June 13, 2008
By Rebecca Riley, San Diego, CA

Standing on the edge of the bluff, the cool ocean wind lifts my hair and tickles my neck. Below me is a small, rocky shore that gives way to an endless expanse of water. A flash of light catches my attention. It is the sun, slowly setting somewhere beyond that distant horizon. The water reflects a strip of red, leading up to the sun’s dying form, as if he had slit his wrists in the bathtub and was sinking under as he bled out. I bet the moon drove him to it. The wind plays faint music in my ear, a hauntingly familiar tune. If only I could remember where I had heard it before….

My parents were fighting again. Such a small child, their hatred filled my ears. I had to get away from them, at least for a little while. The winter carnival had begun, which meant that I could ride all the rides I wanted for only $10. I stole the needed $10 from my mother’s purse and began the mile trek to the fair.

By the time I arrived, the sun had set, but the cool air didn’t bother me. I paid for my ticket and began wandering around the fair, wondering what to do. Then I saw it, the shining jewel of the carnival, the carousel. With its bright lights sparkling it called to me from across the darkness. Its beauty astounded me. All hand-carved, brilliantly painted wood and shining bright metal, it was perfect. I climbed onto the platform and carefully considered which animal to ride. Should I ride the brave lion, roaring its defiance to the world? Or the prancing horse, with its clean cut mane and luminous saddlery? None of the animals were quite what I was looking for, until I beheld the magnificence of the unicorn. A flowing white figure, the unicorn was unbridled and unbound. It presented itself freely, having nothing to hide. I climbed on its back and slid my hands over the smooth gloss of its mane. The carousel started up, slowly at first then faster and faster. First, I heard the low pipes of an organ. Soon the bells joined in. Voices replaced the bells until the three blended to make a heartrending melody that spiraled up to the sky in its one-two-three waltz pattern.

The music was loud, but not quite loud enough to overpower the laughter of the happy, loving families that surrounded me. I hated them. Their happiness vexed me. I stared at them, jealous of their love for each other. Finally, I turned away in disgust. A flash of light caught my eye. Carved around the inside of the carousel were images of a gleaming sun, setting and rising in an endless procession. The largest and most brilliant carving was that of a sun setting into water that reflected a trail of red.

The carnival was not very busy, so no one bothered to uproot me from my unicorn. I just rode it around and around. As I spun, I watched the sun complete its inexorable cycle. I don’t know how long I stared at those carvings, but I do know that as I watched them everything else faded. The faces of the people around me blurred into monstrous shadows and their laughter became a disjointed harmony, clashing against the waltz of the carousel. It grew late and the faces disappeared, one by one, until few remained. “Hey there little miss, you plannin’ on staying out here all night?” The voice of conductor inquired, waking me from my reverie. The conductor seemed like a nice man. He had a deep, soothing voice and a gentle smile.

“Yes sir, I am.”

“Well, we’re open all night, so you’re welcome to. Just remember, if you get drowsy, don’t fall off, okay?”

“Don’t fall” It seems like I have gone through my whole life hearing that phrase. But really, haven’t I been falling this whole time?

It was many years before I went back to where the carousel stood. The thought of what I might find filled me with apprehension. Having been left many years before, its machinery ripped out, the carousel existed in a state of disarray. Gone were the dazzling lights and brilliant colors. The paint flaked off, becoming a little more faded, a little more blemished every day. The wood rotted and splintered, and no longer able to carry its weight, had begun to crack. Rust, left by tides of rain, streaked away from the metal that once shined so brightly. Tall weeds and overgrown trees surrounded the carousel, completing the picture of dereliction. The weeds scratched at my legs as I climbed cautiously onto the platform, testing each board to make sure it would hold my weight. I found my unicorn, but it was no longer white. The paint had chipped over the years, revealing a splintered frame. Its horn and left ear had broken off and when I ran my hand over the places where they once were, sharp pains alerted me to the fragments of wood pricking my palm. I felt like I was falling.

Yes, I remember how I had dreamed that my unicorn would spring to life and transport me to a magical place where I would be happy, where I would be safe. But now, as I stand on the edge of this cliff with nothing below me but the rocky shore and the endless sea, there are no more dreams, and there is no more magic. I just wish that I could have ridden my unicorn one last time before I hit the ground.

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