Each animal on the carousel was very distinct and had it’s own particular coloring. Even if there was more than one horse, they were different, one with it’s head up, screaming against it’s bit, the other, head down, tightly reined, eyes rolling wildly in panic. The tiger was running for its life, paws splayed, saddle tightly gripping its brown and orange back where a saddle should never be. Lions, unicorns, dragons and plain old benches that looked, well, exactly like benches. All the tortured beasts with poles driven straight through them. No wonder they looked scared to death.
Being larger than most, this particular carousel was a treasure trove of emotional despair. Kids ratcheted along the metal walk-way, outrunning their parents as they searched frantically for the ride of their choice, the one they had seen roll by while they were waiting in line, hoping to God it would not be taken by someone else when they got there. There was never a good second choice once their heart had been captured by a particular beast.
Most children riding here didn’t pay close attention to the actions of their chosen creature when it was going by. Their eyes were filled with the colors of the animal, the look of its eyes and the stretch of its legs. They became over-whelmed by the desire to ride that specific animal, to sit in its saddle and be seen by the world as the one child riding that beast on the carousel. It was a victory that was well within their grasp if they could just get to it faster than everyone else.
Once the jostling for position was finished and the children were seated upon their beasts, most with happy smiles, some with frowns as they took another option because they had been too slow, the music swelled and the carousel began to turn. This is where the real fun begins. The innocent bystander, keenly watching from beyond the gated line can see the first signs of trouble almost instantly. The coolest animals, the ones with the best and most attractive colors and expressions, the dragons and hydras and griffons, were on the outside row. These caught the eye first. They were the most sought after, their beauty out-shining the commoness of the inner animals. The children who raced for these animals were deaf to the warnings of their parents and later in life would become assistant things to assistants of big things. They would never be the big things themselves because they were not observant enough and didn’t listen. Their lives would become dangerously mundane and unfulfilled.
One full revolution of the carousel and the faces of the children astride the animals on the outside row began to change. Their bright eyes changed to hard, glittering stones of anger that, for some, bordered on rage. By the second revolution the reality of their choice had set in. Their mouths turned down, the light drained from their eyes and their dreams fell in fragments upon the metal walk-way. Their chosen beasts didn’t move. There was no elevation to the outside row. There was no rise and fall. Despite being faster than the other children they had achieved a horribly empty victory by being first.
The lone bystander, watching in delight with his phone’s camera app open and pointed at the carousel received even more amusement as his digital memories also captured the faces of parents, some as confused looking as the idiots they had spawned while others looked victorious, their little angels having chosen wisely from the inner rows. A few, one or two actually, looked defeated, their warnings having bounced off the ears of their offspring and been crushed beneath the wings of a stationary dragon. This was not the first life-choice their children had made but it was definitely one that wouldn’t be erased. Clearly the future was bleak for these parents, their hopes of immortality having just been completely re-written in the time it took for their child to choose a stationary beast in the most public manner possible.
Later in life there would be other carousels, ones made with the idea of equal opportunity in mind, the stationary objects clearly defined for the little challenged ones. Those carousels wouldn’t be a balm for the wound left by the failure of the first choice and they would be known by a different name. Merry-go-round. The title itself conjured images of pallid faces smeared with cotton candy and ketchup, little hands grubby from stinky hotdogs and half-melted drumsticks. This was the future for the children on the outside row, a cheap circus ride as opposed to an expensive theme park.
The ride slows to a halt and the parents assist their children off the animals. Some shuffle, head down toward the exit, their expressions blank and turned inward. Others leave quickly, dragging their brats by the elbow, hoping they could get out of the public eye before someone who mattered spotted them and discovered the choice their child had made, their brains already piecing together the explanation they would give to try and draw attention away from the obvious. The parents from the inside rows left with smiles plastered on their faces, their children sheparded closely through the crowd, held back just a step from walking too closely to a child from the outer row.
The innocent bystander swipes through the latest batch of photos, chuckles over a few particularly humorous ones then closes the app and slips the phone into his jacket pocket. Defeat had flavor all its own. He would be back tomorrow for another taste.