The Carousel Couple

Contest Entry by Elaine Calloway, 2006

Buck and Nelly had been together for years, although Buck often thought that he was just going in circles.  I want more out of life than having a pole rammed through my stomachWhy can’t I ride with the wild mustangs in the West?  There are open pastures on this Earth, allowing our kind to roam free.  Here I sit, going around and around.  Where is the fun in that?  He snorted, then braced himself for the small, sticky folk.

“What’s going through that head of yours, Buck?” Nelly asked.

“I just want more out of life, Nelly, don’t you?  I want to be free of this place.”

“Buck, you used to enjoy the small folks, remember?”

Buck snorted and thought about that question.  At one point, he did like the small folks. Boys in trousers and girls in dresses would hurry to see him, and he felt proud to carry them on his back.  The bigger people stood on the sidelines and waved.  He made an effort to always smile back at them.  On his watch, the small folks were safe.

“I liked them plenty when they had respect.  The young folk used to dress up to come here.  They treated us well.  The golden poles and metallic colors here were always in mint condition.  Now look what has happened to our neighborhood!  Jimmy the frog only has one eye, Lance the lion’s tail is all scratched up, and look at me!  What is this sticky stuff on my mane?” he demanded.

“I believe that is ketchup,” Nelly replied.  “One of the kids yesterday must have had some on his fingers from eating a hot dog.”

“Red, sticky stuff on my mane.  Talk about a bad hair day, and this is mild!  Do you remember the one who threw macaroni and cheese at my tail?”

Grinning, Nelly replied, “Yes, that was a fun day.”

“Nelly, aren’t you tired of them too?  Yes, some of them are nice, but most of the time, they just scream, kick, throw things, and put food in my mane!” Buck roared.

Nelly was about to reply, when Buck continued on.  “And what is with these human types anyway?  To this day, I don’t understand why the big people carry around those square, black boxes, nor do I understand ‘Say cheese’.  What kind of ridiculous statement is that?  Where is this cheese?  I certainly never got a bite of it, although the long hours I put in would warrant at least a tiny snack.”

“Don’t get too overwrought, Buck,” Nelly said.  “Yes, our neighborhood has fallen by the wayside just slightly.  What do you propose we do about it?  Everyone probably feels similar to you, but we are stuck here.  This is our purpose, to bring smiles to the young ones everywhere.”

“I don’t remember agreeing to this purpose,” Buck retorted.  “And if others do feel the same as me, we should do something about it!  When this day is over, when the sticky folk have gone home, and that commander in chief has left, we should have a meeting.”

“Fine, Buck.  For now, try and put on a smile,” Nelly said, flaunting the flower in her mane.

“Okay.  Tonight things are going to change, though!” Buck said, as he glanced at the incoming crowd.  A fat boy, his face plastered in chocolate, stood there in a tight T-shirt, smiling at Buck.    “Oh no…” Buck said.

***

The dark sky covered the carousel like a big circus tent, and the commander-in-chief was counting his money.  “We did better today than last weekend,” he said.   A thin man by the name of Jack, he had bought this carousel from the original owner, who’d built it by hand.  Jack dusted off his black cowboy boots, then said, “I think the promotional specials on Saturdays are working for us.”

Buck piped up, “Who is he talking to?  He talks to us like we are his pets, but I have yet to see him clean up our neighborhood.”

“Shhh…he’s almost done.  Let him talk to us if he wants,” Nelly said.

“Well, that’s it for the night.  See you all in the morning,” Jack said, walking away.  Buck watched until he was sure that Jack was gone.

“He’s left!  Let’s get this meeting going!” Buck said.

“I’m tired and don’t want to meet,” Shelly the sheep said.  “I carried those twins today and they wouldn’t stop screaming in my ears.  I’m going to need earplugs just to survive this summer.”

“Nonsense.  We’ve all had a difficult day, but this is important,” Buck replied.

All the animals began to pay attention, knowing that if they didn’t, Buck would make their lives more miserable than they already were.

“Okay, everyone.  The purpose of this meeting is to see where all of you stand.  I, for one, am sick and tired of tolerating kids putting sticky things on me.  None of these young folk have any respect for us, and I say that we need to break out of this carousel for good,” Buck said, as he tried to gauge others’ reactions.

