In the sleepy noon sun, I am a little girl about to ride a swing. I tuck some stray carroty hairs, shaking with sunlight and diesel fumes, behind my ear. I wear only one boot, but I will use it skilfully as an instrument to control my speed. I stretch it out to the gravel, and like a lathe, it sands it and slows me.
I am in a field on the outskirts of the carnival. The distant crowds are noisy and confusing, and howling from a light shrill wind. You have made us separate again, mum, and let the crowd digest you. But I will not wait in there, I will ride this swing here until you find me.
I push off with all my leg force. The swing arcs gently. I push my legs out when I go forward and up, up, up, and when I start to swing back I tuck my legs under the plank so I stay fast.
“Watch me” I sing to the crowd, and its swarming reply carries on the warm evening air, to the swing, and spreads around its poles. Planet Jupiter hangs heavy in the twilight.
I woosh past the ground. The force and velocity creates a rhythmic suction. Gravel comes rushing past underneath me and away.
The swing is arcing high, so I stretch out my boot to slow down, but my legs aren’t very long and I only manage a light scrape. The swing arcs higher. Something is wrong. I swallow hard and my fat digits grip the poles.
I descend backwards and point my toe as far out as it will go. Timing the natural rhythm of the pendulum, I press it down hard. Big and little rocks slide and roll under the ball of my foot. A few more slowing swings and I’ll be able to get off.
Someone else might want a turn. But around the neat square of gravel, framed by thin planks, there is no one.
The sharp angular sun confronts me. I am jarred from my seat, so I grip it with my knees and try not to spill.
I cannot slow down. “Stop,” I plead in a tremulous voice. Instead of swinging on a shorter arc, I go further and higher and faster, as if someone were pushing me from behind. I tuck my head under my armpit to see if someone is there. Upside-down I see there is no one there, and as I bring my head back out from its elbow nook, I am stabbed with fear when I swing up dangerously high… but after a momentary suspension I sink back down again, and I reach out my boot, and my naked foot, to scrape at the earth once more.
“Please slow down” I beg the swing, but the speed becomes even more forceful and I go higher still, and that is higher than I have ever wanted to go. I am lifted from my seat at the point of suspension, where gravity meets the steel construction and challenges it.
I lurch forward on my downward plunge, unable to stay upright, I am scared of both ground and sky, and my boot is not working, and if there were someone on the swing next to me they probably wouldn’t even care if they noticed what I was going through, and there’d be no communication anyway, and my dress is riding up the scratchy seat and I am swinging down again in a rushing plummet that matches the blood gushing behind my eyes and the carnival screaming, barely containable, through my veins.
And I suspend. Past the point of balance. The oval smells acrid and burnt. A pattern emerges up here from its black markings. Any moment I will fall face forward to the bars.
I shoot out a faint squeal, aware of its futility, not wanting to push out further with my body or my voice, wanting to resist.
Do I ride with it?
I will not.
My heart trip-hammers as I am pushed upward and outward simultaneously. This time I do not stop. My wet eyes widen noiselessly, becoming saucers; deep, terrified saucers. I am receptive to my fate and the knowledge of it. I swing in a loop over the top cross-bar and am released, enveloped in silence.
* * *
I am smiling, but it is a cracked veneer. My green eyes are steely and lacklustre. I am faintly aware that I have been vacated by will, and, during flight, sent somewhere. Underwater.
I am sitting on the bottom of the ocean, seeing nothing, but sensing the warm currents and cold currents and the tidal folding and swelling from the depths that plummet upwards. There is plenty of room in the dark, deep, pushing waters. It sings with creatures of scale and tiny micro-organisms and inaudible but palpable pulsations.
Open the beams. Slide the shafts. The dark waters graduate to murky yellow, which means the sun is stretching across this well of origins and it is time to leave this place. The blazing arms stretch and extend their spread, curling on top of the waters and calming, like sedative, its chopping face.
In slow silence I fall past orange streaks like two fingers melting into the sky, past the bloated moon which is planet Jupiter, to land like a dolly on the cross-bar, and smash apart.
The sun is my marquee- its spears fall around me. The sky is a glassy reflection in my blue iris, and the clouds offer little protection to the people below from my naked, omniscient view. Like a sweet translucent vapour, I will inform every crevice of this place…
Mother. Softly spoken benefactress- sometimes.
In the nights you are clothed by Uncle Poseidon’s dense shadow. Over your face it is cast. Only the whites are glaring, and as you step into the pool of the streetlight, your triangle wedge nose is spread blankly across one cheek.
His shadow is wrapped around you, like a black satin sash, but as he moves from the dark recess, I see that he is small, with a puffy, flaking face.
You are almost always at the grisly carnival. You are seedy because you have allowed yourself to be tangential. Continuity is a series of side attractions.
He lifts his stubby fingers to your face. A cigarette is smouldering into decline between them, and he flicks it away absently before he touches you. Scrape. You step forward to him with a thin smile- out from your concrete vertex. Harsh angles of light and shadow stripe you, you are marked by the sharp bleak structures, and lit, I see your every reaction.
My lids fall softly. I will put you in darkness again.
