Paula nibbled her right index fingernail and stifled a chuckle, a half-eaten Tupperware container of Fiddle Faddle shaking on her lap. Doug snorted beside her, not from amusement but sleep apnea. Their doctor suggested a CPAP, but somehow the money for such third-tier necessities was always a paycheck away. Either Hannah needed a dental retainer, Logan had Little League camp, or Paula’s aging Durango threw a rod on the 405. Doug hoped to take the kids down to San Diego this summer, see Shamu before the activists had SeaWorld shut down, but it’d take an economic miracle to make that happen.
After another bite of caramel-coated relief, Paula resealed the Tupperware carefully. She allowed herself junk food only one time each day, during The Daily Show’s opening segment. Gotta keep my girlish figure, she reminded herself, then vowed to return to Pilates once the money for classes rematerialized. She risked boosting the volume one notch higher, glancing at Doug’s rumpled form on the couch to make sure he was snoozing away. He snorted again, his hair damp on his forehead.
Tonight’s show was all about Bliss Panerotic, a theme park opening mid-June on Catalina Island. In high school two decades ago, Doug had taken her to Catalina on a date; they munched fish and chips at a seaside diner and played miniature golf. She found it difficult to reconcile the tame, affluent community of Avalon on the island’s east coast with this new western-harbor resort, a park that catered mostly to swingers and other sexual libertines. Jon Stewart called Panerotic “Wild Kingdom” and showed a Photoshopped image of a shirtless dude with a ’70s mustache, a lecher who humped Minnie Mouse’s leg.
When Stewart tossed to the ad break, Paula muted the TV and Googled “Bliss Panerotic” on her outdated iPhone. She learned the park hosted gourmet restaurants, an indoor water park, casinos, even a couple of thrill rides. She found herself wondering about the people who’d visit such a place. Maybe Jamie, her sister, for example, still unmarried at 35 but having her way, Paula imagined, with the male population of Manhattan Beach. She thought about her boss, a forlorn mouth-breather who made a half-drunken pass at her one night at a going-away party, then avoided her for weeks. She imagined herself basking in a hot tub, savoring the attentions of a faceless young man with tanned skin and a cobblestone stomach. The fantasy dissipated when a Subway ad came on. Mm, sweet onion chicken teriyaki! She’d have to remember that at lunch tomorrow.
As Doug brushed his teeth the next morning, hawking minty froth past her into the sink, she asked if he’d ever be interested in visiting one of those sexy beach resorts, maybe Hedonism II or that new place on Catalina Island. Doug regarded her as if she’d grown a rubber clown nose. “Are you kidding me?” he asked. “Hang around with a bunch of hairy degenerates in a KOA somewhere? Those people are wastin’ good money, y’ask me. I can show you a truck stop where people get chlamydia for free.”
Paula worked part-time at Fisher’s Door & Window Showroom in Glendale, a job she enjoyed slightly more than a trip to the dentist, slightly less than her average lunch at Subway. Today marked a highlight of her week, however, the regular Wednesday supply run of an attractive local contractor named Michael Purcell. Each time he came in, he’d make a point of doing business with her, even declining other service if she was busy helping someone else. He often smiled at her and called her “darlin,’” a habit that’d irritate her if any other man did it. When Michael Purcell called her “darlin,’” she all but blushed. “I think he’s got a little crush on you,” her boss once suggested, trying to turn it into a joke.
“Aw,” she said, “he’s probably married just like me.”
“I didn’t see a ring,” her boss responded.
“Aw,” she said again. “I bet he’s got a thousand girlfriends all over L.A. I mean whoa, look out.” But in her reveries, she and Michael would often escape to the Italian countryside, where he fed her sweet grapes and then ravished her adroitly in a vineyard. It wasn’t that she harbored any plans to accede to his flirtations, a level of friendliness she eagerly exaggerated in her mind, but she sometimes wondered what it might be like to be with a man like Michael. She imagined an opulent hotel room that smelled of his woody cologne. She imagined him kissing her neck, his breath warming her skin as a roller coaster flashed past their balcony window. She imagined Michael sighing her name, his hands moving to–
Music! Her ringtone, a Taylor Swift anthem chosen by her daughter, warbled from her purse. She extracted her phone and saw the call was from Doug. He was probably calling to tell her he was starving so have dinner ready when he got home, a request that’d give her about twenty fevered minutes to work culinary miracles. She frowned deeply, a harsh reply assembling on her lips, when Michael rounded the corner and smiled. “I, um—-excuse me, I do have to take this,” she sighed, as she unlocked the phone. He put his hands up and slowly backed away.
Paula wrapped half her sandwich to save it for later, then trudged back to her SUV. She’d finish the rest of it at work or let her kids split it on the ride home from school. As she left the Subway parking lot, her favorite radio station, 104.3 MYfm (“More variety from the ’90s till now!”), finished the second of two back-to-back Bruno Mars hits. Upbeat DJ Morgan Hart, her voice a rasping reminder of Jäger shots past, announced another installment of the Workaday Pop-Tastic Trivia Break, an ongoing contest. “I’ll take, let’s see, how ’bout my lucky second caller?” Hart growled. “Our sponsor today is Panerotic Entertainment, so boy, this seems totally appropriate: let’s see who out there wants to ‘Shoop.’ This is 104.3!”
