I approached the scene slowly… carefully. Not having seen the sun in many hours, I couldn’t be certain of the time although dusk most certainly had to be approaching. The park’s canopy of hardwoods muted and filtered all but the most intrepid light rays that persevered to reach the ground, rewarding their efforts with pale gray shadows, sickly mutated twins of objects whose reflections they pitifully attempted to emulate. To harbor animosity toward the trees or, for that matter, the clouds, seemed ingenuous at best. It wasn’t their fault; really, they were just doing their job as best they could. But harbor I did, despite my realization that karma would eventually punish me, casting me headlong into the pit of eternal kismet with no hope of future self-determination. Such was the fate of wanderers and fools, and if I hadn’t yet been proven guilty of the latter, I most certainly had been convicted of the former and at some point would be charged with both.
Faded denim can look gray even in the brightest of lights, but today as I sat on the park bench, my legs blended in so well that briefly I thought I’d melted. When I raised my foot and pointed my boot at the far ridge, I detected a mournful mass that slightly distinguished itself from the surroundings in a pose that I recognized to be roughly the size and shape of my leg, thankfully reminding me that I had not melted at all and simultaneously making me wish I had. Suddenly, I realized that there could be no hell too severe for a man content to mortgage his existence for what might be.
I detected motion on that ridge and my purgatorial ministrations of self-pity temporarily tacked into the wind and rode the breeze, escaping, if only temporarily, their merciless captor. There could be little doubt that I’d soon go hunting for them, coercing them with traps of indulgence and snares of desire, ruthlessly haling them to do my bidding in the court of Purpose. But for now, they were free as my mood, weightless and bound for wherever. In the distance behind the ridge, suspended atop a moving object, a pennant fluttered and moved from left to right before disappearing. Then, another and another… Fascinated, I decided to investigate. As I walked closer, the ridge evaporated, exposing a landscape beneath; it was then that I first saw the carousel.
If I intended to remain cloaked in obscurity, my approach would need to incorporate all my skills attained during a lifetime of modified skulk. To show up uninvited and ostentatious would violate the ground rules of passive observation, immediately subjecting me to chance’s harshest penalty, scrutiny. No burglar ever traversed a victim’s backyard on lighter feet than my own as I made my way from tree to tree, pausing at each advancement to ensure that no one could see me. As I surveyed the remaining parcel, a complex formula emerged, a stratagem requiring me to make my way to and scale the trunk of the pin oak directly in front of the merry-go-round. There, I would satisfy all elements of the hunt and abound in the glory offered by concealment. Finally, with the blunted sound of the tired, over-used calliope grating upon my eardrums, I began my ascent, clumsily inching my way to a branch that offered me a veiled view of the whirligig’s aspects, the years of my life sourly reminding me of their accumulation and demanding acknowledgment.
Before my eyes, dull riderless horses and dolphins and unicorns whimsically danced up and down, impaled upon equally leaden poles, their vapid, staring eyes beholding the exact same panorama as the day before and the day before that, a scenario that would change only with the potential diversity of a rider. How many toddlers’ butts had occupied the sea horse’s back ahead of the unicorn’s dead stare? Why had grandma opted to watch as grandpa held Trevor in place? Did the menagerie ever wonder why the Philistines never offered a pat on the head or a soothing word or some grease-salve for the rash derived from decades of pole-burn?
It-no-longer-matters merged with pithy substance and one rider appeared in the outside row, an old man clad in denim jeans, boots in severe need of polish and a wide-brimmed hat that obscured his facial features, the type worn by gardeners and sailors and Ernest Hemingway, although I could conceive of no reason why Hemingway would ride this particular carousel. Alone, he straddled the back of a fine gray steed, apparently satisfied (judging from his lack of expression and movement) with his lot and oblivious to the potential of any perceived danger. He just sat… and with each revolution his features amplified until I discovered that he had a scar on his right forearm in precisely the same spot as mine. I watched as his broad back disappeared behind the elaborately mirrored and bejeweled gimbal upon which the device rotated.
After a brief sojourn behind the wheel, he appeared once again, this time with each animal occupied by his twins, each a bit larger than the last, and now each stared at my tree, their judgmental beams trained upon me and slowing the carousel under their weight. As it stopped, none moved but all craned their necks to keep me in view. Then I realized--I stared into my own eyes. The music slowed, then stopped and the lights dimmed perceptibly, finally going out with a squeal and grunt emitted from somewhere deep within the center column.
Discovered, I crawled down from the oak and joined the others, stepping up and onto the platform. Slowly, one by one, the riders left their mounts and without comment, walked away, not once looking back. With the departure of the last, the lights and music came back on and I began my destiny’s last ride, content that all the impostors were forever vanquished.