For more than sixty years he has eaten fire

800px-sideshow_at_the_erie_county_fairThey went to the fair in the late afternoon. That way, they could fly into the sky – or as close as they could come – when the Midway was lit up against the darkness. Two of them had been dreaming of the Kamikaze – which he termed “a truly horrifying ride” – since last year’s fair.

She had no such inclination. Why subject herself to the torture of dangling upside down, body held skyward by only a slender metal bar?

But the Kamikaze would come later, when the Midway was extravagant with colored lights beating back the darkness.

First, the food: for two of them, the traditional first-Fair-food foot-long hot dog, raw onions for the young one, fried for him, a stripe of mustard and a few pumps of ketchup for both. She looked at them eating their footlongs and thought, Will I go my entire life never having eaten a footlong?,  and stepped up to the window and ordered one.

And then it was on to the Fine Art, where the three of them scoffed at the prize winners and where they each gazed in awe at a magical, hand-stitched work of art on hand-woven cloth stretched over canvas, tucked away in a corner.

Ribbonless. Proving once and for all, in case there was any doubt left, that they lived in an unfair world.

Time for a beverage? Certainly. And what might she have, a rumless pina colada or an Orange Tastee? Why, a rumless pina colada, thanks. Feel free to have some, if you want.

On to the Amateur Talent Contest, where it soon became evident that the only kind of amateur talent remaining in the entire state was musical. Shall I sing this year?, wondered the amateurs statewide. I shall sing.

And they sang, all of them.  A skinny little 13 year old girl in cowboy boots, a country star in the making. A 39 year old security guard in tight blue jeans and a Stetson, a country star in the making. A retired man of 69 who took up the mandolin two years ago, a star of some kind in the making.

But wait. On stage came a sister and her twin brother in identical black suits and hats, tapdancing. I want to be that girl, she thought, I want to dance and smile like that. She wanted to be that girl because that girl’s joy was so evident, and so infectious, that the three of them sat on their hard wooden bench and laughed. The happiness of that girl made them all happy.

Laughing made them hungry again, so they journeyed on, on to the International Bazaar, and a giant cup of noodles for him, and another giant cup of noodles for the young one, and gyros sampler with tabouli for her.

He nudged her and pointed out the old couple next to them, the old couple with their coupon book, dozens of pages carefully sticky-noted in some sort of code known only to the two of them. She told him that watching the old couple confer over their coupon book made her want to cry, and he nodded.

Then it was getting dark.

They made their way to the Midway, where they carefully tore out the $6 off coupon from their own coupon book and purchased 80 tickets. She sat on the bench and watched as he and the young one were strapped in. She made a face as they gave her the thumbs-up.

She watched as they rose into the air, higher and higher, faster and faster, until gravity overtook the old steel cars and they whipped around and around and around, first forward, then backward, for many minutes on end. She watched as they grew silent and red-faced, split at the waist by that iron bar as they dangled upside down. Grim determination in the air.

She turned to the man sitting next to her on the bench and made big eyes of Never In This World to him, and he silently nodded in agreement. No Kamikaze for her, and no Kamikaze for the man next to her on the bench.

But what about Big Ben? What about the tall, tall clock tower with the dangling-leg seats and the anti-gravity swoop straight up into the air? What about that ride?

Why not?

Up they swooped,  and then down they plunged. She could not stop screaming. He laughed at her. The young one laughed at her.

The Crazy Mouse hurled them around its square corners, and had they not been strapped in, would have hurled them straight out into the night and the lights, human cannonballs. The young one’s phone flew out of her pocket and straight into the air, and he caught it as it came soaring back down.

And finally, on their way out, they stood before the Freak Show as they did each year, waiting for the tiny man to eat fire. 79 years old. Poobah, the last performing pygmy on the carnival circuit. He sat as he sat every year, on his small chair, his legs dangling down, two black spokes of iron held in one hand.

The fire eater has been performing for more than sixty years. The fire eater dipped the black spokes in fuel, set them ablaze, turned to the crowd and, one by one, patiently swallowed the flames. Black teeth. Smoke-darkened face. Eyes that every day watched a thousand eyes looking back at him, expectant.

Late at night they trudged down the dark roads to their car. The young one shared her cotton candy with them. Fireworks exploded above their heads, and their eyes turned high to the lit night sky.


  1. alison · September 6, 2009

    Bloggers, I don’t know what happened, but all the comments on this post disappeared overnight. Good heavens – must be a ghost in the machine. I apologize.


  2. Lucy · September 9, 2009

    Sweetness and danger, you mix them most headily!


  3. Charletta · September 15, 2009

    This was a story that any person with a fear of trying things new could relate to. By the way, I think the books you write are inspiring and more realistic than others. Thank You.


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