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You’re smiling, taking in the sounds and flashing lights of the fair, when your friend Ronny says, “That girl’s looking at you, mate.”
You look across, catch her eye, and she hides behind her stick of candyfloss. Its swirling mass reminds you of the night you and a handful of others stayed late after school to spy Venus through the physics department’s telescope. Only the candyfloss, instead of dull orange, is sparkly bright pink.
“You’ve never… have you?”
“Never what?” You can feel your eyes widen.
Ronny beams. “Come on, man. You know.”
“I haven’t kissed a girl before, no.”
He looks at you out the corner of his eye as you tread the trampled grass. “Yeah. That’s what I meant.”
Ronny’s hands are tucked into the high chest pockets of his Parka. He removes one and points. “Hotdog?”
“Sure.” You’re happy with this diversion.
You queue with him but aren’t hungry, so after Ronny orders and the burly vendor with his hairy arms and direct tone asks what you’d like, unable to say “nothing”, you order hot chocolate. At least it’ll keep your hands warm.
Ronny’s hotdog is shiny from lashings of mustard and ketchup. It smells too sweet, but the aroma of processed meat gives you an odd comforting feeling, reminding you of sports day at primary school. It sickens you that he devours it with just three greedy mouthfuls, and yet you also admire it.
“That was so good.” He crumples his napkin and throws it on the ground in front. You watch it start to unfurl into a ghostly rose head before Ronny stamps on it. “Let’s find your girl.”
You take a sip from your cup, but it burns you tongue, which annoys you. The annoyance makes you lash out. “Can’t we just go on another ride instead?”
Ronny’s ease annoys you further. It surprised you when he asked you to the fair. You’re very different from him. When the random pairs were assigned for the geography project, you didn’t envisage becoming friends. If you can call it that.
Past the rows of vendors, with views of the shooting rollercoaster, spinning Waltzers, and strobe lights and dance music blaring from an octopus-like machine with rotating cars at the ends of its lifting limbs, Ronny asks, “What do you wanna ride?”
“Ferris wheel? For real?”
You take your place in the queue. As you near the front, about to be led into your car, you notice the girl with the candyfloss is already aboard, just a couple of cars along. You say nothing to Ronny. She notices you and whispers something to her friend. Your smile comes out weird.
“Cheers, mate,” Ronny says to the man as you’re led aboard.
As the wheel turns, you’re below the girls on the ascent, then above them on the descent. On the first rotation, at the top of the wheel, you look to the stars, trying to pick out some of the constellations you know. Planets, even. This is halted by a sharp nudge in your ribs.
“There’s that girl from before.” Ronny points down, surprised jubilation in his tone. “Hey,” he yells, releasing a big cloud of breath into the cold air. The girl turns and looks up at you. Her friend does. Other riders do. You hate this attention.
“I feel sick.”
Ronny snatches the hot drinks cup from you and puts it to his mouth. “Tastes fine to me.”
You don’t mention it’s nothing to do with the hot chocolate. You don’t mention that really, in this moment, you feel like throwing yourself off the Ferris wheel. You just nod.
“Mate, you should ask for her number.”
Eyes pinned wide open, you feel your heart race as you stare between your legs at the filthy rubber mat your trainers are resting on. Though more alert than ever, this is the first time you’ve ever thought about death. Your thoughts race. Phone number means romance means partner means marriage means children means growing old. As you’re thinking about this, something floats past your car.
Ronny is pulling an excited face. The falling item is a clump of pink strands. Candyfloss. You look up, you’re on the slow ascent. The girls are laughing above you. They’ve dropped it on purpose. And the smile; it’s the smile. How can glum thoughts turn to ecstasy so quickly?
For a moment Ronny stares at you, but as the car reaches the top, he jabs you playfully on the shoulder to congratulate. His fist catches you in a sensitive spot and your body jolts, causing your hand to release its grasp. The hot chocolate launches into the night air. The lid flies off and a streak of liquid plummets past the Hook-a-duck below. Ronny bursts out laughing. You shout down, “Sorry,” even though nobody was hit or splashed. Really, you’re sorry for yourself – for losing your source of warmth and comfort.
As you’re dwelling on this, Ronny still chuckling, you hear a voice. “Catch.”
It’s a voice from above. As the cars align on the third revolution, with the girls’ above yours, a stick falls. You lurch forward as it almost sails past the car, but you manage to grab it. It’s the candyfloss stick. As you inspect it, a name is written on the thin wood. Lily Cross.
“Add her,” Lily’s friend calls.
Are those butterflies in your stomach from elation or dread? You’re high on adrenaline. Though death is a foot away, if you choose to leap out of the car, you feel more alive than ever. More than that time, in the past, when you spied Venus safely through a telescope.
About the author: Josh Oldridge is a writer from Goole, East Yorkshire. He has a master’s in creative writing from Brunel University and his short fiction has been published in magazines including Litro, Bandit Fiction, and Storgy, with nonfiction in Quarterlife.