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Polly’s golden eyes were so bright with anger and annoyance that they seemed to be on fire. The screaming children of the fire, kids having fun or cranky babies, sliced through the air like a buzz saw.

Ryan knew how much she hated stretching piercings, so why had he dragged her to booth that sold piercing stretchers? Ryan’s washtub like gut pressed against the booth, his hands pointing to a tribal pair of black wooden plugs. Next to this Bob Marley filled booth was a booth that made wax flowers, in one color or two (for $35 you could have as many six colors!).

She walked over to the booth, pulling the mental curtains and closing out the stretching booth behind her. The stretching booth blazed, then quickly crisped and curled into nothing. The smell of clove cigarettes permeated the wax flower booth but the stink was much less over here then it was there. The man behind the booth grinned at Polly.

The heart gave her vision dark corners, darkening by heartbeats. “What are your favorite colors, miss?” he asked in a tone that told her, he was flirting, making a move, hitting on her.

Polly blushed and told him her favorite color was purple in a wispy and dry voice. Ryan dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a ball of fluff. Ryan’s face twisted in anger. He needed $14.75 for those plugs, way less than what the carts at the Block asked for.

Ryan looked around; his girlfriend always had at least a twenty on her. He spied Polly taking a purple and pink flower from the wax flower man…free of charge.

Ryan grabbed her arm, which made her give a shriek of surprise. The noise of the carnival crowd around them seemed to stop and quiet. His expression darkened. The air around them, stained with the smells of churros and cotton candy, was so crisp and sweet that it was like biting into a desert.

“Give me this vulgar thing!” he snarled monstrously, snatching the flower from her hand with blazing eyes. He tossed it to the ground and jumped up and down on it, ruining it. For every happy Jekyll face, there is a Mr. Hyde, a dark face on the other side. Ryan had been so sweet and kind today until now.

Polly was embarrassed, scared of what he would do to her.

The flower was a pile of mush. “Find your own damn ride home from the fair, stupid bitch,” he snarled before diving back into the crowd. Her mother was out of town, in Oregon and all her friends were also Ryan’s friends and would probably side with him.

Polly was stranded, her legs were trembling, she felt sick to her stomach. The man in the flower booth gave her another flower, pink and purple like last time.

Polly’s eyes stung. Polly nodded her thanks as she tasted bile rising in her throat.

She found a bench across the way and sat down.

It was summer vacation and that meant drinking beer on the roof and going to the beach, not be stranded at the county fair and the county fair that wasn’t even your county.

Polly broke down crying, not because her boyfriend was mad but because she had no way home. From the very corner of her eye, a clown sat next to her and she cried in a shrill and frightened voice.

His thin sliver of a mouth hung low on his face curved up in a smile. Polly was scared of clowns, everyone from Gacy to Stephen King’s IT. She could feel every muscle in her body tighten. The clown frowned and Polly looked away.

“Sorry…” said Polly. “I’m in no mood…”

The clown pointed to the smushed flower on the ground than stood up. He put his hand out for Polly to take. She was annoyed to find her heart beating faster than usual. She took his hand which was as warm as winter. He led off into the bustling crowd. Away from her troubles. Away from Ryan. Forever.

***

Dear old dad had to be pulling a mighty big fakearoonie right now. “And you never saw her again?” rambled Rob from the backseat. Rob was the son of Ryan, a Ryan who was only six years older, making him a mature nineteen years old. “Did she ever get home?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” said Ryan as his wife paid for the Fair parking. The second time he’d been since he had gone with Polly. “Never saw her at school either. Woe to the max, little dude.”

“Is she safe, daddy?” asked Verlie, his daughter. Her father could not be that dark and cold, could he? Mary turned down the radio as the guitar sliced through the air. “You have to know that much.”

“Your daddy doesn’t,” said Mary, the mother of Rob. Another woman, a junkie according to her dad, mothered Verlie. She had been left on the doorstep of their house when the junkie could not trade her for more drugs. “And while I don’t dig what he did, Polly had issues. She like movies that didn’t have good vibes.”

“What did Polly watch?” asked Verlie.

“Horror films.”

“Some of the coolest films out there,” said Ryan. Ryan knew he had always been a little afraid of Polly’s choices in movies but some were just downright awesome. “But some of the worst vibes ever. Did you kids know that in horror films, if you rip a bong, you die? Seriously, it’s a horror movie sin to use drugs.”

There was mild wonder on Verlie’s voice when she said: “Even pot?”

“That’s right, kids, you should listen to horror movies for a lot of things. Like Verlie, look to them on how to dress to get a boyfriend, but only when you’re 21, but don’t listen to them when they say pot is a drug,” said Ryan.

Mary parked the car and the family of four got out. They could hear the calliope music already “Mommy? Can I ride the Zipper?” asked Rob.

“If you’re tall enough, Rob,” said Mary grabbing Verlie’s hand, leaving Ryan to grab Rob’s hand and walk him through the parking lot.


“I think height rules are dumb,” said Rob to Ryan as they neared the front gates to the fair. Ryan nodded. “I hate those dumb kiddie rides they expect me to ride cause I’m a kid.” The fair smelled of sugar, meat, sweat, booze and a thousand other scents that should not go together.

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