According to Grandma
they were one notch away
from Satan, pulling the creaking
levers of ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls,
their hands black with grease, eyes afire
with the worst kind of lust.
She warned us about them.
"They just come to town
in the summer and grab
the kids' money then lay
on the beach in Florida
laughin’ about it all winter long.”
For years I dropped dime after futile dime
into the slots of the miniature steam shovels,
never able to pick up the flat wooden
"YOUR CHOICE" ring. They'd all been laughing
at me in the winter. On the beach.
"And you and your friends keep out
of the shadows, away from those
trailers," she'd add. "Those carnies’ll
snatch you and you'll never be seen again."
The carnies. As a group they were known
as Johnny's United Shows. And we heard,
though no one knew for sure, they had
individual names like Dog, Thug, and Digger.
"Some girls don't pay no mind to warnings,"
Grandma said. "Some girls get what they
jump in and ask for."
We all remembered that eleven years back
a townie named Brenda Pitts had made it known
that carnies did not begin to scare her.
In July she yelled into the shadows at them,
and when she disappeared, the rest of the town
could only imagine
what had gone on.
Until the following spring.
"There she came"--Grandma loved this part--
"draggin' in with that half-carnie baby."
Eventually I outgrew the steam shovels
and their consolation prizes--
bright plastic poodles-on-a-stick,
and learned to walk seductively
across the fairgrounds with my friends
in our cut-off T-shirts and hoop earrings.
We stepped over thick black power cords,
wound like snakes around the food stands,
slithering through the freak tents.
A skinny carnie boy with cold hands
gave me my first wet kiss behind the tent
that housed the "Woman With the Head of a Llama."
Why did I run away so fast,
wiping my mouth on the back of my hand?
Why didn’t I ask him
what the llama woman's real name was,
what carnies do way off in the shadows,
and what the beach feels like
in the middle of an average winter.
Originally appeared in Literal Latte
© Julie Price Pinkerton- All rights reserved.