Roll Up, Roll Over
Itís the noise of the carousel thatís so intoxicating. Donít you just love the wheezy grinding of the music, the cheesy, age-old melodies that shout out ďenjoy! This is as good as itís going to get! Hang on tight and pretend youíre a kid again!Ē Well, thatís what it says to me anyway, even though itís been so long since I was a kid Iíve forgotten it ever happened.
Fairgrounds Ė that chipped, garishly painted small cosmos full of desperate people flinging their cash around, sucking on poisonously coloured confections, yelling like maniacs and whooping into the night as if this false, manic half acre of muddy ground was heaven itself. Or perhaps not heaven at all. Perhaps the other place.
So many places to hide, here. Flapping tent openings, tiny wooden booths decorated with signs of the zodiac where, for a price, the gullible learn the secrets of the universe (a pound coin in the slot, a mass produced laminated card with some generic nonsense on request). There are the spaces under all the rides too, of course. Plenty of room there, up close and personal with wet grass, slick mud, snaking cables. Oh, and letís not overlook behind the scenes of the Ghost Train. There are long, dark tunnels there, damp and claustrophobic, overhung with wobbly witch cutouts and dusty spiders that wouldnít fool a blind man in a bucket. Still, itís an interesting journey, bowling along in a mini carriage, clutching your partner, screaming unnecessarily loud and rocking the carriage side to side filled with bravado and testosterone. Not that I ever partook, but I have eyes and ears.
Nobody notices me, naturally. I mean, why would they? This is predominantly a place for young folk, teenagers with money to spend and girls to impress. Kids with parents who keep only half an eye on their charges, lured themselves by slot machines and the siren call of the carousel. Iím just a bloke, quite ordinary, not so shabby that the crowds eye me with suspicion or distaste. Iím spotlessly clean, I am. I thought Iíd mention that, as I wouldnít want you to think me a weirdo or anything. Sometimes I stand quite close to some woman or other, inhale her cheap perfume, and people must think weíre together. I like that, the thought of having someone of my own. I canít stand there for long though, she always moves off or seeks out whoever she came with. I smile casually before she goes, as if our chance meeting was just that. Chance.
Hereís the thing though. Iím lonely. There, I confess it. Donít think Iíve never had a relationship, as itís now called. I have a cruder way of putting it, but you probably donít want to hear that. I spend all my waking hours at the fairground, and when it moves on after a few weeks, so do I. I move onto wherever it turns up next. Itís the lights and the music, you see. And all the secret places it gives up. The hidey holes, the booths, the other world behind the faÁade of curtains and jolly cardboard figures, pirates, clowns, ghosts. Itís like a world within a world; thereís the night outside, with the real universe (no pound coin needed here, ha ha) and the jostling, over-the-top hysteria of the punters competing with the coarse cries of the stall holders and the mad, blaring cacophony of dozens of snatches of endlessly upbeat tunes.
Then thereís the much more exciting world, the secret space behind the false lake where the wooden ducks slide past waiting to be shot, the narrow deep alley at the back of the coconut shy, just behind the terrifying scarecrow dummies with chips knocked out of their imbecilic heads. The darkness, the feeling of invisibility was intoxicating back there.
She was about 15, couldnít have been any older despite the make up slapped on inexpertly and the totally inappropriate high heels. High heels! At a fairground! What was she thinking? She tottered clumsily towards the waltzers, a can of some lager or other in one hand, a tiny glittery bag in the other, grinning at nobody in particular. Her eyes were wide as a baby being shown a balloon for the first time, her ankles thin and white as sapling shoots. I watched her for quite a while, dry mouthed and aching. She was on her own, not pretty enough to attract the feral advances of the stall holders and too unsteady on her feet to perform the flirting dance Ė in to tease and taunt, back off to show indifference, closer in, move away. I stood at the corner of one of the tents, half hidden by a washing line of grubby cloths and bided my time as she weaved her way towards me, pausing to slurp from her can and examine the heel of her shoe which had caught in something or other.
Really, it was no challenge at all. Piece of cake, if Iím honest. I can be surprisingly charming if pushed, and the uneven light and the late hour hides my face effectively enough. She seemed rather flattered but unsurprised when I offered to help her to somewhere quiet, to fix her shoe. She was wearing some sweet scent that reminded me for a minute of my mum, God rest her soul. Jasmine, was it? Perhaps violet? I ended up with it on my sleeve anyway.
I took her to one of my favourite places. I canít tell you about it, but itís the most secret place of all in the fairground. Sheís there still, whatís left of her. I cherish the scent on my arm.