Almost Fiction: The Carnival

By Sam Jones

In 1938, towards the end of the Great Depression, Marvin rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle into a small midwest town. Raining, he had been riding for more than 50 miles on dirt farm roads and the bike and rider were covered with mud and both were well-nigh exhausted. It was time to look for a place to set up his tent and watch the remnants of the storm pass quietly off into what he hoped would be a clear star-filled sky.

On the outskirts of town a small carnival was also bivouacked waiting out the rain. Tomorrow, in the dry, they would set up their tents and booths and rides and games of chance and for the next week they would be the town’s only entertainment.

Marvin pulled up next to where the trucks and horse vans were parked and dismounted. “Hi, want a cup of coffee?” said a feminine voice, calling from the cook tent, where several “carnies” sat drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

“Sure.” As a matter of fact coffee was exactly what Marvin wanted. He pulled off the wet oilskins that were keeping him dry and joined the small group where he was handed a tin cup filled with a steaming dark liquid.

“Sugar?” before Marvin could reply that he liked it black, one of the men surreptitiously offered to sweeten it with a shot of corn liquor. Marvin accepted, joined them, lit his pipe, turned and said, “My name is Marvin; some weather we’re having.”

“Yep,” said one of the men. “But that’s what you have’ta expect if you live on the road.”

“Yep. I understand.” Marvin agreed as he stood, shook the road muck off his long waterproof duster, sat back down, took a long draw on his pipe and sampled the sweetened coffee.

Marvin, the “carnies” and the very pretty girl who belonged to the voice who had offered hospitality to a traveling motorcyclist sat quietly under the cook shack tent, sipping spiked coffee, sharing muted conversations about being on the road; they agreed about the companionship of fellow travelers.

The carnival moved from town to town and if possible they kept to a schedule with the towns that welcomed them. But being highway gypsies and outsiders more often than not there would be a problem with the locals and the sheriff would be called upon to hasten their departure and revoke their return invitation.

Marvin understood. Being a road gypsy himself he had his own backlog of horror tales about being prodded in the middle of the night to leave the city limits, refused service and the general mistrust that a stranger brings by just representing the freedom of the unknown.

This small “brotherhood of the road” seemed to get along fine. Everyone had another cup of “sweetened coffee” and after the rain stopped, promising a clear night and a dry tomorrow, the group broke up, each going to their respective places for the night.

Everyone, that was, except the young woman and Marvin.

She was 20 years old, a raven-haired, dark-eyed beauty who was the belly dancer and fortune teller for the carnival. In spite of her shapely figure that was sharp enough to cut steel and soft enough to be a pillow for the gods she retained an unmarked innocence.

They remained and spent several hours talking.

She had been alone on the road for a long time before she joined the carnival. It had taken her six months to work her way up to belly dancer/fortune teller and she was proud of the work she had put in to learn her trade. There were hints of abuse in her past which had forced her out of her home and minor run-ins with the law when she was on her own but that part of her history was an eternity ago and skirted over.

Marvin offered that he was on the road, that he liked the travel and the motorcycle mileage, that he worked when he could find work, mostly farm work, that he owed no one anything and that no one was waiting for him.

Sitting at a bus stop, strangers will divulge secrets to each other because they can get things off their chest without embarrassment and they know they will never see that person again.

As they traded histories it was somewhat like that between Marvin and the girl but there was more. There was more to this chance meeting. It was as though they had known each other in a thousand past lives and they were now lucky enough to find one another again. Both of them felt an unusual trust between strangers, a trust that never exists any place else; they both had the same thoughts but afraid that it would evaporate, neither of them spoke of it.

Words finished, Marvin and the girl sat quietly for a long while listening to the remnants of the storm drip off the edge of the cook shack tent. Finally, “Instead of pitching my tent out there in the mud do you think it would be alright if I just bunked here in the cook shack? In the morning I could ask the boss for a job rigging the big tent. What do you think?” Marvin asked.

“If you want… there is room in my little trailer… you know… just for the night… just to get in out of the rain.” There was no way of making the offer without sounding like a tramp, however she took a chance, chose her words carefully and spoke with great hesitation. “There is an extra cot and don’t worry about anyone. None of these fellows are a boyfriend or an ex of any kind and we all know that you would just be getting in out of the rain.”

Marvin had heard similar words in the past and then been awaken in the middle of the night by a woman begging him to hurry out of bed because her husband was in the driveway coming home early from a business trip.

But this was different. Marvin believed her and felt that he could trust her with anything, as he had trusted her in a dozen past lifetimes.

If it was just a cot and being in out of the rain he would take her up on the invitation. If it was more… well… then… it was more.

“OK. Thanks for the offer. Let me get my duffel off the bike. You know, when I was a kid I always wanted to run away to the circus.”

She followed him over to the motorcycle, helped him with the duffel and then with a tarp to cover the bike. They worked together like they had done it a hundred times before.

As they walked to her trailer she slipped her hand into his.

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