Rufus Canbee Bear the Second thoughtfully held the chisel in his hand. He had carved his father’s name (Rufus Canbee Bear without the second) on the tombstone. That was the easy part. But he had heard that tombstones must “say” something. His mother called it an epitaph. He stuck out his tongue slightly and tilted his jaw. The chips began to fly. Beneath his father’s name he had carved, “Thinker Extrodinaire” and parenthetically … “And a Very Large Heart.” Rufus hoped that people would not think anatomically but rather … spiritually.
Once the tombstone was completed he held it up for inspection. He was worried that he had misspelled “extrodinaire.” He tucked the finished product under his arm like a very large book and marched to the cemetery. Nearing the large elm tree he selected a spot at its base to place the headstone. It seemed rather plain in comparison to the ornate granite crosses and larger monuments but Rufus knew in his heart that the headstone was only a simple marker of time and space. He wasn’t sure, however, which needed the marker more his head or his heart. It was sufficient for both. Once the marker was in place he gathered a few wild flowers to place next to it. He felt he should say something so he said, “Good-bye.”
On his way home Rufus noticed the weather. The sky was gray but it did not look like rain. Nor did it look like the sun was about to emerge. Merely a gray day. As he entered his house he saw his mother cleaning a house that was spotless to begin with.
“I don’t know where this dust comes from,” his mother said.
Rufus smiled and shrugged his shoulders. There was no dust. His mother wiped her hands on her ruffled apron and embraced Rufus. She knew where he had been without asking. “Supper will be ready soon. I hope your hungry, Rufus.”
Rufus was not hungry. But he stayed and pretended to eat by rearranging the food on his plate. He refused the piece of blackberry pie she had brought to the table. The night was dark outside and the room had become dark inside. He rose to light a candle in the living room. He did not want to stay there. His father’s chair was empty. He decided to help his mother finish the dishes. Drying dishes seemed a waste when time dried them just fine.
“Maybe you’ll want this pie a little later, dear,” Rufus’ mother said.
“Maybe,” Rufus replied, knowing he would not.
Rufus was not sure how to tell his mother, but he was drawn to the Pleasure Faire. The road not taken. He chose the direct route, “Mother, I have never been to the Pleasure Faire. I am going tomorrow.” It was not easier but quicker.
“At least let me pack up this piece of pie with a few sandwiches for your trip.”
Rufus shrugged, smiled and nodded.
The next morning he hugged his mother good-bye and gathered up the picnic basket. He did not pack a suitcase, only two books and some writing paper. “Even pleasure can become boring after awhile,” Rufus thought.
On the last turn to the left out of town Rufus heard Mrs. Bear Bottom mutter to a neighbor, “Some nerve. The Pleasure Faire so soon after …” Fortunately Rufus speed of departure spared him hearing her last words. He was not sure that his father would understand his being drawn to the Pleasure Faire but he knew that for now it was his destination. Near noon Rufus ate the neglected pie of the previous evening.
The sun shone very brightly and the sky was extremely blue. Rufus was tired as he approached the entrance to the Pleasure Faire. Very tired indeed. The noise that came over the gate made him even more tired. It was not so much the noise of people enjoying themselves as that of people convincing one another that they were having the time of their lives.
At the gate was a large faded banner that read: “PLEASURE FAIRE … If you’re not having fun we know whose fault that is … OPEN TWENTY FOUR HOURS A DAY SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. Ten Cents All Ages.” Rufus came to the ticket booth.
“That’ll be twenty-five cents, dearie,” the elderly woman weasel pushed up her glasses and chewed her gum noisily.
“But the sign says, “Ten Cents All Ages.”
“So sue me,” snapped the weasel. “You in or out?”
Rufus dug the money from his pocket and handed it to the ticket taker. She smiled insincerely and said, “Have a nice day.” Rufus was not having fun and he knew whose fault it was. Certainly not his own as he glanced back at the bored, gum-chewing lady weasel. “Have a nice day, indeed!”
The Pleasure Faire’s streets were littered with gum-wrappers, ticket stubs and discarded programs. Not sure of where to go first, he walked to a side-show that had attracted a large number of people. Their laughter was very loud. Rufus tried politely to nudge through the crowd to see what they were watching. Meeting resistance he gave up on polite. This allowed him a front row seat.
Rufus was stunned. On the stage was a grown bear dropping his pants exposing his polka-dot underwear and a young cub tripping over a tricycle. The crowd laughed, but the majority of laughter was being played through small speakers mounted on the stage. Rufus expected that there would me more to see than a grown bear dropping his pants and a cub tripping over a tricycle. It was merely repeated over and over. Rufus was not even tempted to giggle. As he left, he noticed the cub had a tear in his eye and was on the verge of crying.
“Bubba Bear and his cub will have another show in just one hour. If you’re not having fun we know whose fault that is!” The crowd dispersed.
