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We took off into space, whirling in the capsule at the end of the shaft, all change money fell from my pocket and out the holes in the floor. The shaft whirred, we spun, and I yelled along with everybody else.
“How do you like it so far?” Ronnie hollered.
We plummeted towards the fairgrounds then blasted for the sky. I held on tighter and tighter, grinding my jaw. The rotation spun on and on, I imagined secret agents ordered me on the ride as a form of torture. “Tell us about Lynda,” I imagined them saying, and I yelled out “No! No!”
Ronnie grimaced. “Scared?” he shouted and dug his elbow into my ribs.
“I won’t talk!” I screamed, then bit my tongue and clamped down with my entire body. The fair tents and fields tilted, then vanished, then tilted again. When the shakers finally stopped I staggered out and held onto a pole. Then I started looking for my dropped change.
“Get outta there!” yelled the attendant.
Ronnie sat over by the Ferris wheel, holding his side. “That was fun!” he said. “I think I banged my ribs.”
“Let’s go sit in the ball park,” I said.
“Okay.” Ronnie mock-punched me in the shoulder. “You survived the toughest ride. Now you’re growing up!” he laughed.
The ball park brought a quiet change from the cacophony and dizziness. Melvin Copper kicked an old paint can around the baseball field.
Ronnie walked up to him, “Want to smoke a cigarette with us?”
“Sure,” he said. “I’m right out of dope.”
“It’s tobacco,” said Ronnie.
I thought of Lynda. I wanted to see her look at me again, have that connection high. Cigarettes and crazy rides, dope and split lips were for guys like Ronnie.
Ronnie lit the smoke and passed it to Melvin, who puffed and passed it to me. “No thanks,” I said. “Too strong.”
“That’s OK,” Melvin said. “You don’t have to smoke. You’re still a kid.”
“Why did you come to the fair with me today?” I asked Ronnie.
He took a big drag on his cigarette. “I wanted to help you, Jackson. Everyone makes fun of you.”
“I’m only twelve,” I said.
“When I was twelve, I was working on the ranch,” Melvin mused. “Digging fencepost holes.”
“I was going out with girls,” said Ronnie. “One girl two years older. We spent all afternoon French-kissing on the roof of a store.”
“I gotta get back to the fair,” I told them.
I loped towards the gate but as I reached it, Lynda stepped up out of nowhere and stood there at the entrance in front of me. She seemed taller now, all by herself. I saw her thin eyebrows across that perfect brow. She’d put on a trace of lipstick.
“Hi,” she said. “I saw you guys come in here.”
“Where’s your kids?” Ronnie laughed.
She laughed too, a wild giggle, and waved her long arms in the air. “My sisters? With my mom, silly.” She dodged past me, stepped towards Melvin and plucked the cigarette from his fingers. Her cheeks narrowed as she sucked in the smoke. Her face turned slightly blue.
I turned around to face her again. “Hi,” I said.
She looked at me for a split second, cigarette in hand. Then she exhaled and coughed.
“I heard you were religious,” I said. I kicked at Melvin’s paint can.
“Yeah,” she coughed again. “I’m very religious.” She turned to face Ronnie.
“What do you believe?” I shouted. “What do you believe, Lynda Kelly California?”
“Is there something wrong with you?” she asked. “You are very impolite.”