High above the ghostly guts glow of a Southwestern American town on the outskirts of nowhere, a cherry-lime moon hangs heavy in a bruise-blue sky, an outlandish dapple over the desert.
Down below, an assistant mortician by the name of Kent Cumberland carefully follows the tip of the parking attendant’s orange directional wand and pulls his car into a space within a tightly packed line of other cars laid out on the flattened grass of a large field. He moved the shifter to P and shut it down. He gazed out the windshield at the insane world full of hope and desire. He breathed, and then wondered aloud. “Why do they say pull into a parking space? I’m not pulling my car. I’m going forward. I’m forwarding, not pulling. People think of the stupidest things.”
He gets out of the car and checks three times to make sure it is locked before he walks away. The air smells like sweet grease and farm animals. Carnival lights reflect off the asses of stars. He hears the noise of generators blended with bright voices and laughter and the carnie folk chants on the midway.
He tugs at his pre-autumn coat of tan corduroy that’s too small for him and smiles. “This is going to be fun,” he says to no one because he is truly all alone. There is no woman on his arm. There never is. There never was. There may never be. Kent Cumberland was far too creepy in the watery mind of the blue world for that, so it decided. But perhaps this night the swami beneath the moon and the canvas would sway some hearts in his favor. Perhaps.
Kent Cumberland has always been an awkwardly large person. Not overweight, just large. Robust. Ample. Big and Tall. He had an abundance of body mass. And now, as he walked toward the entrance gate of the 11-day State Fair on the crumbling pastoral eastern edge of Necromancer, New Mexico, he somewhat resembled a lumbering barrel, or more precisely, a lumberjack carrying a barrel, a barrel full of plastic red monkeys.
He nodded politely to those he passed and cheerfully greeted them, “Hello, hello, hellooo…” No one returned the gesture. The people just turned away, whispered, made puking gestures with a finger pointed down their throat. “I’m a very likeable fella!” he called out to the waves of people as they receded. “You just need to get to know me. I’m not a ghoul.”
As Kent Cumberland stood in line at the main ticket booth, he heard two women a few paces behind harshly insult someone in giggling whispers. It soon became crystal clear that they were talking about him.
“He must be here for the freak show…”
“I heard he keeps dead people’s body parts in his basement…”
Kent released one of his infamous exasperated sighs and turned to face his mockers. “Excuse me, I have ears and I heard what you young ladies just said, and I must sadly inform you that this particular carnival doesn’t have a freak show.”
The women laughed. One said, “Okay, thanks for the info, freak.” They laughed some more.
“And another thing,” he began, his usual puffy and pale face now taunt with anger and flushed a pink not unlike bleached blood. “I do not keep the body parts of dead people in my basement. What an abhorrent thing to say. Have you no respect for the dead? I’ll have you know that I wholeheartedly adhere to the strictest guidelines and moral ethics of my profession. But if you insist on scalding my good name with vicious lies and rumors, perhaps I may indeed be encouraged to begin collecting body parts.” He scowled and pointed an accusatory thick finger at them. “And I’ll start with you two.”
The girls shrank back, their faces twisted in disgust.
“Next,” the woman at the ticket counter called out.
Kent turned and asked for one ticket. “Thank you,” he said with a smile, and he made his way into the momentary lapse of another world.
The tent was lipstick red and sat beneath a yellow light attached to a weathered wooden pole. A sign out front read: Fortunes Told. Kent stared at it while eating blue cotton candy and thinking about how his mind shifted like tectonic plates and wondering if that was a problem for society or just himself. His mouth was ringed with the color of artificial raspberry. “You know, moon, I just don’t understand why they call it raspberry. Raspberries are red, not blue. Who came up with such a ridiculous idea? Ahhh… What do you know, you’re made of cheese and have aliens fumbling around on your backside even though the government denies it.”
A short gypsy woman wearing clothes from the old country and with kinky black hair and small eyes poked her head out of the tent and looked up at Kent. “Who the hell are you talking to?”
