I’ve only attempted a couple of pieces of flash fiction. My brain doesn’t work that way, but I really enjoyed this tale. The carnival is something I’ve been obsessing about as a setting for a series of stories or maybe a novel. It all started with this…
Stuffed Pikachus (2023)
Ten goddamned years measured in Carnival Time. Knockdown Sunday night, drive Monday, ready for Wednesday when school lets out. Plus, every town’s got a mid-week meeting to keep my head straight.
Different towns, same rubes. Sometimes I try to figure out their stories while taking their money. Most times it’s not worth the effort.
“Come on. Baby, I loooove Pikachu.” The eternal siren song of mildly stoned women bewitching their beaus into risking ten bucks and public humiliation to prove their love, if that’s what it is.
I stand by reflex, offering my best 27-tooth grin.
She’s country-girl hot. Cutoffs. A tank top (Cherokee brand, so Target not Walmart,)
no pit stains. It’s new. Classy. Prettiest fish in a muddy pond.
“Nah, babe. These things’s rigged. Everyone knows.” Ah. They’ve been together a while. He wouldn’t turn her down if he was still trying to seal the deal.
Eyes locked on him, I toss a ring behind me without looking and get rewarded by the tinkle of plastic circling glass. Easy from this distance. From three feet further across the counter, it’s damn near impossible. Physics or some shit.
“See, babe? You can do it.” She grabs his bicep and puts on a baby-pout. “Pretty pleeease.”
He’s the last to know he’ll play. I’ve handed over three rings and stepped back before his wallet’s out. She squeals, rubbing her chest against his arm.
Takes me a minute to figure out what’s different about this one. She’s got tats. They all do, but this one’s a bit of a puzzle. I study her while the boyfriend tosses, loudly cussing.
Her left arm sports a gorgeous, multi-colored sleeve. Garden of Eden, snake, big red apple. Eve looks like a stripper. Expensive as hell, real art. Not local. The right arm has something in cursive. Squinting, I make out the word “dreams,” but that’s about it. Inspiration ripped from a Facebook post. The color’s uneven.
It dawns on me that she’s trending up or down, depending on which she got first.
Maybe, inspired by her inky motto, the kid headed for the city. Got a good job—or a man with one. That’s how she could afford A-one art. Girl’s got a future. Or skills. Just home visiting and gloating.
Flip side, she’s slinking back, tail between her legs. That’d explain being with Junior there. That quote on her tricep is a silent, permanent reproach for whatever sins or failures dragged her back.
“Oooooh, nice try, kid. Two out of three gets you this one.” I dangle the six-inch Ninja Turtle wannabe. “Or you can go for the giant Pikachu. One more round. Whattaya say?”
He snatches the turtle and shoves it at her. “Come on.” A possessive arm snakes around her waist.
“Really?” Her mouth pouts more than her eyes do. She follows him, kicking dust.
That solves the mystery. She was sure she’s worth a plush Pikachu but the world says different.
Welcome home, girlie.
“Who’s next?” I yell.