Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Carnies in ♥

This short story was published in The Molloy Student Literary Magazine- Volume 2 (Fall 2008).

The magazine was once called The Molloy College Literary Journal, taking submissions from teachers, students, and even writers who didn't attend the college. The Spring 2008 issue was the first that restricted submissions to students only, in order to showcase the current talent at the college.

Three volumes have been published to date. Volume 4, which features my short story "Montage" will be published in Fall 2010.

Carnies in ♥
by Patrick Shand


The name sounded so clear in my mind. So right for him. Of course he’d be a Dave. It was like, there are certain things that don’t have the right name. Like cyanide for example. Something so bad, you’d figure they wouldn’t give it a pretty name. But other things fit. Like “noodle.” Have you ever just looked at a noodle and thought about how… noodly it was? Well that’s kinda how Dave is. No, not noodly… just so Dave.

When he first kissed me that night, with the lights blinking all over the place as the kids screaming on the little roller coasters, and the smell of fried sugary goodness coming from all over the place, all I could think about was how Davey he kissed. If you know what I mean. He put his hand right under my ear, where the skin is so soft, and my whole body tingled like I was being… electrocuted or something.

A guy like Dave could drive a girl crazy.

Dave had to get back to operating the controls of the Swoosh-a-Go, so after promising him that we’d hang after the carnival closed, I stumbled out of the fun house, love drunk. I saw my friend Leslie gaping at me as if I had a wig made of noodles on my head.

“Amanda…” she said.

“…Yeah?” I said. More like slurred. It’s amazing how kissing gives you the same effect as drinking alcohol—well, not that I’ve ever drank alcohol, just… one would assume.

Amanda,” Leslie said. She’s good with emphasis. I can never get emphasis right.

Can you finish a sentence?” I said. See, emphasis failure. When I use emphasis, I sound like Chandler Bing. Could I be any weirder?

“Amanda… Please tell me you weren’t just making out with that carnie,” Leslie said.

“What? No, he’s not a carnie. He’s a… carnival worker,” I said.

“Yeah, and add that to the fact that his teeth can’t be referred to as plural, and you’ve got a thorough-bred carnie,” she said. She stuck her hands in her pocket, curled her upper lip, and leered at Dave. Gotta hand it to her, she’s unrivaled at the Unfriendly Leer. If I ever had a problem with some guy at school, she’d just cast them the U. Leer, and they’d U-Turn right out of my face. Awesome chick to have as your best friend.

Except, you know, Dave didn’t deserve leer face. But I digress. A lot, actually… it’s a thing I tend to do.

Leslie and I moseyed over to the booth where you throw little darts at balloons. I didn’t want to play, but Leslie had her eye on the big Tweety Bird stuffed animal. She paid the grisly man at the booth a fiver and took the darts. Now that guy was a true carnie. Little hat, a chin and a nose that almost touched, and one eye that seemed to be set in a perpetual wink. Dave wasn’t nearly as carnie as this guy—

“Ey, ain’t you the tail my Dave took inter the fun house?” the carnie said.

I looked both ways, as if expecting to see someone standing by my side. Nope, I was the “tail” he was talking to.

“Um… your Dave?”

A dart whizzed past the carnie’s head, and Leslie pumped her fists in victory when it popped a large blue balloon. She turned to me, “Ooooh, this guy knows your boyfriend.”

“Wait, what do you mean your Dave?” I asked. His Dave? What, was Dave like a slave to the carnies? Maybe that’s why such an otherwise heart-throb (well, in my opinion) guy was working here.

“Dave, he’s m’boy!” the carnie said. “My son! And yer gon’ have ter get more than one ‘loon if yer want that bird, missy.”

But Leslie seemed to lose interest in poor, neglected Tweety. She was looking at me, looking both shocked and so, so amused. “You’re kidding!” she said. “You’re freaking kidding!”

“Shut up,” I said.

“Your make-out buddy is this guy’s son?” she hissed, cracking up. Before the carnie could get offended, she ran away and I jogged after her, yelling for her to shut up. She ran all the way to the Ferris wheel, where the other girls we came with were on line.

By the time I reached her, my heart pounding in my chest from running, she was already spilling the latest gossip on my carnie affair.

“…and I knew the guy was ugly, but then when we got to the balloon popper booth, there’s this hideous carnie and he say’s he’s the guy’s father!” Leslie squealed. The other girls—which sidebar: were only acquaintances—were in stitches, laughing so hard that the family in front of them on the line gave them dirty looks. My cheeks burned furiously.

“It wasn’t like that,” I said softly. I couldn’t blame Leslie. She got carried away sometimes. A lot of the time. She wasn’t making fun, she was just… you know… story-telling.

“So pray tell, Amanda, why you made out with the guy in the first place?” Leslie asked.

Truth was, because he was cute. Because he was sweet. Because of the smile he gave me when I was on line to get into the funhouse. Because when I couldn’t get past the rolly floor section, he actually came in from the back and held my hand as I did it. Because he was nice.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking at my shoes. They had purple laces with green dots on them. Not like the clean white ones Leslie wore. “I guess it was dark. Couldn’t really see if he was… you know… cute. Guess I just kinda did it.”

