There was this stupid charity event in the town square. Some firemen were walking through the crowd, collecting for one of those ‘make a wish’ children’s charities. They were going to pull a fire engine with a rope. I didn’t give them anything. I hate those things. It’s always swimming with dolphins or going to Disney World. I swam with dolphins once, and I thought it was shit.
It wasn’t a wish being fulfilled. I wasn’t dying or anything. We went to Florida in the summer break when I was twelve. One morning dad drove us all to the coast. Mum said we were going for a day out at the beach, but she was one of the worst liars anybody had ever met. When we got there she turned around in her seat, smiling like an idiot. ‘You two know what we’re doing today?’ she asked. It was supposed to be some big surprise. My little sister Mattie almost broke my eardrums with her screaming when mum told us. She was ecstatic. I didn’t blame her though, because she was just a little kid. She didn’t know any better.
Anyway, we got out of the car and there was this wooden hut nearby and on the side it had this awful painting of a smiling cartoon dolphin with a rainbow above its head. You should have seen it. We went inside and some old man was there. He made my parents sign some forms, probably so we didn’t sue them if we drowned or got bitten or something. Then he got these life jackets out. I told him I didn’t need one, but he said, ‘You don’t wanna drown out there, boy.’ I kept telling him it was too tight, but he kept saying it was fine. I think I’d rather drown than wear one of those again.
Outside, there was this wooden jetty that had two rowboats tied to either side of it. Mum looked like it was the happiest day of her life and she wasn’t even getting in the water. ‘Oh, isn’t this magical?’ she said to dad. He just nodded. I don’t think he cared either. Maybe that’s where I get it from. He didn’t even raise his voice when he caught her with someone else that time. That was the problem with dad. He never cared about anything.
Mattie ran ahead when she saw the dolphins.
‘Be careful now, you hear?’ the man shouted, but she wasn’t listening. Once she got her mind on something you could never talk her out of it.
She stopped at the end. There must have been five or six dolphins there, jerking around like excited dogs when they know they’re about to go for a walk. The man climbed down into the water, then held his arms out while dad lowered Mattie to him.
I jumped right in. I just felt like doing it. ‘Hey,’ I shouted, ‘what do we do now?’
‘What do you mean? Enjoy yourself! You’ve got a half hour out here before the next group arrives. Just enjoy yourself.’
I still didn’t get what I was supposed to do. I kept my arm around the steps at the side while the man and Mattie played with those damn dolphins.
‘Let’s get a nice photo for grandma,’ mum said. How are you supposed to get a nice photo when you’re floating around with a stupid life jacket on and you’ve got these things wriggling all around you, smelling you or whatever, and you don’t even know what you’re supposed to be doing? That picture is still hung up in grandma’s living room. I hate it.
Anyway, some of the women in the crowd in the town square were going on about how damn sexy those firemen were. Whistling and everything. But they’re not like that in real life, are they? When you see them, real ones, I mean, they always look normal, no better than anyone else. Some fat, even. Some the wrong side of fifty.
They picked up this rope that was attached to the front of the fire engine. Nobody really knows how heavy those things are though, do they? And it’s on wheels, so really all you need to do is get it going and then it rolls all by itself for a while, so it’s not that impressive if they’re sharing the weight. But some people in the crowd were gasping like it was the most amazing thing they’d ever seen.
I got really worried all of a sudden. There wasn’t anything separating this thing from the crowd, nothing telling people how far back to stand. They were standing all over the place. Kids running around, everything. There wasn’t anyone in the driver’s seat ready to slam the breaks on if something went wrong. I saw it. They were going to pull it forwards and lose control and the crowd would be dragged underneath it and there would be nothing anyone could do.
I sort of wanted it to happen, the more I thought about it. I wanted everything to go wrong for them so everyone would realise that these guys weren’t so great. But nothing did go wrong in the end. They pulled the fire engine forwards for a bit and people moved out of the way and it rolled to a stop and the crowd started clapping and cheering and then started to put even more money in the bucket. That was it. I didn’t hang around for long.
All I’m saying is, those kids the firemen were collecting for are probably going to end up disappointed with whatever they get. That’s the problem with those things, isn’t it? I know they’re ill and everything, but what do they have to look forward to after they get their wishes? I don’t know. I don’t know what I was expecting. I’d rather have gone swimming with sharks, I think. At least you know where you are with a shark.
Spencer Chou is a writer and editor from Nottingham, England. He runs the literary magazine and publisher The Nottingham Review, and has been published in various places. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. You can find him on Twitter @spencerchou.