This week, I challenged Sarah at Sadie's Story Lines with the prompt, "Stop it, it makes me sick when you do that."
I was challenged by Leah at Learning to Whistle. Her prompt was:
The way I see it, life is like a ferris wheel.
Here's my response.
photo by Rick Harris
I lived in a caravan of carnival workers. I was the son of a Ferris Wheel. I was conceived and birthed under its shadow. My father built and rebuilt our home, twisting the colorful replacement bulbs of my heritage into place in each new town. His father operated the Ferris Wheel and his father before that, until we were its rightful owners, because, the way we saw it as a clan of men, life was like a Ferris Wheel.
My mother disappeared in the autumn of my thirteenth year. There was a dust storm in a remote region of Oklahoma that took the awnings off of the Pick a Duck and Ring Toss games and covered everything in a film of dirt that you couldn’t wipe away. The last time I saw her, my mother was holding a scarf to her face, running out into the wind to save the laundry she’d scrubbed in her wooden tub. “Our sheets are out there!” she said, lacing up her boots and tucking the hems of her pants inside.
When she didn’t return to our trailer, my father went after her and came back empty handed and consumed by a sort of hysterical madness. He claimed to hear a sound in the rushing of the dirt over the dry earth, something otherworldly and whispering about vengeance. He claimed that she had been taken. We could stay and try to find her and lose The Wheel and our livelihood, or we could move on, like we did.
“We’re travelling people,” my father told me from the driver’s seat of the trailer as we pulled away from the dirt lot. The clothesline that killed her was dangling loose from a tree. “I’m sorry to do it, but The Wheel is all we have. It is what makes us and keeps us alive. She wouldn’t have parted with it willingly and neither will we. You were born under those whirling lights, you know.”
My father was always in motion. Climbing the base of the Ferris Wheel with a giant bolt under his arm, hanging from its crossbars to grease the hinges, he was a man of action, but there was something new to his movement. A mania entered him in the blind minutes he spent in the heart of the dust that took my mother. “I swear there was a murmuring coming from the ground itself,” he said, staring through the smear of mud left behind when he tried to clean the windshield.
My father’s state of restlessness came to include one of the women who danced in the Adults Only tent at the far side of the carnival. He couldn’t hold still even for a moment, as far as she was concerned. When she was around, which became almost all of the time, there wasn’t a part of him that wasn’t roaming and exploring, pushing and growing, so that this woman became the canvas he traveled upon.
I pretended to sleep in the passenger seat of our trailer, watching them between the sagging upholstery of my makeshift bed and the door. She was thin and covered in purple and black marks, especially on her arms and along the bend of her ankles. There were two perfect circles of grime outlining her nipples, from the glue that secured a pair of red spangled tassels that my father would peel off with his teeth. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t get at her, everything in motion, and the grime never washed away from her skin, no matter how she scrubbed, she said.
“When you’re up there and they’re throwing money at you,” she told him in the quiet of the night, nestled with him under the fleece throw that used to cover my mother, “That’s when you feel high. There are lights on you and you’re moving in ways you didn’t even know you had the courage to move and everybody loves you. You can feel it, just like you can feel the spotlight, you can feel it radiating out of them. You’re all there is, the rest of the world is gone. They’re watching you and you’re all lit up and rocking back and forth. It’s like you can look out over them and all of their faces are dark and still and it’s like they’re the ocean and you’re at the top of the world. You can see forever.” She smacked my mother’s pillow with her palm and a cloud of that murderous dust floated around her face as she got comfortable and settled in for the night.
“I love you,” my father roamed.
“It’s getting late,” she said.
“I love you,” my father traveled.
“The boy’s awake,” she whispered.
“I love you,” my father said and sunk low into the compartment of our traveling home, the hum of The Wheel dying away until tomorrow.