Mabel and Jane, "the twins," as everybody called them, were just barely seven when it arrived. I remember, because their Pa forgot to throw them a party that year. Worthless drunk decided he'd handled enough birthdays on his own and took that one off, Lord forgive him, so a few of us threw a little something together with a caramel apple cake and a few noisemakers. It was the best we could do on meager means and short notice.
We thought their eyes sparkled at that birthday party, but that was nothing, compared. You should have seen them at that carnival. We'd heard in the papers it was coming, so our committee, that's what we called ourselves, the committee--we got together and decided we needed to take the girls in to see the shows. They deserved it more than any, as far as we could see. The budget was low. We had enough for the tickets and a sack lunch, but we explained there'd be no treats inside, and they were good girls; they understood well enough.
I fully expected those sights and sound to be a wonder to those young things, but I have to admit I myself was fairly taken aback by the impressive display. I still don't understand how they managed, in full daylight sun, to make it seem like the whole place was floating on in a mesmerizing hue just as pink as that cotton candy fluff. I can't blame the twins, really for their raptures with the place. Considering their situation, and all.
We spent all afternoon, acting like there was no other world to return to outside. Every card show, every acrobat's turn, every wild horse ride, those girls were lost in the magic. It was long past supper, the crowds were mostly already gone home, and we were headed toward the gate, when the balloon vendor in clown makeup called out to us.
"Good evening, ladies. I'm headed in for the night and these balloons are of no use to me. Do you know of anyone who might care for them?" Mabel's eyes went wide as silver dollars. Jane kept very still, afraid to breathe, probably. I looked around, and answered for them.
"We seem to be the only ones left, sir."
"I see." He acted sorely disappointed.
Mabel piped up, "Perhaps-" she grew shy again and paused. Her sister's boldness rescued them.
"We may be able to take them, if it could help you, sir," Janey ventured.
"My, what an interesting solution! Well, I've got reds, pinks, and blues. What'll you have?"
He pulled two sweets from his pocket and placed them in their hands, having carefully divvied all of his balloons between the two of them, one by one, announcing with deep bows and fancy flourishes as each color was passed to its new owner. They were smitten. He invited them back as his guests the next day, and another member of our committee volunteered to bring them. After all, we all imagined they'd never have this chance again.
He met them at the gate and took them to the parlor. They had ice creams together, and he began to show them how to hula hoop, and a few other simple tricks. He let them ride the ponies and introduced them to the whole crew of performers, jesters, trainers and managers.
He gave them first choice seats at the clown show, the very same one where he fell and wound up with a broken ankle. The carnival went on without him and he stayed in our hospital those months, healing up and reading books and telling stories to his daily visitors, who, he noticed, would rather spend time on his knee than two doors down in the room with the patient whose liver was failing. He helped them practice handwriting and work figures each afternoon, and they showed off their growing mastery of juggling, or balance, or any other small amusements he'd explained. The girls and he grew inseparable and got each other through what was probably the worst of their lows. He packed up to leave when the company came back through.
I'm not surprised the twins ran away with the carnival that next year. After all, they didn't really have a father.
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Jonathan's submission--coming soon
Jonathan's submission--coming soon