𝓐𝓵𝓪𝓷𝓪 𝓓𝓾𝓷𝓵𝓸𝓹


In front of me, on the hardwood floor of Sarah’s apartment, is the best skatepark I’ve ever seen. A miniature version of the steps near Van Horne and St Laurent where thirteen-year-olds smoke and do kickflips. It’s a maze of plastic straws, tied together to mimic fences, and wooden doorstops pretending to be ramps. A carved-out cardboard box is fashioned into a halfpipe. There’s a bed flipped on its side and pushed against the wall, so that the bed legs form the grind rails, glinting under the ceiling lights. A metal basin in the middle of the room is now the skate bowl. It rattles to the music pumping out of the Bluetooth speaker. A steel napkin holder is fastened to a lampshade and lit with matches: the gauntlet of fire. It’s the National Fingerboard Festival and all the lesbians are here. They sip on Blue Revs and sit cross-legged against the wall and show me how good they can crack their knuckles. Through the dirty window I can see the moon, huge and yellow and pimply and groaning across the sky.
    Tech decks taught 2000s kids that you can be very creative with just your fingers. With just your fingers you can simulate extreme sports. Flex your index on the plastic board and you’re fucking flipping, gliding through the air like a seagull with a French fry in its teeth. Add your middle finger and a little pressure and it’s a 180 heelflip, the likes of which Tony Hawk has never seen, in fact you can be Tony Hawk, disembodied, you can be him without the feet or the dick. Add a fourth finger and you’re just showing off. You’re grinding the rail. The board’s tiny wheels click and release, click and release, like a tongue prodding the roof of the mouth.
    I watch in awe as the competitors steady their boards. They’re getting ready to face-off in a three-round tech deck tournament. The first contestant has long hair that looks wet, like she got caught in the rain or just stepped out of the shower. She has no tattoos, and a babyish face despite her hard glare. She looks like an American Girl doll who has been dragged behind a car for a few blocks. She’s the type to shower at a house party, the type to thrive on impulse, like a mean pony kicking over buckets in the cross-ties. I imagine she has a van parked outside, pimped out with chrome wheels and an “I hate God” bumper sticker. She looks familiar, like maybe she had given me loose change at the depanneur, pulled two warm loonies from the pocket of her jeans when I came up short, or maybe in the park I bummed a smoke from her friend with the tattooed head and she snorted when I struggled to light in the breeze.
    Sarah, my ex girlfriend, is standing next to me. “That’s Ida Alberta,” she says. She says it like all the A’s are pores and admiration is oozing out. I’ve heard of her before. She’s notorious in the scene for smoking the kind of hash that can explode your lungs. I survey the faces of the crowd, people slurring her name in excited whispers. “She’s banned from entering the US,” someone next to me says, before being shushed by the girl beside her. I’ve heard Ida Alberta used to steal license plates. And my friend Tess, whose friend Kai went on a date with her, said that she ate a scorpion whole. Just plucked it off the beach and popped it into her mouth. Apparently she sells ket at the base of the cross on Mont-Royal, and she really jacks up the prices. My coworker used to be her neighbour and said her ex was a roller derby champion and one day she just skated out of her apartment screaming and never came back.
    Sarah nudges me. “I see how you’re looking at her– seriously, don’t do it,” she says, “Ida’s bad news. She really fucked up her last partner. She had to move back to Sarnia and she’ll need to do intense exposure therapy if she has any hope of going camping again.”
    It’s easy to ignore Sarah and fall back into my imagination. I picture Ida opening a beer bottle with her teeth, spitting out the cap. I picture Ida raising her middle finger in photos at the West Edmonton Mall. I picture Ida fucking me near the highway stubbled with potholes, and in the long dry Prairie cornfields, and in the van on the leather seats slick with rain.
    Sarah turns down the music and everyone stops talking. The obstacle course suddenly feels very big, and Ida seems small next to the halfpipe. She balls her hands into fists. “May the strongest, most agile fingers win!” someone shouts from across the room. I snicker. Sarah glares at me.
    Ida’s fingers are lean and long. She puts the pads of her index and middle on the board. My stomach drops when she uses her thumb to push off, gathering momentum, her board skimming across the floor, her wheels moaning with effort, ridges of concentration forming around her mouth. She closes her eyes, feeling her way through the course. She shimmies her two fingers over the board like they’re dancing, like they have lives of their own, completely separate from her arm, from her shoulders and her chest and all the other parts of her body that cower in her big sweater.
    She throws the board into the metal bowl, then catches it on the upswing. The wheels against metal make a tinny sound, like wind chimes, like fingernails tapping against chain-link fences, and it echoes through the apartment, reverberating off the walls. She clears the bowl and approaches the gauntlet. Her wet hair drips on the path.