Rufus walked away disappointed with his first exposure to the Pleasure Faire. He walked aimlessly for awhile. He passed the food booths but was not even tempted to stop. Their smells nauseated him. He passed the arcades with slick pitch men. “Hey sonny. Wanna win a prize. You’re guaranteed to win. Ya can’t lose.” Rufus stopped at the ring toss. There were huge, brightly colored stuffed dragons on shelves behind the pitch man. They did look impressive. And the man said he was guaranteed to win a prize. The weasel grinned as Rufus dug in his pocket for a dime. A toothpick dangled from the the weasel’s mouth, “Gonna try yer luck, sonny?” “Yes, sir,” Rufus replied. The pitch man handed Rufus three small metal rings,, “Now the object is to get yer ring on the neck of one of them there bottles.” Rufus already knew that. He threw his first ring. It fell between the cracks, missing any bottle. He threw his second ring. It also missed. This was not as easy as it looked. But the man had assured him that he would win a prize. Aiming more carefully he threw his final ring. It caught the neck of a bottle. Rufus was elated. He began to tell the weasel which one of the dragons he wanted as his prize when he saw that the weasel was reaching under the counter. “There ya go, sonny.” the weasel said as he handed Rufus a small, crudely cut cardboard dragon. “Everybody wins.”
“But I got a ring on the neck of the bottle,” Rufus said handing him back the inferior prize.
“Ya gotta read the fine print, sonny.” The weasel pointed to a small sign beneath the colorful dragons. Rufus squinted: “These prizes are only given to the person who tosses the ring onto a red bottle.” Rufus looked at the bottles. The majority of bottles were blue. In the center of the sea of blue bottle were three red ones. His ring had not even come close to those bottles. “Rules is rules. Whose is next. Ya can’t lose.” Rufus was tempted to drop the paper dragon in the dirt beneath his feet. But he kept it as a reminder to read the small print.
The sky had become very dark and the wind began to blow dry brittle leaves across the pathways. There was a certain stillness at the edge of the grounds. Rufus was near a fence. The air had an October feel. It was October after all. Rufus wondered if he should leave or stay. He decided to stay and at least walk the rest of the grounds. As he rounded a corner he came upon a small glass cage in which sat a gypsy. The gypsy sat very still.Unnaturally still. There was not even a blink of an eye lid or a twitch of a lip. Rufus was amazed at her ability of concentration. Rufus was naive. The gypsy was a mannequin. The black wig under her colorful bandana was slightly askew and her plaster of Paris face had chips and nicks. The sign read: “Mandelina Knows All. Fortunes Ten Cents.” Mandelina’s plaster hands rested on a crystal ball. Rufus fetched a dime from his pants pocket and inserted it into the coin slot. Gears began to grind and the gypsy’s head turned and her eyes blinked. Then her eyes closed. A faded yellow ticket came out of a slot marked: “FORTUNES.” Mandelina’s eyes opened. And her stare frightened Rufus. He was tempted to not read the yellow ticket. But it is difficult to ignore an opportunity to know the future. He glanced at the crudely printed ticket: “Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows. What goes up must come down. Spinning wheel spins round and round. Beauty is skin deep … ugly goes clear to the bone. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. MANDELINA KNOWS ALL.” Then in very small print beneath the message was written: “If you are not having fun … you know whose fault that is!” Rufus was disgusted with himself for having spent a dime on such a stupid contraption. Even he could have written a more original message than, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Rufus did not throw the ticket away, although he certainly thought of it as worthless. He would keep it as a reminder not to waste a dime.
CHAPTER TWO: UGLY GOES CLEAR TO THE BONE
Rufus passed “THE CARNIVAL OF FOOD.” He was nauseated by the greasy smells and the unsanitary practices of the food handlers. He had actually seen a young food vendor pick his nose and then prepare a frankfurter and bun. The cotton candy did not appear a pretty pink but rather a dingy gray. It reminded him of cat hair on a paper cone. Rufus did not linger at “THE CARNIVAL OF FOOD.”
A turn in the bend brought Rufus to a place that would forever change his life. Black and orange flags fluttered in wind, which was gusting much harder. A banner hung at the entrance of the tent: “THE WORLD’S UGLIEST LIVING BEAST … Enter at Your Own Risk. Admission: Fifty Cents. No children or queasy women allowed.” There were no artistic renderings attempted of the beast, just a weasel in a cheap suit with a megaphone, “LAY-DEES AND GENTS. Enter this tent at risk to the contents of your stomach. Nothing you have ever seen before or ever imagined will equal the sight of THE WORLD’S UGLIEST LIVING BEAST. He will horrify. He will amaze. He will stupefy and astound. This venue is not for the weak of heart. No children or queasy women will be allowed.” Rufus was not convinced that he would be entertained by viewing another’s misfortune. He was, however, curious. He was ashamed at how curious he really was. How ugly could someone really be. Besides, it was most likely all a sham. An elaborate hoax done with make-up and dim lights. Fifty cents was a lot of money and he had wasted so much already.
A line of men and women had formed to buy tickets to enter the tent. Several older children had been chased away from the back of the tent after attempting to enter by illicit means. And several younger children were being scolded by their mothers for pestering to be allowed to purchase a ticket. The crowd grew rapidly and Rufus found himself being swept into the ticket line. “That’ll be two bits.””But …” Rufus tried to explain that it was not his intention to be entertained by … “Two bits, buddy.”
The man behind Rufus cursed the delay Rufus was causing. “Can’t ya hear the weasel. Two bits.” Before he realized what he was doing Rufus found himself handing the man fifty cents. His pockets were now empty and he was being bumped right and left, front and back by the pressing crowd into the dark corridor leading into an area of plain wooden bleachers facing a stage and a checkered curtain. Orange and black. A fierce wind shook the tent. Rufus took a seat. Fifty people filled the room and the lights went dim, then black.
