Episode 15: Elliott
1987. The annual carnival lit up the center of town for seven nights. All ages looked forward to the July week every summer, a chance to carry on a tradition where the old relived youth through younger eyes and the young experienced something fresh. The entire county flocked to the attractions. It even brought two high schools together that were in the same zip code, yet rarely interacted – the public school where most in town attended, and a much smaller private school that shared a campus with the college and took students from all over the county.
Elliott went to the public high school up until the end of June when he graduated. The summer carnival seemed different that year. Elliott was no longer a kid destined for a late night stomach ache from rides that spun and too many sweet treats, and completely reliant on adults to keep him safe and show the way. Not even a teenager trying to be cool, or at least as acceptable as possible, with the judgement of other teens all around the crowded carnival grounds. It was the last night of the carnival and Elliott felt much different, checking his long hair and Led Zeppelin tee shirt in the mirror, tall and lanky and no matter how many burgers and fries throughout high school, he didn’t fill out. Elliott felt as though he had become his own person, and the last night of the carnival was in a way a goodbye to the younger self. A rite of passage.
The carnival was eight blocks away from the rowhouse, on the blue-collar side of town. The seven-day event had been in that location since its inception nearly one hundred years ago. Back then, most of the houses were small and the only families with money were landowners that oversaw farms on the outskirts of town. That changed years before Elliott existed. The only world he knew was the one where the only time the other side visited his neighborhood was carnival time.
The sounds of the amusements were the summer anthem, for a week. From late afternoon when the carnies powered up the rides and did their safety checks, to exactly midnight when the master switch was pulled and the amusements powered down and the black was returned to the sky above.
Fent and Danny would meet him at the entrance at seven o’clock. He grabbed his jean jacket in case it got chilly and headed out the door. The family had left for the carnival an hour or more ago. Elliott cut through the woods, which was not really a short cut, better described as a momentary digression before the crowded carnival. A chance to smoke a cigarette, put on the headphones and listen to his Walkman while enjoying the dark calm of the disinterested trees.
Relics from the past, things leftover, were more recognizable to Elliott as the exit from high school and the entering into some other was a regular thought fixture on those fleeting summer days that were nearly half gone. Like the sound of the rubber soles on his converse sneakers rubbing forward on the dirt woods path. Elliott deliberately shuffled feet on the dirt since he was a little kid, and he was still doing it. He rested the headphones with the bright orange, foamy earpieces on his neck to better hear the rubber to the dirt. A leftover comfort not willing to be discarded.
The edge of the woods spilled onto Cedar Street. There, he could see the lights from the carnival, and the sounds got louder. He walked two blocks more, by the rows of tightly parked cars, and weaved through the masses of bright-eyed children and adults, all eyes fixed on the bright lights ahead that stretched to the sky.
Elliott approached the entrance and scanned for Fen and Danny. They were right there in plain sight, because they were separate from the huddled bodies moving in unison toward the balloon arch. They were a good twenty feet from activity, leaning against a tree, smoking.
Elliott started to beeline in their direction, stepping off the path, when he caught a brief glimpse of a girl being swallowed by the huddle. Just a profile of her face, shy smile with a dimple, and long brown hair.