The red rosary dangles down the cupboard, twisting and twirling upon the chain. The key itself looks plain, lying under the soft bedstand light. What it unlocks, she does not really know. But it has to unlock something.
She grips the folds of the silken bedsheets, her hands slick with sweat.
Her thighs tense, as she feels the kid pressing himself on her body, hugging her to his chest. Her world is on the verge of spinning, and the rich colours of the room start to sparkle.
Her heart erupts.
Then she exhales, her breath like icy cinnamon.
She'd first met him as she was taking a stroll down the busy streets, wearing her blueberry beret for the frigid winter. There was a look in his eye, a sort of young, bustling innocence which caught her attention. The kid was sitting by the bench, waiting for the next tramrail to arrive – staring off beyond the buildings towards the blue hues of an evening sky.
Beside him, there was room for one more.
She brushed aside the snow on the spare spot, and then she shared his joy with the sky-gazing. A sort of languidness absorbed her. It felt like the first time she really allowed herself to relax, like allowing that nice hot bath to soothe her, no longer struggling against a current.
And then she smiled.
She wanted to say something to him, but she tensed – would he recognize her as the Performer? Or just another stranger, merely wanting to make light talk? (She hoped it would be the latter. He seemed like he was just a couple years younger than her, still in school.)
“Isn't it wonderful?” she managed to say.
“What?” he said.
“Looking at the sky.” Suddenly she drew back inside; there were a great many things she could have said instead that wouldn't seem contrived. It's one step up from saying, how's the weather? So she added, “If only there were some puffy clouds here, and a wift of it there..”
The kid giggled. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
“With the clouds, I'd imagine it would be like.. floating cotton candy,” she went. “And ice cream.”
“I could just almost fly in and munch on the strands, to my heart's delight.”
“Would it rain cotton candy and ice cream?” he asked.
She never thought of that actually – she beamed. “Sure!”
From his wavy hair to his dapper shoes, the kid was someone who maintained a petite modesty. He mentioned his name was Johan, but she forgot it a second later. What had only mattered to her was that he might alleviate that void inside. He was on his way to the carousel and she decided to follow along beside him, just innocently.She paid for herself by the entrance, a quaint fee of $4; the kid already had a yearly pass.
It was a luxurious paradise. From the kiosks where anyone could try a shot at teddy bears to the huge rides – the giant, meandering roller coaster track looming over the park. How funny – that she'd never thought of visiting earlier. It was under her nose all along.
(“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!” a clown exclaimed to a pack of little girls.)
“Do you come here often?” she asked the kid.
“To escape the mundanities of life,” he went. He ordered a light soda from the sellers. “You want one?”
“Sure.” She got herself strawberry cotton candy too. So she tasted the woollen, odourless fabric and found that the kind of oversweet taste it had didn't go along so well when sipping the soda; incompatible kinds of sweetness, in a water meets oil way.Some of the soda dripped down her chin, inside her blouse and touched the rosary around her neck. She pulled out the rosary and wiped it dry with her thumb.
In the shadow of the plaza there were the birds pecking at the ground for any morsel of food their beaks could find. A thought crossed the girl's mind and she dawdled over to the birds, hoping to catch one bare-handed. But they glanced at her and lifted their wings and began to fly away. As the birds touched sunlight they glowed with angelic radiance, and before she could blink they were travelling to the unreachable sky in an organized, ad hoc flight. For some reason it made her tear up.
“I love this place,” the kid went. “It is very bright, very cheery – compared with the humdrum of the streets and schools. I go here almost every day, just to dream.” He sighed. “I wish Life were more like the amusement parks. I bet everyone'll be more happy if they have a sense of wonder.”
At the core of her cotton candy, there was a crunchy caramel core. It caught her teeth by surprise.
“Don't you think?” the kid asked.
She could not help feeling a little sadness for him. To her, he radiated that youthful, almost naive innocence – especially towards the face of everyday sorrows. He was happy. She thought he was happy. And yet.. she knew it was a frail happiness. He was running away, from something.
As if he were a lost child, gazing hungrily at the window at the chocolates on display. Estranged from the nurturing love of his family, and all he had left in his world were those sweets.
That was her too.
“Yes,” she said. “If only the world were more that way.”