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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Romantic Stories Collection: Yvonne

Yvonne rides the merry-go-round. She straddles the white, mystical unicorn that has a long, wavy mane and a spiral horn. The merry-go-round is a fanciful world, a menagerie of colorful, wood carved animals and chariots, three rows deep, parading among a grid of brass poles that seem to hang down like vines from a celestial array of sparkling red and blue light bulbs strung along the ribs of its umbrella-like canopy.

It’s a mechanical wonder, illuminated and revolving inside its pavilion. A pavilion filled with the dreamy, melodic notes of a waltz coming from the band organ at the center of it. The band organ is housed in a large pinkish-white cabinet decorated in rococo-style with pastel greens and violets dripping about like icing on a cake. In the center of the cabinet is a row of brass trumpet horns and above them a row of brass pipes and to the side, shouldered at each end of the cabinet, are snare drums set on edge.

The band organ is affixed to the inner drum housing that also has a façade of scenery panels depicting exotic personages and places. The inner drum is crowned off by the revolving rounding board that is lined with tilted mirrors in ornate frames that captures the images of the marionette-like figures and their riders.

Next to the unicorn sits a young mother and her toddler son in a chariot that has clowns painted on its side and drawn by two determined-looking kangaroos. The mother points out some of the fantastic sights that swirl about them, tickling her son’s fancy with each sighting, then she settles back on the bench to rest and enjoy the ride.

The tike is wearing a faded blue t-shirt and dungarees with little straps fitting loosely over his small shoulders. He has a large, round head and a fleshy face with big watery eyes. He twitches and turns his head to catch all the twirling sights spinning about him, until he locks his gaze on Yvonne. The youngster stares at Yvonne until she notices him. She becomes unsettled and self-conscious. The boy takes his finger from his mouth and gleefully points it at something in the air to show her.

Yvonne is reluctant to play along, but finally pantomimes an ooh which delights him and he quickly pretends pointing at some other imaginary spot and, again, Yvonne pretends to be amazed and smiles. A loud buzzer sounds and the merry-go-round winds down and comes to a stop. The mother calmly stands and lifts her son up and plops his buttocks on her hip and heads off. The boy waves bye-bye to Yvonne from over his mother’s shoulder.

Outside the pavilion is a row of arcade booths bustling with teens. The booths stand on a sweltering tarmac that loops the pavilion and runs out to the arched portal that’s cut in the tall juniper hedge that leads to the park. Behind the booths is a sidewalk with bicyclists and skateboarders zipping by, a street with slow cruising cars, beyond the street a gleaming wall of odd-shaped buildings, and, off in the distance, the city skyline and horizon.

Yvonne slides off the unicorn and moseys along the sweep of figures until she comes to the tall, amiable giraffe. The grayish giraffe has chestnut spots and adorned with exotic saddlery, masterfully carved and brightly painted. The figure has two mushroom-like horns, perked ears, and an intricately carved yellow-blossom sunflower tucked in a braided bridle. Yvonne mounts the giraffe and wraps the leather rein round her hand.

The giraffe was the favorite of Yvonne’s dad. He thought it was a lofty jumper of good sport and he would perch Yvonne up on its big, slippery saddle as he stood guardedly by her side. Her father was a broken man of few words and would stare vacuously and quietly ahead during the ride, his big hands girded about her waist.

Occasionally, he would grace Yvonne with his solicitously paternal glance. When the ride was done he would lift her off with affected cheerfulness and they would leave the ride to spend some time strolling through the park. As they strolled, he would tell her what a pretty thing she is and how she will find her one true love some day. Yvonne is a plain girl with round moping eyes and a large nose that, in certain lighting, seems to have a crook to it, and that worries her. Her father would lament on how he wished he had more time to be there for her. She would hold his hand to comfort him.