The Ferris wheel carnie opened the gate and let us all in so we could pick our seats. Leslie put her arm around me as we walked.

“See, you’ve got to watch what you do in places where people can see you. This is a very controlled environment, my dear Amanda. Look over there. That’s Juliana Grant. Do you know what would happen if she found out you and a pure-bred carnie made with the lip n’ grab?”

“Would she blab it to the first group of girls she sees?” I said with the slightest bit of contempt.

“Now, now, Mandy, don’t get snippy, I’m trying to help,” Leslie said. She opened the door of one of the carts and we sat in it together. People were still piling on, so they didn’t start the wheel yet. Leslie continued to give me advice. She tends to do that a lot. “See, in high school… you can’t just do stuff. You gotta think. Think about your future. Like, what would happen if you’re still known as the Carnie Lover when you come back for, like, a ten year reunion. People just don’t forget that you hooked up with a carnie, chica, they remember it. If people knew—well, other than us two and Sally, Louisa, Margaret, Barb, and Colly—then you might as well just be a carnie. If you understand what I’m saying.”

“I do, and I agree. I’m going to tell him that I…”

I saw Dave. Standing right in front of me. Right at the little swingy door of our cart.

“Mind if I sit here?” he asked.

Leslie, barely able to hide her grin, stood up and jumped out of the cart. “Go ahead, dude, I’ll catch the next ride. And Amanda… tell him.”

When Dave stepped into the cart, he closed the door behind him and saluted to the guy operating the controls. The Ferris wheel took off, and our cart rose up into the air. It was like the world fell out from under us and we were left suspended in the air.

“So, whadday got to tell me?” he asked. When he asked that, I looked right at his face. He kinda did look like his dad, only both eyes were open. He might have had a few missing teeth, but his front ones were still there and they were bared in a bright smile. But Leslie was right. I think. She usually is right about these kinda things.

The wheel came to a stop when it reached the highest it could. I looked out over the town, and I saw all of it. Lights, tiny lights, kind of like I saw in the funhouse when Dave kissed me.

“I told you I’d see you after the carnival,” I said. “But I can’t.”

There was a moment of silence, so I turned to look at him, trying to read his face, trying to look for a reply. He wasn’t smiling any more, but he didn’t look sad either. He looked like someone being told that the sky was blue. Someone being told something obvious, something they already knew.

“Well?” I said. Bit of an anti-climax. I expected a bit more. I mean, it wasn’t like I didn’t want to meet him, and I thought he wanted to meet me. He might as well show it.

“What, you want me to fight you?” he said. “Try’n convince you to see me? Would it work?”

Maybe, I thought.

“Probably not,” I said. “See, my friends, they—”

“Don’t tell me the details,” he said, his tone perfectly steady. Again, a bit of a letdown. “I mean, I don’t want to spoil my memory. Of you in the funhouse. Before you talked to your friends.”

“It’s not like—”

“Nah, I know what its like,” he said. The car began to move again, and we got closer to the ground, paused for a second so another cart could be the highest, and then the wheel resumed turning. “See, with what I do… things get clearer. Only when you stop moving do you get the chance to… think. Over-think. And all that does is cloud things.”

He stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned in the corner of the cart. “See,” he continued. “Me? My family? We keep movin’. Keep learnin’. Eventually, after a while of that, after a while of seeing things, the same things over and over… you stop learnin’ and start knowing.”

“Yeah?” I said. My voice sounded really breathy. If Leslie was here at this moment, I’d be able to give her a lot better reason as to why I made out with Dave than “It was dark.

“So I coulda guessed what would happen with this,” he said, pointing from me to him. The ride was ending. The carts in front of us were being lowered to the ground so the people could get off. We would be off the ride in a second.

“I don’t have to go with them,” I said, pointing to Leslie, who was looking up at us from behind the gate. “I mean… I don’t know what I mean.”

“Nah, you don’t have to. But you will,” he said.

I looked at him, feeling an acute sadness that wasn’t at all coming from him. It wasn’t pity at all, because I didn’t pity Dave. I was jealous of Dave. Wanted to be like him as much as I wanted to be with him.

But when our cart was the lowest, he opened the door and trudged out, leaving me alone in the cart. I could have followed him, went back into the funhouse or went to find ice cream or something. But Leslie and the girls were waiting for me, so I swung my legs out of the cart and walked over to them. We went back to the balloon booth, where we’d try to win the Tweety Bird doll from Dave’s dad.

I wish I could say something great inspired this. Maybe I was a carnie in a past life. Maybe it's my apparent fascination with men named Dave (see the last entry, fuck Dave). I've noticed that a lot of my short stories explore the quieter moments between people, how the small things that people do to each other are what really hurt the most. Amanda wants to be a better person. She wants to not give a shit what her friends say. She wants to be with Dave because of that instant, powerful connection she feels. It's super rare, and she knows that, and she hates the fact that she's willing to pass it up to fit in with girls she doesn't even like.

Maybe I wrote it because I'm trying to figure out how and why people can do that to themselves.

But in truth, the title "Carnies in Love" just came to me and how the hell can you pass that up. Carnies. Carnies! Carnies in HEART SYMBOL no less.