CL Writing Contest 2017 (Top 10 Fiction): Citrus Swirl

Vote for your favorite story and poem at contest Feb. 24-March 3.

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Florida was bright. The air was wavy. It messed with your brain and made you all swirly inside. At least that’s what I heard. I found it no wonder at all why Florida was called the Sunshine State. The sun was everywhere, with no mercy as it bounced, bounced, bounced against every shiny thing, from the corner of my Grandpa’s station wagon to the tops of the groves and swamps that lined the forever highway.

But I didn’t want to miss a thing, even if it did make my brain all silly. My eyes were planted out the window, to the true blue sky and rows and rows of greenery and fruit. I sucked gingerly on a lemon-flavored wax bottle, the Bee Gees harmonizing on the radio.

A chuckle sounded beside me.

“Not like this up in ol’ Hanover, is it?” asked my Grandpa, his bushy brows jumping up when I squinted over at him.

Specks and splotches clouded my eyesight as I recovered from the sun, forcing me to look down. I studied my pale blue sneakers and brown plaid pants.

“It was freezing when I left there!” I said, one side of my mouth full of chewed wax. “How is it so, so, so, so warm here, Grandpa?”

“One of the miracles of Florida, Munchkin,” he replied. My name wasn’t Munchkin. It was Patty, but Grandpa had been calling me that since I was little, told me he was passing my mother’s nickname to me since I was now the shortest one in the family.

“You can go outside and enjoy yourself all year round!” he continued while I popped my ABBA 8-track tape into the car’s stereo deck. “Which is why I can take you to the Most Magical Place on Earth on your winter break.”

It had been planned months ago after we visited Grandpa in the summer, when Nana had died. He had been sad, but I was the only one who could make him smile. I had huffed about wanting to go to the Disney place that I always saw during Sunday night TV time when they played old movies like The Monkey’s Uncle and Peter Pan.

Grandpa had promised me he would take me himself after my parents told me they couldn’t afford it.

My parents had been fine with it at first, until it got closer, and closer, and a week before, I heard them speaking whisper-yell sort of voices they thought I couldn’t hear.

“Polly,” my dad had said to my mom as I crept outside their bedroom. “Your father hasn’t been right since your mother passed. He’s been forgetting things, like what day it is! He thought Patty was 11, not 12. I’m not so sure about sending her on this trip with him.” He’d made a huffing sound, the bed squeaking as someone sat on it.

“Oh, stop. He’s fine,” my mom said. I stared at the tangerine carpet tufts that poked out from under their door. “My father is as sharp as a tack, scrappy as ever. It’s not like you and I don’t forget things from time to time. I couldn’t think of the word for those stupid Shrinky Dinks the other night and Patty plays with them all the time!” She laughed, but I didn’t think it was funny.

My dad sighed, “Polly, he gets this look in his eyes, like he’s off in space. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Florida sun getting him all foggy, but I don’t want him to forget her.”

That’s when their voices got all quiet, no whisper-yelling, just whispers, and I couldn’t hear them anymore.

But they let me go anyway. I got so nervous Grandpa wouldn’t recognize me I made a big sign on the plane out of my Barbie notebook that said “Grandpa’s Munchkin” and he saw me and he didn’t forget me at all.

But what if he did?

What if the Florida sun made him all foggy inside, like Dad said?

What if it made me that way? I stopped looking out the window. “Grandpa, are you going to forget me?” I asked. “That’s a far out idea, Munchkin. What makes ya think that?” he asked. “Dad said that the sun was making you forget.” He barked out a laugh, his mustache bristling. “I’m old, but I ain’t senile. What your Papa doesn’t realize is that being old means you gotta hold a lot of riffraff up in your noggin and sometimes it takes longer to search for it.”

His dark eyes twinkled as he glanced at me, tapping my nose with his finger. “There ain’t no forgetting you, Munchkin. Got that?”

I smiled, “Right, Grandpa. Got it.”

His mustache spread with his grin as he nodded up ahead, “And look, we’re here.”

We passed under the white arch with its pretty red letters saying WALT DISNEY WORLD, a row of pennants of various colors billowing in the breeze above it.

We parked next to the Volkswagen van and rode the heavy-smelling tram of white and yellow to the ticket center. Grandpa got us our tickets, and then he let me choose between the monorail or the ferry. I chose the monorail and gaped out of its curved windows at the impressive hotels and the sparkling lagoon that surrounded them.

I gasped at the blue and silver spires that rose above the trees. The castle, so much more grand than what you saw on the television.

Magic was here, and it was all mine, and no silly sun stuff was going to take it away.

I noticed he was staring at me, and I laughed as I looked over at him. “What is it?”

“You look so much like my Polly,” he murmured, blinking at me, before he looked back out the window.

I opened my mouth to say something, but the monorail had come to a squeaking stop, and we were free to enter the park.

We walked into the entrance land; Main Street. It smelled like cookies and popcorn. It was decorated with smiling faces in straw hats and vests and petticoat skirts. Grandpa told me all about how a lot of Pennsylvania used to look as charming as this, and how some of it still did. It made him feel young again, he told me.

I gravitated towards the castle, towering above me, promising adventure and wonder beyond its open gate. I wanted to run through, join the sprawls of morning crowd with their earth tones and platforms and breakfast pastries to see what lay on the other side.

“Not so fast, Munchkin. Not so often I get to take my favorite little princess to places like this,” Grandpa said, stopping me in my tracks. He was holding a map, the paper saturated with jam-packed illustrations of all the fun that could be had.

I hopped up and down on my heels. The sun beat down on my exposed arms.

“I want to go to space, Grandpa! There’s an outer space roller coaster over there!” I gestured wildly to the side, “I saw it on the TV!”

