The carnival used to come annually to the town I grew up in. I want to say it always arrived in October or November, but I’m not certain. Maybe it’s just that something about the autumn season—the colors; the crisp air; the long, dark evenings—evokes the carnival.
I remember, of course, the funnel cakes powdered with sugar; goldfish swimming minute circles in clear plastic bags; stuffed animals hanging like tree ornaments; rides that I imagined were put together hastily by men who perhaps shrugged when they couldn’t locate a missing screw. What I also remember is this: that on one particular visit to the carnival, I found a twenty-dollar bill in the dusty parking lot as I walked with my family toward the entrance gates.
This was the 80s. I think I was too young at the time to babysit, but even when I did start watching other people’s kids for money, one of the first families I worked for paid me a mere $3 an hour to watch three kids. Yes, I got hosed, but the point is that twenty dollars was a windfall to me then.
Most likely, I squandered the entirety on carnival games. The games have long been my favorite part of carnivals. If I won a prize on this particular carnival visit, it wasn’t anything noteworthy enough to survive my memory decades later. Of course, carnival games aren’t really about the prizes. They’re about the thrill of good luck, the thrill of winning. And that is probably why when I think of going to the carnival in my hometown, what lingers for me, after all these years, is the memory of spotting that bill on the ground.
A couple years ago, at the carnival at our county fair, my husband won a giant stuffed banana larger than our son. He threw a tiny ring around the neck of a milk bottle. According to him, he won it on his first try. According to him, our son and I threw a whole basket of rings, missing every time. My husband remembers all sorts of details about that carnival visit that I can’t recall. And why would I? I didn’t win.
When we got home, the banana took up residence in a corner of our son’s room for about a year, largely ignored. Eventually, my husband tossed it into the trunk with our other donation items and dropped it off at a local charity shop.
What remains is a photograph of my husband and son posing with that banana, grins on all three of their faces.
In this issue of Atticus Review, we meet a game booth operator who must prevent the grand prize of a GE portable TV from being won, but without a riot ensuing; a washed-up beauty queen looking for salvation at the freak show; a monster-truck driver who finds God in the shaking of the steering wheel of his rig; and many more intriguing characters. Welcome to the carnival issue!
From Roy Bentley’s poem “Score for a Movie about the Death of a Carnival Worker”: “if grief is an aerialist’s love of flight after a bad fall,/ a body laid out is cue to roll credits to rising music: acknowledgment there are only so many encores”
From Lindsey Steffes’s story “Bad Girls Don’t Cry”: “The Fattest Woman on Earth touches her bloated hand to Cherry’s waist. ‘No one loves,’ The Fattest Woman on Earth says, not asking. She reaches her doughy, dimpled arms around Cherry and drags her close. ‘No one ever has.’”
From Robert Perchan’s poem “Hobo Clown and Deaf Old Fire Eater on Subway”: “The Hobo Clown stuffs the nose of the Deaf Old Fire Eater with dry grass and tinder bark shreds and feverishly fans the thread of smoke wisping out”
From Christine DeCarlo’s flash fiction story “Chemical Skin”: “It’s not long before we’re a blur, a shrieking tornado. I can’t open my eyelids or help that my hair flies side-to-side. Or that my 13-year-old thighs keep slipping out from under Joe’s palm and crashing into Ryan’s jeans.”
From Peter Fenton’s memoir Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carnival Con Artist: “ ‘Be right with you, ma’am,’ I announced, climbing gingerly over the box of balloons into the Duck Pond. The two games were mounted side by side in the corrugated aluminum-clad trailer, built to Jackie’s specifications that winter. Fluorescent tubing lit an interior ‘flashed’ with plush stuffed animals dangling on hooks and stacked boxes of ‘slum,’ or cheap giveaways, like rubber worms, Chinese handcuffs and plastic baseballs the size of a thumb. An unplugged GE portable TV rested on a bed of red velour stapled to a high shelf behind me.”
From George Drew’s poem “E. A. Robinson in the Wax Museum of the Miserable”: “see exhibits of despair,/ collections of the lost,/ examples of the damned;/ we have as many faces/ as Lon Chaney”
From Lee Tyler Williams’s story “Mammoth”: “Here he was, Mr. Quiet, fearless and adored, a rodeo rider on a mastodon. It was like all that grandeur we thought our sport had lost had come barreling back headlong, ready to tame us with its rumble. We could hang onto those tusks, let them drag us into an early retirement, maybe even help us pay for a boathouse, or a summer condo.”
From Carolyn Gregory’s poem “The Clown Singer”: “He’s arrived from a broken down train/ hobo on a long ride/ cross the Rockies and Corn Belt/ holding onto his dignity/ despite the flounced collar/ and Ziplocked mouth”
From Kate Stoltzfus’s story “Fifteen Ways to Lose a Mother”: “I know it’s not La Garra, Mami said, but soon you’ll be old enough, and while you wait, you can look down below and see what’s coming in just a few birthdays. But I wasn’t listening. I was up in the air above everything, bigger than everything, able to see the whole city of Ayacucho. I forgot about the claw as I settled against Mam. Elena, she said, we’re in the sky.”
Photo by Meena Kadri