Sunday, June 25, 2006
He pushed his hands into his pockets and played with the coins there. He could remember when he wasn't so fortunate; when he had to ask for coins.
A woman and her son brushed by him. He looked at them and wondered if that was how he looked then.
"No you can't, " the woman said the to the child.
"Why Mommy?" The child tapped at her arm. "It's only fifty cents, please."
He clutched his hands over his ears. He did not want to hear her answer, afraid of what it would be.
"No!" He could still hear it through his cupped hands. He felt pity for the child. He knew what it meant to him. His tears blinded him, and he reached up to wipe them away. The woman and the child were gone and he was holding on to someone's arm. He looked up and she was smiling at him.
"Shall we go over and look at the monkeys?" she was asking him. "Wouldn't you like that?"
"Oh, yes, yes, Mommy," he shouted and pulled her ahead.
The lights along the midway fascinated him. He could hear the barkers shouting.
"Get your balloons here-red, blue, yellow, green, only a dime- get your balloons here."
"Mommy," he shouted," get me a balloon."
"Wouldn't you rather see the monkeys?"
"No, I want a balloon, that big red one," he pointed to the top most one.
"They'll only break- why don't we go see the monkeys?"
"No, Mommy," he tugged at her arm. "I want a balloon."
"Now you can't have one," she took him by his arm and stooped down in front of him.
"But it's only a dime," he sobbed.
"Now Mommy knows best. You can't have one."
"Mommy can't see spending all that money for something that will only break."
"But it won't break, I'll take care of it, I promise," he pleaded
"Let's just go see the monkey," she asked quietly.
"I don't want to see the monkeys. I want a balloon. That big red one, the one on top."
"No," she said firmly,
He sobbed quietly and walked away from her.
She went to him and took him by his arm and they walked to the animal cages. They passed the hyena cage where the hyenas were laughing loudly.
He picked up a stone and threw it at the cage.
"Don't do that again," she warned him.
The hyena laughed louder and he picked up another stone and threw it. She slapped him hard across his face.
His check burned and he reached up to feel it, but there was no sting. He shook his head. He was alone again. The woman was gone. The woman and her child were gone.
He looked at the concession booths along the midway. They were all the same as they were then. They are all out trap you, even if only for a small coin. They are great at deception, but that's how they stay alive, not like us.
"Silly." someone behind him shouted.
He turned and looked. She was a young pretty girl with a large sun bonnet hat and her escort had taken a bite of her cotton candy. She slapped him lightly.
The night was warm and he was perspiring. He reached into his pocket for his handkerchief and mopped his forehead and face.
"Let's get a cold drink," he could hear someone saying to him. The young girl and her escort were gone. He was not perspiring now.
But instead, he was being pulled along the midway by a girl.
"Let's get a cold drink," she asked again impatiently.
"Okay. " He followed her to the refreshment stand.
"I just love a carnival," she said sipping the cold drink. "Don't you?"
"Yes," he replied
"Shall we walk around?" She started moving away from him.
He gulped some of the drink and hurried to catch up with her.
She chatted idly and he only answered. They passed the animal cages and he looked for the hyenas. They were still laughing. He wondered if they were the same hyenas. He threw a little stone at the cage.
"Why did you do that?" she asked.
"Just an impulse."
"I think it's cruel! Don't do it again," she pleaded.
They watched the monkeys in an adjoining cage swinging on the limbs and branches. Maybe Darwin was right he thought. We do look a lot like them. Give them a peanut and they're happy, but we want more.
"Aren't they sweet." she threw them some peanuts. "Look at that cute little one, the one sitting in the corner. I wonder why he doesn't swing."
"Maybe he doesn't feel like swinging, " he heard himself say.
They moved slowly along the midway. He could now see the balloons. He walked over to the man selling the balloons.
"How much for the red one? The one at the top."
"They're getting more expensive," he whispered.
"What's that, " the man asked.
"Nothing, just thinking out loud."
"You aren't buying that, " the girl kidded him as she pointed to the red balloon.
"I though it would be fun," he said apologetically.
"Silly, they're only for children," she walked further along.
He caught up with her and put his arm around her waist.
"The tunnel of love," she read the sign mechanically.
"Would you like to try it?" he asked.
"Oh, I think it would be fun."
He bought the tickets and they sat in one of the small boats, and they were pushed into the stream by the ticket seller. She was quiet until the boat entered the tunnel, her head resting on his shoulder.
Lifting her head up she whispered: "I'm scared, are you?"
He smiled and patted her shoulder.
"It's so dark, " he heard her say. "I can't see where we're going. Will we get through all right?"
"I think so, " he assured her.
The eerie shapes along the tunnel walls came to life and their recorded voices frightened her. She moved closer to him.
He felt good having her close to him. He wanted to protect her, she seemed so fragile.
He kissed her and she sighed. The little boat carrying them came out of the tunnel and sped down an incline. He had not anticipated such an ending from the 'tunnel of love'.
She slipped out of his arms and almost fell from the boat, but he grabbed her and pulled her back to her seat. She was scared and angry , he could see that.
"Damn, " she said, "why didn't you hold me? I lost my hat."
"I didn't know that was coming up. But no harm done, we're still safe." He tried to apologize.
"But I ruined my hat, look at it." she pulled the wet hat from the water and began crying.
He took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her tears.
"It's all your fault, " she said angrily.
"There, there, no harm was done " he said laughingly, "let me kiss the tears away."
He leaned over and kissed her wet eyes. She pulled away and slapped his face.
He was back on the midway again, the young girl and her escort were gone. Only a few people remained. Most of the lights were now turned off and only a few concession stands were still open. His throat was parched and he walked to the refreshment stand and bought a cold drink. The liquid felt refreshing on his throat. He finished it quickly and stood watching the last remaining lights along the midway.
He played with the coins in his pocket while he moved away from the stand. Somewhere he could hear a barker shouting something about a last chance. He could see a red balloon, reaching up to the dark sky and moving toward him. He lowered his eyes and he saw the balloon man. He walked over to him.
"How much for the balloons?"
"Fifty cents each," the balloon man said mechanically.
"How much for the whole lot," he asked.
"Ten bucks and they're all yours, " the man said with a smile.
He reached into his pocket and retrieved a ten dollar bill.
With the balloons in his hand he walked to the hyena cage. They were still laughing. He released the balloons and watching them rise up into the night sky, he joined the hyenas and laughed as loud as he could.
Copyright 2006 by John Fedako
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