Yvonne sees her reflection in the mirror sitting on the elongated giraffe. It’s a frail and forlorn visage. The buzzer sounds and the rickety floor of the merry-go-round jolts and starts to rotate. Yvonne tightens her hand on the serpentine pole as the ride accelerates and the giraffe heightens its leaps forward.

A pack of rowdy boys descend the area around Yvonne. They cavort about the various figures as though playing on jungle gyms, chat like monkeys, and guffaw at their silly antics. There is a tall hayseed boy that puts both his feet in one stirrup of the prancing reindeer and stands there at attention.

The tubby one squirrels down on the floor beneath the neighing zebra. The impish one scampers aimlessly about mounting and dismounting the figures until he finally settles on hanging under the neck of a loping camel. The ringleader settles on the back of a prowling tiger next to Yvonne. He has a fresh, clean complexion, short reddish hair and green, knowing eyes. His presence is intrusive and yet captivating. He gives Yvonne a smirk and then stands on the Persian-style blanket draped on the tiger’s back and climbs the pole to just below the crank in a show-offish swagger.

He dangles there for awhile until the ride attendant heads towards him. The boy slides down and off the mount. He gives Yvonne a wild animal-like growl with a gnarly, strained expression on his face then leads his buddies away, whooping and hollering. The attendant heads toward Yvonne, yawing as he moves down the narrow row of thickly lacquered figures, retrieving tickets from the various patrons as he passes them.

He stops in front of Yvonne and she holds out her ticket. He is a gangly palooka and smells of axle grease. His fingertips linger sleazily on her hand and then he takes the stub. He simpers in a scoff, and saunters off. Yvonne is embarrassed by the obscene touch and tries to forget it by listening to the grating notes of a ragtime tune. She looks up and gazes at the mirror and at her frail figure sitting airily on a giraffe.

Through the labyrinth of poles and bobbing figures, Yvonne decries the young man that wears the beige windbreaker. She wistfully studies him as he rides a knight’s charger outfitted in silvery faux armor. He chooses the black steed because it is on the outside row and he can go for the brass ring when it whizzes by.

He comes here often, perhaps a student between classes or on a break from work. He looks intelligent and sensitive, perhaps an artist, a loner like her, or a mystical spirit, but he is not like the other boys Yvonne knows. Yvonne dismounts the giraffe and coyly meanders over to an ostrich just to the inside of the boy. The spunky ostrich has periwinkle-colored legs and neck and a yellow beak and bulging white plumage on its romantic side. Yvonne gets up on it sidesaddle and waits. Perhaps he’ll notice her.

Perhaps their eyes will meet. Perhaps he won’t notice her crooked nose and will find her pretty. She watches as he readies himself for the approaching ring contraption. He leans out as far as he can and snatches the brass ring and pulls himself back in. Yvonne rejoices and flashes a smile that the elated boy catches before he puts his focus back down on the brass ring that he holds in his hand. Perhaps they’ll speak now or exchange smiles again. Yvonne watches the dumbstruck boy as he contemplates the brass ring.

He doesn’t offer up another glance. She wants to say something to him, congratulate him, ask what he’s going to do with it, but remains quiet and demure. The ride attendant comes by and straps Yvonne to her ride, dallying with the leather strap about her waist too long, and then he sidles off along the sweep, leaving Yvonne abashed. The boy tosses the brass ring into the passing metal mesh basket. The brass ring tinkles around the mesh basket and disappears down the throat to trigger the titillating clangor of its bell. The harsh, prolonged buzzer of the merry-go-round signals the end of the ride.
The boy gets up and without looking over, quietly steps off to the tarmac before the ride has come to a halt.

Yvonne dismounts and sulkily weaves her way toward the center of the merry-go-round. She slips past a haughty, yellow-billed stork with stern, censoring eyes and a silly motley-green toad leaping frivolously into midair and then a ferociously fanged blue muzzle dragon. She goes to the royal carriage on the inner sweep of the merry-go-round and burrows herself aboard it. It’s an open carriage drawn by two harnessed horses in full, colorful regalia. They are gleeful steeds, with blinders on and lolling tongues.

