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BLUR BLUR BLUR –the lights are making her sick. Her name is Helen Mayfield, and she hates lights. Carnival lights, especially. Actually, she just hates carnivals. Greg has dragged her here, but she doesn’t hate Greg. She doesn’t know how she feels about Greg. She doesn’t know how she feels about this whole date thing.
I was wondering if you’d like to go out sometime?
Greg had asked her, her, Helen Mayfield, who had graduated valedvictorian of her senior class, when high school had ended last month. Helen Mayfield, who was “going places” as Mr. Leonard, the guidance councellor had a habit of saying, after he closed the door of his office, and stared at her, making her feel so uncomfortable, the way he often did the with the girls. He’d even lock the door! Or, maybe he only does that with me Helen would think, as he sat behind his desk. She didn’t like Mr. Leonard either way, whether he liked her or not. She didn’t like most of anybody.
“With your grades, you could be going anywhere you want!” he would proclaim. “I only wish my Sarah earned grades like you do. And, just look at those scores! Sarah could never perform that well on a test!”
And, Helen would frown, thinking that was because his daughter was an idiot. Of course Sarah wouldn’t-couldn’t-she was one of those girls, you know the ones only destioned for one position in life-the housewife.
Maybe that was why girls like Sarah (or anyone else for that matter) didn’t like Helen Mayfield very much. All the kids would whisper when she walked by, or raised her hand for an answer in class, “She thinks she’s soooo smart!” (she was, wasn’t she?)
Or, they’d say, “She thinks she’s to good for us!” (she was, wasn’t she?) “Somene really ought to teach that girl a lesson, put her in her place.”
“You’re going places, that’s for sure,” Mr. Leonard would tell her, smirking from across his desk. She wondered if he found her attractive at all. Then, she’d dismiss the thought. How silly to think like that! Like a typical teenage girl, only she wasn’t a typical teenage girl. She was an adult, and she was going places.
“This town could really use someone like you,” Mr. Leonard said. “I mean it, you could do great things here.”
And, Helen would laugh, laugh hard. She’d tell him, “As if I had need this town!”
Mr. Leonard would suddenly frown, frown hard. He would watch as the girl’s face changed, showing something that he hadn’t really seen before, on anybody. A look of hunger, of pure desperation, as if she were an animal saying Oh, help me, help me get out of this place, please! When she’d leave his office, he would realize how glad he was that his daughter Sarah wasn’t a thing like Helen Mayfield, didn’t even come close to her at all.
Going places Helen would think, laying in bed, in that shabby little house she shared with her mother. She didn’t want anything to do with these people, this place. Poison. That’s what this town was. Poison, and once it got into your system, there was no way of getting it out. Her own mother, Stella, had been a first hand victim. Working all day at some cheap bar-a bar! Of all places! (and rumor had it, that wasn’t all it was, either) Her mother coming home, with that awful roadhouse stink, drunk out of her mind, a few drinks at closing time.
“Hey!” she’d call, banging on Helen’s bedroom door, throwing it open and leaning against the frame. Dressed like some wannabe child prostitute, cheetah spotted high heeled boots, mini skirt, low cut purple blouse. How old was she, anyway? To old to look like that, that’s for sure Helen would think, watching as her mother lit a cigarette and let it hang sideways out of her mouth.
“You. This whole town knows about you, they know you’re leavin’ and you ain’t ever comin’ back.” Helen would close her eyes, covering her head with the pillow. “You’re gonna leave me here, aint ya? Leave me here to rot? You think you’re going places? Honey, you ain’t goin no where at all!” And, then, would come the worst part, oh how Helen would want to scream as he mother would trot down the hall to her bedroom, laughing. Laughing! Her mother’s laughter, so painful, so witchlike and so horrid. She could hear it long after her mother had stopped, and past out on her bed. She could hear it even as she slept, because it was there, and that’s where it would always be.
BLUR! BLUR! BLUR! –those godawful lights, swirling, making her stomach churn. Together, Greg and Helen sit on a ferris wheel. Why has she come here? Why has he asked her? Why bother? Was it because Greg never asked any girl out before (why would he? He is sure nothing to write home about, Helen thinks) and so thought he could land Helen Mayfield? Was that it? But, if it was the case, than how come he was being such a gentlemen to her? “Are you sure you’re not hungry, Helen?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks.”
“Are you sure? I could buy you some popcorn,” he’d say, “or a pretzel. Would you like a pretzel?”
Rolling her eyes, Helen would say, “Look, I told you I wasn’t hungry, didn’t I?”
And, didn’t he win her that nice little stuffed purple elephant at the ring toss? “Here, for you,” he’d said, smiling, after what was it, eleven, tweleve, embaraasing rounds of the game? Helen had stood by idly, not really even watching him, she didn’t care. She had even made him carry the elephant!
“I’m sorry,” she told him, “It just looks like something a child would want.” She had wanted it to be known that she was no child. She was and is Helen Mayfield, and she is going places.
That’s what she thinks about as the ferris wheel spins her high up in the night sky. She doesn’t even notice when Greg wraps his arms around her, she doesn’t even notice when he tells her that he really does like her, and that he hopes they can go out again sometime. At that moment, Helen Mayfield isn’t there. At that moment, Helen Mayfield is somewhere else, far, far away, and no one, not even Greg can touch her,
Later, on the way to the funhouse by the hot dog stand, they pass a clown, with a massive bunch of balloons tied to his arm. Helen hates clowns. She doesn’t understand what is so funny about them.
