by Evan Vosburgh
There wasn’t a big crowd like down in Zion when the big top would come down before Flag Day and Mom would let me wear my summer dress, the one with the daisies in yellow, because we were in Susquehanna, and Susquehanna was no Zion. Daddy had dropped Louisiana, Caroline and I off a couple of hours before at the fair grounds because he and Uncle Ethan wanted to go hunting and Daddy said it was a prime day for hunting. He always said things like “prime” and “well done” and whenever I thought of him I would think of a big fat steak sizzling on the grill out in the backyard in Zion. And if Daddy were a steak, Momma was a fish. She loved to swim, and you could tell too, because she always smelled like chlorine. Back in Zion she would do laps every morning at six before we got up for school and she would come back, her hair still a little wet, and would make us breakfast and I swear you could smell the pool in my oatmeal. And she wasn’t at the grounds because she was at the Y doin’ laps, catching up she had said. But that was okay because Daddy had given us twenty dollars. Well, he gave it to Louisiana, who was being a jerk.
He was walking ahead of Caroline and me like he was doing all day, so I grabbed Caroline’s hand and tried to catch up but he pushed me back. “Keep your distance,” he spat at me.
“Watch it, you’ll crease my blouse!” I pouted a bit then I watched him walk ahead of us again. He was looking around all funny, and sticking out his chest like a silly ol’ rooster. And he was swinging Daddy’s pocket watch around again on his finger, which he wasn’t supposed to do because it was real expensive. It was made of Sterling silver. He was walking so fast I was afraid he’d ditch us, not that it’d be the first time, so I squeezed Caroline’s hand and we stopped in the middle of the field. I made a sour face and glared at the back of Louisiana’s greasy black head. He had put too much pomade into it, making his head look as shiny as a bowling ball. And when he stopped and turned around, we was pins that wouldn’t fall.
“You think I wouldn’t leave you, huh Dorothy? Cause I would.”
“You better believe it, missy.”
“You wouldn’t. I’d tell Daddy. And then I’d tell him how you’ve been swinging ‘round his Sterling.” I saw Louisiana’s eyes pucker up a bit and then he spat on the ground. He was afraid of Daddy. Back in Zion they would get into really loud fights, screaming and such at each other and almost always Louisiana would end up sulking on the porch until we would get Caroline to come fish him back in. He had a soft spot for her like nothing else. She used to be so clingy with Louisiana. Back in Zion, before he had a job, he had to watch her at home while I was at school and Daddy and Momma were at work. When I would get home in the afternoon they would always be on the front porch goofing around. One time I caught them playin’ in the yard and the laundry that was supposed to be hanging on the line in front of the house was spread out all over the ground, the whites that is, and it looked as if a big ole’ picnic was being held with all them sheets. But it wasn’t a picnic they was using the sheets for, instead Louisiana had wrapped Caroline up in one of the big sheets, used for Daddy and Momma’s bed probably, and took hold of the two ends and he picked her up in it. Then, standing in place, he swung her around in it like the hands of a clock going really fast. They used to have some real fun. But I was never jealous ‘cause I was Daddy’s favorite. He listened to me. I told him I would never leave Zion.
Louisiana snorted and rolled his eyes then started walking off, a lot slower this time, allowing for us to catch up and so I grabbed Caroline, and she squealed a bit, but I told her to hush and she quieted. She could be noisy sometimes for a five year old. Back in Zion, I had to hold her hand all the way to the daycare everyday. She wouldn’t have it otherwise, else she’d scream Bloody Mary. We used to have Louisiana walk her, cause she would quiet around him, and if the stars were in place she might talk a bit, but he couldn’t do it no more after he got a job. She doesn’t talk much around me though, just moans and screams now and then when she doesn’t get her way. She’s little, she just doesn’t know any better, I guess, but she was mostly behaving this day though. Mostly.
