The alligator’s mouth was held shut with a few loops of tape. Garcia didn’t think it made the creature less dangerous, but he followed the instructions of the handler and ran his fingers across its surface. He marveled at the feeling.
“It’s like stone,” he breathed, scarcely able to form words.
“Yeah, kid. They get pretty solid as they get older. Me and Viktor here, we used to wrestle back before folks got all touchy and said I was hurting him. If I took off this shirt, you’d see who was really getting hurt back then.”
“I bet,” Garcia said, eyeing the man as if he could see the scars through the shirt. He nodded a goodbye and moved on deeper into the carnival, losing himself in the sights and sounds.
He paused to buy a fluffy blue cotton candy. “Not the pink one, sir,” he had said, knowing he would be ribbed unmercifully by any classmate who saw him with pink. The blue was okay, even though they would laugh at his choice of treat. The fair was the only time he allowed himself the indulgence, and the spun sugar was heavenly to him as it dissolved on his tongue.
He passed by the brightly painted Mermaid Extravaganza. He didn’t bother going in. David Filcher had sneaked around the back and snapped a photo of one of the “mermaids” with her tail and fins taken off and spread out beside her while she spooned pudding into her mouth from one of those plastic snack cup things. The shattering of that illusion was enough to spoil him experiencing that particular booth.
Around him, the sounds of stereos playing conflicting songs created a cacophony from which there seemed no escape, a constant chaos of sounds overlapping and competing as each carny in their booth listened to their own preference. In the span of a hundred steps, Garcia heard nine different genres and thirteen separate songs. He preferred the interior of the big top, where the calliope roared, and the rollicking tunes they played reminded him of his sister when she had performed live, playing everything from flute to oboe to saxophone. For a while, she had made the Garcia family famous in Daunterville.
He saw Miriam and Eunice lurking at the edge of the sideshow. Their curiosity was obvious from their wide-eyed expressions, but they held themselves separate — as if the bonnets and dresses they wore in comparison to the tight pants and cut-off shirts of the local girls were not enough contrast. Garcia snatched two more cotton candies from the nearest vendor and jogged over, extending them to the twins.
“A gift from me to you,” he said. “Don’t even think of saying no. It’s a county fair tradition of mine to give something special to someone.”
His words made it seem like he had just followed a pattern, but the sparkle in his eyes when he looked at Miriam belied the statement to anyone who could see.
He smiled and turned away, feeling his heart thunder in his chest. His hands were trembling. He resisted the urge to turn back and see if they were watching him.
Required elements: a bonnet, alligator, pudding, stone, oboe, mermaid