He parked the car and told his passenger that he’d be right back.
He walked across the grass toward the carousel.
Built by Charles Looff, master carver, in 1895, it was the largest and most elaborate of Looff’s creations, the greatest example of the Coney Island Style carousel ever made. Sixty-one meticulously carved wooden horses and four ornate chariots had traveled around and around for over a century, delighting children and adults alike. Fifty-six of the carved horses were jumpers, so named because they had all four feet off the ground, attached by a pole to a mechanism that allowed the rider to gallop up and down as he rode. There was a ring game, too, where riders on the outside of the carousel tried to grab a ring from a dispenser as they passed. Most of the rings were iron, but a few were brass. A brass ring earned you a free ride. He had only gotten the brass ring once.
Mostly, he and his mother would visit the library when his father wasn’t feeling well, but sometimes, when she had a little money, they’d come here after the library visit and ride the carousel.
That’s what she’d say. “Daddy’s not feeling well. Let’s give him some peace and quiet.”
They’d slip out the back door, walk down to the library and spend a few hours browsing the stacks. He’d choose a book, and she’d get a magazine and they’d sit companionably at a table in the corner and read. Sometimes, if a study room was free, she’d read aloud to him. She’d read classics. Around the World in Eighty Days, Gulliver’s Travels, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn were his favorites. He loved it when she read to him, even after he was old enough to read those books himself.
They’d stay away from home long enough, so that his father would be asleep when they got back.
He knew, but never said, that his father wasn’t sick at all. He was drunk. If she didn’t want to talk about it, he would not push it. She protected him from his father, and in return, he accepted the pretense.
Mostly, his father wasn’t a mean drunk. He knew other kids in the neighborhood whose fathers would drink until they ended up beating everyone in the house. No one talked about it. You just knew. Sound carries through open windows. Closed windows, too, if you’re yelling loud enough. His father wasn’t like that. Most of the time. He’d usually just drink too much and fall asleep on the couch. Sometimes, he’d tell you a story you’d heard a million times before and you’d have to pretend that it was the first telling. It was annoying, but not a big deal. But, every once in a while, the man would take offense at nothing at all. She had a gift for seeing the warning signs and they’d be out the door before any fireworks had even started.
As a result, he always felt safe when he walked into a library. He always felt joy upon seeing a carousel. She had scooped him away from danger and had replaced any distressing memories he might have had with scenes of reading in a quiet space and whooping for joy as he tried to grasp the brass ring.
After he went away to college, she got a job and kicked her husband out.
His father got sober ten years after that. It was too late for his parents to have any kind of friendship, but she was always cooly cordial to her former husband whenever their paths had crossed.
He stood watching the horses go around, listening to the squeals of the children as they reached out for the rings.
His father walked up and stood beside him.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine. Just memories.”
“I don’t remember ever coming here.”
“You didn’t. Mom and I came.”
“Ah. So, this is where you went?”
“Here and the library.”
“Hiding from me.”
“I’m sorry she had to protect you from me. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”
“You’re here now.”
“And she isn’t.”
“No, she isn’t. It’s just chance, isn’t it? You don’t choose your family.”
“No, you don’t. It’s luck. You were lucky to have gotten the mother you had.”
“Yes. I got the brass ring.”
© 2021 Liza Cameron Wasser