The Fifth of May 

The Fifth of May
Lori K, Redford
Third Prize, Fiction

I knew I’d find a pen in her purse. I knew Danielle had one — a blue ballpoint Bic pen with bite marks on the tip. I’ve dove my hand into many a strange purse to know exactly where to feel for my salvation — underneath the wallet, phonebook, compact — into the dark recesses, rolling around with the lipstick and tampons at the bottom. My 4-year-old niece giggles as I pull out the pen, Danielle’s back to me the entire time. I smile and raise my beer to her, and she duly raises her root beer back.

A Cinco de Mayo festival with no Mexicans, I write. There was everything else, though — a mechanical bull ride, a burrito stand, Corona in cans served up with a slice of lime — all in the Redford police station parking lot. There was even car bashing for the kids. For $1, they could have smacked a totaled car with a sledgehammer. Most of the men had gone for the gas tank, hoping for a holocaustic explosion. Others went for the tires, but, unfortunately, they were already flat. One little blond boy tried smashing off the door handle, but he was too small to lift the sledgehammer in full combat mode. Instead, he had to settle for a low swing against the doorframe. The smashing had made me nervous earlier while watching with my niece. Unable to peel herself away from the chaos, she kept moving closer to the car. I envisioned slippery hands and a flying sledgehammer to her delicate skull. I flinched at every strike. Old age has shrunk my balls. A long time ago, I had loved senseless violence just like the rest of them. I played razor-blade tag with my punk rock friends — even refused to go to the hospital with Millross when he got cut too deep. I used to come home with black eyes and torn clothes. My mother never asked questions, which seemed easier for the both of us.

Even my reaction time has slowed down. While I was carrying three beers back to the table tonight, a teenage girl blocked my path. She was beautiful, with rich coffee eyes — so big in her smooth, brown face. Her lips were plump and pink, and smiled as she extended a finger to catch a drop of beer spilling from the rim of one of the cups. She looked me straight in the eyes and inserted the wet finger into her mouth. I didn’t even smile back, so choked with language, or the lack thereof. That’s balls. That’s enough balls to make me wish for mine back — to go back and make her uncomfortable with her sexuality as she hoped she had done to me. Instead, I simply walked around her to my table. My brother-in-law laughed when I told him the story, pouring the end of one drink into a full plastic cup of another.

My niece slouches in her chair and tells her drunken chaperones she wants to go home. The cotton candy, the ice cream, the hot dogs and popcorn — all of it, gone. The crowd has thinned out, and the speakers have started playing radio. The fry booths are shutting down, but the whiffs of charred meat still hang heavily in this tent. Tee-tee, I wanna go now, she mumbles to me with gum in her mouth. Oh, sweetheart, we should have left hours ago. These bright lights are liars of warmth. My niece with her life so small lays her head on the table. I pull out my remaining tickets from my back pocket — four total. The hobgoblins at the next table are laughing at nothing. A few hours ago, I had seen them lurking in the crowd around the mechanical bull. Barely 5 feet tall, these silver-haired drunks stalked each concession stand looking for dropped tickets. I toss my last tickets in their direction. The little woman grabs them with her chubby fingers, and waves them at her companion. She smiles back at me, her cheeks plump and ruddy.

My sister begins to pack up. I watch her wrap a sweater around my niece who’s half-asleep now. It’s a cold night, and I regret not bringing a jacket. The crowd is moving towards the open flaps of the tent. A few high school kids linger behind, slamming the beers left on the tables. I remember doing the same thing. Hockey moms move past our table like water buffalo, their inebriated husbands dragging behind them. Sometimes the men stop to mumble something to each other, but the hausfraus are quick to hurry them along. This is their time, and it’s almost over. Then it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday again. Another festival, another reason to get older.

I dream of warm weather and cloudless skies. I dream of an ocean vast enough to consume these murky lakes. I dream of sand, and the tender play of pink and beige on stucco at sunset. These distances. These landscapes. This life so far away from my own.

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