“Hey!” he calls, his voice is deep, gravely. Helen pictures an ex prison convict beneath his pancake white makeup. “Wanna balloon?” he smiles, flashing Helen a grim yellow toothed set of teeth.
“No,” she tells him. “No, I don’t.”
He frowns and turns his head sideways like a heartbroken child. Helen looks the other way and begins to follow Greg into the funhouse. She doesn’t want to go to the funhouse, but she doesn’t want to look back at the clown either. She has a feeling that if she turns around, facing him again, he will no longer be frowning, but smiling, maybe even laughing, and Helen doesn’t find anything funny.
It turns out that the funhouse isn’t so fun. Greg and her get into an argument, when he confronts her about “not having a good time.”
“Yeah, well no one made you ask me to come,” she snaps.
“I only asked you here because I felt sorry for you,” he tells her.
“Sorry?” she wonders. Why would anybody feel sorry for someone like her? Don’t they know she’s going places? They all should be green with envy!
“Yeah, sorry,” he tells her, tossing the stuffed purple elephant at her. It falls to the floor and he leaves. She doesn’t stop him, she turns around and marches the other way, deeper into the funhouse.
Later on, when the music from the speakers is playing this annoying carnival tune and the lights are BLUR BLUR BLURING, and she is lost, lost in the funhouse, she realizes that maybe not following Greg was such a good idea. Oh well, it’s not like I can’t find my way out. It just takes time, that’s all. Time. She walks and walks, rooms and rooms everywhere, this place, it’s like one giant maze. Like thoses mazes in biology class the rats have to find their way through.
Exactly, how much time has gone by? She wonders, trodding her way through a hall of mirrors. This is the second-no, third-time she’s been in here. She sighs, thinking how time is such a funny thing, once you loose it, you can never get it back, at least not the way you had it before. The way the lights are bouncing off of the mirrors is making her stomach flip flop, and Oh, please don’t let me be sick she thinks. She walks a little farther. But, then, she stops, heaves over and vomits onto the floor.
She kneels down, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. The stink makes her want to be sick again. She’s lost. She realizes that now. Lost in the funhouse! Helen Mayfield! Imagine! What would people say? She begins to laugh. Then, cry.
“Hey!” she hears. A voice, so familiar. She stares up. No, it cant be. Not in the mirror!
“Hey, whatcha cryin’ for, don’t you know cryin’ ain’t never solved a thing?” her mother says. Her mother is in the mirror. Helen blinks. Her mother is really in the mirror! Her mother is giggling. No, laughing. Helen wants to scream. Why is her mother laughing? What is so funny? She’s lost.
“Look at the mess you’ve made!” her mother says, “Just look! How you gonna clean it up? Huh?” Then, the laughter increases. Louder and louder.
“Shut up,” Helen whispers. “Please, just shut up.”
She stands up and looks at the mirror. Her mother isn’t there anymore. Why, it’s only Helen Mayfield! Lost in the funhouse, with dried up vomit caked around her lips like some sort of morbid lipstick. It’s only Helen Mayfield, no one else. Helen laughs, has it been her laughing the whole time? How does she get out of here? Where is Greg? Where did Greg go?
She walks a little ways down the hall of mirrors, shoulders slumped head down. Then, what’s that she hears? Footsteps? Could it be, really? She looks around. Is someone following her? Yes! She sees them, now, in the mirrors bordering the walls. Someone in an orange suit, with pom pom buttons. Someone with a bunch of balloons. Why, it’s a clown! A clown, isn’t that funny? Helen thinks so, she even laughs.
“Hey, lady,” the clown says. “Don’t you know we’re closing?”
“No,” Helen tells him.
“Yeah,” he tells her, then catches a glimpse of the mess Helen made on the floor.
“You do that?” he asks.
“No,” she lies.
“Dumb kids,” he says. She watches the balloons. Balloons. Something so comfotting about balloons. She could never figure out what.
“Hey,” he says, looking at her. Something familiar in his voice. She’s heard it before, she’s surprised she didn’t recognize it before. It’s the clown from earlier!
“I know you,” he says. “You’re the lady, the lady who wouldn’t take my balloon.”
Helen doesn’t say anything. Why is he looking at her like that? Why is walking so close?
BLUR BLUR BLUR and oh! Why did they make the lights so bright?
The clown edges even closer, Helen trips backwards, deadend. There is no exit, only a mirror.
“Where you goin?” the clown asks. “Don’t you wanna balloon?”
No, Helen wants to say. But, she accepts one anyway. She closes her eyes. The clown throws her onto the ground. She opens her eyes, as he releases the balloons up in the air, bouncing off of the mirrors, they are swimming in them, and look how they float! Aren’t they just beautiful? They will go on flying, on and on, until they go places. Helen laughs, asking the clown, now leaning over top of her, forcing her arms down, “Don’t you know I have to go somewhere? Don’t you know I’m going places?”
The clown laughs, in that special way that only clowns can. Then, he says, “Oh, honey, don’t you know you ain’t goin no place at all?”
And Helen Mayfield, lost in the funhouse, realizes that she does know this. She’s known it all along, that the clown is right, that everyone is right, and that she is wrong. She’s isn’t going places. She isn’t going anywhere at all. She is right here, where she is supposed to be, right where she belongs.