80 feet up high in the air.
6:29 pm . . .
I’m so high up people look like ants. We’re up higher than my loft is over Luigi’s. We’re up high enough that I could drop a penny and it might chop somebody in half. At least to their neck, anyway.
“No we’re not,” Angela said as she leaned her head back next to mine.
We’re sitting next to each other in a bucket-shaped car, at nearly the very top of the Ferris wheel’s slow-motion orbit. We’re like satellites, she and I. And she’s so close to me that we’re actually touching, her right shoulder and leg and hip to my left side. This is the first real contact I’ve had with a girl. And I’ve got to tell you, my pulse is probably a bit higher than it should be.
Loan me a penny, I say.
And then she playfully slaps me on the arm. “Tell me a secret, Jack. Something that you’ve never told anyone else . . . ever.”
Like what? What kind of secret would you like? I’m like a virtual secret bank.
“Anything. Just as long as I’m the only person on earth who’s ever heard it.”
Hmmm. I have to think about that for a moment.
She closes her eyes and rests her head on my shoulder, and I can smell her hair. It’s like all kinds of fruit and girly potions. I’m looking out over the neighborhood that finishes out the skyline until there’s just the darkening blue backdrop. Somewhere beyond where I can see, there is evil lurking. But I don’t think that’s the kind of the secret she’s talking about.
“I don’t know, Angela. I’m kind of stuck. If I tell you something truly secret, you might get angry at me, again.”
“I’m not angry with you,” she says softly, her eyes still closed. The wind gently lifts a few strands of her hair. There’s nobody here. We could be the last two people on earth. Just us and the ants down below. But I’ve got a pocket of loose change if they get too obnoxious.
She moves her cheek around a bit, getting more comfortable on my shoulder. “I want to understand you. And I want you to understand me. And we are all of our secrets. We are the things people can’t see.”
Secret? Secret? Secret?
Alright, I say. I’m deathly afraid of failing in life.
“Everyone is afraid of failure,” she says. “It’s built into our DNA to strive to succeed. You’ll have to do better than that.”
Damn. Went with the one they use in those cheesy romantic comedies I’m always renting, and it came up short.
Alright, I say. I’m more than a bit bothered by clowns. Clowns scare me. There it is. Now it’s out there. Clowns scare the crap out of me.
And those little dolls with the eyes that open when they’re sitting upright. I found one of those in a box of old junk we were cleaning a few weeks ago, and it about made me scream. What kind of horrible jerks would design such things for impressionable little children?
She giggles again. “You know what I find interesting about you?”
My keen fashion sense?
“No. What I really find interesting about you is that you’re so innocent.”
Oh, I’m anything but innocent. But out loud I say, “Hmmm.”
“ . . . you look at the world like it’s brand new to you. Like you haven’t been poorly influenced by your past.” Then she opens her eyes for a moment, “It’s like you have no past to worry about. So you take life from second to second. I think you really enjoy life, and that’s infectious.”
I’ve got all my shots, don’t worry about an infection.
And she laughs again. “Jack.”
“Will you win me a stuffed animal, please?” she asks so tender and caring, you’d think she was asking me to free puppies that are due to be euthanized.
I will stop at nothing to win you your prize, I tell her. Although, you should know that I’m not really good at anything. So we’ll need to search for a game that caters to that.
We sat there for the next fifteen minutes just letting the warm air blow past us. Some birds glided by, not thinking about much judging from the way they just let the wind guide their path. That’d be nice. That’s real freedom. Well, until somebody shoots at you.
We didn’t say much to each other as we walked around the carnival. She took me to a cotton candy machine and I watched the pink and blue sugar get spun into complicated webs. I could just see some big spiders watching this, nothing but envy in their eight eyes.
As we continued walking around, she would pick off little bits, just big enough to melt on her tongue. She’d always give me the first pinch of pink cottony candy. And I thought that was interesting. I think this girl might actually like me.
We walk to the row of impossible games, where you have better odds of getting struck by lightening while holding a winning lottery ticket than you do winning the six-inch stuffed bear. But here we are, and it’s time for me to get her a prize. This is the modern day version of me heading into the jungle and bringing back meat that I hunted with only a sharpened stick.
Still she hasn’t said much to me. Even about the clowns, which I thought was strange. Maybe she’s scared of them, too.
We pass by a booth that has these three milk bottles stacked up and you have this baseball looking thing, which is actually more of a sock, wrapped around more socks. I don’t think it weighs as much as a paperclip, and if I launched it out of a cannon I wouldn’t expect it to topple the heavy milk bottles.
She rolls her eyes at me. We move along.
In the next booth there are all of these clear glass dishes—they look like ash trays, actually—and the idea is to toss your quarters up there until one of them sticks. I glance down at the guy’s feet and notice some oil stains on his jeans. Oil stains probably means he sprays the dishes with WD-40, or Break-Free. You’d have a better chance finding this guy’s criminal record crumpled up on the concrete than landing one of your quarters up there. Most people probably don’t see this because he has a lot of tattoos and very few teeth.
