Sunday, 16 September 2007

Snapshots of the Fall Fair: Short Fiction

For this one, it seems I took a flying leap into sentimentality. My apologies in advance. Also, the format isn't publishing correctly, so I apologize for any inconsistencies there.

A Ferris wheel car, seen from the ground. Empty, against a block of blue sky.

A woman watching a merry-go-’round, while kids were shaded and blurred on the polished mythical beasts.

On equal level, an ugly purple elephant doll, left in a mud puddle.

From behind, a nicely figured high school girl with her arm stretched forward, having just thrown a dart.

A lone man in the parking lot, smiling to himself as he gets in the car.

Proud and blind, a dog and his boy, inseparable friends.

A seagull wheeling in the sky.

The yearbook photographer flipped through the pictures in his digital camera. It had been a good day. Several shots of the fair, several different stories, unattached but all at the same day at the fair. This was his first assignment of the year, and he thought he had good material from this annual, traveling fair, erected temporarily in the local mall parking lot. He put his camera into his pocket and went home.

~ ~ ~

So the four of them went to the fair that Friday afternoon. Who cared if they were too old? Nothing ever happened in this boring town, so whenever something new did come by, they’d check it out, even if it was just the fall fair. At least, that’s how Don looked at it.

And it was interesting enough, wasn’t it? There was tons of cheap junk food, especially those hot dogs. And most of the town showed up, so they kept running into friends from high school. Most of the rides were kiddie rides, but they went on the Zipper and the Pirate Ship. Best of all, the other schools came here, too, and those Catholic girls looked real nice dressed for the warm weather.

The guys were just passing some kid tugging on his dad’s sleeve when TJ spotted the blind kid. Don couldn’t really think of why a blind kid would want to go to the fair, but there he was with that dumb-looking dog, smiling around at everyone and not seeing the weird looks people gave him. The other guys were still working on their caramel popcorn because they couldn’t figure out you had to shut up to eat something, and this gave TJ an idea.

“Hey, isn’t caramel corn supposed to stick in dog’s mouths or something?”

Don didn’t think that was right, but Garret said he might have heard that somewhere, so they went up to the kid and his mutt and asked if they could pet the dog.

“Sure,” the blind kid said, not suspecting a thing.

So TJ bent down and scratched it behind the ears, and all it did was wiggle its tail a little. TJ put the popcorn in his hand, and Garret and Mark started laughing, but tried to keep it behind their mouths so the blind kid wouldn’t know. But the dog just ignored it. TJ never was that bright, so he pushed the corn at the dog’s face, but it just turned its head away. Mark was really starting to crack up, and the blind kid started to pull his dog away, but Garret got bored and Don noticed him looking around.

Don saw them at about the same time Garret did. They must have been Catholics, because Don didn’t recognize them from school. Four girls were at a booth, and one was throwing darts at balloons. Don figured they would have been grade nine, grade ten. Two of them were okay-looking, wearing tank-tops and jeans, and one was that skanky-ugly kind of girl who thought she was hot and really wasn’t. But one was a serious head-turner. She was the one throwing the darts. Her figure was more like a grade-twelve, and she wore a girl’s t-shirt that was tight in all the right places, over a pair of short shorts. Don knew what Garret had in mind.

“C’mon, guys,” said Garret, “let’s go say hi to those girls.”

So the four of them went over to the booth, and quickly saw a good sign: there were already five darts in the board, and none of them anywhere near a balloon.

“Hey, ladies,” Garret said. “How’s it going?”

One of the two decent-looking ones, an Asian, gave Garret a look of death, and Don knew she could tell what his friends were right off. But the other two’s eyes perked right up, and the hot one got a kind of look in her eyes that said she was willing to play keep-away.

She threw her last dart, and it popped a balloon. The carnie shrugged and passed her a tiny teddy bear.

“Here, let me give it a shot,” Garret said.

He gave some tokens to the carnie and took his darts. One, two, three, four, and a miss. All the practice whacking pebbles off the backs of junior-high heads paid off right there. Even though the Asian rolled her eyes, the other three squealed and clapped. The carnie took down a hideous purple elephant and gave it to Garret, who gave it to the girl.