We caught up to Louisiana and walked around the grounds some more. We had seen a lot of it already: the Ferris wheel, the petting zoo, and some of the games, like the ring toss booth, which we were at for a good while. The man in charge looked about as old as Louisiana, and he had almost as much pomade in his hair as him too. And they got to talking about what kind of dap they use and what was a good brand up here in Susquehanna, but I couldn’t make out a lot of what the man was saying cause he was talking too fast like he was jumblin’ words up on purpose, trying to be slick or something. Not at all like Zion. I was half listening to them chat while Caroline and I was spending Daddy’s money on the ring toss.
“You is a smart guy when anticipating it. Better to be off in with the experience, the fellas with the smarts and real training, I mean, than to be drafted into it with a bunch of lame asses who don’t have their heart in it,” said the ring master. He was chewin’ on something awful and brown. He spat before he spoke again. “You know there are some of them guys here you know. Got a tent up near the stables.”
All the while, Caroline and I were trying to hook these little rings around the necks of milk bottles by pitching em’ from afar. It was tough. We weren’t that good and the rings would plink off the bottles real loud so everyone would know we’d missed. I’d spent about five dollars before Louisiana wanted to go. I hadn’t won anything, of course, but as we where leaving the ring master yelled over the booth, “You go ahead and get your glory pal, get it good!” I don’t know what he was talking about, but it made Louisiana grin, which made me uncomfortable.
I kinda felt sorry for bringing up Daddy with Louisiana; I mean I didn’t mean for us to get in a tussle since today was supposed to be fun, so I pulled Caroline with me up next to him and asked where we were going. He straightened up and put Daddy’s Sterling back into his coat pocket.
“I was thinking we would head over towards the pens, see the prize animals.”
I was going to say that we see horses and pigs all the time in Zion but I didn’t because Louisiana had already started walking away. So I just pulled Caroline along and looked around the grounds.
Back in Zion the big top was better. There weren’t Ferris wheels or anything but the people were nicer. Like if someone bumped into you when you were carrying butterscotch and it fell on the ground they would buy you another one. That happened to me once. And also people would smile at me a lot and pinch my cheeks and tell me to say hello to my parents for them, and that was nice. No one did that in Susquehanna. And the animals they had in Zion were grand. Lions, and tigers and I even saw a black panther once. You couldn’t touch them, as they were in cages and men with big hats and curly mustaches would yell at them and make them jump through hoops and things like that. It was really something. Not like Susquehanna. The only animals they had at the stables where pigs and horses. I didn’t care for pigs at all and I saw horses everyday when I walked with Caroline to school. I don’t know what kind they were but we would pass them about half a mile out on the east side of the road. They were fenced in, of course, but it was a little ways off from the road so we never got to see them up close. But they looked real pretty from afar. Pretty and proud, trotting around with all those gates and bars and stuff lying around; and if we were lucky, which we rarely were, we got to see someone riding one of those horses. He would make the horse go through the obstacle course, leaping and galloping like it was nothing. The animals in Susquehanna just sat around. Nothing like Zion.
When we finally got to the stables Caroline started moaning. Louisiana wasn’t paying attention though, so I grabbed him by the shirt tail. He smacked my hand and yelled at me. “What’s the matter with you?” He tucked his shirt back in and looked at Caroline then me before speaking again. “Ya’ll go ‘round the other side to see the llamas, their stables are right next to the horses; see over there,” he pointed to a stable that had funny noises coming out of it, “I’ll meet you two on the other side when you get out and we can go see the horses together.”
“Where are you going?” He ignored me so I grabbed him on the shirt sleeve. “Why don’t you want to see the llamas?”
“I have to take care of something, but I’ll be waiting for you at the other end of the stables.”
“Take care of what?”
“None of your business. Guy stuff.”I was gonna make him tell me, but I didn’t want to bring up Daddy again, he got real sour last time. So I said fine and grabbed Caroline’s hand and we walked off towards the stables. But I was real curious about what he was doing. I didn’t want him leaving us like he said he was going to earlier, and I was afraid of being all alone with Caroline. If it was the big top in Zion, I wouldn’t have had a problem, but it wasn’t. It was Susquehanna.
