The Other Side

It takes us an hour and a half to get there and we spend the whole drive arguing. Because this lane is too slow and why did you go this way, Mom and THAT'S MY BOOK, FABLE.

"No, Archer. It's mine!


"It's mine!"


"No, mine!"

"I'm going to turn this car around if you guys don't cool it!" I say, but it's a lie. I'm not going to turn this car around even if traffic permitted. Even if someone offered up cash monies to do so. Even if fists started flying and cats started meowing and the all the records in the DJ booth stopped.

This is happening.

We are going to the motherfucking fair.



In an hour... or more.

By the time we park, we're all tired. But we're here.

We are here. 

"Come on, you guys. This is supposed to be fun."

We are Womp, Womp and Womp as we drag ourselves from the back of the lot to the front gate. And then, as we step through the metal detectors and into the light, we come alive. We are moths to the fair's flame as the last ninety minutes of traffic and arguments are erased from our memory AND HERE WE ARE. THE WORLD IS OURS! EVERYTHING IS NOW AND NOW IS HAPPENING.

That's the thing about county fairs, they do not change -- it's the same old ferris wheel and goldfish game, slot car races and speedway, lemonade and cotton candy stand, gem shows and lifestock barns.

The kids point to the buckets in the sky and start jumping up and down.

"Let's take it across to the other side to where the kids stuff is."

"Alright! Let's do it!"

I buy the tickets while the kids get in line for SKYRIDE, allowing everyone behind them to skip ahead.

"We're waiting for our mom," I watch them say.

Same tickets. Same rides. Different children saying the same thing to strangers. Don't go changing, County Fair. Don't you ever change. 

I hand Archer and Fable their tickets and we hold hands and wait for the chair to scoop us up and carry us into the sky.

Archer doesn't need to hold my hand because he's not scared.

And Fable doesn't need to hold my hand because she's not scared either.

But I'm scared.

So I hold onto them.

Looking down in the light of day scares me.

In Kidsland, Fable wants to play all of the games and Archer wants to do all the rides.
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"But, Fable," I tell her. "They're all scams. Five dollars for three seconds of squirting the thing with the thing and then it's over."

"But please, Mom."

"I give her five dollars and at the end she turns to me with sad eyes."

"You were right. That was not fun."

And so, we go on a mission to find the ONE game that's actually fair. The one with the fishing poles and the fish with colors on their tails and everyone's a winner, it just depends on the size of the prize..

"This one, you can play. This one isn't a rip off. This one is FAIR."
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The kids each play two games. Fable holds onto her winnings for dear life and Archer puts his in my purse to give to Bo and Revi.

The slides are Archer's favorite and the Line Lady lets me go down, too ("five more tickets, though!") with Fable in my lap. We bury our feet in the burlap sack and scream and hurt our backs and let's do it again, momma!

We do it again.

And again.

Until I have to stop because I'm an old person.

And then I watch from the bottom as the two of them go up together. I watch their mouths move and their bodies climb the ladders, profiles like shadows as they go down one by one. I am here and they are there and they wave from the top before disappearing...
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... emerging at the bottom with "goliath" sized grins.

And then we do something else and they do another ride and another and pretty soon it's almost dark and we've done all of the Kidsland things and they want to move on...

"Can we go across, now, to the other side?" they ask.

"If that's what you want."

"We do."

So we trade our tickets for another ride in the sky except it's getting dark now and in the dark they are less fearless.

We lift off and they bury their heads in my shoulders. I put my arms around them and tell them the story about the time one of my friends dropped a flip flop onto somebody's hamburger.

"You told us that last time, Mom."
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On the other side, the world looks different. We're not in Kidland anymore and the music is loud and the guys at the game booths are practically grabbing us by the arms and dragging us toward their various gambles. The rides are erratic with buzzers and bullhorns and "back to the ground safe and sound..." The air is thick with screams and cigarette smoke and our feet stick to the ground as we make way through the crowd, my hands on the bottoms of their shirts.

It is now completely dark and the lights stripe our eyeballs with neon.

"Let's find something we can actually go on over here, okay?"

But save for the ferris wheel, all of the rides are too fast, too scary...
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"Do you want to go back to the other side?" I ask.

"Mom, no!"

"No way.

So we get in line for the ferris wheel.

It's the only one on this side of the fair we can do.

The line is long and we are surrounded on both sides by teenagers making out. The kind of making out that only teenagers do... the kind that doesn't lead to anything past second base. The kind that I used to do in line for the same ferris wheel when I was their age. Thirteen, maybe? Fourteen? Somewhere in there.

It occurs to me that my kids will be there, soon, even as they turn away and cover their eyes and ask me why everyone is kissing everywhere...

"Someday you will be, too."

"No way. Kissing is GROSS."

"Someday you will not think it's gross. Or maybe you will. We'll see. I did not think it was a gross when I was that age. I was the makey-outiest teenager ever."


"I know. I'm sorry you have to stand in this line with me."

They roll their eyes and we try not to laugh as the make-outs become that much more intense. Like, get a room intense.

"Okay, so I was never like THIS. This is is embarrassing."

"Told you."

When we get on the ride, Archer takes one side and Fable sits practically on my lap. But our hands are together on the bar in the middle, overlapping, clawing each other on accident with nervous fingers. Up here, in the darkness, with a view of both city and sea, we're all afraid of heights. Hundreds of feet above land and lights, we grasp what we can to feel safe. We enjoy the ride and close our eyes and open them.
After this, we'll hit up the Fun House and then Fable will get rainbow glitter hair extensions that will fall out by tomorrow and then Archer will race slot cars and win a giant checkered flag and on the way out we'll ride the carousel with the last of our tickets and grab ice cream.Vanilla for me and chocolate for him and strawberry for her.
On the way home, they fall asleep in the car and I stand in the darkness of my parents' driveway and try to decide how best to wake them. Because that is the only way to get them to their beds, these days. They're too big for me to transfer but too little to wake up on their own, and it's only now occurring to me what that means.

"Open your eyes," I say, nudging them. "Wake up! Hi, wake up."

Archer is the first to wake. He unbuckles and climbs out of his seat, eyes still closed, awake and asleep all at once, skyriding between lands.

"Where are we?" he finally asks.

"We are here."
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...And come next July, through traffic and the like, we'll be back. And we'll keep coming back, year after year and it will look just like tonight because the fair does not change -- the same ferris wheel and goldfish games, slot car races and speedway, lemonade and cotton candy stand ... Don't you ever change. 
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