The body of the carriage is thickly painted in a creamy white and decorated with gilded filigree. Stenciled on the dashboard of the carriage is red and gold ribbons streaming from the beak of a blue bird and atop the front dash of the coachman seat are two mock gas lanterns. Yvonne slouches back and rests her head on the top rim of the carriage bench. She blames herself. Why did she think he would notice her? The buzzer sounds and the ride jolts and begins to rotate. Yvonne stares at the poster-like lithographic scenery panels on the façade of the inner drum. There is the Taj Mahal rising out of a mist, a plump belly dancer in bra and skirt with coin-laden hip belt posed with palms touching overhead and framed in orange flames, ancient pyramids with dwarfed camels in front of them, a fortune teller with tarot cards fanned out in front of her, the Great Wall of China snaking off through the hinterland, perky geishas fanning themselves dressed in carnation-red kimonos and gold obis, and a gilded Buddha temple, and then the Taj Mahal again and the belly dancer and so on. The band organ is playing a pompous lilt with snares and cymbals crashing in common time.

Yvonne lounges in her carriage and envisions the figures and riders around her as a cortege leading her in a regal parade. All the animals are decked out in ceremonial finery and all of their riders have a certain stately air to them. She lingers there in her carriage and then slides down further on the bench and stares up at the canopy overhead that glitters with constellations of swirling lights.

A boy hops in the carriage and hunkers down on the floor. He notices Yvonne and motions for her to shush as he peers back out from where he came. He’s a scrappy looking lad with dark features and black cropped hair dressed in a t-shirt with a rock band logo on it, loose blue jeans, and black sneakers. Yvonne is intrigued and curiously permissive as she remains lounging with her feet up on the front dash of the carriage.

The boy asks her if she’s going snitch on him and she tells him no and why would she. He tells her he’s just hiding from a doofus and not to get her panties in a knot, which she says she won’t, and then he scoffs at the pedal pushers she is wearing and asks if she thinks she’s really cool. He gets up and slouches down close to her and tells her how she probably got the knickers at Markies and how all the trendy girls go to Markies so she shouldn’t be so snotty. Yvonne wants to know who he is hiding from and if he’s in trouble.

He finally admits he’s really not hiding from anyone and that he just wanted to meet her, he thinks she’s nifty-looking. He talks to her about his friends and places he goes and things he does and then, on an impulse, he grabs her hand and tugs her away from the carriage and leads her down a sweep of figures. He tells her he knows the best ride on the merry-go-round and that they should hurry before some one else gets it. He takes her to the large stallion that leads the carousel. It’s a breathtaking palomino jumper with an aquamarine mane that’s plaited along its arched neck and with a daunting glint in its eye. The boy helps boost Yvonne up and then swoops up behind her and sits snugly behind her.

It’s a ticklish escapade, perched atop a towering steed that races ahead in gigantic leaps and bounds. Yvonne tightens her fingers around the fluted pole as the boy wraps his arms around her midriff. She feels a strange intimacy between them, a familiarity with a boy whose body is rolling against hers. The merry-go-round whirls around in one jumbo blur like a pinwheel. There are illuminated faces and glistening figures streaming along in rows and sweeps that rise and fall in waves. Scintillating bells and whistles crackle through the air and blend harmoniously with the swooning of a carnival tune. It’s a galaxy of light and sounds spiraling off in its own world. A young girl on a leaping gazelle appears alongside Yvonne.

The girl has rosy, pudgy cheeks and a tiny nose and a blue ribbon in her smooth, shiny hair. She holds a white cone topped with a glob of flossy, pink cotton candy. There’s the delicious burnt smell of caramel in the air. She offers Yvonne a clump of the sweet confection. Yvonne is hesitant to let go of the pole, but finally takes her hand and cautiously reaches out for the morsel just as the little girl drops back out of sight.