The curtain was raised very slowly. A silhouetted figure sat rigidly in a chair. Rufus’ stomached tightened. He wanted to leave but it would have meant bothering so many people. Stepping on toes and spilling their popcorn and a thousand, “Excuse me pleases.” He simply shut his eyes. The music of a flute and drum began to play. The music began softly and then built in intensity. Rufus could not keep his eyes shut any longer. The drum pounded, “BUM-Ba-Ba-Pa-PUM. A spotlight now illuminated the stoic creature seated before them. A lady gasped. Another fainted. And in the silence, tears began to fill Rufus’ eyes. Before him was indeed THE WORLD’S UGLIEST LIVING BEAST.”
To attempt to describe the creature before Rufus would limit the horror he felt. Rufus had seen ugly things before. Things he had told no one. But the sight which was now his to view was a horror beyond words. The misshapen head and sunken eyes. Teeth which had been worn to nubs by a constant grinding. Warts on warts and bulges and bumps combined to make Rufus wish that he had indeed kept his eyes closed, or had stepped out of line instead of paying fifty cents to view this pitiful beast.
The music began to soften and the lights began to dim. The flute stopped and the drum quietly rattled, “Rum-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pum.” The room was now black. No one spoke until the lights came on. An orderly rustle of coats and dresses, hats and purses followed. As Rufus exited the tent a now fierce wind sent clouds of dust and litter through the air. Everyone began to talk about the impending storm. Ladies popped umbrellas and gents donned hats as the rain began to pour. A cloudburst. The only shelter that Rufus could find was to go back into the tent he had just exited. No one attempted to stop him. The rain now came down in torrents. The tent shook with every new gust of wind.
It was awkward for Rufus to be back in this tent. It was a reminder of the foolishness of his heart. No, not foolishness. The wickedness of his heart.The wind chided him and then shook the tent so hard that it caused the black and orange checkered curtain to fall. The crash nearly caused Rufus’ wicked heart to fail. But what he saw next caused his heart to melt.
CHAPTER THREE: BEAUTY IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP
Seated on the beast’s lap was a child. The beast cradled the child’s head to his chest. “Papa, I’m afraid.” The beast stroked the child’s hair. “There. There. Nothing to be afraid of. The wind’s just singing a blustery song and the rain’s come along for a tap dance.” His daughter laughed. Rufus laughed and then regretted it. Laughing had made them aware of his presence. He wanted to look at them forever. She was the most beautiful child he had ever seen. Her beauty next to her father did not accentuate his hideous condition but rather neutralized it. He had not changed. The warts and bumps remained, but now in the light of the child seated on his lap his appearance was not that of a side-show freak but that of a father protecting his daughter from the storm.
“What are you doing in here? You’re not allowed in here. Please leave,” the beast’s voice was deep and resonant. The beast’s voice was, well, beautiful. “I’m sorry,” said Rufus. “The storm came so suddenly, that I had no other place to keep dry.”
“Who is it, Papa?” asked his daughter.
“He was just leaving.”
“Don’t make him go, Papa. The storm is still rather bad. Let him stay.” Rufus shuffled his feet and stared at the ground. The beast did nothing but cradle his daughter.
“I’ll leave as soon as the wind and the rain die down,” Rufus offered.
“Don’t make him go, Papa. It’s been so long since we have talked with anyone besides each other. You’re so over, over …”
“Overloving!” She laughed and hugged her father then scooted from his lap. “I’m Anne. Anne Apple.” She giggled. “It’s a joke. I am Anne. Anne Kexskrinkk, but Anne Apple sounds so much prettier, don’t you think?
Before Rufus could say, “Yes,” Anne’s father chided her.
“Anne, he’s a stranger.”
“Well, he won’t be a stranger if we ask him his name! What is your name?”
“Rufus. Rufus Canbee Bear. Rufus Canbee Bear the Second.” Rufus was blushing.
“Well, Rufus come here so I can touch your face.” Rufus was embarrassed at Anne’s request. He stood frozen, unsure of what to do next.
“She’s blind,” said the beast.
“Oh,” replied Rufus. “Here is my face. I’m afraid it’s not much to look at.” He realized he had erred on two accounts. First, Anne would do no looking. Second, in comparison to the face of her father, Rufus had a handsome face.
“I didn’t mean to be so forward,” Anne said. “It’s just that touching someone’s face is the only way I have of knowing someone. Except for my father. His voice is all I need to know how lovely he is.” Anne’s fingers gently caressed the contours of Rufus’ face. She could not feel that it was red. “You have a fine face and a kind heart,” concluded Anne.
“Thank you,” said Rufus. “Your face is more than fine and your heart …”
“Anne,” her father interrupted. “I’m afraid that Rufus must be going now.” Rufus began to leave the tent.”
“Good-bye, Rufus,” Anne called.
“Good-bye, Anne,” Rufus responded as he stood in the doorway. “Good-bye, sir.” Rufus was gone.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE DISCOVERY OF THE CAROUSEL
The rain had stopped and so had the wind. The sky was filled with wonderful bilious clouds. And the sky was filled with a giant rainbow. Rufus had no particular direction to go upon leaving the tent but proceeded confidently toward the rainbow. He did not expect to find a pot of gold at the base of the rainbow. He knew that rainbows required distance to truly exist. But at least for now it gave him a direction to go.
