Cover your eyes so you won’t get dizzy

Every year since Mossy and I have taken our holidays on the south coast there has been a summer carnival on the beach. Really a nice way of describing a group of carneys who could do with a visit to the dentist standing around working a bunch of rickety rides held together with string and sticky tape. A line of multi-coloured lights, strung up to enclose the borders of the park and denote its existence to tourists passing by as kids beg to come back once the day turns in and the nighttime field roars to life.

With Santa long since passed and the ability to use him as a good behaviour bond gone with it, the carnival seemed a fair bargain to ensure a few days of eating dinners whole and bed times well adhered to.

When the sun dropped low to the ground on a warm Friday evening we decided it was time for a little merrymaking underneath those flickering bulbs.

As we walked through the gates I felt myself entering the pages of a Stephen King novel. There was the same underlying menace and barely contained violence I had remembered from my teenage years, nose buried in Pet Sematery or the story of The Clown. Townspeople, who went about their business by day, only to appear in number to cast all masks into the fire.

Uncharacteristically subdued, Ari slowly sidled up to the baby elephant ride, waiting for a turn. Her parents watched on, more than a little worried for reasons they couldn’t justify but felt nonetheless. The lights shone overbright casting a glow that changed the lush grass to a shade of swampy yellow. The hot taint of fried hotdogs mingled with the sugary waft of fairy floss to leave a sickly tang in the air that made my stomach tumble.

I held tight her little hand as we climbed the stairs to the top of the giant slide that overshadowed all in its mammoth view. Still the shrieks from the riders of the pirate ship of doom reached us even here. And as we whooshed down with fingers clasped around our mat, the hessian rubbing against our thighs, the colours blurred together to cover the crowd in a sinister luminescence.

It wasn’t supposed to be a carnival of freaks, are not those days long past? Looking around me proved that indeed they were not. Step right up folks and look left into the rotten black holes of missing teeth, see here, right to the food cart and the lady that at first glance seemed to be one head of a Siamese triplet but in reality just grossly overweight and barely able to stand upright. The mother in me despaired at the grubby children, hands sticky from soft drink and fairy floss, the telltale ring of red around their mouths, tongues stained from upsized slushies.

We cut our time short, one ring around the rosey was quite enough. Ari had been allowed a turn on her desired rides while we each rode the carousel with her, its rough hewn centre anointed with images of the Great American West. The noble savage standing proud in his feathered headdress and warpaint, the brave colonel, buttons shining gold, gun held erect. Silly I know, but I couldnt help feeling that late at night, when the protesting mob left for home, these two old adversaries would jump down off the gilded wood and continue their battle under the grinning crescent moon.

Each of us was glad to leave, even Ari who felt something she couldn’t explain any clearer than “mama it just made me a bit scared we won’t go back will we?” I couldn’t tell her that for reasons unknown we would return again next season. Just as sure as summer rolls around for another year so does the carnival. We will forget the hateful leer on the faces of the clowns fattened on a sweet bounty of bone white balls as they roll their eyes, looking for what, I do not know nor in truth want to. We will roll the dice of death and take our chances on the rickety roller coaster, the lumbering ferris wheel rising high above the earth before slowly making its unsure way down again. Each time we will expect something different, because we can never face the fact that nothing changes at the fair. Time stands still for all as we try to resist the pull of just one more turn on the merry-go-round.


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