“There’s nothing lonelier than a ferris wheel at night from a ways off,” he said.“You aren’t at the fair, and you want to be. You hear the girls screaming from the rides, and you figure everybody’s havin’ a good time, and you’re not. You want to get goin’ before the carnival closes for the night, but you know by the time you get there it’ll all be over—all the fun will be gone.”
He said this as we were cleaning up his truck. The last kid had come up for ice cream a good half hour ago, and we had shut down the grill before that. We were right next to the fairgrounds, but we were separated from it by the RV lot—surrounded by vans and pick-up trucks with camper compartments in the bed and over the cab.
“I’ve been workin’ this truck for exactly fifteen years now,” he said.
“Did your dad used to do it?”
“Yep, till he got too old. Me and Charlie would help out as soon as we were old enough. The truck body plant shuts down the last two weeks of August, so it’s a chance to make a little extra money.”
I was waiting to see if my girlfriend would show up. She and her friend Pam had gone over to the midway to walk around one last time. I hoped they hadn’t met anybody. Candy was like that—a flirt. The reason I liked her was the reason every other guy did.
“Is your girlfriend gonna swing by here or do you want a ride home?”
“She said she’d come back.”
“Waiting for a woman—get used to it, kid.”
He laughed softly. “You can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em, but either way, you’ll spend a good part of your life just sitting around waiting for ‘em.”
I nodded to show I kinda knew what he meant. He acted as if waiting was boring, but it wasn’t for me. It made me nervous, because I never knew if Candy would come back with a bunch of other kids, which I didn’t want. I wanted to be alone with her.
“I’ll stay here for awhile longer if you want. Why don’t you go take a shower down at the latrine? You’ll feel better, and she’ll appreciate it.”
“It’s too late already. If she comes by while I’m down there, she’ll just go home without me.”
“Well, I’ll make her stay.”
“Thanks. I’d rather not take the chance.”
I dragged the trash bags over to his car and threw them in the trunk.When I came back he had closed up and was sitting on the steps that the little kids stood on to reach the ice cream window. I sat down next to him.
“I know what you’re going through,” he said as he tapped a cigarette on the pack and lit it. “I can remember when I was in eighth grade, first time I held a girl’s hand at a dance I was about ready to explode, and I don’t mean from gas.”
I laughed at that. He was a good guy to work for. “Was that who you married?”
“No, that was just puppy love. By the time I was a sophomore I thought I’d found the real thing—hell, I knew I’d found the real thing. I was getting’ it, fer Christ sake.”
I didn’t understand him.“What did you get?”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Poontang, what do you think?”
“Oh, right,” I said as if I’d understood all along.
“She was hot. She talked me into it. I wanted true love.”
“And that’s your wife?”
“No, she was gone by the beginning of the next school year. But you figure—if we lived in the old days we woulda gotten married, had kids—that woulda been it. But her dad was in the Air Force and got transferred way the hell up to New York.”
“They lived right over there,” he said as he pointed to a lot where there used to be a trailer park, just across the highway, with the utility poles and the gravel streets the only sign there had ever been anything there.
“The Air Force’d move people in and out on short notice, so at any one time there might be five or six trailers empty. The kids who lived there—the Air Force brats—knew where each one was as soon as a family’d leave. You could have parties in there and no one would ever know about it.”
“Yeah. They’d leave the beds behind, even the mattresses.It was government housing, all you owned was what you brought with you. One time I told my mom I was staying over at a friend’s house and my girl and I spent the night in one of them empty trailers.” He snorted a little laugh. “We moved a stereo in there and listened to one album, over and over. Then we fell asleep with our clothes on.We didn’t have sex that night.”
He was being so open with me, I asked him a question. “Why not?”
“Neither one of us was ready for it. We knew we weren’t. Anyway, we were just lyin’ there when the sun came up, not wantin’ to face the day yet, getting our first exposure to the . . . uh . . . more everyday part of sleeping with someone, when one of the caretakers comes bustin’ through the door.”
“Holy cow—what did you do?”
“Nothin’. When he said we had to leave, we left. And he said don’t ever do it again.But we didn’t obey that part.”
“What did you do after that?”
“What came naturally. We had gotten close that night, but the next time we went into the trailer park’s laundromat. It closed up at eleven, but nobody checked on it.”
I tried to sound thoughtful, but I could barely contain myself. I wanted to know how they did it.
“So what happened?”
“She picked me up from work with her girlfriend. They had been working on a pint of rum.”
“Where’d they get it?”
“Floyd Williams, Sr., down at the ice plant. They’d give him money and follow him over to the Sportsman’s Club. He’d get them a bottle and keep the change.”
“Anyway, her girlfriend was in the front seat with her boyfriend, and she was all over me in the back seat. Everybody was pretty liquored up.”