What Rufus found in his new direction was a fence marked, “NO TRESPASSING … THIS MEANS YOU.” It was not a sturdy fence but none the less it was a fence. Rufus was not going to trespass, merely sit on the fence and rest and reflect on his latest encounter. He hefted himself onto the top rail and balanced precariously and sighed. And then the fence collapsed. Rufus was not hurt but the fall did catch him off guard. Sitting among the broken pieces of fence Rufus chuckled. It was the most fun he had had all day. He stood up and dusted himself off. When the fence fell, the “NO TRESPASSING” sign fell face down and could not be seen. And the fence, well, it had fallen in such disarray that one could not tell where boundaries started and stopped. Rufus decided that he could continue in the direction of his choice with no ill consequences. So he did.
The walk was quite pleasant. The world was so fresh after rainstorms. Reaching the top of the small hill he had been climbing, he stopped. At the bottom of the hill was an abandoned carousel. He ran to get a closer look.
It was obvious that this carousel had not been used for some time. Evidently it had been hauled from the Pleasure Faire to be discarded. Rufus began to circle the base of the machine to inspect each animal of the carousel. Rufus knew that most carousels consisted primarily of horses but this carousel had only one horse. It was a white Arabian stallion posed in a majestic leap with a mane flying in the wind. And most unusually, wings. A horse with wings. The next animal was an ostrich with a very comical grin. Then came a lion. Then a camel with a missing leg. Then a huge sea turtle. Then a kangaroo. And the last animal was a bird. It was a swan. And within the swan was a seat for two. The swan completed the menagerie of carousel animals. Of the animals, the winged horse, the camel and the kangaroo were attached to brass poles that Rufus assumed moved up and down when the carousel was working. But from the looks of things the carousel had seen its last up and down and round and round. “Too bad,” Rufus said aloud. “It looks like a fine carousel.”
On a whim, Rufus climbed aboard the comical ostrich. He clung tightly to its long skinny neck. Not the most comfortable seat in the house. But Rufus took pleasure in the oddity of it all. In turn he tried each of the animals. Except the winged horse. Why? Was he afraid of this powerful looking creature? Afraid that it might actually take flight? Rufus did not know. He did know that of all the animals of the carousel he found sitting in the swan the most comfortable. Or maybe comforting. He chose to sit in the swan for a long, long time. And that is when he fell asleep.
Rufus was awakened by the warm, wet nuzzle of the great winged horse. He rubbed his eyes. The horse whinnied as if inviting Rufus to rise and climb onto his back. Rufus did this without so much as a second thought. The horse reared back and began to gallop. Rufus gripped the horse’s mane as their speed increased and as the huge white wings began to beat furiously. The horse took one great leap and they left the ground. Behind them Rufus could see the carousel and then the entire Pleasure Faire came into view. As they climbed higher and higher the objects below became miniatures. And then they became dots in motion, so many ants and grains of sand. Rufus could make out mountains and rivers. He clutched the horses mane as tightly as he could not for fear of falling but for fear of waking up.
“Sorry, son. You can’t spend the night here. Didn’t you see the sign: NO TRESPASSING.” Rufus was breathing rapidly.
“You’ll have to leave. Now.” The weasel grabbed Rufus by the arm and helped him out of the swan. The animals of the carousel appeared dead on the platform lit only by moonlight.
Rufus left the carousel a bit saddened. But somehow he knew he would return. He reached into his pockets to warm his hands. At the bottom of one of the pockets was the yellow ticket. He pulled it out: “Round and round it goes. Where she stops nobody knows.”
The weasel snorted when he saw the yellow ticket. “Don’t let Mandelina go putting ideas in your head. Yesterday all the pink tickets said, “You will be married in one year. That brought life into some old biddies hearts. But don’t go reservin’ no chapels.”
The weasel escorted Rufus to the main gate. The gate was clogged with people exiting. “Closing time, son. Even entertainers got to sleep.” Rufus looked up has he walked out of the Pleasure Faire and saw the large sign over the exit: “IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE FUN, YOU KNOW WHOSE FAULT THAT WAS!” Rufus would return in the morning but not for pleasure. He would return to ride the winged horse. He would return for Anne.
CHAPTER FIVE: WHERE SHE STOPS NOBODY KNOWS
When Rufus returned the next day it was with a new spring in his step. Even the crabby weasel at the front gate could not prevent him from having a nice day. Rufus even stopped to pick up trash and clutter on his way to Anne’s tent. Then he stopped dead in his tracks. Anne’s tent. He could not merely march up to her father and say, “I’m here to take Anne for a ride on my carousel. First, it was not his carousel. Second, the carousel was not it working order. Third, her father was hideous beast who caused the weak of heart to faint and queasy women to scream. And finally, he was broke. He had spent his last dime to enter the Pleasure Faire.
The spring in his stepped stopped. He now moped toward Anne’s tent. He kicked a discarded paper cup rather than pick it up for the trash. Pricked by guilt he picked up the next piece of waste paper he saw. He was about to crumple it up when he noticed that it read: “HELP WANTED IMMEDIATELY IF NOT SOONER. No pay. No benefits. (Except bed and board.) Apply at the …” That’s where the advertisement stopped. Someone had torn the bottom half of the paper. Rufus began wreaking havoc with every garbage can in sight. He began to draw a crowd as papers and trash flew left and right. But at the very bottom of the fourth trash can he emptied was the full advertisement: “Apply at the Water Dunk Pavilion.” Rufus was not sure what a “Water Dunk Pavilion” was but he knew it was his ticket to see Anne.
