Jeremiah's School of Levitation


Friday, April 21, 2006

Poetry Friday Again!

Here's my carousel contribution. I didn't edit it because I like my Friday writing hot and smoky, and proudly imperfect, like I like my friends.

The Carousel Lady

I met the carousel lady purely by accident. I was on the pier, struggling through the tourists, the unseasonably warm summer day hanging around all our necks and inveigling downturned smiles from everyone. The inside of the pier house was stifling, no air circulated except the stale air of a passing person, ripe with body stink or perfume. I avoided the tourists usually. I hardly came to the pier unless I had a specific thing to get and a specific way to get in and get out. To come to wander at this place was like coming in a fur coat to lay in the tanning booth. I hated the tourists. Sure, they dumped money on us, but I never got my damn tourist check in the mail. All I ever got was a crowd, a step on the toe, a flash of a tourist camera in my face, or some squeaky, overly-happy voice asking me where the fish market was. One time, I told a curious tourist that the fish market had caught a virus and that every fish there was infected and that I wouldn't advise even going near it.

The carousel was in a building between the Captain Seafood restaurant, which charged way too much for their stuff, and I'm sure laughed about it, and the big gift shop that sold dried sea creatures and gaudy baubles. The building housing the carousel was, as I said, a pier house of sorts. The giant front barn doors were ripped away, leaving a gaping opening that looked onto the crowded street. The building used to be a meeting hall for the fishermen, a place to congregate, drink, and yell, and celebrate making it alive through another crabbing season. The high, wooden walls were still streaked with the stains of beer thrown high against it, the wood pock-marked with the cuts made by shattered glass mugs. The Pier Authority had thought it a good idea to put a carousel in the middle of the great room. The carousel spun there, a misplaced carnival orphan, the tinny calliope music sending tight strings of sound through your ears, making hearing it almost painful. The idea must have seemed brilliant, though, because the tourists crowded the damn thing as if they'd never seen a bunch of polished, rainbow horses impaled at the backbone and spinning and rising and falling, ghastly grinning with wide eyes and frozen manes.

I just needed some change for parking. I had forgotten to bring my change purse and just wanted to get my five dollars turned into quarters. I'd remembered, from being here before, that the carousel lady had a cash register, and that was all I could think as I parked my car, and rushed to her, dodging tourists, in hopes I could get my damn change before the parking cops found my car and stuck a ticket on my windshield. The sun was chasing me through the crowd, prickling the back of my neck. When I got into the building, the sun fell away, but the prickling kept prickling.

I got the the carousel lady and waited for two tourists to pay for the carousel and then it was my turn.

"Excuse me," I said, "I need change for a five. Twelve quarters and, ah, the rest in dollars. Please."

She was a large lady, her eyes sunken, her black hair streaked with gray. She must have been nearly 45, and she had the face of someone who had probably lived facing a cold wind for decades. Still, there was a softness to her gaze, like she loved dolls.

She tilted her head to look behind me, then her hard, dark eyes fell on me. "I ain't the change machine," she said. "Unless you're going to ride the carousel here, I can't make no change."

I felt my heart quicken, and my ears beginning to burn, like they did when I was embarrassed, and getting ready to defend myself.

"I'll come back," I heard myself say. "I'll bring my son."

She tilted her head again. "You ain't got no son."

I felt my breath draw back. "What?"

"You ain't got no kids. It's Saturday, and you are here, alone. Ain't nobody go to some place like this without their kids, or, they don't come at all. On a Saturday."

I couldn't think of anything to say.

"So, excuse me," she said. "Folks need to ride the carousel."

I finally got my words back. "How do you know I don't have kids?"

"I just told you. Now, excuse me." She looked behind me.

"I'm pregnant," I said. I felt my stomach. Me and Reggie were trying. I recalled hearing Reggie on the phone with his friend, saying that he was having the best time of his life trying to have a baby. I felt the anger at that comment rising up my neck.

"Ma'am," said the carousel lady.

"Fine," I said. "I'll ride the carousel." I couldn't believe I was saying that. Then again, it had been at least ten years since I'd been on one of those things. I last rode with my girlfriend Lena, at a carnival in Ft. Worth. I remember being drunk, and laughing, about something, the overly colorful horses laughing right along with me.

She grinned at me. "Oh yeah?"


She chuckled, the fat under her chin wiggling. "That's more like it. Two bucks."

I felt like I'd won. "And, can I have the change in quarters?"

"Yeah," she said. "If you ride the carousel. Just come back here after the ride and get your quarters."

I gasped.

She shrugged.

I wanted to tell her to forget it, to shove it, actually. But, I didn't. I heard "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" coming from the carousel, and I nearly smiled.

"Fine, dammit," I said.

She handed me three dollar bills. I looked back at my car. I could barely see it through the forest of fat tourist bodies. But, the good news was I couldn't see a parking cop.

I got in line. The lady in front of me had a little girl with braids. The girl looked at me and smiled and looked away. The tourists filed all around me, snapping photos, saying ridiculous tourist things, pointing, babbling, then taking more photos. I just closed my eyes and tried to take myself away. It didn't work.

When my turn came, the skinny guy at the gate led us in. I picked a green horse, with a maniacal grin, and one ear broken off. I slid onto him. The speakers spit out "Candy Man", and I nodded to the song.

The thing started spinning, and I frowned. Goddammit, I thought. What the hell am I doing?

The green horse went up and down, nearly perfectly to the music, which was now a thin, circusy version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" for God's sake. The tourists turned to blobs as I glided past them. I gripped the pole and leaned against it. I looked at my watch. Goddammit.

On my third revolution, I looked out to my car. I caught a glimpse of a parking cop standing near it, eyeing it. "Dammit!" I said. I slammed my palm onto the good ear of the green horse, whose name was Emerald, I'd decided.

I looked again on my next revolution and the cop was now right at my car, writing.

I shot him the finger. As if he'd see it. But, I goddamned bet he felt it.

When I did that, I happened to look to the center of the carousel. The whole center was just a wall of mirrors, angled like jewels, reflecting the kaleidoscopic fervor of all the mad horses and bouncing humans. I looked at my face.

Though I felt like I was mad at the damn world, I was smiling like a goddamned clown.

"I hate the carousel lady," I told myself. Then, I grinned at how the mirror stretched my smile to look like it was two feet wide. And Emerald. Emerald was grinning way too big also. Way too damned big!

Jeremiah, 12:57 AM

2 Back at me:

I can feel that prickly heat and the shitty grin! This sounds like the beginning of a novel, you should consider expanding on this!

I loved the line, "like she loved dolls"...SO descriptive! Prolly those little realistic-looking china/plastic dolls that they sell in the Sunday circulars, wrinkly and pop-eyed.
Blogger Mona Buonanotte, at 5:36 AM  
I love the carousel lady character. I definitely think this is the beginning of a longer piece ....

(Oh, and I cheated and posted some Joni Mitchell lyrics on my blog this week.)
Blogger jo(e), at 6:23 AM  

Say sump-tun