The Fall Kickoff
The wind smelled like winter as they got out of the car, picking at the edges of their shirts, the hems of their pants. The sun beat against the pavement and warmed the bottoms of their shoes, reminding them that it was still too early for cooler temperatures. Their dad took their hands as they made their way towards the carnival. They could see the lines of inflatables through the trees, the bright reds, and oranges, and yellows of the thick plastic bounce houses. They could hear the hum of the wind machines, the shouts of kids. They ran towards them, and their dad jogged behind them. The older one picked one with a slide and kicked off his shoes and climbed in, the younger one right behind him before their dad caught his legs and pulled him out to take off his shoes. They bounced and flung their bodies at the nets around the edges of the bounce house. The younger one shouted and stuck his nose against the palm of their mom’s hand. He bounced towards his brother and tackled him. They toppled and laughed, limbs flying everywhere. They made their way to the slide and out of the bounce house and ran back to the entrance in their socks, their cheeks red with sweat and joy. The younger one ignored the line and got back in while the older one waited his turn. They shouted and called out each other’s names and pretended to be cars or trucks or superheroes.
The younger one refused to leave, kept making the loop from bouncing, to the slide, to the entrance, over and over again. Their dad took the older one through the obstacle course, the whole thing shaking as he threw his body over walls and between poles. The older one watched other kids step into giant balloon balls the size of their living room; watched as their bodies were swallowed by plastic before they rolled themselves across the pavement. The older one finally convinced the younger one to follow him, though he refused to put his shoes on and walked across the pavement in his socks. The older one found a slide the height of a small building and started climbing up the steps. The younger one tried to follow, but his legs kept slipping, sending his small body back to the bottom. Their dad took off his own shoes and stepped in, grabbed the younger one around the waist, and carried him to the top. The three of them lined up next to one another and slid down at the same time, their legs and arms tangling. When they stepped off, the static across their skin made the hairs on their arms stand at attention.
The older one wanted to play miniature golf, so the younger one did as well. They both wanted a red club and an orange ball, made sure the other one’s matched their own. The older one went first, high fiving their dad every time the ball dropped in the hole. The younger moved slower. When he hit the ball he would catch the rubber part of his shoe, or the plastic turf the ball rested on, or the pavement. Sometimes, he would hit the ball in the wrong direction, sending it flying across the parking lot, leaving their mom to chase after it. Eventually, he began to place his ball next to the hole, shouting whenever he knocked it in, running to the next one to keep up with his brother. They didn’t want to give up their balls at the last hole. Their dad promised them popcorn and snow cones, so the older one dropped the ball in the basket. The younger one still refused and gripped the ball in his fist and screamed when their mom tried to pick him up, making his body slack and heavy. The older one whispered to him and held out his hand. He gave him a hug when his brother finally dropped it into his open hands.
They made their way towards the group of food trucks; the smell of coffee and burgers and fried sugar thick in the air. They both wanted snow cones for lunch, the colored ice dripping down their chins and melting across the front of their shirts. The older one’s was purple and left his fingertips looking bruised. The younger one’s was red and he spilled it across the pavement leaving a cherry stain. The younger one had bites of their dad’s hamburger, pieces of fries dipped in ketchup, a bag of butter-soaked popcorn. They found games and had their faces painted with likenesses of Lightning McQueen and rode bumper cars that they beached in the grass. They rode a Ferris Wheel and sat across from one another and laughed as the motor pounded across their eardrums and spun them around and around. When it was time to leave, they drug their feet and begged for another bag of popcorn or the fried balls of dough covered in powdered sugar. They moved slowly across the parking lot, the sun on their faces, their dad’s hands on the top of their heads, leading them towards the car.