Mae loved the carnival.
She loved the bright, flashing lights in the dark, the sweet candy smells on the summer sea breeze, the blaring music, the endless crowds. It was something to escape to. Something that stayed the same, summer after summer.
We’d wait for the day and the concrete to cool off, then go to the boardwalk fairground where they’d set up the carnival every June. For hours we’d go on rides, get spooked in the haunted house, see ourselves in the fun-house mirrors, warped and twisted, my reflection always tightly holding onto Mae’s hand. The Ferris Wheel, bright purple and blue in the night sky, we’d save for last.
We’d stay till the lights shone in her eyes, till her blonde hair smelled of popcorn, till her hands were sticky from cotton candy, the sugar gluing us together as she pulled me through the flashing, blaring night. We’d leave just before closing time, just before they turned the flood lights on, just before they spoiled the magic.
Mae loved the carnival.
“Let’s have our palms read,” Mae said, like she did every night. I smiled, like I did every night, and let myself be pulled through the crowd, towards the fortune teller’s tent, the purple fabric glittering with silver stars. The curtain was pulled aside just a little.
Mae stepped into the dark, and I followed.
A woman sat at a small table, shuffling a deck of tarot cards, intently studying one already lying on the wooden surface.
Mae stopped in her tracks.
“You’re new,” she blurted.
The woman looked up at us. Her brown hair was streaked with grey, her skin pale, her eyes a bright, bright blue. She wore simple clothes the same color purple as the tent, silver earrings in the shape of stars.
“Yes,” the woman said slowly, “Yes, I am. You wanted a reading?”
Mae hesitated, but sat down. I sat in the other chair. The woman ignored us for a moment, finished shuffling her deck, then put it aside.
“Show me your palms,” she said. “Both of you. Right hand.”
Mae laughed, disbelieving.
“Don’t we get to choose? The other one always let us choose, and she’d tell us-”
“Isn’t this what you want, then?”
Mae blinked, then gave her right palm. I did, too.
The woman gazed intently at the lines on our hands, alternating between them. Sweat trickled down my back. The summer heat was still trapped beneath the tent, the thick fabric keeping out the fresh night air, muffling the laughter and music from outside. In the corner stood a lamp casting soft orange light, this little sweltering world’s own eternally setting sun.
The woman looked up at Mae.
“You have to let go of the past you think you need.”
She turned to me.
“You have to let go of the future you think you want.”
I took my hand back.
“That’s not a fortune,” Mae said, scrunching up her nose.
“Isn’t it?” the woman asked.
I got up. My lungs were suddenly too small for the airless tent, the muffled sounds too strange. I moved the curtain aside and stumbled out, into the cooler air.
Games beeped, people yelled, music blared from every direction. My lungs filled with the clean sea air and the smell of popcorn.
Mae came after me.
“Well, that was stupid,” she said, looking once again out over the little world she loved, the dusk, the lights, the sounds, satisfied it was all still the same. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel.”
She took my hand and started to pull me to the other side of the fairground, where the giant wheel stood, flashing blue and purple, slowly turning across the sky. But I didn’t move.
“We’ve been on it a thousand times,” I said to her back.
Mae stopped pulling, but didn’t turn around. “I like the view.”
“You’ve lived here all your life. You’ve seen everything.”
Mae hesitated, for one long moment, then squeezed my hand and again pulled me along towards the Ferris Wheel. Her hand was sticky, salt from sweat and popcorn grating my skin. The crowd around us grew thicker. It was almost closing time, and people hurried to their favorites for one last ride, one last game. Children and teenagers and adults pressing themselves between us, pushing us apart.
My hand slipped from Mae’s.
I stopped walking.
I watched her blonde head bob up and down through the crowd, making her own way towards the Ferris Wheel, without a backward glance.
Then, she was gone.
Soon, they’d turn the floodlights on.
I turned around and left.
Thank you for reading!
I couldn’t actually tell you what this piece is inspired by. Because I don’t really know. There’s not a specific moment or thought that made this story, but a bunch of things that interest me. I’m really fascinated by the concept of carnivals, of the games, the lights, the way it feels like you’re in an entirely different place. The way they get you to come back and waste money even though you know there’s something up with those games. In real life I hate those places. Too loud, too busy, just too much. But the story is also about ways parting, which is also a theme that interests me. How people sometimes say goodbye because they need to go in different directions. Oh, and summer. I love summer as a background.
What I can tell you is that this piece is (or will be) part of a series of pieces that will form a kind of narrative together. My piece ‘Beach Night’ is one of those. I plan to write it as a flash-novella, but I’m only done with 3 of the 11 stories I plan, so maybe next summer I’ll have some cool news!
This story was originally published by Second Chance Lit.
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