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A Night At the Carnival:
A hawker for one of the game booths leaned over his counter and waved, catching Valerie’s eye. “How about a free game for the kiddos?” he called out. A gold tooth flashed in his scruffy beard, and he tipped the velvet top hat on his shaggy dark hair. “And one for their beautiful mother.”
Mom snorted. “He must be blind.”
The insult poked right through Valerie’s temper and let the all sourness drain out.
“Well, Mom,” she said, “People do say I look just like you.”
They had looked alike once, before age hunched Mom’s spine and shriveled her skin, before the accident broke her hip and bed rest added pounds to her body. They were both big women, with thick arms and thicker thighs, and the blonde in their hair came from the same bottles these days. Valerie smirked at her mother’s shocked expression, then took her sons by the hand. “Come on, guys. This will be fun.”
The boys walked fast and bouncy. The words free and fun were enough to make them forget their small tragedies, and they left Mom, her poisonous tongue and her walker far behind. Valerie didn’t care if she ever caught up, but of course she did. The nasty comment went unremarked; things ignored ceased to exist. That was Mom’s way. They spent a lot of evenings not speaking to each other.
The boys tossed balls at painted boats floating in tubs of moving water, and Valerie chatted with the man running the game. He had a polished patter and a rough, gritty charm. Valerie paid for two more games after the first and considered it a fair bargain. The harmless flirting made her feel alive again.
“Bah,” Mom said. “Will you look at that? Back in my day, the freaks stayed in the sideshow tents. Disgusting.”
The boys both turned, eyes gleaming with curiosity, and so Valerie turned too. Her stomach knotted up. She had a bad feeling that she knew what she would see.
Two women in gray and black Department of Public Safety uniforms stood out from the rest of the crowd passing by. They weren’t just DPS employees. They were also visibly R-positive rollovers. One of them had purple hair swept back in a braid that went down to her waist, while the other had very short black hair, spiny lumps where most people had ears, and—
Gary crowed with laughter and shouted, “Look, Mama, he’s all scaly.”
“And a tail!” Johnny said even louder. “He has a tail coming out of his pants. I want a tail, Mommy!”
Valerie’s heart started to beat fast, and she said the first thing that came to mind. “She, sweeties. She has scales. Hush, please. Use your Sunday voices.”
“I WANT A TAIL,” Johnny bellowed.