Wheel of Misfortune
There’s no moon tonight. The stars are bright and crisp, but it’s dark enough to sneak out of the house and get across Daly’s field without anyone seeing us, me and Paulie.
I’d finished my homework early and told my old man I wasn’t feeling well. I knew once he thought I was asleep, he’d take out the bottle and that would be that.
I can hear him snoring down there now in front of the TV. Some Western.
I tiptoe to the old man’s bedroom and grab twenty bucks from his wallet. Time to go.
My window is already open because it’s so hot tonight. I crawl out onto the roof but before climbing down the drainpipe, I take a moment to lie back and stare at all those stars.
The asphalt shingles still hold the heat of the day. The warmth feels good on my back. As usual, this time of year, my thoughts turn to Mom. Gone three years now. The old man, he never mentions her anymore. That’s a done deal, he says, whenever I want to talk about her. That’s a done deal.
So, I climb down and go pick up Paulie.
“What took you so long, Frank?” he says.
“I had to wait for my father to pass out. If he knew I was going again, you know he’d beat my ass.”
Paulie just shrugs. He wants to have fun. He doesn’t want me to complicate things with my family shit.
We take the short cut to the fairgrounds through Daly’s field. Already we can see the lights of the carnival. Just have to pass through this stand of pines and, there it is: Clark and Redmond’s Travelling Carnival.
Paulie and I ride the Tilt-A-Whirl twice. We eat corn dogs and go around on the Ferris Wheel a few times. The stars are invisible on the midway due to all the lights. There are the shooting galleries and ring toss pits where we lose money every year. We get some chili dogs.
Paulie is having a grand old time but I’m anxious to move on. We’re not here just to play games; we have other stuff to do: adult stuff. Paulie wasn’t sure he wanted to come with me this time because last year one of them ladies in the back tents tried to grab his dick. God, that was funny.
We walk down the side of the funhouse, cross the field where all the trucks are parked, and arrive at the tents. The wind brings an odor of stale beer, vomit, and the hayfield beyond.
And here’s the same guy who took our money last year. He looks like he’s lost a few teeth since we last saw him.
“Stefanie,” I say, holding out a ten.
He takes it and says, “Hey kid, it’s none of my business, but – ”
“Then shut up,” I say.
The guy looks at Paulie with raised eyebrows.
“Just him,” Paulie says. “I’ll wait here.”
So, the guy turns back to me with a shitty grin on his face. “Last one down on the right. Can’t miss it.”
I walk back amid all the little white canvas tents. A woman’s hissing voice comes out of one: “You put it on now or you can get out, you hear me?”
The tents are held up by coarse ropes that are staked into the ground. I trip over them occasionally.
Finally, I’m here at the last tent on the right. There’s a kerosene lamp burning in there allowing me to see Stefanie in silhouette. I take a deep breath and open the tent flap.
She looks up from her magazine. “Jesus Christ. What is this? Sydney? Where are you?” She gets up from her folding chair, wrapping a dirty silk bathrobe around her. She pushes me out of the way and strides back to the entrance. So I follow.
I hear her say, “Sydney, you ignoramus. I told you not to let him back here! He’s just a kid for Chrissakes!” There’s some muttered response from Sydney about giving back my ten bucks, and then she turns on me. She pulls me by the T-shirt and sends me tumbling past toothless Sydney.
“Get out! Don’t come back here! Jesus Christ! This is no place for a kid!” she screams at me, although I’m only six feet away. “It’s no place for a kid,” she says again.
So I run. Like I ran last year and the year before. Paulie catches up with me and we head back to Daly’s field. We lay down in the sweet grass and I’m thankful it’s dark enough to hide my tears. My shame.
“I thought she’d be different this time.” I say.
“Your Dad’s right. ” Paulie looks up at the Milky Way. “It’s a done deal.”