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Ronnie Caron once gave me a split lip. He said I could punch him one too. I said no at the time.
We walked over the soccer field to the summer fair. He offered me a cigarette.
“No,” I said. “I want to go on the helicopters.”
“You’re not a little kid, Jackson,” Ronnie grinned down. He was 14 to my 12, gangly with an unbuttoned shirt and a red face from scratching pimples. “Let’s ride the salt and pepper shakers.”
I gazed up at the salt and pepper shakers, two pocket rocket ship pods twirling round and round and teenagers screaming within.
“Looks scary,” I told Ronnie.
“It’s time you grew up,” he said.
He reached into his pocket, popped some dry peas into his mouth and told me, “Get yours.”
We carried pea shooters tucked in our belts.
As we walked through the crowded midway, we took them out fast and shot peas at random people. An old man rubbed the back of his head. I laughed and all the peas tumbled from my mouth. Ronnie’s face turned purple, he couldn’t hold them in either. Sputtering and gasping and laughing we leaned against the side of the funhouse spitting the hard wet peas onto the ground.
“I’ll ride the helicopters with you if you ride the salt and pepper shakers with me,” Ronnie said, pointing up.
I looked at his white teeth, flashing in the light reflected off the Ferris wheel. And coming round behind that wheel came a skinny chestnut-haired girl leading two preschool kids. She wore a brown jacket and a green skirt that went to her knees. Her eyes locked on mine. In those eyes I saw a mirror image. She was me, I was her, my perfect reflection. I thought of her hands wrapped across my eyes, her voice asking “Guess who?” I dropped the pea shooter to the ground. Neither of us smiled. The girl dodged back into the crowd, shepherding the kids ahead of her.
“Who’s that?” I asked Ronnie.
He looked down at me. “Lynda Kelly California,” he said. “Her family’s very religious. Did you like her?”
“She wore a hair band,” I said.
“You did like her,” he told me. “She’s got those big eyes.”
We stood in line for the helicopters, plastic helicopter-shaped pods that twirled round a central pole. Even before I paid admission, I knew I was too old for them, with their snug seats and little steering wheels. I looked back at Ronnie in his helicopter moving up and down. He was the tallest rider, only small kids rode behind him. “Hey!” I yelled back and waved to him. He showed no expression. I noticed his eyebrows, bushy and low, and his set pimply jaw.
“The salt and pepper shakers now,” was all he said when the helicopters stopped.
We stared at the two round glans-shaped shaker cylinders separated by their spinning shaft, waiting to move and twirl and cause stomach upset.
My hands shook as I paid admission. The attendant, his arms covered in red and black tattoos of demon horses, motioned us into the tiny space inside of one of the shakers.
“Is this the salt or the pepper?” Ronnie asked.
“Just shove in,” the attendant commanded, making sure we were strapped tight. The tiny place stank like gum and perfume, the safety belt held hard against my shoulder.
I gazed through the window slits to see Lynda Kelly California stepping through the milling crowd with the two kids hand in hand beside her. She looked our way. I imagined she saw me encased within the tiny sphere, an astronaut about to launch. The shakers started to rise and twist. I kept my attention on Lynda. I grabbed the handstraps as the scrape and grind of the gears began a faster whirl. I glanced at Ronnie beside me. He was grinning like this is more like it!