Like a Giant Beacon


The Ferris wheel is on fire, and has been for a while by the time the commotion wakes us and leads us back out onto the midway.  No one can tell us how it happened, only that it is happening.  Everyone is confused about things and we are no different.  We can’t even remember what town we’re in, or what day it is.  The monotony of carnival life is a boredom broken only now by the singular event of the Ferris wheel burning.

We shield our eyes against the carnival lights and the rising flames until finally we begin to discern details, coming to grips with the fact that the Ferris wheel is doomed to the fire.  It is already too late to save anyone.  The flames have already consumed the people in the lower gondolas and the people above them will soon be next.  No one tries to climb down or to escape.  Even in the face of impossible odds, they believe that the rest of us will find a way to save them, if only they sit still and wait to be rescued.

Finally, the flames devour enough of the wheel that the girl riding alone in the uppermost gondola is all that remains, the only possible focal point of our vigil.  She screams like an eagle, her lungs filling with smoke and transforming it into astonishing amounts of sound.  We recognize her, this girl: brown hair, brown eyes, red dress, pretty enough but not the best looking girl at the carnival.  Hours ago she was at our booth, trying desperately over and over to win the giant stuffed bear hanging in the corner, the one that only a perfect throw could win.  She tried so hard that eventually we offered it to her despite her losses but she turned us down.  She said, I don’t need your help.  I’ll win by myself or I won’t win at all.  The flames rise, below her still but climbing fast, burning around the circumference of the Ferris wheel and heading for her lonely spot at its apex.  We imagine what it must be like to be her, to go from the best spot on the wheel to the worst in just one indiscernible second, like crossing an invisible border.

Smoke and flames obscure the girl now, keeping her from us.  We cannot look away, but it is hard to believe she has a chance.  We curse the slow fire trucks, and then we curse the carnival’s owner for purposely setting up in a remote spot, far from the normals and their potential harassment.  We are far from their police stations and their fire stations and their emergency services, and even if they try their best they will be too late.  We shield our eyes with the flats of our hands and stare hard into the smoke, just in time to see the girl stand in the gondola, the hem of her dress dancing about the sharp orange barbs of flame.  She steps to the edge of the gondola and before we can yell to her she jumps.

The girl falls.  It is not far, but it is eternity also.  The Ferris wheel is not moving anymore, the machinery burnt and ruined, leaving the flames to scorch their way around the circle.  We watch her plummet, her body transformed into a comet trail of fluttering dress, of long brown hair streaming behind.  The effects of gravity are the same on everyone, no matter how much you love them.  The wheel turns.  We do not love her, not yet, not in this lifetime.  The wheel turns and burns and then we know that we will someday love her, not only in the next life but in every life to come, our hearts aflame together at every tiny point that describes this perfect circle, the one that burns brighter until finally it collapses, ruined, into the suddenly starry night.  The girl lands and disappears into the ground.  One day we will follow to wherever she has gone.  

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