I Whisper this to Angela and she laughs at me. We move along.
Next we come to a booth that looks impossible. But she grabs me by the arm and squeezes. In the language of Angela I think that means her heart is set on the gray, furry horse that is hanging off to the side. A young kid sees her eyes wide and wanting, and comes in for the sale. He’s got us.
The idea, this young, long-haired, rail-thin kid says, is to throw three knives and make them all stick into this piece of wood that’s about 15 feet away. And that’s not all. Should you manage to be as savvy as Steven Segal and accomplish this feat, there is another catch: All three knives must be touching one of five pink circles, probably smaller than a penny.
Of all the games she could have picked, this is the most unrealistic for me. “I’ve never thrown a knife before, Angela. I don’t know if—”
“I want the horse, I want the horse!” she says, all girly and sexy and in such a way that no man could possibly say no.
Maybe she’s trying to get me over my fear of failure. Well, this is probably a step in the right direction because I’m going to botch this big-time. I shrug, then hand the guy two dollars worth of yellow coupons.
I tell her, That’s how they get you. They make you trade real money for yellow tickets and your brain doesn’t recognize that your just throwing money away on nonsense. It’s the same thing in casinos. I read all about it. Desensitization and all that.
So here I am, not even seven months old, and I’m about to hurl daggers in the air. I look at the kid, who’s looking at Angela, who’s looking at me, and I warn him, “You might want to take cover. This could get ugly.”
Then he comes over and grabs one of my knives, turns, and launches the sucker with just a flip of his thin little wrist, and the knife tumbles through the air and sinks into the target. And he almost hit one of the pink dots, too.
He’s probably had years of misspent youth throwing those things when he was skipping the second grade and getting high-school girls pregnant.
He pulls the knife out and brings it back to me, “See,” he says in a deep Texas drawl, “it’s just that easy.” Then he commences to undressing Angela with his eyes.
She puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “Just give it a try. I have faith in you.”
I remember the last time a girl told me she had faith in me . . . I ruined the world.
I take several deep breaths and then something strange happens to me, I feel light as a feather. Like every muscle in my body is weightless. It’s like somebody else is doing the work for me. My right hand takes one of the knives, jiggles it a bit up and down, and then, in a flash, I just throw the thing at, like, light speed or something.
That dagger buries itself in that target, dead center on a pink dot. My mouth is open, my jaw almost touching my chest. The kid, he’s got a confused, suspicious look on his face. He eyes me sideways. And Angela, she just says, “Wow! What a great shot.”
“Beginner’s luck,” the kid says snidely. And right then I decide that if I have to refinance our loft to win that damn stuffed horsey, I’m going to do it.
I take the second dagger, and aim for another pink dot. Again, something takes over and the second knife hits dead on target.
The kid, he snorts, “Even a trashcan finds a steak every now and then.”
Angela’s bouncing up and down beside me, her hands on my shoulder, “Jack, you’re really good at this!”
And then something comes over me. I have this surge of confidence like I’ve never experienced. I realize that I’ve done this before, but it was before I can remember. I look at the kid, “If I get one more dot, I get the horse?”
“That’s right. If.”
I offer him, If I make two more after that, can I have three horses?
He laughs, the little bastard. He actually laughs at me and says, “Mister, if you can hit all five dots on there, in a row, I’ll give you every color of stuffed horse up there.”
Ignoring his obvious insult at my age I look over at Angela, her eyes as big and glossy as if she was drawn in a comic book. She’s a girl, again. Speechless, just suspended in some happy place. I glance over at the horses that are hanging up on the sides of the booth. There are like seven or eight different colors.
“You’re on, flunkie,” I say, and he shakes his head as he hands me two more knives.
There are people behind me who, I guess, have been quietly watching this unfold. Everyone likes to see somebody take the house.
I take them, one throw at a time.
Knife . . . dot!
Knife . . . dot!
And then I look at him, this kid, and he knows he’s been had, he just can’t figure out how. And really, I can’t either. But he looks at me, defeated. Knowing where the last one is going to go. There’s only one pink dot left.
I say, all cool and calm like I’m some movie actor, “Angela, we’re going to need a bag for all of the horses. Perhaps we should buy a ranch where they can all run free.”
And then I put my body into it and fire that knife like it’s a bullet.
Knife . . . thwack! Nothing but dot.
And for reasons I still don’t understand, Angela turns me sideways, my chest to her head, and she reaches up and kisses me. I have no explanation for this. Nowhere in any of my psychology texts does it describe this kind of behavior. But there it is. She just kisses me, her warm little lips on mine, and she tastes sweet. Like candy.
She opens her eyes, backs a couple of inches away, “Can I have all of my horses, now?”
I’m still kind of dizzy from the kiss, so I just nod numbly, like I just stepped out of a coma. Oh, and by the way, people are clapping behind us.
The kid, he’s just shaking his head as he bags up several generations of stuffed horses.
If only the night had ended right then, I could have gone to sleep the happiest guy in the world. If only . . .