Monday, December 12, 2011

The Summer Before Our Senior Year by Jane Cassady

(A semi-made-up memory for Rachel McKibbens, who needs more good ones.)

We needed some extra money for all-ages shows and clove cigarettes, so we took a job at the New York State Fair babysitting Kayla, the two-year-old daughter of the couple who ran the fortune-telling machine in the Center of Progress Building.

Like most children of carnies, Kayla was philosophical about fish. Her days always began with the Win a Goldfish game, bouncing ping-pong balls across the miniature fishbowls until she won. Unlike the cruel fairgoers, we didn't walk around all day with the fish (usually named Ariel) in a baggie.

This was the gift Kayla's parents gave her, to compensate for her migratory summers: hitched to the family's Winnebago was her aquarium, big as a small U-Haul, with mountain scenery--the Saddleback range in Pixar colors. Kayla would climb her blue sparkly stepladder and let the fish out to join the glimmering hundreds.

Then it was time for the skimmer. As she fished out the one or two silver/gold bodies floating at the top, Kayla would look at us rabbinically and say: “Fish die. They Die.” After they were skimmed, thanked, and flushed, we'd move on to the second important ritual: multiple viewings of The Little Mermaid, the songs from which stayed in our heads well into the Nineties.

At the end of each shift, we'd carry Kayla back across the midway, sugar, fatigue and carnival lights pinking her cheeks.

The fortune telling booth looked 1950s futuristic, all red and green blinking lights and needles bouncing over dials. Customers entered their birthday and some other information and it spit out fortune-cookie-sized slips. Kayla had a nest of afghans and plastic toys under the counter. She slept there for the rest of the Fair's late work night.

Over a dinner of local sausage, we'd guess at what Mom and Dad were doing just at that moment: “Mom's out in the front yard, broadcasting seeds.” “Dad's tipping up the cooler so it'll pee out the melted ice.” We rolled our eyes like daughters.

Then we'd go meet our carnie boyfriends, who looked like doused glam-metal stars. Yours was Ring Toss and mine was Land the Nickel on the Dot. We'd drink Lebatt Blue and make out with the boys by the rabbit-end of the Poultry Barn.

On one such night, you fell in love with a brown lop-eared rabbit kitten. You spent a significant amount of your Kayla- money on it. You named it The Immortal. And it was.

Visit Jane's blog: The Serotonin Factory

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