This story came from a "Grab Bag" exercise at our last meeting. My 10 random words were:
belligerent force biscuit carnival facet glorious tantrum boat costly range
My grab bag selection of writing genre was: children's story.
In a town far, far away, in a land where flowers grow almost as tall as the trees, lived a little boy named Clover. Clover's real name was Tom, but he was a lucky boy, so that's what he preferred to be called. And so, he was. He lived an ordinary life filled with what to him seemed extraordinary occurrences, each day bringing a new kind of magic. Sometimes though the days seemed to test his luck, and this was one of those times.
A spectacular summer day had just faded into night, and Clover was alight with glee as he dressed himself for an evening adventure. Along with his mom and dad, clover was going to a carnival! It was going to be glorious, just magnificent, judging by the pictures he had seen in the newspaper. Bright lights and big rides - a boat that swung like a swing, swings that whipped around in great circles, a slide so high that you could barely see the top of it. Oh and the food! Biscuits and honey, ice cream in chocolate-dipped cones, sandwiches the size of Clover's head.
Dressed in long, blue pants and red running shoes, his best white shirt, and a cowboy hat, he was ready to go. So he went to fetch his mom and dad, flashing a smile as bright as the moon. In a flash, they were packed in the car, heading to the carnival. The radio hummed quietly and the air rushed through the window and into Clover's hair. It was beautiful. Finally, there it was - the carnival grew before them on the horizon until it appeared as it really was - a fantastic spectacle. There were people dressed like clowns and monkeys dressed like people. The music danced through the atmosphere and the screaming laughter of children filled the air.
"Now you listen here, Clover," his father said, stern. "You mustn't walk so far that we can't see you, and be sure to hold on tightly on the rides."
"Yes, sir," Clover said. He was ready to take in the fair. The lights were brighter than he had imaged they could be, and his nose was awash with sweet and salty smells. The first thing he saw though were the toys - a range of stuffed creatures and inflatable everything, t-shirts and posters and hats with tiny bells. He decided he'd try his hand at a game. The fish bowl toss, that he could do.
He pulled out a coin, saved specially for this magical night, handed it to the man behind the counter and was given a small, white ball in exchange. One ball. He'd have to do this carefully - not too weak, not too much force. Clover had always wanted a fish of his own, and this was his chance.
He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer, to whomever might be listening. A fish, just one fish, and he wouldn't ask for another thing for ... well, for a long time. He opened his eyes and they fell upon the round glass bowl sitting off to the side, away from the haphazard cluster of them in the middle of the platform. One small ball, and one lone bowl, the odds were against him there. But he couldn't take his eyes off of the creature that swam in delicate circles along the inside of that glass.
Unlike the sad, gold and yellow fish that splashed or floated idly in the other bowls, this fish was a thing of beauty. Blue, the deepest blue that you've every seen, shining with neon colors, its scales giving way to floating wing-like wisps of fins, dancing aimlessly in slow motion. Clover took a deep breath and knew what he had to do. This was his fish.
He lined up his sweaty hand with the bowl and closed one eye for better aim. On the count of three, he thought. His breathing was shallow and his tongue stuck to his bottom lip. One. Two. Three. His hand let go of the ball, and time stopped as it tumbled through the air toward the bowl, where it bounced on the glass rim not once but two times, before it fell onto the table, rolled off the edge and landed unceremoniously in a pile of other small, white, dejected balls.
"Sorry kid, better luck next time," the man behind the counter sneered, his crooked yellowed teeth littered with chewing tobacco. He was disgusting. And the game was rigged, it just had to be. That was a perfect throw, but the ball is too big, or the hole is too small, he demanded another try.
"I demand another try!" he yelled.
"Well pay up, and you got it, you little rat-face."
Clover could feel something bubbling up in his stomach that he hadn't felt since he was a diapered little squirt, a volcano of anger that would make him lose control. He took a deep breath and pushed it back down, reaching into his pocket for another shiny coin. He would have to skip one of the rides, but he didn't care.
