Bright, flashing lights of orange and red and yellow saturated the skies, as carnival lights exploded with color. Screams and laughter echoed through the night breeze, filling the atmosphere with excitement and thrill. Concession stands were piled with impatient people waiting for their elephant ears and popcorn, while demanding little kids tugged anxiously on their parents to go here or go there. Clowns popped out of places, spooking even the arrogant teenagers who held their chins in the air. Balloons of all sorts began to escape the tiny fingers of exhausted little boys and girls, ready to cuddle up in their warm covers at home. The large, creaking Ferris wheel spun slowly in its rotation, as couples and friends of every age curled against each other for security.
I stood there casually, taking it all in. Hands plunged deep in my pockets as I inhaled my favorite sent of the carnival. I came here every day of every year that this annual amusement attraction visited my small town. I fed off the enthusiasm of all the people. I enjoyed the casual smirks and giggles women would give me as they passed by me when I gave them a polite “g’day ladies.” I was never the type of man to get a woman that I wanted, or perhaps it was just the fact that none of them ever pleased my need to be romantic. That was a reason I always came to this fair, I kept a faint hope that one day I would find a beautiful lady at my favorite place to be. So far that dream was far from reality.
I thought I kept myself presentable. My brown hair was always kept in a clean military cut, and I wore fitted shirts to show my muscles that I tried to put an effort in. Girls had told me before that my blue eyes were beautiful and that I was such a charmer. But to my dismay, I still never felt like I was good enough.
I was compelled stroll to around casually playing a couple lame little games I enjoyed so much from my childhood. One game in particular caught my eye, or maybe it was just that inviting smile on the girl working it. I strolled over to the stand and her hazel eyes gave me a welcoming glance.
“You want to give it a try?” she asked with a small smile, “it’s two tickets, and if you get the ping pong ball in the fish bowls, you get a little goldfish.”
“Sure, that seems easy enough for me to do,” I replied with a casual tone, taking two tickets out of my worn, corduroy shorts. She handed me a little orange basket of roughly ten ping pong balls. I admit, I had an absolutely horrendous throwing arm. Every time I missed, she was laughing charmingly at my miserable failure. In the end I got only two in, which was disappointing, not to mention embarrassing.
“Well at least I got two,” I said, handing the empty basket back with pitied defeat.
“Better than most can do,” she said turning away from me and going to the small fish tank that was set up.
“I want the two biggest goldfish you’ve got,” I said as she grabbed the fish net. She came back with two dinky black and gold fish.
“Those were the biggest you have in that entire tank?” I asked incredulously.
She smiled coolly, “No, in fact they are the smallest. I don’t give big fish to demanding little boys. Are you complaining?”
“Not at all,” I grumbled. I took my fish and stared at them. One of them looked on the verge of death, and the other was scared out of his wits. When I looked back to her, she had already initiated a conversation with a guy, with gages that looked like they’d be awfully painful, and his girlfriend with purple hair, handing them a basket. I watched her for a moment, and she glanced over her petite shoulders, met my eyes, and raised her eyebrows. I took it as a cue to leave.
I tried to continue my stroll around the carnival, but I just wasn’t interested anymore. I was fixated on the image of the girl from the ping pong stand. She had such a pretty face. Her faded yellow laced tank top accented her light tan and lean body perfectly. The mixture of aqua and green in her eyes was beyond mesmerizing, accented by her wan lips and slim nose. I wanted to talk to her again. Maybe I would come to the carnival again tomorrow. After all, it was going on for the rest of the weekend. I bought myself a bag of popcorn and took a seat on a white bench with its chipping paint in need of a little TLC, thinking deeply as I stuffed my face with the overly buttered goodness. My bench wasn’t far from her stand, but it was at an angle where she wouldn’t be able to see me. I felt like such a stalker, but I couldn’t help it, she had my complete attention. She carried herself so celestially, her dark hair flowing in short bounces as she worked her little stand.
When all of my popcorn was gone, I wiped my greasy hands on my shorts, and got up. As I threw away my bag, I had to walk by her stand again. I peered swiftly in her direction to see if she took any notice in my presence, and to my surprise she was watching me. It took me off guard so much that I couldn’t look away and I walked right into a bulky father and his little blonde daughter, rebounding backwards after my face was smashed in his sweaty, black Harley Davidson t-shirt.
“Hey, watch where you’re going, man!” he said gruffly, giving me a good shove back.
The heat rushed to my face and I hastily said sorry. Blatant and obnoxious laughter filled my ears, forcing me to turn quickly to see who it was. It just had to be the girl at the stand, of all people. I felt like such a loser, more than I had ever felt in my entire life.
“Did you get a little distracted there?” she called to me in between snorted, cackling laughs. The heat continued to burn my face furiously, but I sauntered over to her stand as an excuse to talk to her again.
“So you saw that, huh?” I said combing my hand through what little hair I had, humiliated.
“I don’t see how I couldn’t have, it was pretty obvious you weren’t paying attention,” she said with a teasingly seductive smile.
“Well, I…” my voice drifted off lamely, not knowing how to respond.
“Would you like to play another round?” she asked, changing the subject, saving me from even more embarrassment, “doesn’t look I’m going to get many other costumers.”
“Sure. Do I get more fish?”
“No, I already gave you yours. I have to have some to last me the rest of the weekend. If not, I’m going to have to go to the pet store again, and I’d rather not do that,” she replied, handing me a larger bucket than before. “Knock yourself out.”
I did better at my second attempt, or maybe it was just because I had more balls to throw in the bowls. I noticed how she watched me intently, almost admiringly. It made me smile a little, and she quickly asked what was so funny, the perfect tempo of her voice, cracking involuntarily. I chuckled lowly and blew it off, continuing my throws, creating an awkward silence.
“So, what were you doing here all alone, anyways?” she asked, trying to seem uninterested.
“Carnivals are my favorite. They always have been, ever since I was young. My dad used to take me here every year, until he passed away,” my voice got quieter when I mentioned my father. “I have come to this same one ever since I was two years old.”
She was quiet for a moment, “Do you go every day, too?”
“Yep, it never gets old for me. I relive all of my memories here, for as long as I can.” I stopped throwing, and looked her in the eyes, “my dad used to tell me it was a place where magic happens. I’m still trying to look for that magic, though.”
She seemed enchanted by this piece of information I had given to her. Her eyes portrayed that she wanted to believe my father just as much as I did.
“Will you come back here tomorrow?” she asked apprehensively and grabbed at a piece of her long waves and twirled it anxiously in her thin fingers.
“Of course,” I remarked with a grin, “anything to get a bigger fish.”
She smiled faintly, and then grabbed the bucket of ping pong balls, “I need to start closing up.”
“My name is Landon, by the way,” I said sticking out my hand, as she placed baskets in their slots under the chipping wooden shelves.
She stood up, placing a loose strand of dark chocolate hair behind her ear, placing her slender hand in mine, “I’m Mae.”
“Well, Mae, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then,” I said, giving her a warm smile.
“That you will,” she replied, returning the smile.
As I turned away, I already couldn’t wait to see her again. I raised my two fish bags up to my face as my face beamed with happiness. I felt like my mood could illuminate the murky black ozone above me. Tomorrow was going to be a good day, I knew it.