She could not stand another moment in her small apartment – not with the carnival going on. The carnival had been in town for three days – tonight would be its last. She thought, with regret, of the workers waking up on a Sunday as she walked to church, silently unhinging their mechanical rides and sweeping up the small pieces of litter that escaped the trash receptacles. She did not want to hear the squeak and rub of peopleless rides before she had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night at the carnival.
The town welcomed the carnival every year but she could never attend – the carnival was too worldly for her family – still was, but her family need not know she found the lights, the noise, the smells so fascinating. Besides she was on her own – she needed to make decisions on her own. She would be up early in the morning and get to church early, but tonight she had to know what the carnival was all about
She hesitated at the gate, five dollars was a lot of money to walk around a carnival.
“Half price, half price now until we close down.”
A sign she felt and so put her money down.
She would simply be careful with her milk and eggs – they could last the entire week.
She ducked her head shyly as a gust of wind pulled and fluttered the canopy at the entrance and the ticket taker gave her, what she thought was a wicked grin.
She hurried along the carnival grounds and listened to the sounds of young children shouting with delight as the mechanical rides twirled black against the red-orange sunset sky. A small family of four walked ahead of her laughing and sharing pink cotton candy. She smiled at their compact and secret ways of knowing each other; the dip and sway of the candy making its way to sticky fingers all, in turn, the smiles upon each face.
She was careful to stay away from the rides but watched the Ferris-Wheel glided several times around against the then darkened sky. The last of the summer warmth curled about her in a soft breeze that lifted her hair in a gently swaying lift that seemed to keep rhythm with the music being played.
“Do you want to ride?”
His voice was deep and directly behind her. She jumped and turned, then stepped back. He was tall and slender and she was sure he had some sort of makeup on his face. His eyes were startling brown, golden flecked and when he smiled at her and tilted his head she thought for a moment that they turned red.
“You’ve been watching that wheel for some time. I own this little place – I’ll make sure you have a ride.”
“Why not? This is our last night. We’ve done very well – I don’t think we will miss the price of one Ferris-Wheel ticket.”
He glided her past smiling and paying customers and walked her up the back stairs, where weary workers, not much older than she, dressed in black and white shirts, stepped aside as they walked by. “She’s next,” and she went inside a small cage seat that swung precariously back and forth and she was lifted up into the summer night sky.
She came back down and he was still there and laughing at her frightened face. “Look straight out, not down, child.”
So she did and gasped at the sight. Her small town was all alight. She saw the church steeple, the town square and felt she was level with the flag on the courthouse tundra. She twisted around carefully not wanting the seat on which she sat to swing too precariously – yes, just there but barely, the small farm where she was sure her family sat upon the screened in porch.
She swung down and felt her heart lift, she was sure that she could fly forward to whatever direction she chose.
He was standing there again, now smiling and she was lifted away gazing at his countenance. This time she stopped at the very top. She tried not to think of the small summer breeze slowly pushing the wheel backward and forward. She closed her eyes the rest of the ride until she felt herself arrive within the well-lit exit. A tired young man opened the gate and allowed her to step away unaided.
He was at the bottom of the steps. “Are you glad you went?”
“Yes,” she gasped and felt herself turn red to the tips of her ears and down her neck.
“Come I’ll buy you some cotton candy, looks like you could use some.”
“No, no please, I don’t really care for it. We had a cotton candy machine at church and I thought the stuff too sweet.”
He laughed aloud and she jumped, then smiled not comfortable but liking his laugh all the while.
“What’s your name,” he asked.
“Laurel,” she whispered feeling ashamed – this was no proper introduction.
“Well, Laurel, would you like to see the two-headed chickens or the trapeze act in the big top?”
She looked down and whispered no thank you and hoped he would believe her.
“Well then,” he said soft and low, “why don’t you let me make sure no one follows you home.”
She looked up into his face, somehow kind, somehow not. He seemed without age and her heart pounded in her ears and her hands clenched around her waist. She liked his stare and was very afraid.
“But you would be following me home.”
His face softened in the green, then yellow, then red glowing lights. Touching his fingertip to her soft cheek, she felt a shiver deep down. He had found a hollow place within her brief existence. She knew he would take and keep it.