Trapped at a long light on Colorado Boulevard, Paula shrugged, grabbed her phone, and keyed in the station’s number as Salt-N-Pepa initiated their ode to Mr. Lover. To her great surprise, the call rang through swiftly. “Hey, this is Morgan,” the familiar voice announced in Paula’s Bluetooth earbud. “You’re my lucky number two. What’s your name?”
“I, um, Paula,” Paula replied, poleaxed.
“Can I get you to turn down your radio, Paula?”
The stoplight turned green. “Er, sorry, right.” Paula groped at her dash console, then jumped when her foot was slow hitting the gas and an angry horn sounded behind her. “Sorry! I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay, Paula,” Morgan continued. “You have nothing to be sorry about, believe me. This stuff happens all the time. So okay! Let’s see if you can’t answer today’s Pop-Tastic Trivia question. I want to make you a winner today!”
“Sure. I uh—-”
“You feel like a winner today, Paula?”
“Well, I…I hope so.” Paula chuckled awkwardly. “I’d sure like to be a winner.” Good Lord, she thought, I sound like a total doofus. Get a grip, Paula.
“Exactly,” Morgan replied without missing a beat. “I mean, wouldn’t we all, am I right? Okay, so here goes. Got your thinking cap on?”
“I’m uh, yes, Morgan. Er. I mean. Yeah.”
“Cool. So. Tell me, Paula: in his spare time, which superstar wrote both ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘Manic Monday?’”
“Prince,” Paula blurted, then immediately second-guessed herself. “I mean, um. Er.” Why would Prince, of all people, write a song for Sinéad—-
“You’re right!” Morgan squawked. “Awesome job, Paula! You’re our Pop-Tastic Trivia winner today!”
“Neat!” Paula said.
“I’ll say it’s neat! Oh my God, you are something! Well, listen, Paula, I have two tickets for you and a very special friend, if you know what I’m saying, to the grand opening weekend of Bliss Panerotic! You’ve heard of this place, I know you have. Like, everybody out there is talking about it. It’s an über-sexy adult theme park, with all kinds of cool stuff to get you and your sweetie all hot and bothered for a full two-day getaway. So how rad is that, Paula? You just became one of L.A.’s sexiest people, all for listening to 104.3 MYfm! Who’s a winner today, Paula?”
“Oh, um, me,” Paula said. “I’m a winner.”
Morgan collected Paula’s full name and mailing address. Then, the next day, two tickets arrived in the mail, wrapped neatly in flyers for Bliss Panerotic and the iHeart Radio Music Festival. Paula regarded her winnings suspiciously, shoving them into her purse with a guilty start when her daughter charged into the room. Doug spent most of dinner exhorting the kids to pipe down. “You kids eat,” he barked. “You’re makin’ your mother here a nervous wreck.”
“I did?” Paula blurted. She’d been contemplating the tickets in her purse, trying to decide whether she should give them away. But to who? Or, for that matter, why the heck couldn’t she and Doug take a private vacation? Well, for one thing, he’d already said no. Oh, it was hopeless. Never mind finding a weekend sitter on short notice, how could she and Doug afford all those restaurant meals? Maybe her boss would want the tickets. He was married, right? His wife’s name was…Gloria? Sylvia? Something Hispanic, Paula was sure of it. Gretchen?
Maybe Paula’s sister would want the tickets. Oh, but that’d be too weird. And what if the place was amazing? No, Paula couldn’t stand for Jamie to have all that fun, too, on top of her already-fabulous life. Share the wealth, Jamie, for Pete’s sake. At least Paula could sell the tickets on eBay, maybe earn enough to pay a few bills.
As she lay in bed that night, her husband periodically snoring beside her, Paula thought about Michael’s awkward smile. She imagined him removing his shirt, his waist narrow and tanned, and the rustle of his jeans as they slid off his hips. She moved toward him, her breath hastening as his fingers found the small of her back. She thought about touching herself, but goodness, it was always so embarrassing when Doug woke in the middle. “Hey, what’s got you all worked up?” he’d say, and for the next fifteen minutes it’d be all about him. No, she was happier just drifting away.
Moments later, she was standing outside Bliss Panerotic, an all-access pass around her wrist. She gazed up at a stylized version of the main gate depicted on the flyer. A mob of anonymous visitors surged around her. She discovered she was clad in a silken red dress, with a summer breeze tickling her shoulders, pale legs and shallow cleavage. Michael’s fingers found hers. They held hands, and she met his gray eyes, unafraid.
“This is silly,” she told him, shaking her head. “I’m just totally dreaming right now. I am. I know I am. This is like, what do you call it, lucid dreaming. It’s so crazy. I could never do something like this in real life.”
“So do you want to wake up?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Ask me later.” And they stepped through the gate, arm in arm, into Bliss Panerotic.
*Lynn Savage is the “writing partner” and occasional pen name of Christian Carvajal, recently voted Olympia’s “Best Writer” by readers of the Weekly Volcano. For more about the adult theme park Bliss Panerotic, check out Savage’s new novel, Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride, now available from online e-book vendors including http://www.Smashwords.com.