Ball in hand, Clover skipped the prayer this time and lined up his hand once more with the bowl. Deep breath in. And, throw. Higher this time, it arched toward the opening, spinning this way and that in the air. The ball made it's way into the bowl with a splash, and Clover jumped and yelled in excitement. He had done it! The fish was his.
But before he even had time gloat to the game boy, he saw something he would never fully come to understand. The fish, his darling prize, with a flick of its heavenly tail, ejected the small white ball from the bowl and it too landed in the sad pile with the other small, white balls that hadn't done their jobs.
"Sorry, kid. Better luck next time!"
This time, the man laughed a bellowing laugh and the spit that escaped his crusty lips landed straight on Clover's face. The volcano came back again, and this time Clover knew that no amount of breathing was going to be able to stop it. He clenched his fists tightly and without warning erupted into a high pitched scream, stomping his feet and pounding his hands down on the wooden counter.
"Son! Son, you stop that!" his father, hearing the commotion, left his wife talking with a group of women from the church and ran over to his wailing boy. "What in tarnation is going on that you're having such an infantile tantrum?"
His father's voice was serious and low. He held onto Clover's left arm, nearly too tightly, shaking him. But Clover's right arm was free and a force stronger than his own made him pick it up and swing it at the man behind the counter, who was now leaning forward yelling at the boy and his father to pay for another game or take this scene elsewhere. Clover hit him square in the jaw, and the man howled.
"You get this belligerent little rodent away from my game before I call ...." But before the man could finish his sentence Clover jumped over the counter and dashed toward the bowl that held the fish with the fantastic colors and fins. His father stood in shock for a moment and then turned his attention to the carnival man, who was shaking his fist and yelling for Clover to stop where he was.
Clover's father having had now a moment to think reached for a bucket of small, white balls that the carnival man had placed on the counter just moments before he was hit in the jaw. Clover's father picked up the bucket and dumped them over the carnival man's head, pushing the bucket down over his face. How dare this man call his son a rodent?
"Go, son, go!" he yelled to Clover who, shocked himself, had stopped running for a moment. "You get that glorious fish, and let's get out of here!"
Clover grabbed the bowl from the table and held the fish up to the flashing lights. It looked like fireworks in a bowl, a display of colors and shapes so magnificent that one could only watch in awe when they shimmer before you.
"Clover! You snap out of it!" His father was pulling his arms now, and the carnival man was removing the bucket from his head in a daze. They ran into the large crowd that had gathered to see the commotion in search of Clover's mother, who was nowhere to be found. Clover could barely take his eyes off the fish long enough to watch where his feet were falling, let alone look for his mom.
Behind them they could here the carnival man yelling bad words and advising that the pair had made a costly mistake messing with Earl Carl Johnson, Jr., just they wait and see. Clover's dad couldn't help but laugh like a child as they weaved their way through the confused onlookers toward the parking lot. Clover's mother appeared right on queue as they passed by the bathrooms and ran towards their car.
"What on Earth is going on?" his mother protested, but they could only laugh. And so she laughed too, all the way to the car, and as they pulled out of the parking lot (the carnival man running after the them, wailing his arms and blubbering something obscene), and she was still laughing when they pulled into the long, windy driveway that leads to their small but comfortable cottage house in the woods.
"What a beautiful fish!" she exclaimed once she had caught her breath from all of the laughter. "A pet, now there is a facet of our family that we were missing. Well done, Clover, you lucky little thing."
Clover looked down at the fish, and the fish up at clover. Clover couldn't help but wonder why the fish had tossed the ball out of the bowl to begin with. He was sure it did it on purpose. Did he not want to come with Clover? Did the fish love the fair, with its lights and delicious smells, just as Clover had? Or was it simply an accident, the excitement of being won after so much time in such a small bowl?
Maybe he would never understand what happened that night. He hadn't been on any rides or tasted a morsel of food. He played only one game, and it could be said that he didn't even win that. Yet he left with a fish, which lived happily now in a pond behind Clover's house, where the boy could watch it swimming, shimmering in the moonlight from his bedroom window. He fell asleep that night with his head resting on the window sill, grateful for his luck, which always seemed to follow him, even to the fair.
Chicago-born citizen of the globe, rich in the things that really matter. Let's get weird.