The Carnival
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Why on earth would a man raise his hand against himself."
Originally featured on 12-08-2010
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

I am your face. I know that. It’s why I did my makeup before I left my apartment. Wore the colors you like. And why I keep my mouth mostly shut. Because I like to be your face. A beautiful, female extension. Let me be inside your bounds; it hurts to be this naked.

We arrived at the carnival before your friends and as we waited near the ticket booth you wrapped both arms around me, resting your hands on my lower back just above my skirt and you made the softest noise in your chest, something that rumbled to me. I rested my head on your shoulder and heard your heartbeat pulsing in my ears. We are parts of each other, a union.

The other couples, all belonging to you, arrived and we moved into the chaos. Lights swirling, crushed popcorn under feet. The smell of pony manure. We hold hands as we walk and I imagine that we are conjoined and that you can’t let go. The girls are talking, giggling loudly a few steps in front of us, and I smile and lean forward to join and you squeeze my hand tight, a signal for silence, that I should stop immediately and I do, my mouth left partially open without any noise. Your hand is now a leash and I feel pulled. I do not pull away because I like where you’re going.

You talk and are genuinely funny, and I know how I should be. I am an extension of you and I should stay within bounds, control the image. I know that there should be some smile on my face, but not too much and that I should say only a little, to avoid embarrassing you, but to make sure I stay engaged with the group. It’s better that way anyway, less to say, less to explain. Less to try to convince you that I should have said all that I said. I am a beautiful poppet. It’s fun to let my head bounce from side to side, but I burn with worry. Mostly I want you to hold me.

The other couples want to go on the ferris wheel, but you don’t. I know this because your body told me so, the way you leaned and the tiny lines in your face. It’s a privilege to know you so well and to be inside your brain. Instead of riding the wheel, you pull my hand inside a building. It’s orange and red, like the insides of eyelids. In the doorway, there is a shift beneath the floor and our two faces blend in an opposing warped mirror, like a future child. I slip and for just a moment I’m on the floor blocking the doorway and your face is disgust because people are waiting, watching this mess of me. I’ve upturned ourselves. I didn’t adjust fast enough. And your hands go up in the air, in exasperation and I think, why on earth would a man raise a hand against himself? But you only stay like that for a moment and I scramble to my feet and we move deeper through the tunnels.

Vinyl is in the air, and there are black smudges on the walls from confusing gravity and the black heeled shoes of teenagers. You lean in to kiss me and its deep and I feel self-conscious because we are not alone, but I don’t pull away, feel my face dissolving into yours and I let it go. For a moment I rest. It’s safer to be inside your arms, inside your head, it’s warmer. You pull back a little and start to breath fiery breath into my face. That I’ve embarrassed you with my clothes, my thoughts, my words. That you can’t own them because they are so ugly. And I’m so sorry that I embarrassed you. I want to be owned, want you to want me. It stings and I feel pushed away, my hand naked and out by itself, the air in-between us cold and unused.

We are parts of each other, a union, and that’s what lets you protect me, and lets me rest in the nook of your arm when we sleep. You turn a corner in the tunnels, your body now reflected as a giant in a mirror. It makes me smile, you, my pillar. I let my fingers touch the tips of yours as we crouch and move through the rooms, big and small, wide and choking. Again, you hold my hand tight and I’m found. The maze no longer a task, I let you pull me and I rest, using your momentum, your power. There is a moment when the ground shakes again, hard and rolling and our limbs are mixed in a mess on the floor. You pick us up again and the arm pulls me out the back door of the building.

In silence, we return to the front of the building. It is time for composing and I tuck my feelings deeper behind my eyes. I want your hands on my back again, but I know it won’t happen now, not til later and I’ve earned it. I smile deeply on your face and greet the couples as we turn the corner.

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