“5 darts for $5. Pop 3 balloons and win a BIIIG prize,” he
barked. As the carnival crowd ignored him and bustled by, he darted behind the
booth for another drag on his cigarette. When he popped his head back around he
was startled to see her, as if one of his giant balloons had just exploded.
With the hot sun beating down on his balloon booth he shielded
his eyes, pretending to look at her. But it wasn’t really the sun, it was the
shame that made him avert her gaze.
“Mom told me where I could find you. She said you had
trouble finding work and this was the only place that would hire you.” She
paused to fight back the tears. She didn’t realize this would be so hard. His
obvious discomfort wasn’t making it any easier.
“I’m sorry I never came to visit you,” she continued.
This was too painful for him and he turned to walk away,
though he had no escape. She noticed how thin his frame was, how old and tired
he looked. Sure carny workers always look old and tired, but this was different.
She had never seen him like this before.
“Don’t go,” she gasped. “It wasn’t just you. I never visited
mom, either. When I came back to town I was shocked that you two were still
together. That she had waited for you.”
That made him smile and he stopped in his tracks.
“She said she decided to forgive you and that she still loved
you. Always loved you. She waited five long years.”
“I don’t deserve your mother,” he stammered. He thought his baby girl was gone forever.
Instead she was here and he was dirty and smelly. He had never wanted her to
see him like this. He grabbed some balloons and began blowing them up, trying
to keep busy. He needed something to do with his nervous energy.
“I didn’t wait,” she sobbed. Without realizing it, her
crying had caused quite a commotion. Carnival goers, always eager to see a
freak show, began to stop and stare.
“I got outta town as fast as I could. The only reason I got
all those college scholarships is that people felt sorry for me. The good girl
from the good family, until the dad got charged with a felony. I was so
embarrassed. And I was so angry at you.” The sheer force of that sentence, the
first time she had ever spoken those words, compelled her to look directly at
him. For one brief moment they locked eyes and he was stung by her anger. He
stopped exhaling and the balloon in his mouth shriveled up and fell to the
floor. He wished he could do the same.
“My anger was so out of control I ended up following in your
footsteps. I became the very thing I hated.”
Those words were a dagger. The last thing a father ever
wants to do is hurt his child and he could see how deep a wound he inflicted.
He reached out for her but shrunk back in fear.
“I didn’t come back to town because I wanted to. I had to. My
anger consumed me and I couldn’t focus on school. I got expelled for cheating.
Like father, like daughter.”
As he began to cry he noticed the onlookers and tried to
shoo them away. He popped a balloon to break the tension and yelled “Nothing to
see here, folks. Move along.”
She thought he was trying to shut her up and she needed to
finish. She had to get this off her chest. “No, I’ll pay,” she blurted. “Here’s
$5” as she fumbled through her purse. She started talking faster, afraid that
he would bolt.
“I came across the letters you wrote me from prison. I had
never opened them. I was too good for you. You had hurt me and I wanted nothing
to do with you. But then when I saw them again I thought maybe it will be
comforting to read about someone’s life that is more messed up than mine.”
An older lady from the crowd approached and handed her a
tissue. She wiped away a tear and let out a sigh that could have deflated a row
“But I was wrong,” she admitted. “Your letters weren’t
messed up. You told me how sorry you were. That you loved me. You took
responsibility for your mistake. You shared about the Bible study in your cellblock
and asking God to forgive you. You sounded so at peace. And I didn’t have any
peace. So I knew I needed to forgive you.”
Murmurs rose up from the crowd like an episode of the Jerry Springer
show. Some agreed with
her, some walked way in disgust. She turned to look at the crowd, as if to
persuade them. “Mom and I agreed. I need to forgive you. I do forgive you,
Applause broke out amongst her supporters as she looked back
at her dad. He ran to the edge of the booth and leaped over the counter. He
swung her around in his arms as the remaining crowd hollered their support.
Labels: carny, forgiveness, short story