one of the first to touch the sky from the top of the Ferris Wheel. Margaret had observed the entire construction, giving words of encouragement to the workers on the wheel throughout the trying process.

 

Rising to the top, we could see it all. Everything glowed below the moon’s silver reflection. Everything was illuminated with clarity, all electric hum of eleven o’ clock rides and small town lights. Yet the closer we rose to the summit, the quieter it became, the rush of the fairgrounds now swallowed by the darkness the August night. We found ourselves drawing closer to the silent stars which glimmered in the cloudless dim. I couldn’t see him anymore, or his dirty Romeo’s kicking dirt below us. All I saw was the world beneath my curled toes, and I listened to my own steady breathing, in time with the creak of the Ferris car. I could feel the weight of the heavy steel contraption, closing us in, protecting us and yet fighting gravity’s hunger to pull us down. The iron-bellied beast of a design, an engineering masterpiece, suspended us above a world of decisions, giving us the momentary freedom of silence and emptiness.

My heart yearned for the silver moon, for the unreachable. But at the summit, closest to what I what I wanted--I could reach out and steal the moonlight, if I wanted--I was furthest away from what I was expected to desire. He could have been any of the lights glowing below me, glimmering wistfully in the landscape of fireflies. I shivered at the drop below me, finally observing the distance between our minds, further than splintered tables topped with powdered pancakes. Why would you force two gears together, edges beveled to different shapes, manufactured for different purposes? It was wishful thinking, pushing for an unrivalled product with messy designs. Without the work, without the passion. The moon watched me knowingly. It glowed bigger and brighter than any of the hopeful stars, but some wishes are too farfetched for all the magic of silver reflection.

When the Ferris wheel touched us softly to the ground, it left us with only a couple Kodak snapshots and some well used ride-bracelets. Our feet met the dry, chewed summer grass, and for a moment I pretended that we’d stepped off at the top, our shoelaces scratching the pocketed surface of the silver moon. My eyes traced over the patient Romeo boots and met the boy’s summer sky eyes.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked, hands stuffed in his jean pockets.

Despite the intricate inner workings of the giant iron wheel, with its forty-five foot axle and complex engine dynamics, the Ferris wheel is really quite simple. The engineering genius all boils down to one science: who you choose to sit by. The person who clambers into the close-quarter cab with you should be someone who knows every creak and sway of the metal beast, yet fully relies on and trusts the engineering to take the two of you safely to the moon and back.

“Someday, maybe,” I replied, glancing back at the Ferris wheel, hollow of passengers, but glowing calmly in the dim.

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