One of my favorite places is Palisades Park. Other towns have to wait all year for their fairs to come, but we have our fair any time we want.
Palisades Park has games and rides and haunted houses and yummy food like cotton candy and chocolate waffles.
They have a giant slide. It looks like fun. If a regular slide is a regular amount of fun, wouldn’t a giant slide be a giant amount of fun?
“I want to go on the giant slide!” I say.
Mommy and Daddy smile. They don’t like it that I’m scared to go on all the rides except the merry-go-round.
Daddy pays twenty-five cents for each of us and we walk up the stairs. Up and up and up…too high! My heart pounds hard. I look down at Mommy and the kids and get dizzy. I wish I was back on the ground! I wish I never thought the giant slide would be fun. It doesn’t feel fun now.
We get to the top. “I don’t want to go down the giant slide, Daddy! I want to go back down the stairs! It’s too high! It’s too scary!”
The man hears me and says, “The only way up is the stairs and the only way down is the slide. No going up the slide, no going down the stairs.”
“You can keep the twenty-five cents!” I tell the man and start crying.
“No can do.” He frowns.
“It’ll be fun, Leslie,” Daddy says. “Remember, you said you wanted to go on the giant slide, remember how fun you said it looked?”
Daddy sits on the burlap sack and puts me on his lap.
“Don’t touch the sides. Only touch the sack,” the man says. “Don’t touch the sides.”
He pushes Daddy’s back and I scream. We fly down the slide! We have to stop! I grab the sides! I have to stop us!
“Don’t, Leslie!” Daddy yells, trying to hold my hands down.
We never slow down till we get to the bottom.
I run to Mommy. I can’t stop crying. I’m dizzy and my tummy hurts. My hands are bright red and burning. I don’t ever want to go on another ride again!
One place I do want to go is the Freak Show. I want to see the two-headed calf and the world’s tiniest horse, the Siamese-twin babies preserved forever, the Lizard Boy, and all the other wonders of the natural world. Mommy and Daddy say no.
Every time we go to Palisades Park I ask to go to the Freak Show over and over and they say no over and over. Until one day, they say yes.
Mommy stays outside with the kids and Daddy takes me in.
The room is so quiet, not like outside. I walk up to a box look in. I see a little, tiny horse, no bigger than a dog. He’s so cute! He’s standing with his head down. I want to pick him up and hug him. I want to take him home and let him live in my room and sleep in my bed with me. He’s so adorable and cuddly. But he’s still and looks sad and lonely.
The next box has the two-headed calf laying in hay. He’s cute and creepy, all at the same time. He’s alive, but it looks like his two heads are too heavy to hold up and that four legs aren’t enough for a two-headed calf. The calf looks sad and lonely, like the horse. Do they ever get to play with each other or do they always have to stay in their own separate boxes?
Big jars sit on shelves. The biggest one has the Siamese twin babies, floating with open eyes, bugged out and staring, gray skin and curled up fingers. Two boys with one big head, two faces and no neck, floating in a jar forever. Never alive, never knowing if he was one person with two faces or two people with one head. Never knowing anything at all, not even that people like me would pay twenty-five cents to stare at him.
Other jars have snakes with two heads, weird looking fish, and a hand that got cut off and stuck in a jar.
Lizard Boy sits on the other side of the room. He has on just shorts, I guess so everyone can see as much of his lizard skin as possible. The picture on the wall says he was born in Africa and his mother was a tribal princess and his father was a crocodile. How did that happen? It sounds impossible. But then how come he’s a boy with a lizard’s skin? He doesn’t even look like a lizard boy. He looks like a lizard grown-up man.
We stare at him and he stares at the wall behind us. I know he can hear the mean stuff people are saying, but he acts like he can’t. He acts like he’s back in Africa and left his body here to fool everybody. He never moves.
Me and Daddy go outside and Mommy says, “Well, Leslie, did you like the Freak Show?” I shake my head, no. I don’t even want to hear the sound of my own voice. I never ask to go in the Freak Show again