Even with a pastel cloud of candy floss obscuring her face, the woman next to me is familiar. Flecks of sugar get caught in the scattered moles on her chin as she chews.
When the music starts, her body tenses.
‘It looks fast, but they’ll be OK. Is it your granddaughter you’re waiting for?’
I can’t see anyone older than six on the carousel.
‘I watched her get on it. But I never saw her get off.’
My skin prickles as I realise who she is.
‘I - I’m sorry. I saw her in the paper.’
We all did. Years ago. She was the story of the decade - until she wasn’t.
‘She climbed up on that horse, right there. But I never saw her get off.’
The girl with the chestnut hair and moon-blue eyes beamed out from posters and milk cartons for years. Ubiquitous. Then she faded into background news, for everyone but this woman.
‘Today’s her birthday’.
‘Do you come back every year?’
She turns to me, chewing the now barren wooden stick between yellowed teeth.
‘I come back every day.’
She tosses the stick to the floor.
‘We’d argued, you know.’
I knew. I’d read every word of the interviews as a teen. Our nation became armchair detectives. Until we remembered our chores, our lives.
‘I only put her on to give me five minutes’ peace. You know how children are.’
I think of tantrums, untidy bedrooms and refused meals. As the carousel slows to a stop, I watch the exit gate like a hawk.
My daughter bounds over.
‘Mom! Can I ride again?’
I embrace her, tight.
‘Of course! I’ll go with you.’
I turn to the woman, inadequate.
‘It was nice to meet you.’
I squash my daughter onto my stomach as though I can envelop her back into the safety of my womb. I marvel at the miracle of her hair, feel her warm tummy rising under my hands, inhale her laughter. We pass the woman on the bench over and over, until the last time, when the carousel starts to slow, when I look over and she is gone.
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