    The flames surrounding the napkin holder are tall and menacing. Ida bites her lip, and I shiver. At the mouth of the gauntlet, her board catches air, and I suck my teeth. For a second her finger loses contact with her board, and she is twisting it in the nothingness, in the hot apartment stewing with beer breath, and the board is going rogue, soaring towards the rowdy flames. The gauntlet sways. Time freezes. My ex lets out a screech. Ida’s fingers are desperate and twitching. I push my chin into my knees, bracing myself for disaster, imagining the burning napkin holder and lampshade clanging to the ground, the fire licking the wooden ramps and floorboards and the puddle of spilled vodka, the flames growling across the floor, scaling up the curtains, finding the bottle of spray paint in between the couch cushions, the whole apartment exploding, the view from outside the street like a firework spectacle of flying Tech Decks and beer cans and carabiners and limbs. But she slides her hand through the gauntlet and catches her board inside: one finger tapping the bottom of the board, the second stroking the deck. She winces, the heel of her hand grazing the flame. She’s through it now. The whole room erupts in raucous applause. Sarah writes in a notepad, furiously tallying points.
    Ida Alberta smiles but her eyes are wet. She gets up shakily, cradling her left hand, the one she burnt, in the palm of her right. She looks scared, and shy, and looking at her now I hardly believe all the rumors. She rushes to the bathroom. Without thinking, I jump to my feet and follow her, pulled forward by a panicked voice in my head that is telling me to stand up, to lean against the doorframe and watch her wash her hands in the porcelain sink, to watch her examine her fingers, to watch her wipe the blood from the tender burnt spot close to her wrist. She makes eye contact with me in the mirror.
    “Nice job,” I say lamely. My heart is racing.
    She looks back down at her hands. “That gauntlet nearly killed me.”
    “Are you from Alberta?” I blurt. She blushes slightly, like she’s embarrassed. She says nothing, but I take that as a yes, I take that as a yes and that she is ashamed, and that maybe she has sheared a sheep before or been fucked in a corn field and maybe she did eat the scorpion whole.
    I take a few steps towards her, emboldened because I’m taller than her and because I’m drunk. “You’re so good at Tech Decks, it’s like, inspiring. I’ve heard you’re the Tech Deck Champion in Quebec. That you’re gonna go compete in Vancouver.” I know I sound weird but I can’t stop, I want to say as many words to her as possible, I want to flex language like she flexes her fingers, I want to crouch over words like she crouches over her board and wills it to move, to make things possible.
    She lets out a laugh that turns into a grunt. I look for scorpion scales in her teeth but find only the glint of silver fillings. “Yeah. Vancouver is a snake pit, so wish me luck.” She runs her burn under the faucet again and closes her eyes, squinting in pain.
    “Let me help,” I say, taking her fingers in mine, flipping her hand over, evaluating the raised bump which has started to pus. I notice she’s double-jointed; her thumb is curved to nearly 90 degrees. I notice she’s looking at my hands too.
    She removes her fingers from my grasp and digs around in the front pocket of her cargo pants. For five terrifying seconds I’m sure she’s going to pull out a dime bag or animal bones or a knife. She pulls out her Tech Deck.
    “You wanna see something?” she whispers. I can’t imagine looking away, not now, not while she’s got her two fingers on her Tech Deck, while she’s stepping closer to me and tracing her board up my arm, the tiny hairs standing erect, the wheels cool against my skin. She grinds the board over my collarbone like it’s a skate rail. She whirls the board around my clavicle like it’s spinning out in the bowl. She lifts my tank top up a bit, to expose my stomach, and she pushes the wheels from my sternum to my bellybutton, following skin highway, the trail of blonde hair. I arch my back, letting out a small moan. She stops and looks me in the eyes, her face looming over mine. I see stolen license plates and fires rippling through the apartment and explosions of girls with plastic straws and rubble in their hair. I see something big and scary, the thing that made Ida’s ex girlfriend scream and run.
    “Keep going,” I say, and then I think it and I think it and I think it, and she’s moving the skateboard further down, and I’m thinking keep going until the words twist around inside my mind, until they’re cracked open like an egg, like an empty tube of paint, and I’m picturing her fingers that seem to act automatically, attuned to the most microscopic of movements, how I watched her middle and index thrust the board over the ramp and the halfpipe, and now here in the bathroom they curl and pulse on their own.

       Alana Dunlop is a writer based in Montreal. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in THIS Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, and Yolk Literary, among others. She is a 2023-2024 Canada Council for the Arts grant recipient and is working on a short story collection exploring queer subcultures in Montreal. Find her at alanadunlop.online.