Timothy D. McLendon
Sweat was trickling from the crack of my ass all the way down to my socks. My feet were rapidly drowning while my toes performed an annoying rendition of water ballet. Even the thermometer atop the concession stand behind me was sweating tiny beads of scalding mercury. My daughter and I had been standing in a line that never got any shorter.
“Daddy, when’s the teacup lady gonna get here?” Crystal asked, oblivious to the ridiculous torture.
That’s what all the little kids running around called the woman my daughter adored so much — the teacup lady.
“It could be a while. Would you rather ride the merry-go-round or bumper cars?”
My finger and hopes were all pointing to the bumper cars. We had to do something, anything, to expedite the foggy horror of that Middle America nightmare.
“No thanks, Daddy,” was the dreaded reply, “I can wait.”
Great. How could I turn down those innocent blues eyes? I patted her sticky blonde hair. We only got to see each other on the weekends and I wasn’t about to disappoint my beautiful five-year-old angel. It looked like we were going to spend half of our time together waiting for the teacup lady to walk over from the other ride she supervised. You can bet we were going to ride the bumper cars after that.
‘The teacup lady looks like Mommy,’ Crystal said, pointing at the woman.
Ah yes, my dear, dear ex-wife Kerry — no hard feelings there. Fat, short, stringy brown hair and an uncaring attitude. I nodded my head in agreement. The only thing she ever exercised was her right to vote. I’m pretty sure she voted for the Communist party.
She had found the need to go outside of our marriage with a truck driver. ‘You don’t love me the way you used to,’ she would say. I didn’t disagree with her. How could I? She drank all of the time. She only ate junk food. She forgot who I was half of the time. She forgot who Crystal was. She didn’t care to dress when fetching the newspaper in the morning. The neighbors complained until I couldn’t take it anymore.
The house — gone. The Monte Carlo — gone. My wife put on quite a show in court. The law had caught up with me a few times in the past. I had a slight problem with, shall we say, herbal remedies? She was all too happy to point that out. The judge didn’t like that too much.
There was only one thing I fought for in that damn divorce and that was Crystal. She belonged with someone who could love her and care for her: Me, her protector. The fool of a judge believed my ex-wife could take better care of her with the promise of therapy.
I begged him not to do it. It didn’t work.
And there stood the teacup lady, a disgusting reminder of the biggest mistake of my life. She was now in control of the time that I had with my daughter. She had the eyes of a vulture, patiently waiting for us to die in the desert heat, sent straight from hell to torment us. She stood in the shade with a stupid grin plastered to her face. If she had been within range, I would’ve gladly un-plastered that grin on her pumpkin head.
I knew it would be another five minutes before she could walk back over here…waddle over here… whatever.
Even more disgusting is that I never saw her without that brown paper bag in her hands. It was one of those small paper contraptions that cockroaches love to lick the glue off of, or so I read in one of those respected tabloid magazines. I could picture their tiny little mouths salivating as she reached her fat fingers in to retrieve whatever she was after. Candy? Cupcakes? Cheerios? — who cares? I’m sure it all tasted like chicken to her.
She started to walk towards us, twenty minutes after our arrival. My temperature rose with each labored step she took as rain fell from my eyebrows.
There are two places a woman like that shouldn’t work: a fast-paced environment and a fast-food environment. I knew why she was here: Food. Free food. Well, candy anyway.
“Sorry that took so long,” was all she could muster as she tried to catch her breath.
“Don’t worry about it.” Worry about me, I thought. Worry about me.
She set her bag down in a drawer next to the control booth and closed the drawer.
Then it happened.
She opened the gate to glorious freedom! My anger began to subside until I saw her looking at her watch, like she had something more important to do. It was obvious to me that she was in a hurry to get back to that bag.
‘Daddy?’ I looked down at Crystal with a smile. It had been a long, vicious race, but we were finally near the finish line.
‘Yes, Hun?’ I said as relief started to settle in.
‘I’m hungry.’ I felt my jaw collapse.
‘Okay.’ I winked at her. ‘We’ll get something to eat as soon as we get home.’ There was no way we were getting out of that line.
‘But I’m hungry nowww…,’ she said in a long drawl.
I gritted my teeth. We’d stood in that line forever, waiting, sweating, and all of a sudden she wanted to get something to eat?
‘We’ll get something later, Hun,’ I reassured her. I put my palm under her chin and saw the raw tears streaming down her cheeks.
The teacup lady walked painfully slow around all the rides, unlocking the safety harnesses on the seats. If I had any sanity left, it was lost when she winked at me. Just like Kerry, I thought. She thinks she can control my life. My jaw tightened. She could no longer have control over my daughter and me. Something was vastly wrong in the world and I alone could fix it.
“I’ll be right back,” I told my daughter. I couldn’t stand to watch those tears anymore. Let it be noted that I was angry — no, beyond angry! I walked over to the booth where the teacup lady would control the ride, opened up the top drawer and snatched the bag of surprises. I opened the bag to observe the merchandise: red, chewy circles of sugar — probably Sweet Tarts.
I didn’t care if anyone saw me. The bag was going back with me, far away from the fat lady.
“What’s that, Daddy?”
“Just a bag,” I replied, “with some candy.’
I watched her face light up like the downtown Christmas lights. ‘You can have some just as soon as the ride’s over.’ I was a hero, a bona fide hero. She nodded like a happy bandit just as the teacup lady motioned for us to come towards one of the rides. I hid the bag behind my back, concealing it from her view.
We were finally sitting together in one of the rides. Crystal was so happy, so beautiful. I wish I could have been as excited as she seemed to be, but my sweat-stained body was stuck to the seat like Velcro. I held my breath as the fat vulture circled around her prey, making sure everyone was buckled in nice and tight.
