Sunday, July 15, 2012

After the Festival

"Look, Mom! A man on stilts!" Lily ran toward the carnival worker and watched in awe as he juggled and danced atop his long-legged stilts. A group of children gathered and Jeremy performed, acting as though he were about to topple over before finally creating balloon animals for each of the children to carry home.

The festival ended and the workers began tearing down their booths and displays, tucking away the crumpled dollar bills that had been handed to them one-by-one during the course of the day. Lights flickered out and staffers yelled their good-byes to each other as they exited toward the campers set up behind a line of trees to the side of the festival grounds.

Jeremy tottered over to Lori, who was just pinching the padlock into place on her elephant ears booth.

"What do you say we get out of here and find something decent to eat?" Jeremy asked her.

"Anything but fried food," Lori agreed. "And sugar." She sniffed her shirt. "Sorry. I stink like powdered sugar. Job hazard."

"Just goes with how sweet you are," Jeremy said.

"Ha ha. Like I haven't heard that before."

She and Jeremy started walking toward the camper alley. "I'll just pop in my trailer and change real quick. Which one is yours?"

Jeremy pointed to a retrofitted tour bus. "That's mine."

"Wow. It's big. Well, I'll meet you back out here after we get changed."

Jeremy nodded toward the bus. "Meet me there. We'll take my wheels."

Lori quickly scrubbed herself clean, hoping to wipe off some of the clinging residual sugar scent. The clean shirt helped, but when she grabbed a chunk of hair and held it to her nose, she knew it was a lost cause. The odor of frozen dough and confectionery sugar was ever-present. She hoped Jeremy wouldn't mind too much.

She hurried down to his bus and knocked on the door. Jeremy opened it with the push of a button and Lori climbed aboard.

"Oh," she said as she stopped abruptly on the stairs. "I thought you'd be ready."

Jeremy shrugged. "I am."

"But-," Lori stopped. Jeremy was dressed in black now, instead of the carnival red and white stripes. "You're going to keep wearing the stilts?"

Jeremy looked straight ahead through the over-sized windshield. He'd found it best not to watch the looks on other people's faces when he told them the news. "They aren't stilts," he said. "It's a birth defect. My legs are unusually long. There's nothing I can do about it."

Lori remained frozen on the steps. She examined his legs as they stretched from the gas pedal of the bus, all the way back to where Jeremy sat in a custom-fitted seat designed for his height. She'd been about to ask if this were some kind of joke, but Jeremy's monotone and stoic demeanor told her it was not. She let her eyes travel further, up his stiffened frame to the tight clench of his jaw. He stared straight ahead, waiting for her final judgment.

She followed Jeremy's gaze to the now-darkened field. She remembered his charm as he wandered around entertaining the children; his friendly smile and approachable manner. She remembered watching his languid steps as he roamed around the grounds, promoting fun and festivity.

Lori loosed her grip on the bus rail and stepped up so she was level with Jeremy.

"I'd kill for a salad," she said.

He smiled and his shoulders relaxed. With a flick of a button, he closed the door.

No comments:

Post a Comment