In the days, when I am split away, as the sun swings up in a loop around the earth, your sign swings around with it, casting a garish candescence onto your sallow crowd.
You dance with the big cats that move stiffly and roar mechanically, under a pink sign that swings around with the sun. Two wide, flailing oars, joined narrowly in the centre, rotating, flicking gold and spangly bits to entice the freaks, who do not see or smell the sick they wade through and are oblivious to their own automated retching.
In a world of caring and compassion and the shared condolences of human woe, it will be refreshing to spit vitriol on the misshapen forms that bask in the pink candescence of your sign.
The power of your act is more intense when it is viewed aloof with disgust, and my disgust is spontaneous, a gut reaction, not unlike the propulsions of sick from the uninhabited earthen vessels that swarm in tight currents within a larger stream around your platform.
The big mechanical tiger becomes loosened from its bolts- in the past, in the future, at this moment, and topples onto the sunken crowd… inferno. You may speculate on the nature of the blast.
I roll the fluid eyeball on its axis, illuminating a far corner relegated to heroin and vomit and it falls upon one man that loiters here in petty fury. His nose and cheeks are riddled with burst blood capillaries, engorging these features. He is fat, forty, and incensed by “…that goddamn Flake or Brick or whatever his name is…”
“It’s Thorn” and the large woman, on the nod, this man is with, straddles, then slides her abundant leg, dimpling under tight, worn red leggings, over the plaster saddle of the children’s ride. She slips a coin into the shape and, be-slotted, the ride shakes into life, bucking gently under her weight, going through the perfunctory motions for her pleasure. With one small, neat slot for insertion, it is receptacle.
I deliver tears, and wet the carnival.
He is looking for three horseheads. The first wheel spins, then the second and third, and now all are spinning. His eyes go into deep focus until the last wheel stops spinning. He registers the symbols, now not so far away. One horsehead. Slam!
He inserts another coin- gold this time, not silver, and hears it slip and rattle down the shape. Slowly and gently, eyes staring intently on the last wheel, visualising, willing its display, he gradually squeezes the lever. It offers no resistance, and the man bends over to the smiling grate anticipating its offering of a spill of gold coins.
“Finger point at you, Skittle, and Claim you.”
The little lost girl walks through long shadows cast across the field, the watchers, and heaves herself onto the splintering plank. All is still in the cold confrontation between cloud and daylit moon.
The girl exhales, glassy-eyed, as if in sweet reminiscence, and speaks, “I would like to see stress on the instruments.”
She pushes off with all her leg force.
Under the big top, a gangly man with dark whiskers stares entranced by the uniform message of a Soft Machine. Insert coin. A clear drop slides down his nose and his quick tongue laps it up. He snorts- a motor sound, and hits the lever down again. He thumps the machine, and it rattles, but it does not heed his warning, sends its own, as lights flash on the desktop of the warden of machines, who glances over curiously, beaverish and bespectacled, flares one nostril, then looks back down at her flimsy novel. One horsehead flicks up and stares vacantly.
The second wheel spins, stops, and another lands face up. The third and fourth spin with no blessing. And then the last. The last wheel spins as if for an eternity, and the simple man projects every last vestige of his power, extracted from every cell, and shoots it in an invisible trajectory into the singular spinning wheel. It stops. And no horsehead does it display.
Nestled in his pocket he knows is a final gold piece. With much deliberation, he unbuttons the fastener and removes it. His cancelled eyes close slowly, but as they re-open they become filled. His terse body relaxes and he walks languidly, clutching the coin like a remnant of old and new, along the cigarette strewn carpet.
Past the shapes.
Past the unblinking electronic eyes in their endless ritual of seduction.
To the door. He opens it, and leaves. As the door swings and creeps shut, a diminishing wedge of blazing sunlight illuminates the sunken faces that remain. The door nearly closes, but it is re-opened at the last moment, and another walks in.
And the missing horsehead, like a cataract, sails through the depthless blue in silent endeavour. Eternity sings in the blue of the sky, but as a floating grey particle in my eyeball shimmers past, it quivers, and finally, it falters. The horsehead cloud, having floated from one corner to another of the field, spreads languidly, and separates into blue-ringed tentacles that look as though they are being emanated from the sun. They come crashing through, invited, through gaping, erratic holes, to poke at those who dismantled what they did not create.
The haywire moon hangs heavy with the weight of the cosmos. The inevitable urge of gravity, physics and metaphysics in conflict, the cracking open of breaking ground, equatorial sweats, and confusion in the altitudes, in a calculated combined chaos, place stress upon the atoms which react violently and make the swinging wooden plank ride high.
I swing toward the earth, pressing as lightly as I can on the seat, but gripping as firmly as I can at its poles.
The readings are askew. The ringmaster holds up one machine, as a banner and a shield, and proclaims its objectivity, but all the machines cease function, exhibiting the first signs of intelligence. The pony, the roaring big cats and the velvet machines break down across the carnival, which blinks into darkness.
I let go of the poles. The pendulous swing arcs forcefully, poised to execute a perfect loop. My inert body is released, a silent offering, and I am driven through the blue, and thrown from this whorl. And delicately, with my ruddy brown boot, I step onto the platform, as both guardian and indicter of my species.