The day after Saturn leaves you, they close the carnival. The mechanic hand stops lobbing kids into the sky, confetti limns the storm drains, and you walk home under the rain. You were supposed to get shaved ice and sit in each other’s arms all day. Now he’s gone, and you can’t believe it’s really all just wilted papier mâchée and tonguing his sticky words off your cheeks. All along, you had been slowly getting used to his taste, but once you got to the center of him, he began to dissolve. This felt perfectly natural; was he dissolving into you or around you?
It was like any other story, of course you know this. The details of this, your own romance, your love to end all loves, seem both incredible and incredibly banal. You would wait for him to finish each performance, and he would stalk out after the last lights while the music was still blaring its final triumphant bars and the audience was a mezze platter of applause and whining children. Before the lights came up again, he would bend down from his stilts to kiss you, touch your hair, and then he would be gone — backstage, or to the green room, located down in the deserted metro station that was abandoned and cordoned off during the riots.
All the daily background noises blended together : the TV turned on low as you fell asleep, the breaking windows and Molotov cocktails, the children screaming as they spun each other around in giant plastic eggs mounted on a lubricated track.
The boardwalk has become a museum of these past few months — a constellation of erstwhile rendez-vous points and semi-private lunch spots. At the head of it is the fountain where two plexiglass dolphins hover in perpetual glee, their backs sun-bleached, dotted with seagull droppings and permanent-marker graffiti. “I luv Betty” reads one dolphin’s back. “+ blowjobs,” says the other. At the end of the boardwalk is the pier — a semi circle of concrete benches and the ever-present Kimchi Kart which offers pickled cabbage on top of the normal carnival fare and emits a confusing waft of KimcHot Dogs and Zinger! Hot Donuts into the air. The cool rain patters your forearms, but you hardly notice. At dusk, the merchants and ticket collectors count their profits; the take-down team take down the kiosks one by one. The light from the public lanterns is damp and mauve.
You sit on a palm-tree planter and watch the lanky bodies of the teenage boys in all their oblivion and their neon green “Take-Down Team Work” tee shirts. The take-down team is made up of mostly Bengali immigrants, along with white high school boys hired for just the summer. Sitting on toadstools in front of Saturn’s deflated tent, three of the high schoolers jab at each other, cracking jokes that make their Adam’s apples jiggle nervously. One of the Bengali men taps them on the shoulder, motioning to the plastic mushrooms, and the three boys get up. The toadstools are taken away.
You imagine the boys have girlfriends whose lips they bite behind the concrete pillars of the wharf, girls who are hot enough to date studs, and know it, but need a practice round first, an Initial Sexual Experience. The carnies can provide this. One of their phones buzzes and after some arm-punching, the boy with the phone saunters off, away from the ocean, towards you. As he passes, you take account of the acne on his cheeks, his long eyelashes, his bashful glumness; his black hoodie is pulled almost over his eyes. He brushes past you, towards the prospect of his impending hookup. He disappears, and you are alone again. You always were.