After a few polite enquiries and plenty of rude responses, Rufus found himself handing and application to an obese, toothless weasel. Rufus expected that it would be hours and even days before he would know if he were hired. The fat weasel, however, merely glanced at the paper and said, “Ya got da job.” What ‘da job’ was was becoming increasingly clear to Rufus. The colorful poster by the Pavilion entrance was quite graphic. Rufus was hired to wear a garish costume and sit on a plank poised above a tank of water. Customers paid a dime to throw three balls at a small target, which when hit would upset the plank and plunge Rufus into the water below.
Rufus did not mind the costume but he did mind that he was supposed to egg on the passers by. He was to make them want to see him soaked. Rufus found it difficult being rude. His first attempts were along the line, “Excuse me, sir. Would you like the threefold opportunity to see me plunge into the tank below?” No takers. In desperation he tried stronger words, “Hey, I bet you can’t hit that tiny little target … or the broad side of a barn.” Business picked up slightly. At midday management had hired someone to do the egging on part (Hey you, monkey face. Make the bear-boy go bye-bye. Or maybe your grandma could do it for you!) Business was booming and Rufus was soaked to the bone by the end of the day.
A shivering Rufus stood with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He waited in the cafeteria line for faire employees. The food did not look good or smell good or taste good. But the food was hot and they even had weak cocoa over which he could warm his hands.
Seated at the cafeteria table, Rufus noticed that the carnival hired mostly weasels. There were a few small rats that worked in the kitchen, but he was one of the few bears. Rufus sat next to the fat weasel that had hired him. The weasel had two heaping plates in front of him and was eating as if in a race. Rufus was not hungry. Only cold and tired. And wet. He rose to scrape his plate and hand it to the dishwasher, a rat in a greasy apron.
“You wouldn’t happen to know Anne Keskrink, would you?”
“Yeahs, I knows Anne. What of it?”
“Does she eat here with her father?”
“You kiddin’? They wouldn’t let her old man within a million miles a this place. People would be losin’ their lunch right and left. As if the food don’t stink bad enough as it is.”
“Could you tell me where I might find her?”
“Yuhs might find her in the kitchen washing the greasy plates these pigs leave.” The rat threw his head to the left towards the kitchen door.
“Thank you. Thank you, very much.” Rufus heart pounded as he walked toward the kitchen door. Would Anne be standing on the other side.
He did not even need to pull the dirty cloth that comprised the door to the kitchen to know that she, that Anne, was on the other side. He could sense her beauty filling even the most common of rooms.
“Anne?” Rufus was embarrassed to see her standing in such filth.
“Rufus,” Anne responded. “Rufus, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve found work here. I wanted to ….” Rufus was too shy to finish his sentence.
“I don’t care what the reason is. I’m just glad you’re here. It has been quite boring just wiping dishes and waiting for my father’s shows to get over. Now to think that you’ve gotten a job in the same kitchen where I work. Here. We can work out of the same tub. Here’s a rag.”
Rufus was tired to the bone and wet inside the bone. But he grabbed the limp rag like it was an elegant handkerchief offered by a princess to a knight on the eve of a joust. He almost found himself bowing on one knee. Instead he slipped on a soapy spot of the floor and before he could catch himself landed in the tub of dishes. Before he could say anything, (As if there was anything to say!) Anne’s laughter filled the room. He merely joined in and before they knew it the dishes were done and they had talked till midnight.
“Anne, I have discovered the most wonderful carousel and I was wondering if you would, well if you had time … perhaps someday we could go…” Rufus stumbled awkwardly on his words.
“Rufus, I would love to see your carousel. We will go tomorrow morning. Good night, Rufus.” And with that Anne ran from the kitchen before Rufus could agree or before he could tell her that his real work was to fall into a tank of water.
CHAPTER SIX: THE NAMING OF THE ANIMALS
The only place that Rufus knew to meet Anne the next morning was in the kitchen. Fortunately, that is where she was. She had packed a picnic lunch to take to the carousel.
“Are you ready, my friend, Rufus? Lead the way!” Rufus took her arm and arm in arm they went from the mess hall out to the carousel. When they reached the top of the hill Rufus was relieved to find that no one had replaced the fallen fence and that the “NO TRESPASSING” sign still lay face down. But then he smiled to remember that a “NO TRESPASSING” sign would not hinder Anne. In short time he realized that very little could hinder Anne.
“We’re here.” Rufus announced.
“I know, silly.” She set the basket down and immediately ran to the horse and began to run her fingers over the carved features of the winged horse. “He’s magnificent! We must give him a name. And then we must climb atop his back and let him take us for a ride to the stars. Won’t that be magnificent?
“Quite.” replied Rufus.
“Let’s name him Sight.”
“Sight it is,” Rufus said. He felt the implications began to be a bit obvious.
“Help me up, Rufus. And then you join me.” Together they sat astride the winged horse. Together they sat astride Sight, their hands gripping the tarnished brass pole. “Up and away, Sight. And she dug her heels into the horse’s wooden haunches. Rufus almost expected the horse to jump and flap his massive wings.
“Isn’t it magnificent where Sight is taking us? Close your eyes, Rufus. Close your eyes and see.” Rufus closed his eyes and felt that they were full of tears. “I see, Anne. I see everything now. It’s magnificent. Quite magnificent.”
When their ride with Sight was completed they dismounted and Rufus introduced her to the rest of the animals of the carousel.
“This is the ostrich,” Rufus placed Anne’s hands on the long skinny neck.
“This is the lion,” Rufus placed Anne’s hands on its mane.
“Nofeer the Great.”
