A brick for your candy floss

Posted: July 2, 2010 in #fridayflash, Short stories

Johnny held out the aged bamboo cane fishing rods, with small shiny hooks at the end of each reel, to the group of schoolgirls huddled around his stall.  He pointed to the yellow synthetic ducks, which were revolving around in the shallow drum of cold stale water.  “Try your luck and catch a duck,” he said with a loud cheeky voice.  The girls giggled enthusiastically and each took a rod from Johnny’s hand.

Everyone seemed jubilant, the lights and music filled the mid-summer air, accompanied by the sound of children screaming with excitement from every direction.  He caught a glimpse of his dad leaping from the bumper-car’s disco track, onto the base of the waltzes ticket booth, collecting the pound notes to take back to the safe.  Johnny couldn’t see his mum from where he was standing, but guessed she’d either be back at the trailer or helping the twins on the candy floss and souvenir stall.  Josh and Josie had been waiting all their lives to work on the souvenir stall and Josie in particular couldn’t wait until she was twelve to work the candy floss machine. She had nagged their dad for months to be given the responsibility early.  He gave in on her tenth birthday giving her thirty sticks and half a dozen bags of sugar to practice with.  She had mastered it within an hour.  She bragged of being the UK’s youngest candy floss maker, making different coloured fluffy calorific clouds, in bags or on sticks.

The funfair had been in Johnny’s family for generations. His great grandfather had been head showman, before passing the role onto his grandfather, who then passed it onto Johnny’s dad.  His parents met when they were both mature adolescents.  Their parent’s funfairs came together at an annual event.  The fairground folk are a closely weaved network, often with existing ties between the older generations.  The sense of community was strong and very few ever marrying outside of the trade.

Johnny’s dad had high hopes for his eldest son and was waiting for the day that ‘Old Man Nick’ retired from his ride, for which he had been showman, for over fifty years – the bumper cars!  Johnny starred as Nick waved to signal all the bumper cars to stop, a frail seventy year old hand in the air, with dark, but slightly faded tattoos up his forearm.  The music stopped and people ran from the miniature cars, before the next rabble raced against time to find an empty vessel.  It was the most desired, high-profiled ride a funfair showman could ask for – traditional but never dated.  Any showman who took over ‘Old Man Nick’s’ role would be carrying a huge responsibility and honor, wherever he went.

“It’ll be an amazing opportunity” his dad said when he first learnt Old Man Nick’s retirement was imminent.  “This will be the making of you Johnny,” he said gleaming from ear to ear, “I wish I’d had the opportunity when I was your age.  You don’t just become a showman, you are born into it!”

*   *   *

In the early winter, the fair traveled up to the north of England, to the beginning of its annual route.  For now, this is a place to call ‘home’ during the wintery season.  The bleak nights were not popular for people to come to the funfair, despite the bright illuminating lights, the rush of noise and excitement.  So the children stopped their daily chores on the fair and instead attended the local school.  When their parents were children they were usually enrolled at a school near to every fairground stop they had scheduled.  However, once they had found and booked a place at a school the children would start on the Tuesday, by the time Friday came, they were traveling with the fair to the next destination, so it became impractical.  In this generation of fair children, they were able to attend a particular school for approximately 3 months in a year and when they were back on the road, they were able to do school work each day and send the completed work back to the school by post.  When they went back in the winter, the children were not that far behind the rest.

Johnny looked out through the condensation and dew dropped windows of the classroom.  He watched the workman, with their yellow hard hats, ripped jeans or jogging bottoms and stupidly bright luminous vests, battling through the harsh elements to build the new school hall.  Layering brick by brick in a structured format, they worked like bees in a flowerbed, on a hot summers day, simultaneously and vigilant.  The thick grey cement churned around, in a huge industrial cement mixer, it could have been a chef mixing their cake mixture until it was smooth, and ready for baking.  A flick of the trowel, followed by a quick shimmy of the cement on the pallet, before adding the cement to another brick, was similar to watching a gourmet chef arranging mash potato onto a plate.  This was a completely different contrast to his life with the fair.  Everything was temporary, moveable and transportable.