He laughed, shaking his head. “Going to space... We are a long ways from that.”

I raised an eyebrow, popping my hands onto my hips, “Grandpa, we landed on the moon just a few years ago. We just talked about it in school.”

“I know that, little one.” He coughed, fisted his chest a couple times. “But you know, you and me going to space is a long long time from now.” “But this is a roller coaster!” I argued. Grandpa went on blabbering about the Cyclone in Coney Island as he led me at a leisurely pace through the castle. I ran my hands along the tiles depicting Cinderella’s story as Grandpa spoke of the old theme parks up north, and how he heard that the magnificent carousel that greeted us at the end of the castle walkway was rescued from a shut-down New Jersey park.

We rode the golden carousel with an A ticket, and got to fly with an elephant and with my favorite Peter Pan with two C tickets. The princess in me beamed, but the rough and tumble me that played with Rock-Em Sock-Em robots urged to ride the Grand Prix, the rumble so distant in the background. I still wanted to go to space, and to see the famous pirates, and trek through the haunted grounds.

Grandpa would laugh at my whines and ruffle my hair. We ate a pretzel and he dragged me to Halls of Presidents with a D ticket.

He was so majorly slow, his limp from the war seeming worse than it had before, because all I wanted to do was rush rush rush to everything and anything and it was already past noon and the E ticket burned a hole in my hand.

But I didn’t want to leave him. What if he forgot? The sun was burning holes through my skin. We stopped to sunscreen my red arms and cheeks. “Your mother wouldn’t forget to sunscreen. What a ninny I am.” “Um, it’s okay,” I said, my voice muffled as he rubbed the coconut stuff onto my cheeks. “Hey, what are we doing next, Grandpa?”

“Hmm?” His brows raised up, rubbing the excess sunscreen on his own papery cheeks before he popped the travel bottle into his jacket pocket. “Oh, well, I’d thought we’d go on the Peoplemover, maybe that ole Riverboat, get one of those Citrus Swirl people be talking abou–“

“Ugh.” I dropped my head back, blowing a breath out, my vibrating lips making me sound like a horse. “Okay.”

Grandpa squinted at me, before he suddenly walked away. I stared as he walked off without a word, rounding a corner. I waited, but after a couple minutes, he didn’t come back. Unable to wait any longer, I ran around the corner, and smacked right into him.

“Whoa, whoa, Munchkin. What we running around for?” “I-I thought you were leaving me, or you forgot, or–“ Grandpa chuckled, “‘Course not! I just got you these.” He fanned out a spread of E tickets, the green paper shining in the sun. “I’ve been holding my little adventurer back. This ticker–“ he gestured to his chest. “–isn’t good for going to space or seeing spooks... I’ve seen enough spooks in my life...” he trailed off, looking past my face, before he handed them to me. “You go on now.” He pulled out his map, and a pen from his shirt pocket. He circled the bottom left corner, and underlined three words on the index: SUNSHINE TREE TERRACE. “You go on, and meet me for a Citrus Swirl at the Sunshine Tree at 2 o’clock. I’ll be waiting for you, munchkin.” I took the map, heart thumping, wanting so badly to go but so afraid to be out of his sight. “But what will you do, Grandpa? You won’t forget me, will you?”

“Oh, stop with that,” he chortled. “I am doing what I said earlier. No fancy adventures. You go have fun, but save one of those tickets so we can see the Tropical Serenade together. Okay?”

“Okay!” I slammed myself into him for a hug, thanked him, and skipped off.

I became consumed in minutes. Nothing was holding me back. I trekked the seven seas with a mangy crew of pirates. I climbed the tallest tree. I faced strange and unusual spirits. I went wild with Mr. Toad. I discovered the bottom of the ocean in a submarine. I met a raven-haired princess. I whirled in a runaway teacup with Alice. I drove my first car. I traipsed off to Space Mountain, whirled through the stars in my invisible oxygen dome.

I did, did, did. I did everything but remember.

All that time afraid my Grandpa would forget me, and I was busy forgetting him.

I forgot until I got off my second greedy space excursion and saw a couple sharing a dessert of white ice cream swirled with orange sweetness: the Citrus Swirl.

I looked at my wrist watch. It was 2:21. I ran. Even though the workers and the security officers told me ever so gently not to run, I still ran. I ran past the walls of rock and steel of tomorrow, cleared the castle courtyard, over the bridge into the tropical landscape of mysterious isles.

The Sunshine Tree Terrace wasn’t hard to find, as an orange bird greeted kids right outside of its wooden tiki-style exterior.

At first, I didn’t see my grandfather. Maybe he forgot, like I had, maybe he was having his own fun.

Or maybe he forgot why he was there and left. Maybe he was angry at me. I circled the area, sweat beneath my corduroys and pooling into my sneakers. “Munchkin! There you are! The Swirls are melting.” I whipped around to see my Grandpa sitting on the flat of a rock wall, shaded by a myriad of palm trees, holding two cardboard cups of orange and cream.

“I’m so sorry!” I ran up to him. “I lost track of time, and I thought–“

“All’s good, all’s good, my dear.” He handed me the Citrus Swirl that had more in it.

I plopped down beside him, catching the eye of the woman across from us, behind the Sunshine Tree counter. Her brow was raised, her mouth pursed, but she smiled a strange smile and quickly looked away when I caught her eye.

“How long were you waiting for me, Grandpa?” I asked as I took a bite of the Citrus Swirl. It was the right amount of tart and creamy.

“Ah, not too long, Polly.” The next bite fell off my spoon and into my lap. “I’m not Polly, I’m–“ “My little Munchkin,” Grandpa said, looking at me but not truly. “Of course you are.”

Vote for your favorite story and poem at contest Feb. 24-March 3.

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