The Pirate Ship

by Sam Bratkon

art by Nic Sugrue


She’s much taller than most kids her age. Her feet are actually bigger than mine. From a height standpoint she was big enough to go on every ride at the beachfront carnival, but intellectually she’s right where she should be, 6-years-old. Myself being 15 years her elder, I often felt more like a mom than a big sister. Regardless, I was naturally uneasy when during our vacation to the beachfront carnival she insisted on riding the pirate ship.

I’ll go on almost every ride but that was where I drew the line. Rides with big drops or anything with movements resembling the Tower of Terror are a no-go for me. I feared the sensation that makes my feet squirm, of my bladder in my throat, that makes me count the seconds until I’m back on solid ground.

But she insisted on riding, announcing that she had been on a pirate ship before and was not afraid. A friend of mine volunteered to ride with her. My sister beamed a gap-tooth smile with every swoop, flaunting her enjoyment in the midst of my doubt.   

In addition to the nights spent at the waterfront carnival, on the last day of our vacation I took her to an amusement park about ten minutes from the house we were staying at. We went with some of my friends after lunch that day. She had a ham and cheese sandwich for the third day in a row. The meal would become a staple of her diet in the coming weeks.

The day was filled with high pitched screams, winning stuffed pigs from carnival games, and the sun glistening off her round brown eyes.

As we made our way around the park, our group approached the park’s pirate ship. Much to the insistence of her and my friends, I strapped into the ride, right in the center row. My sister decided to sit all the way in the back. Once the ride began I found myself surprisingly enjoying it. With the fear faded, I kept turning my head back to watch her shriek with joy as she experienced the ride.  

We filled the following hours with snacks and screams and spins.

I promised her one last ride at the end of our adventure and of course she requested the pirate ship. Having previously in the day conquered my fear of riding it, I chose to sit one row closer to the back to heighten the sensation of each swoop. After our bar was secured the ride took off and began gaining momentum. This time, sitting beside me, my sister admitted she was afraid. She began begging to get off as the ship ascended towards the clouds. I couldn’t understand why she was so upset this time around, considering she had pleaded with me to ride a few nights before.

I wrapped my arms around her head, pulling her into my chest, and asked her to close her eyes. I sang to her gently, to no song, in particular, just making up words about how it would all be over soon and attempting to murmur her shouts that arose with each swing.

When the bars released she ran off and looked up at me with those big brown eyes, swollen from tears, as we walked out the exit. I again promised her one more ride. Followed by one more game. And maybe a snack later. Because I can’t stand to disappoint her.

Although I decided years ago that I never wish to bear children of my own, I can equate to no other the pride I felt when the cashier at TJ Maxx asked if she is my daughter the week before our vacation. The possibility that something so beautiful and pure could be brought forth from me is humbling.