Twilight Eyes Page 21

“In fact,” Irma said, “she just about can’t get up at all. Oh, yeah, from a chair she can pull herself up, but not if she drops to the floor or falls flat on her back on the ground. Last time she fell, no number of roughies could get her up again.”

“Seven hundred and fifty pounds is a lot to heave,” Paulie said, his hands dropping abruptly to the booth on either side of him as if forced down by sudden weight. “She’s too well padded to break any bones, but the humiliation is terrible, even when it’s just among us, her own kind.”

“Terrible,” Irma agreed, shaking her head sadly.

Rya said, “Last time they finally had to bring a truck over to where she fell and hook up a winch. Even then it wasn’t easy getting her upright and keeping her there.”

“Might sound funny, but it wasn’t funny at all,” Irma assured me.

“You don’t see me smiling,” I said, appalled by this glimpse of what the fat woman had to endure.

To my mental list of japes that God makes at our expense, I added another item: cancer, earthquakes, tidal waves, brain tumors, lightning bolts . . . bad glands.

“But none of this is news,” Rya said, “except maybe to Slim, so why did you say ‘Poor Gloria’ and get us started on her?”

“She’s real upset tonight,” Irma said.

“She got a speeding ticket,” Paulie said.

“That’s hardly a major tragedy,” Rya said.

“It ain’t the ticket that’s upset her,” Paulie said.

“It was the way the cop treated her,” Irma said. To me, she added, “Gloria has this customized Cadillac specially adapted for her. More steel in the frame. Backseats have been taken out and then the front seat pushed more toward the rear. Hand brakes, hand accelerator. Wider doors so she can get in and out easy enough. She’s got herself the finest car radio you can get and even a little refrigerator in under the dash so she can carry cold drinks with her, a propane stove, and toilet facilities—all right there in the car. She loves that car.”

“Sounds expensive,” I said.

“Well, yeah, but Gloria is well-to-do,” Paulie said. “You got to realize, in a good week, in a big engagement, like that county fair in New York State the end of this month, you’ll get maybe seven or eight hundred thousand paid admissions to the midway in just six days, and out of those . . . maybe a hundred and fifty thousand marks will also pay to go through Shockville.”

Astonished, I said, “At two bucks a head—”

“Three hundred thousand for the week,” Rya said, picking up the pot and pouring more coffee for herself. “Joel Tuck splits the take, half for him—out of which he pays a hefty concession fee to Sombra Brothers and all overhead—the other half to be divided among his other eleven attractions.”

“Which means over thirteen thousand for Gloria in just that one week,” Paulie said, his expressive hands counting invisible sheafs of dollar bills, “which is enough to buy two customized Cadillacs. Not every week’s so good, of course. Some weeks she does only two thousand, but she probably averages around five thousand a week from mid-April through mid-October.”

Irma said, “The important thing isn’t how much the Cadillac cost Gloria, it’s how much freedom it gives her. See, the only time she’s mobile at all is when she’s settled in that car. After all, she’s a carny, and to a carny it’s damned important to be free, mobile.”

“No,” Rya said, “the important thing isn’t the freedom the car gives her. The important thing is this story about the speeding ticket, if you’re ever going to get around to it.”

“Well,” Irma said, “Gloria drove in this morning, see, while Peg brought their pickup and trailer, and Gloria wasn’t half a mile past the county line when a sheriff’s deputy stopped her for speeding. Now, Gloria’s been driving twenty-two years and never had an accident or a ticket.”

Paulie made an emphatic gesture with one hand and said, “She’s a good driver, a careful driver, ’cause she knows what a disaster it’d be if she had an accident in that car. The ambulance attendants would never get her out. So she’s careful and she don’t speed.”

“So when this Yontsdown County Sheriff’s deputy pulls her over,” Irma continued, “she figures it’s either a mistake or some kind of speed trap to bilk strangers, and when it seems to be a trap, she tells the fuzz that she’ll pay the fine. But that’s not good enough for him. He gets abusive with her, insults her, and he wants her to get out of the car, but she’s afraid she’ll fall down, so then he insists she drive to the sheriff’s office in downtown Yontsdown, with him following her, and once they get there he makes her get out of her car, takes her inside, and they start putting her through hell, threatening to book her for disobeying an officer of the law or some bullshit like that.”

