An unedited piece circa 2012 or 2013.
It looked as if the entire county had picked the same July afternoon to visit the fair. An excited throng of people buzzed around each ride and the lines for refreshments stretched and snaked around the streets for what seemed like miles. Cars filled with shrieking children and beleaguered mothers whizzed and whirred in loop-de-loops and on the sidewalks vendors dangled their merchandise in the faces of passersby. In every direction could be found some splendid attraction – and to top off this exhilarating spectacle, a bright streamer flapped from the corners of every tent and a tuneful melody tinkled out of every exhibit.
My goal that day was to win the massive purple monkey on display at the counter of the fair’s central games booth. Ever since I first entered the fair the monkey had been beckoning to me, one of its fat arms raised in a friendly gesture. All I had to do to claim it was shoot some moving targets with a water gun: with a few dollars and some practice it would be mine to cherish forever.
“Step right up, young lady,” called the booth’s operator, a sweaty grinning man with slick hair. “You get fifteen shots per game, and if you can hit all ten targets within thirty seconds you’ll win a prize. Only one-fifty per play.”
I slapped down the requisite change and approached the counter. Exhaling determinedly, I reached for the gun, but before I could secure my finger on its trigger, the buzzer sounded – I fumbled my grip and dropped the gun. Pulse quickening and palms sweating, I grabbed the gun and shot wildly. Again and again I shot, each try more desperate than the last. When the buzzer rang again, I hadn’t hit a single target.
“That’s too bad, young lady,” said the operator in an oily tone. “Wanna try again?”
I seized a handful of change from my pocket and thrust it at him. The buzzer rang; I picked up the gun and shot. This time I fared better, but when my thirty seconds were over I had only hit five of the targets.
By the time I finally ran out of money, it was dusk and I was empty-handed as ever. Brushing away tears, I observed from behind my fingers the operator smirking unapologetically and the purple monkey waving – somewhat derisively, I could have sworn – from the other side of the counter. And as I slunk away from the booth, the fair’s sudden transformation struck me. During the time that I had been occupied with my ill-fated pursuit, the masses of people had thinned out to the point where the place was nearly deserted. The excited chatter of the day had morphed into low whispers and nebulous murmurs. As I looked up, vaguely hoping to once again be dazzled by some fantastic spectacle, I saw a couple of lights in the distance flicker erratically a few times, then die.
It was the first and finest disenchantment that I have ever experienced. The fair that I had seen in the daylight evaporated like a mirage. No longer were the street vendors, who were at the moment adding up their profits and closing down their stalls, bearers of exotic tokens and tantalizing treats. They were regular people, tired and worn, ready to go home to their waiting families and warm beds. Nor did the rides seem so appealing anymore – in fact, the painted cars parked on the tracks looked pathetic, as if they were all dressed up with nowhere to go. Worst of all, though, was the music. The cacophony of melodies that had so attracted me earlier was now reduced to a single metallic strain issuing from an isolated booth near the exit. When I approached it to see if the tune would lift my spirits a little, the music started to sound shriller and more metallic. By the time I was within three feet of the booth the tinny noise was absolutely grating.
I didn’t stop to listen. It was time to leave.