We watched as a tiny boy tried three times to win a prize against two much older teenagers. After a minute the boy’s dad pulled him aside. “That’s enough, Sam. We can try again another time.”
“But I wanted the stuffed alligator,” the boy complained.
“You’ll get it. Maybe, next year when you’re a little bit bigger.” The dad smiled.
King plucked a stuffed penguin from my arms and approached the boy and his father who were walking away from the game, the boy’s bottom lip set in a pout. Tears welling up in his eyes.
“Excuse me,” King said, getting their attention. The father looked alarmed and pulled his son into his leg.
King ignored the dad’s reaction and bent down to the boy, holding out the penguin. “I know it’s not an alligator, but penguins are just as cool. As a matter of fact, they’re cooler. They live in the snow, and they’re the only bird that doesn’t fly. Did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” the boy said, with a thumb in his mouth.
“They also slide around on their bellies on the ice.”
“Cooool,” the boy said, staring at the penguin.
“Now, you take good care of him, okay?” The boy nodded and took the penguin.
“Thank you.” The boy’s dad mouthed to King.
He nodded, and they disappeared into the crowd.
King made his way back to me. “You’re up next,” he said as he approached.
We stood behind the games and gave out my prizes to kids who lost their games one by one until all I had left was the deer King had given me first.
We ate cotton candy. We ate corn dogs. We ate fried Oreos. We laughed like kids. We rode a gravity ride that locked you to the sides as it spun, and for ten minutes afterwards, I thought all the food was going to come back up.
“Here,” King said, pushing a cup in front of me. “Grace says that a ginger ale is the best cure for an upset stomach.”
I slowly sipped the bubbly drink, and I started to feel better almost instantly. King grabbed my cup and walked a few steps to toss it in the trash when I noticed a nearby woman ogling him.
I looked around, and it seemed like every woman at the fair, whether she was with a man or not, was undressing King with her eyes.
“Do they all have to do that?” I muttered under my breath.
“Does all who have to do what?” King asked.
“Do all the women have to look at you like they want to jump your bones?” I scoffed.
King put an arm around me. His lips brushed my ear when he whispered, “Unlike some people, they aren’t hiding what they want.” I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t find the words. “It’s cute that you’re jealous though.”
“Time for the Ferris wheel,” King announced. It was getting late, and the crowd had thinned.
“Why did we save it for last?” I asked.
“Because it’s the best part,” King said. “You always save the best for last.”
King helped me into the squeaky cart while the carnival worker closed the little door to the bucket. There was barely enough room on the seat for the two of us. When I shoved my deer between us, King picked it up and handed it to the carnie, along with a bill from his pocket. “Take care of this for me until we get down will ya?”
“Sure thing, man!” He set the deer on the chair next to the ride’s control panel.
King rested his arm on the back of the seat over my shoulder.
Then, we were lifting up into the air. Higher and higher we rose, stopping every so often to allow for other riders to board. Once we were almost at the top, we started to move more fluidly. Round and round we went, watching the city lights beneath us flicker and glow.
“Wow,” I said, watching the people scurry around below. “They all look like ants from up here.” I glanced over at King but he wasn’t looking at the lights of the city or at the crowd.
He was looking at me.
The depth of his stare pinned me to the seat. “Pup, what I learned from being in prison is that we’re all just a bunch of ants.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean we’re all scurrying around, doing insignificant bullshit. We get this one life. ONE. And we spend too much time doing shit we don’t want to do. I don’t want to do that anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to be remembered as the notorious Brantley King.”
“Then, how do you want to be remembered?”