Yvonne rights herself quickly to keep from falling and cling to the pole. The piercing buzzer shoots through Yvonne like an electric shock. She is winded and tries to catch her breath as the ride slows down and comes to a standstill. The boy leans up close to Yvonne’s ear and asks her if the ride wasn’t the most wildest and stupendous one ever, and with that said, he hopped down and scurried away without another word.

Yvonne is stranded atop an inanimate palomino that’s fixed at the apex of its jump. The ride empties around her leaving her alone with just the lifeless figures. There’s an okapi with small disapproving eyes, a wistful mandrill with its purple and scarlet facial markings, a peacock with its tail fanned out, dotted with emerald eyes and, beyond that, a lupine leer. There is a tinny, cartoonish tune blaring away that Yvonne finds almost silly.

She slides down off the stallion and plans to leave when her girlfriends swarm around her, all agog and drawing Yvonne along with them to their special rendezvous spot on the merry-go-round. The special rendezvous spot is a sleigh-like chariot with a front and back bench located on the center row of the merry-go-round. The benches are covered with cinnamon-colored Naugahyde simulating leather. The girls settle in the chariot and gaga over how the boy really wanted Yvonne and how he couldn’t keep his hands off of her. They ask Yvonne what it was like. Yvonne tells them that the boy thought it was stupendous, but isn’t sure what that meant.

Next to Yvonne is her best friend packed in a preppy, pleated skirt and black leggings and covered by a layer of sweaters. Behind her in the back bench is grungy Sally with the black cowl of her hoodie over her head and next to Sally is the athletic Molly wearing her fashionable midnight blue gym shorts, teal tee shirt and running shoes with neon-blue piping and mauve laces. They chatter, noisily, as the merry-go-round gradually repopulates around them with a fresh batch of riders. The alarming buzzer cues the riders to be ready and the floor jerks into motion and starts to rotate.

The ride attendant waits on the concrete floor of the inner well for the ride to get up to speed and then grabs hold of a passing pole and mounts the revolving floor in an oafish twirl. He makes a beeline to the chariot where the girls are to collect their tickets. He leans in close to Yvonne to retrieve hers. He smells of beer and cigarettes. He asks her if she enjoyed the last ride and tells her how he has something that will really make her ride exciting. Yvonne gags by his advances and tells the creep to get lost.

The addled attendant looks at Yvonne a second and then smirks and slithers off down the sweep. The girls squeal in hysterics over Yvonne’s newly found attitude as a group of boys gather around them. They’re school-chums, the whiz kid, the air-guitarist, the jock, and the pretty boy, and they exchange persiflage with the girls and hang out with them. The whiz kid stands next to Yvonne and explains to her how merry-go-rounds are built starting from the laying of tracks in the pit to the rods and cranks of the overhead mechanical framework. Yvonne listens politely, though she feels he’s missing the whole point of the ride and is about to tell him so when the air-guitarist dude slides in, pushing the whiz kid away.

The air-guitarist frenziedly pantomimes the playing of an electrical guitar in front of Yvonne just as she espies the boy in black snickers skulking down a sweep of figures on the other side of the merry-go-round. She watches as the boy ducks into the white swan chariot and disappears. She feels a sense of humiliation and loathing and then perturbed with the air-guitarist who is head-banging in front of her as he pretends playing a guitar to the refrains of "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." She tells him he’s a dork. She feels bad about that, but before she can take it back the tall, sinewy jock shoves the air-guitarist off his spot.

The jock tells Yvonne that he will be playing basketball Thursday night and she has to come and watch him play. Yvonne hears the titillating clangor of the bell and looks about the area and sees Bess, a string-bean with a sable-like bob, standing next to the boy in the beige windbreaker near the arcade. It’s a pungent sight and disheartening and she grimaces. The jock asks her if she likes basketball and she answers yes and he proceeds to tell her that the Thursday night game is at seven, but she should get there early to watch him warm up. She tells him she’s busy that night which is a lie, but she didn’t know what else to say since she isn’t feeling well and wants to be left alone. The pretty boy joins the jock.