“Now, I have a couple of rules,” he said, “and one of them is to never give a pretty girl anything if I don’t know her name.”

“Ashley,” she giggled, and shook his hand.

“Well, I’m Garret. That one’s TJ, the guy who never talks is Don, and the stupid one is Mark.”

TJ nodded stiffly, while Don smiled and Mark kept looking at the girls’ chests.

“Thanks so much for the prize,” said Ashley, forgetting to introduce her friends, though Don could tell the Asian didn’t mind at all.

“You’re quite welcome,” said Garret, taking her arm. “Now, let me tell you about another of my rules . . .”

~ ~ ~

Something buzzed on his hip.
The office.
“Here, honey, hold this,” he said, and passed the balloon to his wife.
He tried to ignore the glare she gave him as he unclipped his cell and answered the call. Toni was supposed to call this evening, but he’d thought it would be easier if he didn’t tell his wife he knew that.
“Brett Lewis speaking.”
“Hey, Brett, this is Toni,” answered the phone. “Is this a bad time?”
“Not at all.”
“Good, good. About the Kavinski firm . . .”
Five minutes later, Brett bid his secretary goodbye and hung up.
“Look, honey, I’ve got to go,” he told his wife.
“But, dear, you promised Michael you’d win him a teddy bear,” she replied.
“Liz, we can’t go over this every time. This is a big deal right now, we need this client. I simply cannot leave the office hanging right now . . .”
“Brent, come on. You promised your son.”
Against his will, Brett looked down to his eight-year old. Mikey’s eyes were big and pleading. To stop himself from feeling guilty, he felt annoyed by his son’s childishness. The kid needed to grow up and let go of his toys and tears; that was the only way he’d start making friends.
“Big guy, look,” he said, trying to get this on a more man-to-man level. “There’ll be other fairs, okay?”
Michael still looked sad.
“Tell you what. Tomorrow, I’ll buy you some comic books. How does that sound?”
“Alright,” Mikey said, but he didn’t sound as excited as Brett thought he should.
“Alright,” Brett said, ruffling his son’s hair and turning to Liz. “Give me a kiss.”
His wife pecked him on the cheek and looked away.
As Brett left the fair, he thought irritably about how little they appreciated him.
~ ~ ~

This place had all sorts of smells: bread, meat, sugar, people, big animals, oil, smoke . . . He wanted to go run and investigate these scents, but he knew he had to stay by Master, because Master couldn’t get around without him. He wanted to be a good boy more than he wanted to go see where those smells came from. Good boys stayed when they were told to stay, so he stayed.
He looked around a little, and everything was noisy and busy. So many people! There were little ones and big ones and fast ones and slow ones. There were male ones and female ones and cleaner ones and dirtier ones. Sometimes they came by and patted him, and that was okay. Sometimes they would try to give him food, but he was a good boy and didn’t ever take it.
Over there he saw some big males ones who tried to give him sugar. They were making noises at some female ones. He could tell that one of the female ones didn’t want to be there, but the others were in heat. Two of them were closer together; the male one was holding on to the arm of the female one. She was happy, he thought.
He tried to listen to the sounds they made, but he didn’t know any of them. He knew lots of people-noises, but he only obeyed the ones Master made. Heel meant he was supposed to sit by Master’s feet. No meant he was supposed to stop doing what he was doing and not do it again. Max was what Master called him. There were many others. But he didn’t know what noises these ones were making.
Now the female one was unhappy. She was trying to move away, but the male one was holding on. The other female ones were all trying to leave, too. Two of the male ones were laughing, and the other one went over and put his hand on the first one’s shoulder. The bigger one shrugged, and touched the female one on the top of her leg. She hit him with a purple furry thing, and walked away with the other female ones.
He didn’t know what happened, and he was a little confused. Something said he should protect someone, but he didn’t know who needed protecting. Besides, this had nothing to do with Master, and Master was his business. He stayed where he was.
A seagull flew by and caught his attention.
~ ~ ~