*   *   *

As soon as early April began, Johnny and his family were back on the road, having spent the last few months at school.  They arrived at their 1st destination; full of excitement for their opening night of the year.  Working together, in rhythm and instinct like the families and showman, who were busily working like ants on a lone jam sandwich in a park.

As they sat around the table eating an early tea, Johnny heard his dad talking loudly outside the trailer.  He came ricocheting into the room, which wasn’t unusual on opening night.  Johnny felt it too; the serge of electric, shooting through his body, the adrenaline rush was a drug no one could package.  His dad almost bouncing around like a possessed boomerang came to the table where the children were sitting.  “Johnny…” he bellowed, “Nick’s decided that this year, is his last year on the road!” his dad’s face beaming.  Johnny’s stomach dropped and his heart began pumping faster than he had ever experienced.  The power and the amount of responsibility that was being handed to him was immense.  He looked into the future of the status and if traditions proved him right, the kind of head showman he would one day become.

He could feel his face become pale and an unenthusiastic expression forming which he had no control over.  His hands paralysed with fear and his feet tingled with the thoughts and images in his head.

“Dad…” Johnny said looking down at his half empty plate “I don’t want to be showman of the bumper cars!”

There was a stunned silence, it seemed even the traffic outside on the roads came to a halt in Johnny’s mind.  There was a painful silence.  His dad looked at him dazed, whilst the twins had their forks hovering in mid-air, between their mouths and plates.

“What?” his father said with his mouth wide open and his eyes as white as golf balls.

“Dad…. I want to be a builder”

  1. alisonwells says:

    I love the twist, this feels as if it could be part of a novel the scene is so well set.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I do like a twist, and that’s a good one. I love the way the tension was built up too. I’d love to know what happens next.

    (You have probably noticed by now but there is a word missing at the end of the second paragraph.)

  3. brainhaze says:

    Thanks Alison and Rebecca – and no I hadn’t noticed Rebecca, thanks so much for letting me know – think I got carried away with the editing part 🙂

  4. Marisa Birns says:

    Just love the juxtaposition of the impermanence of a funfair as it moved from place to place, and Johnny’s dream of working as someone who builds permanence.

  5. Laura Eno says:

    It seems that children often want the opposite of what their parents craved. Great build-up in this story!

  6. Pamila Payne says:

    Very vividly written. This felt like a whole novel, very satisfying.

  7. Gracie says:

    Very nice. Takes some courage to go against family tradition. Well done. I really enjoyed this.

  8. This is so well done, even though I saw the ending coming it STILL carried impact and power. VERY good job of delivery. Excellent work1

  9. I agree with everyone else. Great job on this. I love the twists. This is a story that resonates.

  10. John Wiswell says:

    It’s a different take on rebellion – Dad, I want to make things that last. Though one hopes there’ll be schoolgirls fishing for rubber ducks in the permanent place!

  11. Nice story. We all must learn to make our own path in life, no matter who we let down. Great job.

  12. Jim Bronyaur says:

    I enjoyed this… I love anyone story that deals with the “carny” lifestyle. It just amazes me… but I like how this young guy notices things outside that world and wants to take a chance to be something else. It’s a powerful decision to make… but I wonder what his family will think of it?

    I’m glad I came by and read this one.

    http://tinyurl.com/2a69jux <— My #fridayflash story, in case you're interested.

  13. Lovely story. I’m just in the midst of reading The Five People You Meet In Heaven, a novel about a carny’s life – it’s really good, by the way, I recommend it – so it seems like kismet to read your tale here.
    Funny how the builder’s son wants to run away and join the circus and the carny’s son wants to be a builder. We’re never happy with the status quo and maybe that’s a good thing. Your story? A good thing indeed.

  14. Really elegant prose, Brian… I look forward to more.

    Sorry I’m late to this one.

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