The Carnival (A Work in Progress)

One day, the carnival was not there. The next, it was.

Emily knew this because she remembered looking out her window at 3:42pm the previous day, distracted from her chores by the raucous screams of the neighbourhood boys who were stupidly fanatic about a dead squirrel on the road. Rolling her eyes, she had glanced back towards the grandfather clock down the hallway, casually noted the time, and returned to her needlework. There had been nothing on the horizon, which she could see through the sliver of faded blue-painted houses across the street, straining and groaning with old age.

But now, there was the unmistakable slap of red and white tent canopies across the sky in the distance. Where there had only been annoying adolescent screeches the previous afternoon, Emily could make out, very faintly, almost below the decibel level of the normal human range of hearing, a slow drawl of tinkly organ music, as if coming out of a musical box muffled by mounds of blankets. The carnival seemed determined to be noticed.

“The carnival is here!” Anthony, the scrawniest seven-year-old in town, yelled, ricocheting around the monkey bars in the dilapidating playground. Emily did not even go within five feet of the metal infrastructure for fear of catching rusty disease. Anthony’s voice was like a wavering high note on the piano in church, the kind that made the people in the back want to clap their hands over their ears in protest. “We never have anything fun to do!”

Indeed, there was rarely anything to do in this sleepy town, population 127. The most engaging fun to be had was the weekly bingo night. It was a town for old people. Emily, on the precipice of adulthood, was entirely ready to leave. She was a month away from graduating high school, and once she turned eighteen, she was ready to spread her wings and move far out west away from tornado country. She imagined herself with fancy sunglasses and the most sophisticated two-piece swimsuits, made of silk and satin and other words that started with an ‘s’ and sounded high-couture, lounging by the beach somewhere grand like Los Angeles, having every opportunity and chauffeur named Alejandro at her beck and call. She imagined herself 1950s glamorous.

She was only held back by her alcoholic father and superstitious grandmother. Her father drank despicably, choosing the most rotten beers (Coors Light) to waste his sorrows on, oppressing the living room and its dull draperies with his pot belly which could put a pig in the oven to shame. It wasn’t enough that she did all the cleaning around the house, mopping up the mess of vomit and piss her father left on the carpet; her father also expected her to give him all her pocket money earnings from her weekend shifts at the one-room library in town, to fund his alcohol habits. If she didn’t, he held no reservations about smacking her buttocks bright red with his belt and yelling so loudly the house shook on its knees. Even tornadoes ran away, rivaled by his extremity of expression. And the town was too small for the local police to care about ‘child abuse’. The drunk sheriff in town would simply agree with her father and call it ‘necessary discipline’.

Her grandmother did not help much either. She had dementia, so she was yet another burden on Emily. Emily often looked into the windows of the homes across the street, and watched other kids with their loving grandmothers, reading books on their laps in the comfort of a reliable rocking chair. She had never known her grandmother before she succumbed to dementia, but she liked to pretend her grandmother had been a courageous adventurer, sailing the high seas and discovering rare lifeforms underwater, fighting off sharks with her bare hands. It was all that made her long days bearable.

Her grandmother broke her out of her reverie with her low croak of a voice. “Is the carnival back again?”

Emily’s eyebrows creased. Again? She wandered over to her grandmother, who was sat in the quilted armchair in the corner of the dining room. In all her years living in Hollow’s End, Emily could not remember a circus troop brightening up her dreary childhood years. She thought she would have surely recalled such an impressionable event. Turning down the television in the corner, despite her grandmother’s mumbled protests, Emily asked, “When was the carnival here last?”

“I remember it coming here when I was a little girl.” But instead of the excitement that Emily would have expected coming from her grandmother, reflecting on what might be considered a formative memory from oh so long ago, she only noticed her eyes cloud over.

“It took that poor girl.”

“She just never came home… I only remember the sirens, and the policemen moving between the tents. Blood on the ground, maybe a dissevered hand.”


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