Liz pushed her hair back, and tried again. The bright plastic ring wobbled in the air and hit the peg sideways, bouncing off and falling to the ground.
Bastard husband.
He had promised Mikey that he’d win a teddy bear at the fair for him, and he had promised her that he’d keep his promise this time. Just like every other time, though, he broke his word and went to the office. IT seemed to her that Brett just didn’t want to be a father any more. She already knew he wasn’t all that interested in being a husband. He didn’t know she knew that his secretary had replaced her in some way, but she did know. She didn’t know if the slut had replaced her in that way, but she was replaced. Of course she knew. What made her mad was that his clients were now replacing her son, too.
She threw the last hoop, and it just bounded off the backboard.
“Try again?” the nice gentleman behind the counter asked.
After a moment, she responded, “No.”
A little hand slipped inside hers. She looked down at Mikey, his eyes big and the yellow balloon bobbing next to his head.
“It’s okay, Mom,” he said. “I couldn’t do it, either.”
“I’m sorry, Mikey, I’m just not very good at these games.”
He nodded and examined his shoes.
“You want to go on the merry-go-’round?”
Mikey smiled and nodded.
~ ~ ~
They didn’t talk about it until the Ferris wheel had started. It was Rachel who brought it up.
“Don’t worry about it, Ash, that guy was just a jerk.”
Maggie nodded and put an arm around Ashley. Jenn turned and looked down at the fair below, so she wouldn’t be tempted to say anything, like how Ashley had all but invited the guy to touch her.
“I mean, like, who cares,” Rachel went on. “He probably couldn’t get any, so he thought he’d try on you.”
Ashley stopped looking traumatized long enough to shoot Rachel a suspicious glance.
“I mean,” Rachel recovered, “he obviously went for the sexiest girl at the fair.”
Appeased, Ashley resumed her injured sulk.
“You know,” said Maggie, “you should be flattered. I wouldn’t have minded if one of the other guys, like, did the same to me.”
Jenn tried very hard not to laugh, but gave up once the others started, too. Maybe she laughed a little too hard, though, since Rachel looked at her funny.
“You could have got that stupid-looking one to, if you wanted,” said Ashley, speaking for the first time. “He didn’t stop staring at your chest.”
“I’m surprised you noticed that, you were so distracted,” Jenn couldn’t help herself from saying.
The others looked at her askance.
“Well,” said Rachel, “I noticed that the quiet one was pretty interested in you, Jenny.”
Jenn blushed and looked away. They knew she hated that name.
“Ooo, she’s going red!” Maggie squealed.
Ashley smiled. She seemed to be coming to herself again.
“He was kinda cute,” she said.
Jenn wasn’t sure which one Ash was talking about, but she supposed it didn’t matter. Either way, Ash was right.
“I notice,” Jenn said, “that you still have that stuffed elephant.” Ashley looked about herself and saw that she did.
“Oh, I do. Kinda ugly, isn’t it?”
Rachel and Maggie giggled.
“Hold on, I know just what to do with it,” Ash said.
And with that, she threw it right over the edge of the car.

~ ~ ~
The afternoon was finishing up when Michael walked with his mom back home. They left through the gates and walked around the fair on the sidewalk. Neither he nor his Mom won any prizes. He wasn’t mad at Dad, but he did wish Dad had stayed and won something. Bear back home was getting lonely on the pillow, and needed a friend. But Mom did let him go on the saucer ride, even though she said he wasn’t big enough last year.
It was as they turned the corner, the Ferris wheel high in the sky above him, that he saw the purple elephant in the puddle. He stopped, but his Mom kept walking.
“Come on, Mikey, it’s getting late.”
“Hold on, Mom,” he said.
He walked over to the puddle. The elephant was weird-looking. It had big eyes and a stubby trunk, with its mouth hanging open underneath. Mikey knew it was kind of ugly-looking, but he thought that, more than anything, it looked lonely. He bent down and picked it up.
“Someone left him here,” said his Mom. It only vaguely occurred to him that this was a silly thing for her to say.
“I’m gonna take him home. He can be friends with Bear.”
They started walking home.
Maybe it was a good day after all, thought Mikey, ‘cause now Elephant and Bear can be friends.

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