“I agree.  That rotten Tommy person threw firecrackers at me, causing me to lose one eye!” Jimmy the frog said.  “I don’t care if he was a…what did Jack call him…a ‘surly teenager’.  I say it was uncalled for!  Where did these surly teens come from, anyway, and who’s to say that they won’t return?”

“The surly teens are bigger versions of the young sticky folk, so I’ve been told,” said Ralph the ram.  “They’re so cute when they are young, that’s how the bigger people put up with them when they are teenagers.”

“You reiterate my point well,” Buck said.  “Anyone else?”

“I’m with you on breaking out,” Lance the lion said, “but how do you suggest we do that?  In case you don’t remember, we have metal poles drilled through our stomachs!”

Buck replied, “I think that if one of us – perhaps Jimmy the frog, since he is so good at hopping – could bust out and fall down, that could be the good start to my plan.  Jack would have to shut down the carousel to fix us, and in the process, he’d have to take the carousel apart.  Once he’s taken us apart, we can each flee when it’s dark and he’s not looking!”

“My pole still is a bit loose from the explosion,” Jimmy the frog said.  “It just might work if I can get up enough momentum.”

“Good, then it’s settled.  Tomorrow, try and move the pole so that your station can become dismounted.  To the plan!” he cheered.

***

All the carousel animals were anxious the following morning.  Perhaps this was it, and they could make their getaway.  Jack powered up the carousel.  Jack felt an eerie feeling as he looked at the animals; it was if someone was watching him closely.  “Morning,” Jack said, as he set up the carousel.  He turned around to grab a muffin, and could have sworn that he was being laughed at.  He glanced back at the animals, then questioned his decision to have that last shot of tequila the night before.

“Everyone ready?” Buck whispered.  The animals made soft noises in agreement.  The sticky folk were approaching.  Fortunately, there were only three or four of them at the gate awaiting a ride, and nobody wanted to sit on Jimmy the toad.

“I’m set!” Jimmy said, happy that no one had sat on him.  The carousel started churning in that consistent circle.  By the third rotation, Jimmy had wedged his pole loose and thrust himself forward with a bang.  The pole fell onto Lance the lion, who yelped but did so courteously in order to protect the greater plan.

Since Jack had partaken of too many tequila shots the previous night, it took him a few minutes to realize what was happening.  By then, the big people were screaming in terror.  “Whoa!  What’s going on here?” he yelled as he pushed the off button to the carousel.  Meanwhile, the kids were shrieking to avoid the flapping pole, which was attached to a one-eyed frog.  The bigger people ran onto the carousel when it stopped, grabbed their small folk, and left in a hurry.

“Oh no,” Jack said, as he saw the parents leaving.  “I’ll be back up and running again soon, folks!  Please come back!  You can all get complimentary rides!”  The parents weren’t listening, but the animals were feeling pleased with themselves. “Great,” Jack said.  “Now I’m out of business until I can get that pole fixed.”

Buck smiled and said to Nelly, “See, I told you this plan could work.”

***

Nelly opened her eyes to the sound of a whirring drill.  The images that she took in suggested that she was in a warehouse.  Momentary panic set in, until she realized that Buck was right next to her, as always, and that she was safe.

“Buck?” she prompted.  No response.

“Buck!  Wake up!” she said.

“What?  What?  I’m here,” Buck replied, though he was not sure where he was.

“Buck, where are we?  Jimmy the frog is missing, and so are the rest of the animals.  I hear a drill going, but other than that, I don’t know what is happening,” Nelly said.

“Give me a minute to get my bearings,” Buck replied, not fully conscious.  The warehouse smells and sounds were unfamiliar to him.

A loud noise came from down the hall corridor.  “Jimmy?” Buck asked. “Jimmy, is that you?”

“Huh?” Jimmy replied in a doped-up voice.

“What’s going on?” Buck asked.

“I don’t know,” Jimmy said, “I feel strange.”

“Did you hear a drill?” Buck asked.

“Jack is putting my pole back together.  He still needs more bolts to finish, though,” Jimmy replied.  “It’ll probably take a few days.”

Buck turned toward Nelly.  “We can escape now if we want to,” he said.

