She thinks of him when she sees spinning carousels, hears the discordant notes of calliope music. He, a carnie, working the Ferris wheel. She, a shaker of lemonade at the Youth Choir booth. When they walked down the path into the woods, she glanced back, once. There were rules about fraternizing, she knew, but she was emboldened by being eighteen-years and two-days old.
They sat on a bench, ate hot dogs on sticks, which they took turns dipping in a cup of mustard positioned between them. She spilled some, bright yellow circle on her white shorts. He wiped the spot, turning the circle into a smear. When they kissed, she tasted salt, smelled burnt sugar.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Her father, the pastor, would wonder where she was, but the parishioners vied for his attention and she would slip his mind. Forgive me, Father, for I will sin.
She would leave for college, the wait too long. They walked deeper into the woods, cut off the path, agreeing on the course, though they had not said it aloud. It began to drizzle, but they were protected by the canopy of trees. Next to a giant oak, he unzipped his sweatshirt, lay it on the ground, where they sat. Burnt sugar. Burning skin. Dampness. His teeth, so close and white. They slid further down, her beneath him, and over his shoulder, she glimpsed snippets of dark clouds. She forced her eyes open even when she felt as if land and sky became one, edges smoothing, boundaries blurring.
Afterward, a brush of hands before they emerged into the clearing. Nothing less. Nothing more. Then rain. He returned to his post. She squeezed into the arcade, made a spin-art picture as a souvenir, colors spattering and swirling before her.
The next summer she looked for him at the carnival, but by the Ferris wheel stood only a wrinkled man smoking a cigar. The following summer was spent at the vineyard, thoughts of him surfacing only when she passed the Flying Horses.
Now, fifteen years later, she stands next to a wooden white horse with a gilded saddle and frozen flowing mane. Her hand braces the back of a knight crowned with golden curls the color of her own. Her legs stand firm, legs that have carried her from that moment in the woods forward, countless miles from home. Hips that have borne babies sway slightly with each revolution. She thinks of that day, the rain on her skin, so grown up she thought then, so naïve she knows now.
Everything turns, rotates. Steed upon platform, carousel upon earth, planets circling sun. She remembers watching the carnies dismantle the temporary rides, a herd of spectacular horses on singular poles, piled high in the bed of a battered truck. She looks at the sun, bright round ball on this day, and closes her eyes. A black splotch where mere moments ago there had been yellow.