“This is the camel. It’s missing a leg.”
“A sea turtle.”
“R.D.?” Rufus asked.
“Real Deep.” Anne laughed at her own joke.
“Faith. And the baby in the pouch we’ll call Hope.” Rufus had not even noticed the small head peeping out of the mother kangaroo’s pouch. Hope seemed a perfect name. For certainly the small kangaroo had hope of hopping on its own someday. All the names were perfect.
“The last animal is a swan. It has a bench. Let’s sit and rest. I hope you don’t mind but I would like to name the swan … Love.” It had seemed natural faith, hope and finally love.
“That would be all right Rufus. Except there is one small problem. She has already told me her name is Mercy.” The minute she said the swan’s name it was as if to name it any other thing would have been unthinkable. As they sat on the bench Mercy provided they talked about how wonderful it would be if the carousel actually worked. Only a little a paint. Some oil. Some nuts and bolts and nails and polish and replace the boards…
The sun had set and the picnic lunch went uneaten. But the talk had not stopped. Plans for the carousel continued to formulate. Seated in Mercy nothing seemed impossible. But Rufus and Anne did not see the eyes that were watching them from atop the hill. The eyes of the beast stared at the pair below. But the eyes vanished when Anne led Rufus to the dinner tent.
CHAPTER SEVEN: WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN
Rufus could hardly sleep that night. Every time he closed his eyes it flooded his mind with the journey he and Anne had taken on Sight. He knew that in reality they were only sitting on an abandoned carousel but when he closed his eyes she felt so real. A true friend.
The next day he was honest with Anne and told her about his real job at the dunk tank. She understood but made him promise to meet her at the carousel that afternoon.
When Rufus arrived he was taken aback at the sight of Anne attempting to paint Humoretta. Anne was covered with more paint than the ostrich.
“I know it is a bit ambitious and very presumptuous of me to begin without you, but I am so excited. What do you think?”
“Let’s get to work. You sand and I’ll paint.” Rufus felt that considering the circumstances it would be the best arrangement. And sand she did. Clouds literally appeared around each animal that she tackled. Rufus was somewhat slower in painting. He did not strive for realism but rather character. He did not ask Anne where she had gotten the paints and brushes. But he knew she could acquire them with nothing but her smile if necessary.
Anne had begun sanding Sight.
“Isn’t he …”
“Magnificent,” Rufus finished her sentence half in jest and half in truth. The winged horse was magnificent.
“Anne, you paint Sight. There really isn’t much to it. He is a white horse. I’ll help you get started,” Rufus offered.
“The most difficult part will be mixing the color for the eyes. They must be the most perfect blue. Can you mix a perfect blue, Rufus?” Anne asked. “When your mixing the color try to think of the color of the heart of a star and then add a dash of a thousand wild irises and just a hint of … ”
“I think blue with a tint silver may do the trick.” Rufus could not believe he had grown impatient with Anne’s words. “I meant to say blue and a dash of a thousand wild irises.”
“And don’t forget to add the color of a heart of a star.” Anne smiled.
“Right.” Rufus painted Sight’s eyes as Anne finished the horse’s wings.
“It’s getting late. We better get back before it gets dark. Your father may get worried.” Rufus said as he put the lids back on each can of paint.
“All right. But tomorrow …” Anne proceeded to describe list of impossible tasks but Rufus had only look into Sight’s eyes to realize that soon a carousel would be built and that people would come and their lives would be changed. Just by riding their carousel.
Each day he and Anne worked on the carousel. Some days they would chatter like magpies and other days they would work together in silence not saying a single word. And as they worked the eyes would watch them from the top of the hill. The eyes of the beast were filled with jealousy and with tears.
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE GRAND OPENING
All their hard work had paid off. The carousel was finally completed. Rufus had no confidence in his mechanical abilities but Anne’s buoyant enthusiasm more than compensated for what Rufus lacked in true ability. The gear boxes had seemed complex and there was concern as to whether the generator could still function after all the years of being neglected. But all it would take is for Anne to sigh, “Isn’t it magnificent?” And Rufus would amaze himself by solving a problem with the whack of a wrench.
“I believe that we are ready for a test run.”
“Will it have music?” asked Anne.
“If it doesn’t we will just have you stand nearby and smile. Would you like to have the honor of turning the switch, madam?”
“I’d be most honored, kind sir.” Rufus lead her to the control panel. He held his breath and prayed, “Please, pleeeeease, let it work.” Anne tripped switch and the motor began to hum. There was a terrible grinding of gears but the wooden platform remained motionless. The gears groaned, sputtered and then everything stopped. “I’m sorry, Anne. I guess we’ll have to do some more work or get someone who has …” Anne stopped him in mid-sentence. She grabbed the wrench from his hand and marched like a queen with a scepter into the gear room. Rufus stood frozen. He did not follow her. She was like a priest who had entered the holy of holies. There was banging and clanking and Rufus thought for a moment that he heard cursing coming from the room. Then all was silent. Anne emerged from the room with a darling smudge of grease across her nose and oil on her forehead. “Shall we try again, kind sir?” Rufus said nothing. He cranked the switch. The motored hummed and the platform began to slowly turn. As it gained speed a strange music began to fill the air. Saxophones, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy organs, chimes and snare drums and angels’ voices created a waltz in 5/4 time. Anne dropped the wrench and grabbed Rufus and they began to dance. The music grew louder as the carousel gained speed. They danced across the meadow in an off-kilter waltz. They spun and twirled and twisted among the flowers. Humoretta the ostrich smiled at the dancing fools. Round and round went the carousel and round and round went the dancers. And time stood still.
