A journal of narrative writing.
Bait or Flight

The visit from Sue lingers in Roger’s mind over night. He tosses and turns, paces around the room, worried that Joe will find him. He dozes briefly into a dream of Jenny, but he wakes in a sweat to the sound of the dogs barking. He reasons it’s probably a coon or something, but the tension in his gut doesn’t let go. He spends the rest of the night shifting nervously on the couch wondering where he’ll go next. Ohio seems like a calm and safe place, and he’s always wanted to go to Cedar Point. The rides there would dwarf anything he’s ever seen in the carnival, and he is anxious to visit such a mystical place. He and Quenten have been talking about the new Magnum all summer. It is the biggest and fastest coaster in the history of coasters. He wants to study it, find out how it works. He’s had almost thirty years experience running rides, so he could get a job there. That’s it, he thought, a good enough reason to go anywhere. So when the sun breaks, he’s happy to have a purpose for the day. He will make ready for the road.

Crandal and Roger follow their usual morning routine: feed the dogs, cook breakfast, eat. Roger tells Crandal about his plans to go to Ohio, and Crandal agrees that it’s a good idea. When Crandal goes to take his ritual morning nap, Roger goes out to the barn. The sun is low in the sky, and a heavy mist covers the fields. The tops of corn stalks stretch out like a deep green knit blanket, little tufts of yarn poking up from years of comfort. The grass is wet with dew, and Roger’s boots change shades of brown as he tramps over the soft ground. He makes his way to the barn door, unclasps the hook, and walks inside.

As he flicks the switch, and the lights flicker on, Roger admires his Tilt, which is a 1958 model. It sits on the trailer behind his semi, looking like a life-sized jack-in-the-box. The brailed metal flaps are folded down to cover its wheels. He checks the wheels to be sure they’re locked in place and adjusts the blocks behind each wheel. Roger knows everything there is to know about operating the Tilt. He’s always done his own setup and teardown. All the other game operators have teardown crews, but Joe insists that Roger and the Tilt crew do their own. Except electrical. Mitch and Quenten are electrical guys—wire runners. They take care of all the wiring on the north end of the carnival grounds. Over the years, Roger has learned a lot from Quenten: voltage, amperage, connections, storage. They are old wires, original to the Tilt, so it is important to keep them warm. The grey-brown cloth covering is tattered from years of use, and black electrical tape is wrapped around various exposed insides. One particularly cold desert night, the wires had to be stored indoors. Quenten had taken the wires into his trailer and showed Roger how to use a blow dryer to thaw them out. It was just one of the many times Quenten saved Roger from Joe’s wrath.

Roger continues his routine checks: tire inflation, fluids. Climbing up into the cab, he pulls out the ashtray, full of white and tan butts, crinkled and stinky. He dumps it and a handful of old French fries into the trash barrel in the corner of the barn. Daphne whines at him, he thinks, because he threw away food. Roger chuckles at her, and goes back to cleaning the cab. Jenny’s picture is still upside down on the passenger seat. He hesitates a moment before turning it upright.

He remembers when this picture was taken; it was the third try at getting her costume right. She posed with her new electronic tail extension in her right hand, her left out like a claw at the camera. Joe had finally found a seamstress to make a black leather jumpsuit to snuggly fit a nine-year-old girl. Shiny sequins and rhinestones formed a faux belt around her waist, and fluffy black ears were attached like hair extensions to the top of her head. Her bright smile, maybe his favorite feature, shone through the bars of her cage, which was placed just east of the midway, nearest the center as a sideshow was allowed. Roger is sure that Joe would have put her in the middle, but the other underground operators would have heckled him for starring a sideshow. Jenny’s cage was extravagant: Back then, Jenny’s daytime home was a thirty-foot blue aluminum cage with two swings and a small tree. In the picture there is shining garland wrapped on the poles around the frontage of the cage, and “Jenny the Cat Girl” in 12-inch red sequin letters was on the sign high above the cage. Fluffy leopard print pillows adorned the floor, and silver buckets of ice tea were at every corner because she refused to drink water. This photo was taken during the two-week stint in Northpowder, in 1968, Roger remembers, because it was his favorite place.

* * *

“Hey, Roger,” Jenny said, twirling a strand of grass in her fingers.

“Yeah?” Roger said. The dark fur on her cheeks shined in the sun that peeked through the long willow branches. It was one of the few sunny days in Northpowder. Most of the time they spent in Oregon was cloudy and rainy. Roger and Jenny snuck away from the carnival to enjoy the weather, and he brought her to his favorite spot.

As they had entered this small meadow with a ring of willows surrounding a kidney-shaped pond, they sifted through tall grass and multi-colored wildflowers. Roger picked some blue ones since it was her favorite color. He picked out the largest of the old willows, and the two decided to relax under its wall of branches. Jenny tucked the blue flowers behind her ear. She looked beautiful.

“Have you ever kissed a girl?”


Roger put his hand on Jenny’s, and he petted the soft fuzz that had been getting thicker over the last couple of years. He wondered if she would grow hair all over her body. Her legs didn’t have much hair; they looked like all the other girls’ legs. But her face was nearly covered, except for the soft skin around her eyes. Roger loved Jenny’s eyes and her long, black eyelashes.

Roger looked down at his bare toes. Jenny reached over and tugged on the spindly hairs that had begun to grow on Roger’s chin. He was trying to grow a goatee like Quenten’s. Quenten grew his at 14, and Roger had just turned 12, so he figured his should grow in any time.

“Soon you’ll be as hairy as me,” she said.

“Right,” he replied.

Jenny had tied a series of knots in her blade of grass. She tossed the grass aside and got up on her hands and knees, arched her back and meowed. Roger giggled and blushed. Then, purring, she crawled toward Roger and up on to his lap. Her hand brushed the crotch of his pants, and she kissed him hard. She had never done anything like this before. He didn’t even think that a nine-year-old had learned to like boys, let alone learned to kiss. His heart fluttered, and he couldn’t help but think something was wrong. He knew Joe had been teaching her the “cat crawl,” but he wondered how she learned to act sexy. He loved her, and wanted her to know, so he softly wrapped his arms around her back, where he touched her vestigial tail that always peeked out of the top of her shorts.

“Oh look, ducks!” Jenny hopped up and hurried toward the pond. Roger stayed under the tree because he was hard. His body tingled and his hands were shaking because he wasn’t sure if he should be feeling this way with Jenny. They had spent the last two years nearly inseparable, but nothing could have prepared him for this. Feeling nervous and uncertain, Roger tried to think of dead kittens. That’s what Joe told him to do when he got a woody and wasn’t supposed to.

“We can feed them, right?” Jenny asked. “I have some peanut butter crackers in my bag. Grab it, Roger. Come on!”

Roger smiled. “Okay, okay. I’m coming.” The dead kittens had worked, so he picked up her bag and followed her to the pond. The setting sun made her into a silhouette framed in an orange glow. She still had skinny arms, but her legs had started to make “S” shapes, and she had just started to get little boobs. He knew she’d only become more beautiful as she got older. He knew they’d be together forever.