Carnival Time

Published in the spring 2011 issue of Eighteen Bridges

Tilt-a-Whirl by Jason Mrachina“Ride’s closed down!” the carnie shouted. He was wearing a purple windbreaker that, along with all the carnival signs and rides—the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Gravitron, the salt-and-pepper shakers—looked like it was transported directly from 1982. Eye of the Tiger blasted from speakers.

The carnie climbed the ride where, one storey up, a three-year-old boy tottered along a small suspension bridge, bewildered, like a kitten up a tree. The kid’s blond hair was styled in a mini-Mohawk. He had on jeans, a black t-shirt that said Rock Legend on the front, and a pair of tiny black Vans. It was the Vans that got you. I scanned the crowd for a mother who might buy her little boy brand-name sneakers and found her: young, tall, long blond hair (no Mohawk), put together just so.

The boy had come out just far enough on the bridge to see the ground below and was frozen there. This was the carnie’s moment. We were all looking up at the boy, whose Mohawk and Vans couldn’t hide his panic. Years later, he might not remember this moment. The carnivalmight become a vague memory of his childhood, mere kitsch, something he’d enjoy nostalgically. One day he might tell his mother that he didn’t want a stupid Mohawk, and adopt a costume of his choosing. But on this day, he was stuck up on a swaying rope bridge.

The carnie came up behind the kid, marshalled him toward a slide, and pushed him down. The boy landed with a soft thud in the sand at the bottom. He had the look of a sleepwalker who had stumbled out of some parallel dream world, not quite sure what just happened. His eyes searched the crowd for his mother and found her. He was quiet. Tears, yes, but no bawling.

Sound came back to the world as the anxious crowd dispersed, the mother and the boy heading toward the parking lot to go home. It seemed like time never passed at the carnival; just ran in endless circles like a record with a skip. If it weren’t for the sun making its way across the Prairie sky you would hardly have noticed it pass at all.