He didn’t remember the rust on the tilt-a-whirl, only that the paint was the most brilliant red imaginable. The color of God’s perfect apple under the lights of the shopping center parking lot. If he’d squinted, he could have seen the signs for Rexall Drugs and Woolco Department Store, but they were a thousand miles away at the time and even farther now. There were no oil stains on the asphalt, no litter in the world that he could see. It was a tremendous world then, everything larger and more vivid, each event new and full of possibility.
Now he is old, as old as he thought he was in college, when he stared through dormitory windows at midnight, trying to see the future manifest in the darkness. He pays his taxes and keeps his accounts on a spreadsheet, backed up on clouds to guard against catastrophe. Driving to and from work, he keeps his seat belt on, the radio off, and both eyes on the road. Every event is anticipated long before it occurs and attended to with time to spare. He will never again be one to take chances, to throw back his head and throw a joyous yawp at the sky. Since leaving school, his insurance has remained continuously in force.
Yet the summer carnival lives on. The sounds pump through his veins and the images play in the theater of memory. The promise of endless abandon, an Eden of fun, remains in him the way a notion of Heaven persists in a soul that has lost its faith. Even on his coldest nights, when the world looks at him and sees nothing, this candle provides warmth and light.
The poetry and prose of Robert L. Penick have appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and Slipstream. More of his work can be found at theartofmercy.net