As soon as he turned the corner towards the back of the horse’s stables, I tightened my grip on Caroline’s hand, and she moaned but I shushed her, and followed around behind the middle section between the stables of the horses and the ones of the llamas. I had a hard time trying to find him again, as we ducked low behind the horse’s wooden stables, but sure enough I found him. He had the Sterling back out and was twirling it around his finger, while doin’ that silly walk of his. Then Caroline started moaning again, and I had to tell her to shush, but she wouldn’t listen this time, so I just held her hand. I was sure Louisiana couldn’t hear her from where he was, plus the horses where kind of noisy. He strutted around for a while, and it was easy to follow along side of him in between the two stables. In between the swishin’ tails of the horses, I was able to spot Louisiana stop in front of a green tent. Two guys in military uniforms shook his hand and handed him some papers or something. I wanted to hear what he was saying to those two fellas, but if we got any closer he could probably hear Caroline’s whining, even over the horses. But I guessed they were talking about the war or something like that because of the uniforms. That’s what Daddy and Louisiana talked about a lot. So I figured it was what he meant by guy stuff.
One time, real late at night when Momma had left for the weekend to visit her sister’s on the coast, a trip she took at least once a month, I caught Louisiana packing up some clothes in a really big bag, like the kind mailmen use for parcels, in the dark. I didn’t say anything cause I didn’t want him to know I was awake, so I just pretended to be asleep and kept one eye open and watched him move about the room. He then walked over to Caroline’s bed and just kind of looked at her for a while, like he was thinking about taking her with him or something; I don’t know. It was kind of odd. But before he left the room I saw him take the Sterling off the dresser and tuck it in his jacket. It wasn’t long until I heard some shouting outside, so I got up and peeked out the window. Through the cold glass I saw Daddy and Louisiana yelling at each other. The duffel bag was thrown on the ground, and Louisiana’s clothes were scattered all over the lawn, his whites were shining real bright in the moonlight, and it reminded me of the time I caught him and Caroline playing in the laundry. They were yelling at each other for a while. Eventually I saw Daddy come back inside, and that’s when I ran downstairs as fast as I could and as I hugged his big stomach I told him I would never leave Zion. He hugged me back for awhile then he took me upstairs and tucked me in good and tight.
I remember waking up later that night, which must have been early in the next morning, to the door opening and Louisiana walking slowly in. He had his duffel bag with him and he threw it down on the floor beside his bed, but not before he put his Sterling back on the dresser. But instead of going right to sleep, I watched him walk over to Caroline’s bed and re-tuck her in. She was what Daddy called a violent sleeper. But Louisiana took care of her. He tucked the end closest to her feet back under the bed, and the other back up over her chest. Then I watched him climb back into his own bed, which was under mine, and I listened to him fall asleep.
Through the horses I was able to watch Louisiana sign some things and shake the two fellas’ hands again before he started walking off. He still had his Sterling out, twirling it around; I kind of got lost in its sparkle. It would spin up, then down and wrap neatly around his finger. Then he would unwind time and spin it forward, repeating the neat trick endlessly. He was real good at it. It was then that I knew that he was leaving for sure this time. Caroline was moaning again but this time instead of shushing her I kissed her on the head, picked her up and carried her around back to the llama stables. Inside we petted the llamas on their soft coats and Caroline wasn’t moaning as much, but she was crying a little; I think the lamas scared her a bit. But I cooed her and told her that it’s okay, that I can be her Louisiana if she’ll be my Zion.
Evan graduated with degrees in English and Mass Communications in 2007, then shortly thereafter studied at VCU’s Brandcenter where he received his M.A. in Art Direction. He is currently living in NYC, working as a designer/art director in the advertising industry.