By Len Kuntz

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—–At the carnival, my father holds my hand for the first time, his skin damp like a bed sheet.
—–The bearded lady is obese with a sleeveless dress that shows her armpit hair. My father
says, “People can be whatever they damn well please,” and maybe the bearded lady hears
because she starts tittering and can’t stop.
—–He buys me a cotton candy cone. I can’t help noticing how it resembles that lady’s
beard, only this fluff is pink. When I refuse to eat, my father snatches it away and mashes it
under his boot the same way he does cigarette butts.
—–I want to go on the ride and I don’t. I’m waiting for him to tell me something. There
must be news. He’s never taken me anywhere that wasn’t about work or errands.
—–At The Dime Toss, I finally drop a coin down the throat of a vase and get a little puppet
monkey that’s missing one eye. I nickname him Reg and send him a message with my mind not
to worry, that he will always be safe with me. I use my thumb and make his head nod
—–My father says we can do The Ferris Wheel, but he gets distracted at the shooting station.
The prize is a giant panda. He keeps firing but not making enough hits. He pulls out bills until
his wallet is flat.
—–He doesn’t drive home and I should ask why he’s parked in a lot but I don’t. We sleep.
—–Next morning, he gets out, goes up to the store’s glass door and makes a worker open
early by gesturing at me and saying something.
—–The stuffed bear he buys barely fits in the backseat. Its fluffy ear tickles my own ear.
—–When we get home, Mom’s not there to receive her stuffed animal. Dad reaches into the
cupboard, behind a sack of sugar, and pulls out a bottle. He drains it over an hour’s time.
—–I come out of my room when I smell smoke. The panda’s arm and chest are on fire while
my Dad’s sits on the sofa, watching the flames lap and lick and smolder.
—–He doesn’t respond when I speak or yell or scream, so I get Reg and put a few things in
my backpack.
—–Outside it’s abundant sunshine, as if the world is ignorant or only cares about itself.
There’ll be time to figure that out later. Now’s the time for walking, walking fast.

Len Kuntz