Finishing his cake, gesturing with a fork now, Paulie said, “They make poor Gloria traipse back and forth from one end of the county building to the other, and they don’t give her a chance to sit down, so she’s kind of holding on to the wall and holding on to counters and railings and desks and anything she can lean against along the way, and she says it was pretty clear they wanted her to fall down because they knew what a nightmare it’d be for her to get on her feet again. They was all laughing at her. They wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom, either; said she’d break the commode. As you can figure, her heart ain’t none too good, and she said it was beating so hard, it shook her. They had poor Gloria reduced to tears by the time she was allowed a phone call, and believe me, she’s not a self-pitying type or quick to cry.”

“Then,” Irma said, “she calls the fairgrounds office, and they call Jelly to the phone, and he goes into town and rescues her, but by then she’s been at the county building three hours!”

Rya said, “I’ve always thought Jelly was a good patch. How could he let this kind of thing happen?”

I told them a little bit about our trip into Yontsdown on Friday. “Jelly did his job real well. Everyone got into the trough. This woman, Mary Vanaletto, from the county council, was the bagman for all the county payoffs. Jelly gave her cash and free passes for all the councilmen and the sheriff and his people.”

“So maybe she pocketed the whole shmeer for herself and told the others that we wouldn’t pay up this year,” Rya said, “and now we’re in trouble with the sheriff’s department.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think . . . for some reason . . . they’re spoiling for a fight. . . .”

“Why?” Rya asked.

“Well, I don’t know . . . but that’s the feeling I got on Friday,” I said evasively.

Irma nodded, and Paulie said, “Jelly’s already spreading the word. We got to be on our very, very best behavior this week, ’cause he thinks they’re going to look for any excuse to make trouble for us, close us down, strong-arm us to make us come through with more sugar.”

I knew that it was not our money they wanted; they were after our blood and pain. But I could not tell Irma, Paulie, and Rya about the goblins. Even carnies, the most tolerant people in the world, would find my tales not merely eccentric but insane. And although carnies honor eccentricity, they are no more enamored of homicidal psychopaths than is the straight world. I offered no more than innocuous comments about the possible showdown with Yontsdown officials, keeping the dark truth to myself.

However, I knew the harassment of Gloria Neames was only the first shot of the war. Worse lay ahead of us. Worse than being shut down by the cops. Worse than any of my new friends could imagine. From that moment it was no longer possible to put the goblins out of my mind, and the rest of the evening was not as much fun as the earlier part of it had been. I smiled, and I laughed, and I continued to join in the conversation, but a man standing in the middle of a viper’s nest is not likely to be at ease.

We left the Loruses’ trailer shortly after eleven o’clock, and Rya said, “Sleepy?”


“Me, either.”

“Want to walk?” I asked.

“No. There’s something else I like to do.”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I like to do it too.”

“Not that,” she said, laughing softly.


“Not yet.”

“That sounds more promising.”

She led me up to the midway.

Earlier in the day solid shutters of steel-gray clouds had rolled across the sky, and they were still in place. The moon and stars were lost beyond the barrier. The carnival was a construct of shadows: pillars and slabs of darkness; sloping roofs of blackness; curtains of shade hung on rods of shadow over inky apertures, overlapping layers of night in all its subtle hues—ebony, coal, sloe, soot, sulfur-black, aniline-black, alizarin-cyanine, japan, charcoal, carbon, raven, sable; dark doors in darker walls.

We followed the concourse until Rya stopped by the Ferris wheel. It was visible only as a series of connected, geometric, black forms against the slightly less black, moonless sky.

I could feel the bad psychic vibrations pouring from the giant wheel. As on Wednesday night at the other fairground, I received no detailed images, no outline of the specific tragedy that would take place here. However, as before, I was acutely aware that future doom was stored in this machine the same way electricity collected in the cells of a battery.