“What about Jimmy? What about Ralph the ram, or Shelly the sheep?  What about our friends, Buck?” Nelly said.

“We knew that this might happen.  I just feel we need to bolt out on our own, Nelly.”

Nelly was not happy with leaving her friends.  “What is your plan, Buck?” she said.

“We can hide behind Ralph the ram, and gradually make our way to the front door,” he said.

Nelly glanced around.  “Hide behind whom?” she said in a smart tone.

“Ralph the ram!” said Buck, not fully comprehending the situation.  “He can help us, and then we can get Shelly the sheep to stall for us, and we’re out the door!  New Mexico here we come!  Wild plains and mountains!  It is everything we ever dreamed of, Nelly!”

Nelly grew impatient.  “How are we going to escape with all of their help if they are not anywhere to be found?”

Suddenly, Buck realized he was caught in a catch-22.  He had spent his entire life attached to these other creatures; it never dawned on him that now he would not have access to their help.  “Oh gee, Nelly, I guess I wasn’t thinking,” Buck said.  “I guess I wanted to break free so much, I didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have their help.”

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Buck,” Nelly chided.

“I know.  I was just so looking forward to us getting away, where we could be happy.”

“Take another look.  We are happy.  We have friends, we have people who like to come spend time with us, we have each other, Buck.”

“I really wanted to roam free with the mustangs,” Buck said.

“The grass is not always greener,” Nelly said.  “I know that the sticky young folk aren’t what they used to be.  They’re a new generation of small people.  That doesn’t mean they are worthless, though.  You see a fat boy get some ketchup on your mane.  What you don’t see is that young boy growing up and becoming a hero.”

“What?” asked a puzzled Buck.

“One of the bigger people rode on my back once, while you were asleep,” Nelly said.

“When was this?” retorted Buck.

“Several years back, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that I heard the heart of that woman that night.  She sat on my back and told me her story.”

“And what does this have to do with New Mexico?” Buck asked.

“Forget New Mexico, you malcontent nincompoop!” Nelly yelled.

Buck stood there sheepishly.  Nelly had a way of narrowing him to his bare self with one glance.  He thought it best to not say anything further except, “Why don’t you tell me more, sweetie?”

Nelly glared, then continued her story.  “As I was saying, the tall woman came to our carousel one night and told me her story.  Seems her son, nineteen years old, had pursued his dream of being a firefighter.  He had saved the lives of people and animals before he was killed in the line of duty.  She sat on my back and clutched my neck.  Her salty tears spilled down my mane as she recounted the numerous times she had brought her son, only five years old, to this carousel.  He loved it here, but he especially loved us – the horses.”

Buck, feeling rather foolish, began shifting his weight from one leg to the other.  Nelly seemed to enjoy that he was feeling uncomfortable.  “It may not be glamorous, Buck, and it may not be New Mexico, but what you and I do here is important.  We may not see the end results, but I learned that night that we do have the ability to make an impact.”

Buck snorted and mumbled something.

“What was that?” Nelly asked.

“I said I guess you’re right,” Buck said.

“So,” Nelly continued, “while I know you get frustrated from day to day, I want you to remember that we have an important purpose here.  Got it?”

Buck agreed, knowing if he didn’t, he would be headed for that glue factory in the sky.

“I think we should enjoy this opportunity to rest up before Jack opens up the carousel again.  This is our purpose,” Nelly said.

Despite all earlier protests, Buck agreed.

***

Several weeks later, things went back to normal.  The sun shone in the sky, bringing a smile to the Earth and all walking in it.  Jack was finishing up on the carousel, making all the parts work better than they had before.  He put a refresher coat of paint on some of the animals, and shone up the gold poles a bit.  Jimmy the frog now had both eyes, and the carousel menagerie looked almost new.

At day’s end, Jack looked back at his carousel and smiled.  “Night everyone.  We start promotional rides tomorrow.”  He turned and headed for home, but not before glancing back at the carousel for one last look at his handiwork.  A puzzled look crept across his face.  “That’s funny.  I don’t remember painting that one,” he said, referring to Buck.  Upon closer examination, Jack discovered that, unlike before, Buck now appeared to be smiling.