Haunted House and Horsy Ride
By now I’d figured I’d seen every booth, but here was someone selling bumper stickers, of all things. Some were downright clever, even if I didn’t agree with them. The one that really made me laugh was “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” I doubted that’d be a big seller in these parts, though.
Did corn growers have a patron saint?
I shook my head–hard enough to rattle–for thinking such a ridiculous thought.
I made a U-turn at the exit, but not before remembering a joke from that first carnival flimflam man, Barnum. He’d had a sign made up that said “This way to the Great Egress!” which of course had people flocking over to see what the hell an egress was, let alone a great one. Some of them became quite angry to find the doorway led out of the fair, and did not seem particularly mollified when told egress meant exit. I wondered if that sort of thing hurt repeat business, but figured Barnum wasn’t the type to think that far ahead. I’d known people who’d gypped me out of five bucks because I didn’t think they’d risk losing their high-paying jobs with such a tiny scam–only to discover not everyone was as logical as me. It was a good lesson to learn, especially for five bucks, whereas those people had a hard time getting new jobs and probably still didn’t get the message.
Enough time wasted. I reached the corn stand where I had first seen her beauty just as she was working the last lock in place.
“There you are! I’ve been pining for you. Have you been good?” She handed me another corny cob, just as a snack, of course.
Shrug. “Better than most.”
Someone, probably a guy who’d been coming on to her and was very surprised nothing had worked, choked on a drink nearby.
“We never did get to see those violinists,” she mused wistfully as we walked through the fair, holding hands and making a lot of tourists go “Awwww” as I chomped corn. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but followed her lead, for now.
“All those years of learning and practicing, I thought I would perform before the crown heads of Europe.”
“Instead of the bald heads of the Midwest.”
“Not even for them!”
“So what’s stopping you?”
“Oh, where do I start?” she sighed. “Literally!”
“Well, you seem to be in perfect condition for it, so let’s get the haunted house over with.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Just because I am, I shouldn’t send such sympathetic vibrations.”
“You upset me every time I set my bloomin’ eyes on you.”
She laughed at the accent, massaging the back of my neck with strong, corn buttering-hardened fingers. “I’ll try my best not to unnerve you.”
“If that’s your intent, you’re failing badly, baby. Might as well have my body as confused and unsettled as my brain.”
“That’ll have to wait till after the haunted house.”
“Actually, the haunted house should do it.”
The line wasn’t nearly as long as it had been on the earlier pass, but the tunnel of love was taking up the slack. I figured it’d be even worse once the sun went down, but for now I’d take what he could get. Less than five minutes later, we were in.
She mused aloud that the place was kinda tame this year, although the fake spider web felt uncomfortably real when it brushed her face in the pitch blackness. Well, okay, she jumped when her shoulder set off one of the sensors and an eerie flash of green light unexpectedly revealed a grotesquely lifelike rubber face an inch from her nose; she squealed and grabbed on to my arm, so she was able to feel it when I jumped as well. At least she wasn’t the only ‘fraidy cat, she thought with a grin.
Of course, I’d been startled by her fingernails going into my arm, but that was neither here nor there for her.
Because I’d never been in a haunted house before, I didn’t know what to look for, which made for more fun for her. “Never scared, only startled,” I replied to her laughs primly.
I came out of the building laughing so hard it made people wonder just how scary the Haunted House was. Someone who probably knew her, as everyone around here seemed to, most likely had seen her walk in through a monitor and was just waiting for her to pass him near the exit. Said someone leaped out and landed right in front of her, forcing a scream and. . .
And next thing I knew, she was rolled up into a ball on the floor, apparently not having found a convenient womb.
“Lookit the tunnel of love,” she sighed now that we were outside and she’d dusted herself off. “Don’t break up with me before we go on it, though I’m not in the mood for it right now.”
“Good thing. We’d be here till your next shift.” Gauging her mood, I tried, “You know what I’d like to see? Someone–preferably female–playing the violin and Riverdancing at the same time!”
“Now that I can probably do!” she triumphed in my face. “Would you like me to do it nude?”
Duh. “As long as you don’t cut anything off with the bow.”
“I like how you’re always concerned about me. You’re the best boyfriend I’ve ever had!”
“From what I’ve seen of the guys around here, that’s not saying much.”
“And here I was hoping you wouldn’t spoil me for other men,” she laughed. “Let’s cut through the animal section. There’s an employees only gate to the parking lot.”
