Runner-up: Hands

By Michael Dixon

Michael says: Originally from Wales, I live in Kent with my wife and four chihuahuas. I have been writing on and off most of my 71 years though rarely submit anything – so very pleased to receive any recognition.

Where is he? I look at my watch. He is forty minutes late. The green stone in my ring reflects the flashing lights of the ride.

I’m leaning against the rails of the Waltzer waiting for Fran. I love fairgrounds. I can’t wait for  each year when for two weeks it comes to town, bringing with it  the smells, of diesel, fried onions, sweet candy floss and toffee apples, all mingled together in a stew of odours. And I love the sounds, the wailing siren when a ride ends, the jingly tunes as the horses bob up and down on metal poles, the children giggling, looking for  their parents and waving, as I did, with mum and dad waving back and smiling. 

 The man on the Waltzer moves easily around the cars, untroubled by the undulation of the floor. He stops at a car with three teenage girls in and waits until it’s slowing then spins it.

The girls scream, half in fear, half with excitement. The fairground boy is not much older than the girls, about my age. I notice his hands grabbing the cab. LOVE is tattooed on the fingers of his right hand, HATE on the left.

My hands are long and slim. People comment on them, especially when I have the nails varnished. I raise the left one to examine the ring again. Fran will be here soon.

He said he would. 

I’m wearing a fringed suede skirt and matching bolero waistcoat. Fran likes it. He says it makes me look like a Western cowgirl. My blouse is pure white, the first two buttons undone.

The blinking lights of the Waltzer dance in the small green stone when I hold it to my face. Fran won the ring last week, the first night the Fair was here. Won it on the shooting range and placed it on my finger. Fran has nice hands. . . We drove out on his motorbike and parked on the mountainside. He asked me if he was my first. I lied and said he was. They all want to know they’re the first. 

I wanted to love my first. I think of the waiting room. A nurse entered with a clipboard. She asked my name checked her list, said only, “Follow me. You’re next.” The nurse, with hair scraped back into a tight bun, had rough, probing fingers as she examined me and I heard her whisper to the doctor “Silly young fool.”  Then the pain and the metallic smell of blood. When it was all over my stepfather entered the room. He put his finger to his lips. The nurse stared at him. Before I left she smiled at me and patted my arm.

Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn and see a boy from the alleys. One of them.

They were hungry to learn, timid with their caresses and kisses. They waited for their turn. “You’re next,” I’d say and one would step forward, impatient for his few minutes.

“Hi, Joan.”

That’s all he said. He moved from one leg to the other and stared at the slatted floor. I gave him a smile. It costs nothing. 

“So what are you doing?”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“Oh.” He hesitated, then said. “Perhaps me and the boys will see you one evening – you know, usual place.” He licked his lips. “Well, see you then.”

And he was gone. I couldn’t remember his name. So many boys, cheap cider and fumbling hands. He wasn’t the one – the one whose hand had slipped into the waistband of my jeans. “No,” I said. “Not down there.” Then he hit me, in the face, called me a slut and strolled away smiling. But no more of that: I’m with Fran now.

The ride finishes and the three girls leave the car, giggling, stumbling on jelly legs, glancing back at  the fairground boy.

He watches them go, then, while the cars are filling up, approaches.  There is a swagger about him, a confidence gained from so many girls in so many towns. He smiles. He has bad teeth.

“Hi there. Are you going to stand there all evening? Come on the Waltzer.”

What if Fran comes and sees me with him spinning me around?

“I can’t. I’m waiting for my boyfriend.” He is my boyfriend. I have the ring and we sealed it on the mountain.

“Come on. It’s free.”

I shake my head. An angry shout. He turns. The man in the paybox beckons. The ride is starting. He grins, jumps onto the moving platform.

The klaxon sounds for the start of the ride, and the lights flash green, blue, red. He rides the platform like a surfer boy, stops at a car with three girls. They squeal in mock fright.

The ride ends and young men step off the ride, giddy as drunken sailors, their girlfriends teetering on high heels.

He comes over again. “Come on. It’ll only take a minute.”

I think, why not, and follow him to a car, sit down and hold the bar tightly.  It starts slowly, the car rotating left then the right. The boy appears. LOVE touches my hair briefly before joining HATE to fling the car around. 

My stomach turns over and I feel lightheaded. It was like that in the clinic. Hands taking, always taking. And that, the most precious thing of all. But I couldn’t keep it: my stepfather told me it had to go – and not to mention it, especially to my mother.

Fran doesn’t know. I couldn’t tell him. Nor anyone else.

My thoughts were spinning faster than the Waltzer. Why are thoughts so uncontrollable? They just come uninvited and mess up your head. I want good thoughts – of me and Fran, in the heather looking up at the stars.

The ride ends and the boy helps me out of the car. I am unsteady. He leads me off the ride and I smile at him.

Again I look at my watch. Then I see his blonde hair above a generator by the coconut shy. His head bobs up and down and in a few minutes he emerges. He has a girl with him. She smiles slyly and holds onto his arm. Fran looks over. He sees me but there is no smile, no recognition. He turns and walks in the opposite direction. I watch him go, slide the ring from my finger and let it fall. I nudge it with my foot. It falls through the slats.

I don’t cry – I’ve not shed a tear since the clinic. I’m not sure how long I stood there, dreamlike with unbidden thoughts.

A hand taps me on the shoulder. . . It’s the Waltzer boy.

“I’ve got a couple of hours off. Want to come back to my place?”

I nod and follow him. Behind the row of stalls – hoopla, roll-a-penny, coconut shy – are the caravans. He unlocks one and stands aside for me to enter.

In the corner is an unmade bed. I stand beside it and unbutton my blouse. He comes to me. His hand caresses my breast. It is the hand with the HATE tattoo. He kisses me roughly then pulls away to speak. I know what he will ask.