Florida Dreams of Mountains by Elissa Cahn

Under the Florida sun, Ryan moves like a sloth through water. When he and his daughter finally reach the front of the line for Space Mountain, she bolts underneath the divider. “I’m scared,” she says. Ryan imagines a funnel cloud loosening from the sky, sweeping everyone into their cars and hotels, where he can finally go swimming.

Zora clutches a carousel pole, wishing she’d chosen one of the horses that moves, instead of this one that stands immobile on the platform. As the ride spins, she sees her father, camera around his neck, looking up at the sky. Next time, she’ll go on Space Mountain. Next time, she’ll show her father she’s brave.

Kevin pulls off his Winnie-the-Pooh head and has a cigarette out back by the Dumpster. If caught smoking on Disney property, he could be fired. But a child just sat on his shoe, nearly crushing his foot, crying while his parents took photos, and really, he has nothing to lose.

Every day for the past three summers, Stephanie has played Snow White—flowing white skirt, shoulders squared as if waiting for birds to alight. She spends so much time smiling for pictures, she doesn’t know what a real smile feels like anymore. If only she could be plump, dopey, bumbling. If only she could hide behind one of the costumes so she wouldn’t have to fucking smile.

At Sea Base Aquarium, John spends all day directing guests. The restroom is past the stingrays, to your left. Past the stingrays, to your left. No, your left. He sprinkles fish food into one of the tanks, wishes he could sink inside the little plastic castle. Listen to nothing but bubbles.

A seahorse rises to nibble flecks. The flecks come at the same time every day. A bit of algae grows along the ceiling. Blob-like forms bump up against the glass. Beyond the walls of the tank, she senses open water.

This time last year, Daniel stood on top of Springer Mountain. That night, instead of camping in the shelter, he’d pitched his tent, woke up with everything soaked. Still, he was on the goddamn Appalachian Trail, walking all the way to Maine. Now, he’s in the Hall of Presidents, trying to ignore the wax figure of 45, his wife bouncing the baby, who wails no matter what.

Ronnie nearly buckles under the weight of his pack, which contains, among other things, an ax. What had he been thinking—that he’d have to hack up the forest for firewood instead of relying on his Jetboil to cook his dehydrated rice and beans? This time last year, he’d been at Disney World with his fiancé, back when they were together. They rode spinning teacups and saw the Enchanted Tiki Room and ate basket after basket of French fries.

An animatronic parrot opens and closes its beak. Squawks at the same mechanical thunderstorm fifty times a day. It’s never left the tiki room, the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room.

The scent of fish rises in a current of wind. High above water, the gull wants to hunt, but it must find foliage. Rain is coming.

Long ago, Timothy sits at the helm of his whaling ship. He sees a faint rise in the water, but doesn’t reach for his harpoon. Someday, he’ll stay home with his wife, who will not complain that he smells of the sea. He dreams of walking along the shore together, the shore of a place whose name he doesn’t know, a place called Florida.

Florida sags beneath humid air, the density of tourists, all those metal rides. Choked by the sea, grimy with saline air, Florida dreams of mountains.


Elissa Cahn completed her MFA at Western Michigan University, where she served as the nonfiction editor for Third Coast. Her work has appeared in: Witness, Harpur Palate, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, PANK, Sou’wester, and she teaches creative writing at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

Photography by Joel Johnson

November 2021