The woman looked up to the sky and pointed. “That moon?”
“Yes, silly. Are there any other moons?”
“How could we possibly know… But it’s a good one tonight. I’ve been expecting you. Are you ready to learn of your future?”
“I think so.”
“Well, then come inside.”
Inside the tent, in the very middle on flattened dirt, sat a round table covered in a red cloth. On top of the table sat a crystal ball cradled by an artificial hand. There were two folding chairs at the table, one opposite from the other. The fortune teller lit some candles and the glow inside the red tent grew as it mixed with the hanging LED lanterns and made it feel like hell high on energy. She took her seat and invited Kent to take his.
Once he sat down, she reached across the table and took his hands in hers and held them. She ran her fingers over his knuckles. Her eyes were closed, and she took several deep breaths. “Tell me your name.”
“Wait… Shouldn’t you already know it?”
She opened her eyes and gave him a look like a snapping whip ferociously forced forth by the wrist of an ancient cowboy.
He shuddered. “Kent.”
“You need to relax, Kent. I can sense your tension. Breathe with me.”
He slowly breathed in and out, closely following her waves.
“Tell me something about yourself,” she breathed through a small mouth, lips like dry paper curling in a breeze.
“Last night I had a dream where I was in a park in the middle of some big city, maybe it was Central Park in New York even though I have never been there but would like to go. Well, it was night, and I was sitting around a campfire with a bunch of foreigners…”
The woman opened one eye at his remark. “Foreigners?”
“Yes, foreigners. You know, people from other lands. Not Americans.”
“Well, for some reason I was holding my heart in my hands, the actual heart from my body, and it was still beating. I passed it to the person next to me and it went around the circle and each one there held my heart and just looked at it for a moment, but then the last person took a bite out of it as if it were an apple. He looked like Willem Dafoe.”
“Oh my. Then what happened?”
“Nothing. I woke up. But I had a pain in my chest. What do you think it means?”
The small, strange woman released his hands and moved her own crinkly fingers whimsically about the crystal ball as she mumbled an indecipherable tongue to conjure up some great vision from the orb on the table. “Yes. Yes. It’s becoming clearer. The fog is lifting.”
Kent was eager for a jubilant prophecy. He leaned forward. “What do you see?”
“I see… A woman.”
Kent’s eyes grew and his smile was like that of a supernova on speed. “A woman!? What kind of a woman?”
“A very beautiful woman. Very beautiful indeed.”
“What is she doing?”
“She’s… She’s sitting at a table with you. You’re talking with each other. Yes. You’re talking about your life. Perhaps your future together.”
“Really!? Do you think I’m asking her to marry me? How wonderful it would be to be married! Oh, I hope she says yes.”
“Shhh. I see… Why, I see that love is right in front of your very nose. Can’t you see what I see?”
Kent blinked his eyes as the fortune teller looked across the table at him and smiled. Some of her teeth were crooked and he wondered if one of her eyes was made of clouded glass. “You? You’re the woman you see in my future?” He frowned with disappointment.
She waved a hand over the crystal ball, and it suddenly went dark. Kent got up to leave. “Wait! Do you no longer wish to fulfill your destiny of love?”
He turned to face her pitiful stance. “I’m sorry, mam. I’m afraid I find you quite distasteful regarding the realm of romance. I suppose you could say… You’re just not my type.” He continued to walk toward the slitted exit.
The fortune teller quickly moved in front of him and blocked his way. “Please. Please! I’m begging you. Take me with you. Love me. I won’t be any trouble. I promise. You… You can just set me up on a shelf if you want. Or keep me in a closet. Look at me. I’m small. I just want to be loved.”
Kent released an exasperated breath. “I already have a pet. A cat named Captain. He doesn’t need a playmate. I’m sorry.”
“We can be lovers then. I know how to satisfy a man. I could make you feel soooo good.”
