Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Carnival

In late spring, when the carnival came to town, it was like summer vacation had started early and it was that way every year I can remember. Maybe because the weather was slowly clawing its way higher on the thermometer, maybe because the carnival brought us a color preview of summertime blooms or, maybe, we just came to realize that it was the beginning of the end of another school year. We always knew the date the caravan would arrive, usually a Wednesday or Thursday, and there must have seemed little reason, to the teachers and principal, to keep us in school after lunch on the chosen day. Homework was not given, just delayed, with an unspoken agreement that the next day or two would have a heavier load. Small towns, with their small schools and personal familiarities, made life tolerable in that fashion.

When the afternoon bell rang, there may have been a rush of bodies, but the minds had already vacated the building and were waiting at edge of town, surrounding the lot where raggedy and dirty-clothed men were busy unhooking, unloading, staking, stacking and testing what they had hauled over freeways, city streets and country roads. Even though the festival was at some distant place in the days before, it seemed to be a special delivery for our sole enjoyment.  We would gather, sit, stand, squat and wait on the cotton candy-fresh spring grass that would, by the end of Sunday, look as crushed and dead as grass on the football field the coming fall. But, damage to the spring newness would not be a permanent. The grass would return to normal within a few weeks, as it was washed with rain, waxed with sun and blessed with an absence of feet and vehicles. It would be ready and waiting for us to play a summer’s worth of baseball.

The brothers, Pavel and Tibor, the twins who were good at every sport, sat a short distance from the rest of us. I walked in front of them. They were talking in whispers and watching the scene with dilated pupils. You did not need to hear the conversation to know that their sentences contained words like “what if” and “ how do we” and “when.”  At an empty spot, between my friends and the twins, I was pulled by forces,  either participate in the elation or join the sons of the crazy Slovakian, the butcher with the shop on Third Street, who, people said, strangled the Altmeyer’s German shepherd, because it was German. The clatter of overworked engines and smell of diesel fumes mixed with sweet smoke from the bratwurst vendor added another tugging force. I fell in that direction, dug in my pocket and pulled out a dollar.

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