A whisper of pre-autumn wind

A distant view of a carnival, with the bright and flashy lights from the rides illuminating the dark night sky

It’s getting dark slightly earlier, and there is a whisper of pre-autumn wind cooling the air. Every year in my town, around this time, they have a carnival. I enjoy the feeling of being a fly on the wall, so on my evening walks the past two nights, I’ve cut through it, seeing smiling out-of-towners mingle with small crowds of familiar faces, hearing teens shriek as they dare to risk their lives on the notorious Zipper, listening to the rickety sound of the rides going ‘round and ‘round in circles.

While passing through, I ran into a very old friend. When the carnival comes around, I always think of her, and the times we used to go there in a big friend group. “I just knew you’d be here,” I told her. One unforgettable summer, she developed a hopeless crush on a (sidenote: She wrote, in the sand at the playground, “I ♡ Carnival Worker.” We were 17. ) She is an adult who still loves Disney, so I’ll describe the lucky man like this: a thin, young, tattooed Aladdin with turquoise eyes, giving entry to a magical ride on the swinging pirate ship.

She was all too happy to tell me that an accident had taken place on the kiddie Bear ride. I wondered why she was smiling.

Carnival rides freak the hell out of me. I used to love them as a kid, but I think, through a mixture of growing-up, PTSD, and good sense, I’m very much over them. I do not like being touched and strapped into a giant machine by a red-eyed, goateed young guy who smells like cherry-flavored vape and who looks like his only thought is wanting the carnival to be over so he can go out for a drink. I do not like going ‘round and ‘round in circles and feeling the machine shake and jitter under the weight of so many riders. I do not like being reminded that these sort of things used to be fun for me, and how that has changed.

I’ve learned to understand that growing out of these sorts of things (even if your friends are not) is okay. It’s natural.

The carnival is only a few blocks away from my house. Last night, I heard one of the rides running after the carnival was shut down for the night – likely maintenance on the machine. This got me thinking:

A carnival at night is one of the most unsettling (sidenote: a lonely space that should normally be full of life, like a school hallway at night or an abandoned mall. ) I can imagine. I think of the machine whirling around with no one on it – no screams or cheers, just twirling without the weight of any lumps of flesh at all, as it was built to do. Then I imagine the workers going home for the night, shutting off the lights, and leaving those crazy-looking machines behind. The machines sit on the grass in the pitch black night, untouched except perhaps by a curious bird or a little overnight rain. Everyone forgets about them and all the weight they’ve bared. They wait.