To my surprise Rya opened the gate in the iron-pipe fence and walked to the Ferris wheel. She glanced back and said, “Come on.”






“They say we’re descended from monkeys.”

“Not me.”

“All of us.”

“I’m descended from . . . groundhogs.”

“You’ll like it.”

“Too dangerous.”

“Real easy,” she said, grabbing hold of the wheel and starting to climb.

I watched her, a big kid on an adult’s version of a jungle gym, and I was not happy.

I recalled the vision of Rya clothed in blood. I was sure that the prospect of her death was not actually at hand; the night felt safe, though not safe enough to slow my racing heart.

“Come back,” I said. “Don’t.”

She paused, fifteen feet off the ground, and looked down at me, her face obscure. “Come on.”

“This is crazy.”

“You’ll love it.”


“Please, Slim.”


“Don’t disappoint me,” she said, then turned away from me and continued to climb.

I had no clairvoyant impression that the Ferris wheel was a danger to us tonight. The threat from the big machine still lay a few days in the future; for now it was only wood and steel and hundreds of unlit lights.

Reluctantly I ascended, discovering that the multitude of braces and struts provided more handholds and niches for the feet than I had expected. The wheel was locked, unmoving, except for some of the two-seat baskets, which swung gently when the breeze picked up—or when our exertions were transmitted through the framework, into the sockets, from which the seats were suspended on thick steel pins. In spite of what I had said about being descended from groundhogs, I swiftly proved that my ancestors were apes.

Thankfully Rya did not climb to the topmost basket but stopped two short of it. She was sitting there, with the safety bar flung open to allow me to enter, grinning at me in the darkness, when I arrived in a sweat and a tremble. I swung off the frame and into the metal seat beside her, and it was almost worth the climb just to elicit that rare smile.

The act of swinging into the basket made it rock on its pins, and for a heart-halting moment I thought I was going to pitch outward, slam down across the frozen waterfall of metal and wood, careening off each basket below, until I hit the ground with bone-splintering force. But I clutched the ornamental side of the basket with one hand, gripped the scalloped back of the seat with the other hand, and rode it out. With a confidence that I found foolhardy, Rya held on with just one hand and, while the rocking was at its worst, leaned out, groped for the unsprung safety bar, seized it, pulled it back, snapped it into its latch with a clang and rattle.

“There,” she said. “Cozy and snug.” And she cuddled up next to me. “I told you it would be nice. Nothing’s nicer than a ride on the dark Ferris wheel with the motor stopped and everything black and silent.”

“You come up here often?”




For long minutes we said nothing more, just sat close and swung gently on creaking hinges, surveying the sunless world from our dark throne. When we did speak, it was of things that had never been a part of our prior conversations—books, poetry, movies, favorite flowers, music—and I realized how somber our talk had often been before. It was as if Rya had left some nameless weight behind in order to be able to make the ascent, and now an unchained Rya came forth, possessed of an unexpected lightness of humor and a heretofore unheard girlish giggle. This was one of the few times since I had met Rya Raines that I did not sense the mysterious sadness in her.

But then, after a while, I did sense it, though I cannot pinpoint the moment when that livid tide of melancholy began to flow back into her. Among other things we spoke of Buddy Holly, whose songs we had sung while tearing down the midway on slough night, and in a series of laughable duets we made an a cappella mess of our favorite parts of his tunes. Holly’s untimely death surely passed through both our minds and might have been the first step down the cellar stairs toward the gloom in which she usually dwelt, because a short while later we were talking about James Dean, dead more than seven years, his life traded in with his automobile on some lonely California highway. Then Rya began to chew at the injustice of dying young, chewed and gnawed and worried it relentlessly, which was when I think I first sensed the sadness returning to her. I tried to redirect the dialogue, but I had little success, for she suddenly seemed not only fascinated by morbid subjects but strangely pleased by them as well.

At last, all the fun gone from her voice, she drew back from me and said, “What was it like for you last October? How did you feel?”

For a moment I did not understand what she meant.

She said, “Cuba. October. The blockade, the missiles, the showdown. We were on the brink, they said. Nuclear war. Armageddon. How did you feel?”

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