Thursday, November 06, 2003
Liberty and Justice
The rhythmic clanking of the machinery was like a lullaby to Liberty. When she had first signed on with the Franklin Bros. Amusing and Astounding Carnival of Wonders, it had disturbed her; sleeping so near the inner workings of a Ferris wheel seemed a strange place for a bed. But by now, she had grown accustomed to the noises and found them soothing unlike most others.
She looked about the small cubby that she called her home – or at least it was her home for as long as they were stopped. On the road, she had no home to speak of, and moved from trailer to trailer as need and want dictated. But she liked the hiding place. She had ferreted it out within her first week of employment, and no one saw any reason to kick her out.
She had a small cot with a sleeping bag, and a small suitcase to hold her change of clothing and few personal effects. It was Spartan, but she felt it suited her and felt quite at home in the dingy hole.
It was a Tuesday night, around ten o’clock. Which meant that things could be expected to wind down within the next few hours, long before their two am closing time. Few people stayed long at the Franklin fairs. They were small and poorly managed. Those rides that were most popular were let go so long that only the most trusting – or the most naïve – of souls felt comfortable climbing aboard the contraptions. Those rides that failed to garner a following within their first month of use were shipped off to the next customer on the list. It left the whole affair with a sense of longing. And nobody quite knew much about anything, which never helped.
Noting the glowing hands on her ticking alarm clock, which rested on the closed lid of her suitcase (for who needed a nightside table when they had a hard traveling case), Liberty rose from her perch, sitting on the edge of her narrow cot. She pulled her black tresses up into a tight bun with a practiced ease, using only a single bobby pin to secure the mass of hair.
A ten dollar pill was picked up from where it lay beside the alarm clock and tucked into the tight pocket of the young woman’s secondhand jeans, patched so many times over, little of the original denim remained. With one last look around her home, Liberty ducked back out, passing under a few metal beams, before finding herself in the crisp night air.
The summer season was coming to an end here. Liberty knew they would soon have to head southwards, perhaps to a small town on the coast. No one visited the carnival once the temperature dropped towards freezing. And the fledgling company was having enough financial troubles without the weather against them.
Liberty strolled casually past the various eateries and gaming booths. Every now and then she would nod a hello to a fellow employee. Her natural charm and blessed good looks were generally enough to break the young men, mid-patter, from their routine. Several cheerful and goofy greetings followed her form as she wove her way along to the manager’s trailer, on the edge of the grounds.
She leapt up the three tin stairs, rather than climbing them one at a time, and rapped three times smartly on the metal door. Peering through the grimy window, she could see Mr. Franklin – the elder – seated at the folding card table that served as his desk. Knowing she was looking, he waved her to come in, without looking up from the money he was counting.
“Counting the money alone – isn’t that against company policy?” she questioned cheekily as she stepped inside, having to crouch slightly. She pushed the door shut behind her, and made her way towards the desk – a short trip, given the tiny proportions of the cabin.
“Yes, well, Tim has disappeared on the town again. So I’m not left with many options,” the man replied, jovially, but with a hint of resentment to his tone; the same hint that always coloured his speech whenever the topic of the younger and favoured of the Franklin brothers came up.
“Suppose he’s met a girl,” Liberty commented with a crooked grin, as she took up residence in a folding chair, across the table from the mustached man.
“Does he ever do anything else?” Trent’s voice was gruff and unforgiving. He shook his head, glaring at the dead men on the bills he was carefully organizing, as if it were they, and not his younger brother, who were unreliable and undisciplined.
“Look, I want to put in for a bit of time off. Not much – maybe a weekend? I need a break and I need it soon.”
“Libby, Christ, you know we need you on the weekends. How are we supposed to get by without a mechanic? What if it gets busy?”
“But it won’t, Trent, hun. We both know it. The season is almost over. And I have some . . . business to take care of while we’re here.”
“Nothing illegal, I hope. Just don’t wind your ass up in jail. Argue as you will, we still need your expertise around here. I think that blasted Tilt-A-Whirl is about to go out on us again.”
“Do you think it could possibly be because it’s two-hundred years old?” Liberty asked, offering a cheeky grin as she pulled out a crushed pack of cigarettes from the pocket of the mechanic’s shirt she wore. According to its embroidered name tag, she was ‘Earl’, and wanted to help you today.
“Don’t give me shit again. I know it’s a pile of junk, but it’s the best pile of junk we can afford. You get paid to deal with it.” He sounded gruff again, but Liberty remained cheery, perhaps knowing him well enough to know he never meant it when he spoke as such.
“Speaking of which-“ she chimed in, sticking out a hand expectantly. The other one was digging through her pocket for her lighter, having to fight with the taut denim to free it.
“Shit – it’s payday again?” Trent asked, setting down the money and leaning over to dig out a ledger from a cardboard box beside his chair.
“Three days ago, actually. But I didn’t need the cash ‘till now. I really need a few days off. And my pay. How about you give me Friday and Saturday off?”
“Saturday and Sunday,” Trent countered, as he counted out two hundred dollars from his money and shoved it across the padded surface of the table, in her direction.
“Deal,” she replied with a grin.
“That’s what you wanted in the first place, wasn’t it?” he asked, shaking his head a bit, but unable to suppress a smile of his own.
“Yeah-huh,” Liberty answered proudly, as she rose from her chair, and started towards the door.
“Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble,” Trent bid, as he went back to counting, head bent over the money.
