The Seventh Tuesday We Talk About Carnivals
“I used to work on the waltzers.”
Maureen sat in her armchair, dressed in her bathrobe with her feet propped up on the coffee table.
“Maureen, I don’t think you’re meant to put your feet on th-”
“Shut up, Mitch, who asked you anyway?”
I don’t feel hurt when Maureen says these things to me. I know that her mind is not what it used to be, and that she will be prone to lash out at those around her while she battles this war inside her alone. As the curtain-pullers wait in the wings of the grand stage show that is her life, holding their breath as she delays her final bow, I contemplate our surroundings - the simple, comfortable armchair from which she has told me stories of her life for the last few weeks; the dark, wooden jewellery box on the dresser in the corner which holds all her worldly possessions; the framed newspaper cuttings from the times her son had ruined the annual Christmas parade with his drunken naked antics every year since 1987 - each of these items had a story, each having played a role in this life-long production in which Maureen was the leading lady.
“Anyway, I was telling you about the time I worked on the waltzers when I was a carnie, weren’t I?” Maureen was reclining in her chair, the threadbare fabric of her dressing gown covering almost none of her naked body underneath.
“Would you mind just pulling your robe across, just a bit?”
She looked down at herself for a moment, then threw her head back to let out her trademark cackle. She had a laugh that sent chills down my spine, made me fear for humanity, and once even caused my nose to start bleeding and not stop for two whole days.
“You’re a bloody prude, Mitch. When are you going to man up and get a job? Keep hanging around here talking to old women, it ain’t right. We had a word for men like you the carnival.”
I sighed. “What was it?”
“Rubes!” She launched into that laugh of hers again. Other people in the sitting room of the care home start to look over at us, and an old man with a mighty moustache shakes his fist at us. I waved at him apologetically and he grumbled into his cup of tea. Maureen likes to stir up trouble with the other residents because she thinks she’s better than them. I remember a time - it was only a few weeks back - when Maureen somehow managed to gain access to the kitchen and put laxatives in the soup. I know she did it because she told me that she did; she planted evidence that it was somebody else at the scene of her little crime, by taking hair from a hairbrush belonging to an elderly lady named Hilda. I never did quite understand how the manager of the care-home could accept a clump of hair thrown on the floor of the kitchen as evidence that Hilda had done it, as if her hair fell out and balled itself up - especially when Maureen was the only one to not eat the soup that day, and was seen by practically everybody rubbing her hands together and cackling maniacally throughout dinner, saying “I got you, you bastards, I got you”. Hilda was asked to leave the home, and sent to stay with her very unwelcoming daughter and son in-law. I never found out what happened to her after that.
Maureen was clawing at the arm of her chair. She was convinced that the care-workers were taking her money and hiding it in random places around the home, and every now and then she would take to exploring for potential buried treasure. Today, she worked on the arm-rests.
“Maureen, you were telling me about life as a carnie.”
“I weren’t a carnie, you cheeky bastard. I was a classy bird, still am,” she said, wiping sleep from her eyes and smearing it on the sleeve of my jacket, which I was still wearing.
“But you just said you were-”
“I know what I said, Mitch,” she replied, with a look of pure hatred that I was sure I was in imminent danger from some unknown evil. “Mitch, Mitch, the whiney little bitch.” She cackled again. Morrie never said such horrible things to me, he was only ever supportive and philosophical. I remember the things he taught me, and think about about the things Maureen has taught me.
1. Never help a stranger, even if they’re bleeding
2. Always take more than you’re given - if someone is stupid enough to allow this to happen, they deserve it
3. Pull scary faces at children - when they cry, it gives the parents a chase to practice parenting
4. Always arrive late to parties and gatherings, even those thrown in your honour
5. Steal. Steal from anybody and from anywhere that you can.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever pay any attention to her mandate, but I always humoured her when she gave me advice.
“When I worked the waltzers, it were like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Oh it were magical. People would come on, full of excitement, and they’d sit in the little carriages happily waiting for the ride to start. For a laugh sometimes, I’d ‘forget’ to tell them to put the safety bar down - there’d be people flying all over the place, broken limbs and shattered teeth, HA HA HA!” With each ‘ha’ she pounded her fist on my leg. For an old bird, she certainly had a strong punch.
“Maureen, would you say that the carnival could sort of be a metaphor for life?”
Maybe she’d have something profound to say. Maybe I just needed to draw the philosophical gems out of her.
“Could the waltzers represent the unpredictable and stormy nature of life? Do you think that perhaps we are sometimes thrown out of our comfort zones, without the safety bars in place - much like those poor, injured people whose lives you endangered with your negligence? Would you agree that people are just eternally roaming from ride to ride, searching for cheap thrills in the hope that they might escape the mundanities of life, only to find that the sticky sweet highs provided by life’s candy-floss and toffee apples ultimately lead to an almighty sugar crash, i.e. the realisation that life isn’t one big carnival?”
“You what?” She turned away from, smirking as she turned on the television. “You’re such a tart, Mitch.”
I don’t even know why I still visit her.