The pretty boy needs to know from Yvonne if he had made a good impression on one of Yvonne’s acquaintances and before she could quiz him on it, he begins chatting with the jock about his recent encounter. Her best friend had left the chariot and is now speaking with the ride attendant and pointing over toward Yvonne. Yvonne glowers at her friend knowing her friend is setting her up with the attendant just to make her feel more like a floozy. As the boys chatter, Yvonne leans her head back and rests it on the top edge of the bench. She stares up at the pavilion roof that is spinning backwards overhead.

She rolls her head to the side and sees herself in the mirror. She has a narrow oblong face with a large crooked nose. Her insides are buzzing and spinning with all sorts of strange sensations. The titillating bell rings. And he is nowhere to be found, Yvonne says to herself.

Yvonne gets up and squeeze out past the two conversing boys and escapes down the sweep of figures. She heads against the flow of the revolving floor and totters as she walks. She finds herself in the midst of a birthday party with a covey of youngsters yo-yoing on their rides. The birthday party is for a pretty little girl dressed in a white ruffled dress on the unicorn with her dad attending her. The girl seems quite pleased with it all.

Yvonne gives the little girl a tiny smile and heads on. She passes a young lad, decked out in cowboy gear with a black Stetson hat. He sits atop a galloping horse that’s also outfitted in western gear. The lad frantically whips the figure about its neck with the leather reins trying to get it to giddy-up faster. Yvonne stops and gapes at Sally, the fashionable athlete, who’s joined the air-guitarist in front of the band organ. The two strum away on their make-believe guitars to the blasting music coming from the cabinet.

Such an odd couple, it’s just not right, not right, Yvonne feels. Behind the cowboy flogger is an old blowzy gal with smeared rogue and lipstick on her face, a tattooed ankle, and a shabby toy doll on her lap, cackling as she rides on a jumper. Yvonne averts her eyes and sees the ride attendant slinking along the sweep, ogling her as he collects tickets. She moves on. She comes to her grungy friend, Molly, who is standing precariously on the shoulders of the jock that has her ankles locked in his hands.

The jock is teetering on top of a glistering hippopotamus as Molly shouts and whoops boastfully. It’s crazy, just crazy Yvonne feels, and far too dangerous. She comes to an empty hollow on the ride. She glances back and sees the ride attendant talking to the pretty birthday girl. It’s sickening, just sickening. She grabs hold of a pole and bends her head back to stare at the bright nodes of lights running along the arms of the canopy. She closes her eyes tight and lets herself be pulled away by the invisible force. The specter of a huge black octopus swoops down over her.

The silenced buzzer startles Yvonne and she opens her eyes and looks warily around. The mechanical ride comes to a standstill. The riders dismount and trample off. There is an eerie moment of stillness, as if the world has been unplugged. The menagerie of carved and painted figures is caught fixed in place and time.

The boy in the beige windbreaker appears and asks Yvonne if she would like to join him for a soda or something. Yvonne smiles and loosens her grip on the pole and asks if he is speaking to her. He is and she accepts. The two leave the merry-go-round and walk past the bustling crowd at the arcade and past a clown holding a cluster of colorful helium balloons and through a group of young children chasing each other around. They pass through the placid portal in the tall hedge to the park. On the other side of the portal is a hummingbird with a kelly-green chest plate that hovers in front of them.

Yvonne views the delicacy and liveliness of the bird before it darts away. They promenade along the path which winds through the pastoral greenery. Yvonne asks him if he likes the merry-go-round and he tells her that it’s an amusing ride at best and she admits that it’s a bit crazy and then tells him how her father would to bring her there when she was young. As they walk, he tells her about people he wants to meet and places he’d like to go and things he wants to do and she tells him how she feels.

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