Kent’s eyes glided all over her and swabbed her with suspicion. He was searching for a hint of something about her that could possibly satisfy him like she said, but none of it felt right to him. “I think I’ll stick to my glossy magazines. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to go ride some of the rides before it gets too late.”
“No! You must not.” She dashed back to her crystal ball, waved a hand over it to open the portal of future thought, and gazed inside. “I see a terrible tragedy coming tonight.”
Curious and slightly frightened, Kent turned. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your life. I see that you will cease to exist if you choose frivolous fun over love.”
Kent pushed his hand though the air to wave off her thoughts. “Knock it off, lady. I see what you’re trying to do. Lies don’t work on me. How do you expect to be in a relationship with me if you can’t even tell the truth from the start.”
“But please! If you walk out now and go to the midway, you will die. I see it. If you are so concerned about truth, know this… The future does not lie!”
Kent scoffed at her manipulative vibes. “I’ll take my chances.” He walked out of the tent and toward the midway, a brightly lit cornucopia of mechanical color and noise.
Kent Cumberland worked his way into the seat at his place on the Ferris wheel and a grubby attendant lowered the bar. He was so large that he took up most of the space except for a tiny sliver where a teenage girl sat scrunched. The attendant paused to look at them, removed his oily ball cap and scratched his head.
“Is there a problem?” Kent asked.
“Nah. I was just wonderin’. How much do you weigh anyhow?”
Kent pursed his lips and his eyes doubled in size. “My weight?”
“Yes, sir. I need to be aware of any load concerns before I fire this baby off. We gotta have equal weight distribution.”
“My weight is in no way the business of a simpleton carnival worker such as yourself. In other words, bug off and let us experience some joy in life.” Kent turned to the teenage girl who sat beside him scared and uncomfortable. “Can you believe the nerve of that guy?”
The girl flashed him a worried smile and looked away. The Ferris wheel began to move. “Here we go!” Kent cried out. “Hang on, young lady. Hang on for the ride of your life!”
The wheel turned faster and Kent soon found himself at the very top of the world when it paused to let on other riders below, and he looked down upon the colored canopy of the State Fair in Necromancer, New Mexico and it looked like an electric body to him with all the nerves pulsing in a colorful schematic, the electricity pumping like blood through capillaries not collapsed, the voices and yelps and yawps of all that is good in the human soul and the brighter side of the world all congealed like hot-skinned lovers pressed together in a warm, wet bed on their second wedding anniversary.
“Whooo hooo!” Kent cried out, and he stuck his arms out and reached as high as he could so that he could feel the underside edges of the universe against his fingertips. “This is wonderful! Wonderful!” He turned to the teen beside him, her hair flowing behind her, her eyes and mouth open wide to the wonders of the stars. “Isn’t this wonderful!? I hope we never have to go down.”
And then there came a great creaking of metal and the carriage within the wheel where Kent sat violently shifted. The girl screamed. Kent sensed he was slowly tipping to the side. Orange and white sparks shot off in all directions like an electric facial.
The people below scattered in all directions as the great Ferris wheel disengaged from its own riveted cradle and began to collapse. Through the sensation of falling, that sensation where one’s stomach feel so funny but exaggerated now, spiked with real terror, Kent looked down to the ground as it came closer to greet him with a thundering slap, and that is where he saw her.
The fortune teller was standing there, glued to the cotton candy trampled track winding through the carnival row, and she was looking up at him and she was grinning at the same time she was clutching her busted heart, desperately trying to hold in all the stuff in her life that purposely broke it for her. She couldn’t bear for it to all spill out for the whole world to see now. She didn’t want anyone to know how deeply cracked she really was.
And in one final gesture before the metal machine of joyful memories came crashing down upon her to silence her visions forever, she thrust her arms up into the smoky autumn air, and in her hands she clutched a cardboard sign like political protest, and in red paint of blood and fire it read: LOVE IS EVERYTHING. NOW YOU LOSE. WE ALL LOSE.
Check out the latest post at my companion site, Blowtorch Pastoral: The Baker.