“Tomorrow will be the grand opening of the carousel. We will make flyers and post them everywhere. It will be …”
“Magnificent.” They said together and began to dance all over again even though the music had stopped.
Rufus made an advertisement for the carousel’s grand opening. It was a picture of Faith, the kangaroo with Hope peeking from her pouch. Rufus knew that it was not his artwork that would draw people to the carousel but the words, “FREE RIDES TODAY ONLY” that would draw the people to the carousel. Anne stopped every passerby to give them a flyer and invited them to experience “life at a new level.”
“It’s a carousel ride, Anne. Not a church service .”
Anne did not respond but rather button-holed a young couple sharing a cotton candy and making eyes at each other. They took the flyer but let it fall to the ground. Rufus, sensing Anne’s disappointment picked it up, brushed it off and ran to catch up with the couple,”You dropped this. Be sure to come and experience life at a new level.”
“People will come, Rufus. I know they will. Once they hear the music people will come.”
At dawn Rufus found himself at the carousel. He was giving the animals a pep talk as he polished poles and swept the platform. He would start the generator to make sure everything was working properly. And to listen to the waltz in 5/4 time. Soon Anne was beside him repolishing the poles and resweeping the platform. But she did not talk to the animals. She merely blessed each one with a kiss. And then she kissed Rufus, “They will come.”
At ten o’clock a.m. no one had come. At ten thirty a.m. five weasels had formed at the small gate Rufus had constructed. The two lovers of cotton candy and each other had come. A mother and a small whining child and a elderly weasel with white hair and a tattered coat. He carried a cane. The young lovers chose the camel, Three-legged Grace. He hefted her onto the camel and then stood at her side. The mother and child were next. The mother did not want to ride the carousel but sent her child. “Get on the pretty horsie, dear.” The child stood and stomped his weasel feet and banged his weasel tail, “But I want to ride the toitel.”
“Turtle, darling? But it’s so ugly. Ride the white horsie with wings.” The young weasel kicked Sight’s leg and ran to R.D. and plopped down onto the sea turtle and smiled at his mother.
The elderly weasel tottered onto the carousel. He bumped into Humoretta and backed into Faith. He mumbled and tipped his hat. He appeared dazed and lost. Anne took him by the hand and led him to Sight. The blind leading the blind. He thanked her and then mounted the great white horse (who seemed to kneel to accommodate his rider’s age).
Rufus stood at the switch. He had hoped that the line would be longer. He had hope that they would be turning people away at this point. Anne nudge him and he cranked the switch. On cue, the music began and the carousel began to turn. The animals on poles began to rise and fall. The young lovers fell deeper into each others eyes and the child and the turtle kept calling out to his mother, “Is this all there is?”
The old weasel sat atop Sight. It was obvious that he was oblivious to all that was going on around him. Rufus and Anne were surprised that the great white horse did not begin to flap his massive wings and take flight. The old weasel seemed to be talking to Sight.
Rufus ended the carousel ride sooner than he had planned. But the whining child was giving him a headache. Before the carousel could come to a complete stop the child was leaping off the platform and pulling at his mother saying, “Can we go see that really ugly beast thing again. Can we, Ma? Can we?” They left. Rufus had to tap the young lovers on the shoulder to awaken them to the fact that the ride was over. The elderly weasel dismounted Sight and as he was leaving he handed Anne a calling card, “Come to my office on Tuesday morning. Your blindness is not incurable.” Even at his slow pace he was gone before either Rufus or Anne could ask him for details. The card read: “Phineas F. Breeze … Doctor of Eyes and Hearts” No one else came to the carousel the rest of the day.
CHAPTER NINE: BLINDER STILL ARE THOSE WHO WILL NOT SEE
Anne hesitated to tell her father only because she knew he would be disappointed if Dr. Breeze turned out to be a charlatan. When she did tell him, a roar rose from deep within him, “You will not go to any doctors and you will not keep company with that bear and you will not make a fool of yourself with the carousel. I forbid it and there will be no discussion!” Anne bit her lip to fight back the tears, “But father …”
“I said there will be no discussion. And if you attempt to see that bear I will have the authorities deal with him for defacing private property. That carousel was no business of his.” How could what she and Rufus had done to restore the carousel be considered defacing? “But …” And before she could say, “father” he struck her across the face. She ran from his presence. In the distance she could hear her father calling out her name. But she did not look back.
Anne’s father realized what he must do. But he would wait until midnight. He paced the room. He wanted to cut off the hand that had struck his daughter but he knew what he must destroy was not himself but wood and brass. At midnight he gathered some oily rags from behind the kitchen and he lit a small torch. He marched toward the carousel with great determination and rage.
When he arrived at his destination the carousel created an eerie silhouette. The moon painted each animal a pale white. Sight, the horse, appeared to be dipped in sliver. All the animals were “asleep.” Anne’s father knew they were only wood, but still they slept before his eyes. He had been afraid of few things in his life. His hideous appearance had created a a callousness and toughness. He was strong. He had not killed but come very close several times. But now he was afraid of these sleeping animals, afraid that if he woke them they would charge off their platform and trample him before he could set their home ablaze. But he approached the carousel and stepped onto the platform. It creaked. He placed the oily rags about in a random fashion. He stepped off the platform and then threw the small torch toward the rags.
