Ferris Wheel Kid

Some poor slob pukes corn dogs all over the giant swing ride, so Trevor’s got some time to kill while the maintenance guys hose it down. He shoves his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans and wanders the bright crowded length of the midway to the trailer where Rue is selling candy apples, looking bored. Rue always, always smells like candy apples. “What are you doing here?” she asks, leaning out the window and peering down at him, raising her voice so he can hear her over the cheerful electronic racket of the water gun game. She’s got a couple of sprinkles stuck to her arm. “Did somebody yak?”

“Yeah.”  Next to the Gravitron, the swings are pretty much tops when it comes to average rate of gastric upset per rider. It’s bad luck Trevor got stuck running it this year, but he’s fifteen and the youngest and he has to pay his dues. “Not even a kid, either. An old guy.”

Rue shakes her head in contempt. “People should know their limits. Hey Ma,” she calls over her shoulder, toward the back of the trailer where Leanne is working the fryer for funnel cake, her capable hands speckled with burns. “Trevor’s got a barf break. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“Take twenty dollars out of the box and see if you can’t find me some singles, will you?” he hears Leanne say; then:  “Hi, Trev.”


After a minute the door screeches open and Rue hops down, shoving the money into the back pocket of her fraying denim shorts. “Where we going?” she asks. Trevor shrugs.

They weave through the crowd toward the edge of the fairgrounds, past the bandstand and the trucks and the huge humming genny, cables snaking out every which way . It’s August in Oklahoma, and hot. Trevor stops to smile at some pretty girls who are checking him out, cutoffs and flip-flops, one of them holding a puffy blue cloud of cotton candy. Rue rolls her eyes.

“What?” he asks.


It’s the end of the summer, getting dark a little earlier now, the sun going down pink and purple over the flashing neon spokes of the ferris wheel.  Soon they’ll head south to Texas and Florida for the winter: Thanksgiving in Pensacola, Christmas in Spur. They’ve been fair kids their whole lives, him and Rue. There’s a rhythm.  “So,” he says, dropping down in the grass near the tree line, digging a cigarette out of his jeans.  “Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” she replies, sitting beside him and nodding at the lighter. “Did you steal that from your dad?”

Trevor doesn’t answer. “Tell me again where this place is?”

Rue eyes him, patient. “Massachusetts,” she says, which he already knows. “Boston.”

“And tell me again what exactly you’re going to do there?”

“Trevor,” she says, flopping backwards onto the dry, weedy grass, her sneaker-clad feet flying briefly in the air. He’s acting stupider than he is on purpose, and they both know it. “Come on.”


“Cut it out. You know what.”

“I really don’t.”

“Uh-huh.” Her hair’s spread all around her, a curly blond halo around her heart-shaped face. When they were younger, folks around the fair all used to call her Shirley Temple, until she got old enough to tell them to go screw. “It’s a good school, you know.”

“Do you hear me saying it’s not a good school?”

“It’s a real school, not my mom in a trailer trying to teach us plane geometry before we get to Euclid and have to unload for the week.”

“Your mom’s a good teacher.”

“My mom never graduated high school!” Rue huffs out a short, noisy breath. “Do you really want to do this your whole life?”

Trevor considers that. “Well, no,” he says eventually, blowing smoke rings up into the air. He’s been practicing all summer – Joel, who works the carousel, taught him how. “At some point I’d like to run the scrambler. That’s where the real money is.”

“Be serious.”

“I am.”

“Trev,” Rue says softly, and she just looks so sad for a minute, eyes dark and cloudy, like she’s already a million miles gone. And whatever, maybe most of the places he’s been to he’s only seen in passing, always on the outskirts of town, but Trevor knows how the world happens and he knows that if she gets on the train tomorrow then that’s just – that’s it. Show’s over; carnival’s gone. So he does the first thing that pops into his head: he leans over and kisses her, just for a second, soft. She tastes like caramel and wax.

Rue blinks. “What, exactly, was that?” she asks.

“I mean –”

She throws her head back and laughs – not mean at all, that’s not what she’s actually like, not really – but like she is so on to him. She always has been, he guesses; they’ve known each other since they were three. “Did you just kiss me?” she asks, like she can hardly believe it. “Did you think that would make me stay?”

“I don’t – shut up,” he says, shaking his head. Jesus Christ, she really is a pain in the ass.

Rue takes the cigarette out of his hand, inhales. “Creative,” she says thoughtfully.  “Would have worked when I was thirteen, maybe.”

Trevor looks at her with some interest. “You had a crush on me when we were thirteen?”

“I said maybe.”

They lie there for awhile, side by side in the grass. The sound from the midway drifts palely back, shouts and music. “What about your mom?” he asks. He feels like a piece of shit for saying it because that’s her Kryptonite, that’s what’s going to make her feel two inches tall, and he knows it and he says it anyway. “What’s she going to do without you?”

“Oh, okay. We can be done now.”  Rue shakes her head a little and gets to her feet, brushing dirt off the back of her shorts. “That’s mean, Trevor.”

“I know,” he says immediately. What an asshole he is. “I’m sorry.”

“No, seriously, that sucked.”

“I know.”

He grabs her hand, tugs. “Don’t – I didn’t – Rue.”

Rue sighs again, but she doesn’t let go, which is something. Her grip is warm and damp. And God, he doesn’t know why he’s being such a loser about this – why he can’t just throw her a high-five and say see you when I see you. He guesses he’s used to going, is all. He guesses he’s not used to being left.

Rue hesitates for a moment. She’s still holding onto his hand. “You could kiss me again if you wanted,” she tells him finally. “You could, you know. Kiss me goodbye.”

Trevor blinks. ”Goodbye,” he repeats, like it’s a word he’s never heard before, like it’s regional slang. “So you’re seriously – this is it. You’re actually going.”

Rue laughs a little, quiet, like she almost can’t believe it herself.  “Yeah, Trev,” she says, and her fingers lace between his like a promise. “I actually am.”

So he climbs to his feet and he does it, two hands on her tan, smooth face. The cigarette smolders on the dusty ground. The carnival flares in the distance.

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