“And you had a party in the laundromat?”
“Not a party. We turned out the lights and just drank for a while, pouring rum into cans of coke. Then her girlfriend left in the car and we were there alone. In the dark. Half drunk.”
“One thing led to another.”
He was quiet for awhile, and took a drag on his cigarette.
“She was hot to trot, and . . . uh . . .mentally at least, I was not. “
“Well, I’d just gotten offa workin’ eight hours in a barbecue restaurant and I smelled like a slab of ribs and was about as greasy.”
“What did you do?”
“Buddy, sometimes your body will do things your mind doesn’t want to.”
I was quiet for a moment. “So that was your first time?”
“Sort of. Since she’d been drinking, and I’d just got off work, neither one of us thought to bring a rubber.”
I was getting confused. “So you didn’t do it?”
“No, we did. Somehow with all the moanin’ and groanin’ we agreed I’d pull out.”
“Which, when you’re sixteen and have never done it before isn’t as easy as it sounds.”
“Oh.” I waited for him to start talking again, and when he didn’t I asked “So what happened?”
He dropped his cigarette in the dirt, and stepped on it. “I pulled out, but I was scared shitless. I figured she was pregnant for sure, and I got all upset. I took off my undershirt and wanted her to, you know, like do something with it to catch the sperm.” He snorted.“What the hell did I know—my biology teacher was a taxidermist.”
We both laughed.
“Then I walked her to her trailer and kissed her goodnight. And we hugged each other and were both cryin’. A hell of a way to lose your virginity, isn’t it.”
We looked up towards the carnival when we heard a boom. The fireworks had started, and we saw the first one explode high over the grandstand. That meant that the fairgrounds would be closing up soon.
“Then I just started running,” he began. “I ran across the highway, and into this field here. It was a good mile and a half to my house, but if I cut through the fairgrounds I could shave a half mile offa that. And as I was runnin’ through this field I threw the undershirt away. Then I climbed over the gate at the fairgrounds and kept on running ‘til I got to the fence behind my house. And I crawled under and walked into the house like it was just another night.”
“Did your parents see you?”
“Yeah, my mom came downstairs. My heart was pounding from running, and ‘cause I was upset, but I acted like it was just another night after work, we just had to stay later because—I don’t know, I made something up, dishwasher broke. Have to say, I shoulda won an Oscar for my cool, calm performance.”
We sat there in silence. There was one last question I was bustin’ to ask him, but couldn’t right away. Then it just came out, the way sometimes you just jump in the water after standing there cold and scared. “Did—did the undershirt thing work?”
He broke out laughing hard now. “That’s a good one.I’m sure it didn’t, but she didn’t get pregnant. I’ll tell you though, if you ever want to see time move in slow motion, that’s the way to do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re waiting to find out if your girl’s pregnant, and she’s countin’ the days, and tellin’ you how late she is. You know what I’m talking about, right?”
“Yeah,” I said.“Sorta.”
“If she gets her period, she’s not pregnant. If she doesn’t, she is. So you’re waiting—“
He looked at me like a math teacher, expecting me to sum things up in my head.
“For her to get her period,” I said after a few seconds.
“That’s right. She did, nothing happened, she moved away, and I moved on.”
I stared straight ahead, listening to the katydids. After awhile I heard some voices talking low, approaching us. It was Pam and Candy, done with the carnival for the night.
“Is this your girlfriend?” he asked.
“The one with the brown hair.” I wanted to sound as if I’d been around, and was as experienced as he’d been at my age.“ I dated Pam—she’s the blonde—for awhile but decided I liked Candy better.”
“Man about town, huh?”
“You missed a great band,” Candy said as they walked up.
“Yeah. The Lavender Hill Mob.”
“I’ve heard of ‘em.”
“I’m Billy’s girlfriend Candy, and this is my friend Pam,” she said to Roy as she stuck her hand out.
“Nice to meet you both,” Roy said. I could tell he liked Candy right away. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said, looking at Candy.
“Did lover boy kiss and tell?” Pam asked with a smart aleck tone. That was one of the reasons I broke up with her.
“Nope, just a man-to-man, heart-to-heart talk.”
“I thought men didn’t have those kind of talks,” Candy said.
“We do, when we run out of things to say about football,” Roy said.
“We’ve got to get home,” Pam said. She wasn’t getting anything out of this.
“We’re closed and Billy’s done,” Roy said. “He’s all yours.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you,” Candy said. “I hope you survive the fair.”
“I hope I do too,” Roy said. “Nice to meet you, Pam.”
“Same here,” she said. She couldn’t care less.
We started to walk towards the highway and I turned around to say goodbye to Roy, and saw him looking at me.
“Take care of that girl, okay?” he said.