They caught fire immediately. And now the light of the fire and the moon began to mingle. The shadows were grotesque. The flicker of the flames caused the shadows to dance like demons. They rose and fell. And then without warning the carousel began to turn and the music began to blare, the 5/4 waltz would began very slowly and then lurch to a rapid comic pace. Anne’s father was not happy to see it burn. He stood and watched as the fire caught to the animals. Sight was first to go. The flames melted the paint. It looked as if the horse were crying silver tears. Then Humoretta and then Three Legged Grace and R.D. going up in flames. Nofeer the lion now appeared painted in scarlet as the flames engulfed him. With one more turn of the platform Mercy came into view. The graceful swan contained cargo that brought horror to the face of the arson. Anne stood crying, “Papa. Papa.”
Her father dropped the torch and leaped onto the burning, turning platform. He was disoriented by the music and by the smoke and by his fear. When he reached his daughter a part of the carousel roof came crashing down. He grabbed her from the swan and threw her off the platform just as another huge portion of the roof descended on him. He shielded his eyes with his arm. Anne screamed. She knew her father had been killed by the weight of the beams that fell. Her scream was not a warning, but rather a response of horror at realizing who had set the fire.
In the distance the circus folk gathered in clumps and pointed at the rising stack of smoke. A greasy weasel dropped his cigarette and crushed it beneath his shoe, “Big one, ain’t it. The fire I mean.” He had made his observation to Rufus. But Rufus had begun to run in the direction of the carousel. Tears were streaming down his face. He noticed that the music had stopped. At the top of the hill he could see Anne lit by the flames. Her face was a frozen mask of horror. Rufus reached her side and demanded to know what had happened.
“My father. My father …” was all Anne could repeat over and over.
It was as if Rufus knew without being told that Anne’s father had set the fire and that he was now among its victims. Weasels and rats with buckets came running down the hill, but it was far too late. The fire had run its course and all the animals were dead. A putrid smoke filled the dark night as the water was put on the remaining embers. If Anne’s father had been hideous before, now his charred remains were even more ghastly. No one would go near the body. Rufus, endowed with an unnatural strength, pulled the arson from the platform. Someone offered a blanket and he covered the corpse. Not to shield the eyes of the curious crowd, but out of respect for Anne. He could say nothing to her. And she said nothing to him. They did not leave the scene of their sorrow until the sun rose. The morning sun did not lift their spirits, it only confirmed how tragic the loss had been. Grief hung over the pile of ashes like a black wreath. Rufus and Anne left to return home. “Home,” had been destroyed by the fire for both Rufus and for Anne. Rufus could not understand how his heart could be broken into so many pieces. He thought he had learned to handle grief once before. He was sure that it was a lesson that one only had to learn once. And now he not only held his own grief but the grief of another. Anne remained silent.
CHAPTER TEN: On the Third Day
After three days Anne spoke, “Rufus, I’m sorry that my father destroyed your carousel. I know it meant a great deal to you.” Rufus was stunned why was she saying “you” instead of us? The carousel meant a great deal to “us.” “I have decided to go live with my aunt in Bigg City. She has always felt that the carnival was no place for a child.” Anne stood and walked away from Rufus.
“But Anne. Before you go we must go see Dr. Breeze. I know he can make your eyes better. I know he can make you see.”
Anne erupted, “Don’t you understand Rufus. I don’t want to see. I am blind and will always be blind. And most of all I don’t want to see you. I don’t want your face to remind me of …” She ran from Rufus but he could finish he sentence. Anyone could finish her sentence, “…the fire. My father. My pain.”
Rufus returned to his tent and began to pack his few belongings for his trip to his mother’s home. With each item he would pause and fight back his tears. He bit his lip and sniffed his runny nose and swallowed hard. The cheap speakers chose the wrong time to blare, “If you’re not having fun we know whose fault that is!” Rufus ran from his tent and threw a rock at a set of speakers on a nearby pole. His face was flush with anger. Before he could realize what he was doing, he found himself at the door of Anne’s tent.
“You are not going to your aunt’s in Bigg City. You are staying here. You are going to see Dr. Breeze this very day and tomorrow you are going to help me to begin to rebuild the carousel.” Anne did not quit her packing. She did not look up.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes, Rufus. But you are wrong. Today I am going to live with my aunt in Bigg City. You are returning to your mother’s home. I wish that life were as simple as rebuilding a carousel. I cannot rebuild my heart.”
“You are right, Anne. You can’t rebuild your heart. But you can rebuild a carousel. It is only wood and brass. It can happen one nail, one hour, one day, one board, one bucket of paint at a time. I won’t pretend I can rebuild your heart. No one can rebuild your heart. Not even your aunt! Anne none of us can do that. It happens of its own accord and in its own way. And if it doesn’t happen it is not because you haven’t tried, its because you have not rebuilt the things you can.” She plunged herself into Rufus’ arms and said, “Yes.”
The next day they marched to the site of the fire. Dr. Breeze had told Anne that the operation needed for her eyes was not one-hundred-percent guaranteed, it was a fifty-fifty proposition at best. He was amused by her answer, “Do what you can, doctor. One nail, one hour, one day, one board, one bucket of paint at a time. ”
Rufus and Anne had decided that they would not try to recreate the carousel animals that had been destroyed in the fire, with one exception. This carousel, too, would have a swan named Mercy, with a seat for two. And it was only one nail, one hour, one day, one board, one bucket of paint and a dream away.