“I don’t know if I want to deal with the smells.”
She pretended hurt, actually did pretty well. “I’ll shower, okay?” Then she went sultry, a much more natural thing for her. “Or we can shower to–”
“Shoulda known,” she sighed, then plastered on her commercial smile and turned. “Hey, guys! Haven’t seen ya in months!”
I saw an approximately fifteen-year old girl who was mistaken in thinking she was already a woman and two shy kids who brightened on seeing the big redhead.
Hey, brats!” the redhead joked as she bent to hug them. “Come for a horsey ride?”
They nodded furiously.
“I’ve become allergic to horses,” the girl sniffed.
“That’s okay, I’ll take them.”
The kids seemed to like the idea of sitting on a horse with a fully-grown redhead better than the original plan. . . no, wait–that was my reasoning, although the kids looked happy about it anyway.
“Why don’t I keep your boyfriend company while you do that?” the teen batted her eyelashes.
“You think Rapunzel is still open?” I grinned.
Josi wasn’t sure which was worse, but felt justified in giving me the evil eye for SOMETHING. “I’m no good with horses, so I want you to lead us. And of course you’ve got to help me up.”
The future heart-breaker hooted. “Who ya kidding, Red? Didn’t you win all the Equestrian contests–”
“Never argue with a redhead,” I lectured. “Haven’t you learned that yet?”
While she thought about that, I made the smart move and went over to rent a horse, laying down some cash before she could stop me and watched the guy pull the horse over by a rope a little harder than he had to.
Josi cursed under her breath and went back to the kids.
The old-timer handed over the rope and rang up the rental before the redhead could come back to lecture him on treating animals right. There was a growing tendency, even here, if the oldie’s face meant anything, for folks to treat cattle, dogs and horses like fucking pets. Like hangmen and grave diggers, folk who had to work with and often personally slaughter critters they’d raised from big-eyed-cute tended to seem matter-of-fact brutal about the care and feeding of the critters they worked around.
Cold hard arithmetic dictated unsentimental choices when country folk had to cope with a crippled or worn-out mount, a sick old dog no longer worth its keep, or raising food, animal or vegetable–choices as easy and inexpensive as possible to undercut the other bastard’s prices on the market. Nobody with a natural heart was born wanting to be cruel to animals.
Most country kids made pets of fluffy chicks, little lambs and even calves, to say nothing of pups and kittens. But by the time they were old enough to know why boys and girls were different, they’d been served a grown chick for supper, seen Mary’s little lamb or that friendly calf they rode castrated and driven–in a truck, not an old cattle drive–with the rest of the market herd to slaughter. And, like it or not, cats and dogs got old and had to be put down by the time the kids who’d loved them had kids of their own to play with pets.
So, like unwise lovers who’d been made fools of, country kids learned to harden their eyes if not their hearts if they meant to make money off of livestock. To a professional stockman, a dude who mooned over the feelings of horses and cattle seemed as foolish as a farmer who’d worry how the wheat he was threshing felt about it.
I would never ask corn how it felt as he masticated it, after all.
I knew the redhead wasn’t a vegetarian, considering our first meal together; she seemed the animal-loving type though, being what passed for an environmental activist in these parts. Either way it would be an argument I couldn’t win, even if I wanted to argue that side, which I didn’t. So I gave it a pass, once in a while being smart around the red-furred.
The ride–in my case, walk–was uneventful, at least for me. The kids had more fun than I’d thought they would from a simple walk around the enclosure, but maybe Josi was tickling them. I didn’t turn to find out, being on the lookout for droppings, and soon enough we were out the gate and back to the original plan.
Well, not quite: we decided to skip the movie and just have dinner, and then each other.
“Tell me a sex joke!” she suddenly demanded.
Innocently I tried, “What makes you think I know any?”
“I take sex very seriously.”
“You laugh more than I do. Now dish, if you want any later.”
“Easy for you to say. You’d bring some corn home and make do with that.”
“All the more reason for you to tell me a joke now.”
Sigh. “Man wearing a mask goes into a sperm bank–”
She was laughing already.
“He pulls out a gun and tells the receptionist, ‘Drink down that beaker of sperm!’”
“‘You heard me. Do it!’
“Gulping before she even gets it to her lips, she drinks it down. Then the guy takes off the mask, and it’s her husband, who says, ‘See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’”
Try to guess her reaction, just try. . .