Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Our carnival grounds have fallen to a field of brown stalks, the rides felled, a sparkling harvest of metal reaped with remnants of recycled laughter. Memories cling as tightly as the gum smacked to the underside of seats, pressed firmly to protect the acceleration of time from causing asphyxiation. Cattle slice their tongues on tumbled tilt-a-whirls and crumpled cotton candy stands. Ambling quietly over a clown's face-paint tin, their low moans vibrate air once shaken by carney's sharp cries, once ripened by slick sticky barbeque sauce.
Not a day of childhood passed without staring at the decaying yard. Each trip to town imprinted some strange history on us. Our faces pressed hungrily against the glass of the car window, we searched for a hint of life in the dark corners. Even as we aged, the others may have forgotten, and kept theirs eyes on the road, but I strayed. Waiting and hoping for a small striped foot to peek out from the heaps of metal, ready to lead a dance down the grassy road to hidden tent show, or a gloved hand to point to a sign freshly repainted, hearkening the carnival's reopening.
The owners attempted to hide the slow fade of the place from us. Here and there, they sold rebel flags, flung over bags of dubiously labeled fresh shellfish. No one ever appeared to tend the wares, but once or twice eyes peeped from the trailer on the corner of the property, only to vanish with contact. Herds of dusty black kittens wove through constantly wet, rotten steps, searching for handouts from these phantoms.
All the rides were long derailed — we never saw them fully functional. Pastel awnings and plastic seats, rusting chains draped over faded signboards flaked into obsolescence. I could close my eyes and fling the pieces together, whipping the shredded ribbons of the awnings together, the fabric brightening, full of traveler's tales, as the sun set. By some fairground mystery, the grounds never tasted as desperate as they appeared. The desolation made it tangible and complete, to fill with one's own magic. I suppose we could not see the place until it was gone, and we had missed the chance to harness the wildness within.
No documentation remained after the razing of the carnival. No pictures, no broken wheels hidden in the heaving earth, no bright popping bulbs we now prayed would light up and point an arrow to an alternate path. The ancient cattle keep watch, soon to sink their bones amidst the tatters of the carnival. I find my eyes resting on the sunset there more often than any other touchstone on my drive home, watching for the rides to rise again.
Missy Moore hasn't used her writing skills as much as she'd like since graduating with an English degree from Hendrix College, but she gladly accepts appeasing the carnival folk with an homage to their impression on her childhood.
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