“Trouble always seems to find me, sir. But I’ll do my best.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” he argued, looking back up from his work.
But the trailer door was ajar, and the office was empty but for himself.
The raven-haired young woman jumped easy over the low picket fence surrounding the small lot of 713 Eglin Terrace. The house, once small and cozy like its cookie-cutter neighbours of the small wartime subdivision, had been let go. The fence, once white-washed, clean and bright, was now a dingy grey, its wood beginning to rot where it was exposed to the elements. The gate hung on only one hinge, and it seemed to be jammed three-quarters of the way open. The grass – what was left of it – was a browny-yellow, and marked frequently with dandelions and rough weeds.
Liberty carefully climbed the front steps, trying not to hit a weak spot in the old wood. Cracks and small gaps could already be seen here and there, where perhaps a mailman or Jehovah’s Witness had not been so fortunate as to make it to the top without injury. She crossed the small porch, with it’s saggy roof and burnt out overhead light, to reach the door. The screen door screeched in protest as she slowly wrenched it open, and pounded heavily on the wooden door behind.
After several moments of utter silence from the house, she pounded again. Still nothing happened, no answer to her call. She stepped back, carefully picking her way back down to the littered yard, to peer up at the windows of the second-storey above.
“Looking for Mrs. Mahi?” came a voice behind her.
Liberty whirled around, squinting as she now faced the sun to look to the young man who stood in the middle of the street, watching her curiously.
“Uh, yeah. Is she around? Do you know where she is?”
Rather than answer her, the young man was walking closer, squinting at her strangely, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Libby? That you?” he asked, seeming unable to believe it even as he said it aloud.
“I – maybe? Who are you?” she answered, glancing around the deserted street suspiciously.
“It’s me! Weston!” He was now up to the open gate and coming through it.
Liberty stumbled back a few steps, just giving him a cold look.
“Oh, come on. You have to remember me. Weston? We grew up together? I lived just over there.” He pointed at a sunny yellow house down the street and across it, identical to the one they were standing in front of, but well-kept and cheery.
“Weston . . .” Liberty repeated slowly, shaking her head a bit. The faintest hint of recognition touched her eyes though, as she glanced towards the house.
With a sigh, the man relented, hanging his head a bit. “Oh, all right – Weezey. Surely you remember Weezey.”
“Weezey?” Liberty repeated, recognition of that name coming instantly. “But you can’t be! Weezey was scrawny and gawky and-“ She cut short as he made a somewhat goofy face at the insults of his former self. “Good God! It is you!”
“I told you,” he said, goofy grin still in place as she suddenly tackled him in a bear hug.
“I haven’t seen you since-“
“Since you ran off. Gosh, what? Twelve years ago?”
“I was . . . thirteen. So – that’d be it.”
“Christ! Thirteen years old. You were just a kid. I can’t believe you’re actually back. Where did you go? Run off and join the circus?”
Liberty shook her head, offering a smug grin.
“Wow – okay, so you ran off and joined the carnival. And now you’re back. You’re here. I can’t – I just cannot believe it. I waited for you for years. But there was never a word from our famous runaway.”
Liberty hung her head a bit, offering up a sheepish smile. “It – wasn’t a good time. I didn’t want to have anything to do with things here. And I didn’t want to be found. I remember reading a news story when I was ten, where the detective had tracked someone down through one bit of mail.”
“I thought maybe you’d forgotten about us here in the sleepy little hollow.”
“No! Not at all. I just – well, you know I could hardly come back. But I – I’m a grown up now.” She said it without fully sounding like she believed herself. “And we stopped in the next town over. I thought it was a sign or something.”
“You certainly have grown up, yes. You must have the boys lined up.”
Liberty suddenly adopted a sultry smile, nodding her head a bit. “Like what you see?”
“I certainly don’t not like it. But then – I have some boys of my own lined up.”
Her brow furrowed for a moment, then recognition suddenly sprang out across her face. “You’re -?”
“Been out for two years now.”
“Wow – I wouldn’t have thought it. Hm – okay, well, maybe.”
She started walking backwards towards the house, before taking a seat on the edge of the bottom stair.
“You sure you haven’t forgotten me?” Weezey asked with a grin.
“Of course not. How could I ever forget my Weezey? We were inseparable! I still carry that picture with me. Of that day at the diving rock.”
“That’s such a cute one! I have a copy up in my office at home.”
Liberty’s eyebrows went up. “Office. Wow. You are a grown up.”
“Own the house now,” he said, nodding at the yellow structure down the street. “Mom wanted to move down to Florida. She couldn’t bear to sell my childhood home, no matter how much I said I never liked it all that much. But the winters – they can get awfully bitter around here. So I bought it and let her leave with a clear conscience.”
“A home owner,” Liberty said, sounding more impressed now.
“I work from it now. I got into that whole dot com thing when it was big, and now I’m a bit stuck. Great job flexibility, and you can’t beat the hours, but I barely make enough to get by. I pick up a few jobs in the neighbourhood – most of the residents around here are older – so I make runs to the grocery store, or mow lawns, and do generally fix-it type tasks. I feel bad charging for them, but some of these old fogeys make more money on their benefits than I do with my full time career.”
The two childhood friends sat on that step for a good two hours, discussing their lives, loves, and the state of the world. But never did Liberty’s aunt come up again.
- posted by Deborah @ 7:13 AM
Copyright 2003 - debbo