The echoes of children giggling, mothers yelling, and men boasting still reverberated along the midway. A full moon hung without a net in the sky above the ferris wheel. The ground was tacky with spilled sodas and ice cream splatters. My nostrils were filled with the odor of popcorn and the vomit left behind by the punk coming off the tilt-a-whirl with a shit-eating grin on his face, convinced he was gonna knock down the bottles until his stomach started to rumble.
“Sallie, let me get that for you.”
I leaned against the booth’s frame. “Thanks, Buck. It’s like an ice pick borin’ a hole in me tonight.” I massaged the small of my back and then reached out to pat him on the shoulder as he reached up to bring the door down, the clanging rattle of the door on its tracks getting slammed to the ground chasing away the last echoes of the day and the quiet of the midway late at night overwhelmed me like it did most nights. Most everybody else had finished up, cleaned up, locked up and returned to their trailers, tucked away in the far corner of the parking lot, where I had a bed and a locker in the bunkhouse.
“Why they call you Sallie?” Buck asked, snapping the lock shut on my booth.
I sighed and looked over his shoulder at the shuttered midway. The flashing lights were off, the stuffed animals stowed away. This was my time. I could shuffle my old bones through the games and rides and remember …
… The Griswold Traveling Carnival. I was fourteen when I ran away. Ol’ man Griswold took me under his wing.
… The Elastic Girl, who just so happened to be my first. And Griswold’s daughter. And the reason I had to run away from the Griswold Traveling Carnival when I was sixteen.
“I mean, you an old white man. It’s not like you a girl or nothing like that.” Buck paused for a moment. I tried to laugh him off. It didn’t work. “You ain’t a girl, right?”
Apparently, I wouldn’t get the quiet I wanted.
“Why Sallie?” I muttered at Buck as I began to walk and motioned for him to follow. “Well, that’s a story we may not have time for.” I thought for a moment I might stall him. He was a 24-hour man and with the joint breaking down soon, he’d be gone in the morning, scouting out our next stop. We were barnstorming that summer and Buck had to get on down the road.
“Hell, at your pace, it mighta be a week ‘fore we get to the trailers.” Buck took a flask from a pocket and took a swig. “Whassa story?”
I noted he did not offer the flask to me and silently thanked Buck for that. Maybe he knew. It was always hard to know, in the little world of a traveling show, what people knew. Stories were told. Rumors shared. Maybe he knew I was on the wagon. At least for that day, I was. The problem was … there was no story to tell. I was born. I had a name. What it was didn’t matter. When I hit the road, somebody called me Sallie. And it stuck.
But sometimes, you know, you gotta tell a story. Buck and I, we were walking by the concession stands, where the smell of cotton candy and corn dogs and stale popcorn had stayed strong. Next up was the chump twister and a row of apple joints. Shuttered for the night. Quiet, except for the echoes that rang in my head of the carnies spinning their lines.
… Old man Griswold, I told him it was the boys on my street who came up with it. That’s all he needed to hear.
… And later on and further down the road, when I told a girl it was my momma’s name and when she died, I took as my own and that got me a whole lot of everything.
… And the truth.
That it was the Elastic Girl who called me Sallie one night when we were in her trailer because when you’re the daughter of the owner you get a trailer to yourself instead of a broken down cot in the bunkhouse – which is nothing more than an 18-wheeler pulled up besides the trailers – not that I was complaining because it was the trailer that provided the place where I discovered the things that men need to know.
The haunted house came up on our left. On our right, a coin toss game. Up ahead, the moon had dropped a bit, just touching the upper edge of the ferris wheel. And Buck waited while we walked.
“Her name was Katie.”
“She was the Elastic Girl at the first joint I worked. She said I wasn’t no rube. Or a clem. Or chump. No, Katie said there was something about me that she saw. I was a bit stronger.” We approached the arch at the entrance to the show. The empty parking lot awaited us. “She said she didn’t know a guy like me. ‘You can take a name like Sallie, can’t you?’ she said. I remember this, we were in her bed with the sheets wrapped around us. I was teasing her nipple with my finger. I’da ‘greed with just about anything she said at that moment.
“The next day, I was walking to my game – I was operating a cheese wheel, ‘cause it was all ol’ Griswold thought I could handle – when one of the freaks called out, ‘Hey Sallie, my boy.’”
Buck stopped. “You shittin’ me, man?”
“No. I learned something that day.”
“The freaks … they stick together.”
*** End ***
So, I’m trying something here. The details will remain somewhat unknown at the moment. But, there are a few characters introduced in this story. Besides more about Sallie, which character would you like to know more about?