“Let me apologize again,” the teacup lady blurted, still out of breath. She glanced at her watch and smiled at me. I couldn’t look at her. She needed to take those vulture eyes off of me. I wanted to shout, ‘Your candy’s gone lady and you can’t do anything about it! It’s right here under my seat!’ I was relieved as she waddled away and hit the red button on top of her booth. We were moving, an eternity later.
It didn’t take very long for the spinning to start. Sobriety was forgotten. Memories of better days were brought back. My daughter loved it, too. At last, we were having a little fun.
A few minutes later I realized that I wasn’t feeling quite so good. Too much cotton candy and too many hot pretzels. I was afraid I’d have to taste them for a second time. The expression on my daughter’s face told me that she felt the same way.
“Hey!” I tried to shout. “Can you stop the ride?” I knew I sounded like a drunken monkey.
“Better get a waterhose!” someone offered back.
I prepared to yell again, right as we passed the teacup lady’s booth, but I had to stop myself. There was a crowd gathered around her sad little booth. People were gasping and running over to it. I couldn’t see the teacup lady anywhere; the ride spun around too fast.
A few seconds later, we were faced the booth again. A much larger crowd had assembled in a matter of seconds. Several people appeared to be screaming into their cell phones.
The ride kept spinning.
It was then that I was scared, not for me but for my little girl, too. No doubt the ride was out of control and we were all going to die. Who was I kidding? I was scared shitless! I wasn’t sure if the wetness on my seat was from sweat or urine. For God’s sake, no one is supposed to die at an amusement park!
Faster and faster. I heard someone shout slurred obscenities. It sounded French or German or something, but hell, obscenities transcend all languages. Shit, fuck, bitch — they all have universal meaning. I wasn’t hearing straight, that’s for damn sure! I was beginning to lose hope as we kept spinning out of control.
I grabbed my daughter’s hand and held it for comfort, mine and hers.
“Call the paramedics!” English at last.
My life flashed before my eyes as the teacups seemed to spin all ever quicker. Maybe it was just the audience below, horrified yet somehow anticipating our departure to hell. All I could see were brilliant strobes of red and orange lights. Then a strange realization hit me: No one was looking up at us on the ride. Deep in the center of the crowd is where all the attention was focused.
The ride began to slow down. Just a little at first. Slower and slower. I had the first premonition that we were going to be okay. I swore I’d never do anything wrong again. Honest Abe forever more. I had to be there for my daughter. Her protector. She appeared to be smiling, almost laughing. My angel. And I too began to laugh.
We were laughing hysterically by the time the ride crawled to a stop. The surrounding passengers stared at us in utter disbelief. I wanted to flick them off but thought better of it. I glanced around again and realized everyone was running to the same area where I had seen the crowd gathered. I reached for my daughter’s right hand but she offered her left hand instead as we got up and walked toward the crowd.
‘What happened?’ I asked one of the pimply-faced teenage workers that walked by.
‘I dunno, dude. I just work here.” He shrugged, walking to the teacup control booth, shutting everything down and closing all the gates.
I looked through the crowd and saw an ambulance drive away with those crazy lights flashing. 2:15 p.m. blinked on my watch like an impatient child. That was the first time I realized the teacup lady wasn’t there.
‘Make sure you find that bag.’
I turned around to see three police officers in a huddle, discussing something important.
‘I don’t know if it was salt tablets, heart medication or rat poison and frankly, I don’t care,’ said one of the officers. ‘We have an amusement park full of kids and the last thing I need today is for some kid to find those pills and end up hurt, or worse.’ The officers agreed and split up.
What bag? My bag? Salt tablets? Heart medication? Rat poison? No, no, no. Candy! Cupcakes! Cheerios! It had to be!
Suddenly I realized how hot it was again. Sweat crept down my back like a mound of angry ants. Had anyone seen the little stunt I pulled? Some big-mouthed kid had to have seen everything.
I looked up at the sun and decided it was the perfect specimen to flick off. I stood there, dumbfounded for a moment. I squeezed Crystal’s hand, smiled at her and mentally prepared to admit my guilt to the police. A young mother with three kids brushed past me and approached the uniform in charge.
‘Excuse me, Officer. I was wondering if you could tell me what’s going on?’
‘Yes Ma’am. One of the workers apparently had some heart trouble and had to be rushed to the hospital. Darn shame.’
‘Is she going to be okay?’
‘We can’t tell yet. Apparently she was on some type of medication. The last thing she was able to tell us is that someone stole it while she was working.’ He paused for a second, deep in thought. “I can’t wait to get my hands on the S.O.B. that did this,” he said, stroking his holster.
I gulped, big time.
‘Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ve got it under control. I’m sure we’ll catch whoever did this.’
‘Thank you, Officer. We’ll be going now.’
‘Good day, Ma’am.’ And off he went, too.
I never let go of Crystal’s hand and marched straight to the parking lot. I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder.
‘Not now, Sweetheart. Wait ’till we’re on the road.’ No time for words. No sense in getting caught for a stupid little misunderstanding. It wouldn’t do anyone any good to know what had really happened.
I was able to breathe again once we were on the road home. I was alive and so was my little girl. I would be there for her: Me, her great protector. The fat lady would be fine — I was sure of it. I had left the bag under my seat on the teacup ride. I didn’t know if it was medication or drugs or poison or what, and frankly, I didn’t care. The workers would find it and no one would get hurt. I was sure of it.
I was brought back to reality. ‘I’m sorry, Darling. What did you want to tell me?’
‘This candy doesn’t taste very good.’
“This candy.” My heart stopped and my foot slammed on the brake as she put out the hand she wouldn’t let me hold earlier. In it was a small brown paper bag.