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January 30, 2023

The Street Fair

By Dan Mulhollen

As Jason walked down Front Street, he could remember the way things used to be. Back when the now abandoned storefronts were busy and prosperous. When the stores stayed open late on summer evenings, crime a rare and isolated event. When he was engaged to marry the girl of his dreams.

He could pin-point when all of that went wrong.

The original Front Street Street Fair was held in late May, 1919 to celebrate the return of the doughboys from France. Bands played what was even then considered nostalgic tunes; "Daisy", "And the Band Played On" , "Margie", and other songs dating back to when the organizers were young. Diesel engines sputtered, making ferris wheels and other rides turn. There were games, fortune tellers, and plenty of food and drink.

That all ended thirty years ago. The shooting and the accident that it caused. Two people left dead and four others injured. Lawsuits followed and the city decided to end the Fair. But for Jason, it was the night his fianceé broke up with him.

How strange, how intolerant he once was. So what if Holly wanted to study art and photography instead of following their shared dream of becoming teachers? Did it bother him that much to know other guys would be posing for her, and she would pose for them? He remembered blowing up when she suggested nudity was no big thing to an artist.

Yet he had spent more than half his life regretting his pig-headed outburst. And he did say some hurtful things; all of which he knew to be lies. Hearing the word "slut" still shook him, remembering the tears his accusation produced. She left town a few days later and disappeared from his life.

He dreaded turning the corner onto Front Street. The large parking lot that held the bleachers and stage were still there. The ruins of his childhood were all on this street.

He started to hear music; not the vulgar, painfully loud rap that was typical of the area, but cheerful old-time music; the kind he used to hate. Why were the roadblocks set up? Why was there a ferris wheel?

He recognized Mister Nikephorus, the old grocery store owner, playing skee-ball. The old man had to have been dead ten years. Yet here he was, his bowl just missing the center ring. He looked at the newspaper vending machine, long taken down. A story about the Iran Hostage crisis.

This was the last Street Fair, exactly as he remembered it. He looked at his reflection in a store window; young, thin, exactly as he had been. But what time was it? Six? He would not show up until seven. Maybe he could talk sense into both Holly and himself. He saw her and his parents sitting on the bleachers, listening to the high school band. Yes, her brother played trombone and his parents just liked a live band.

He choked up as he approached them. Wanting to tell his parents so much, how to avoid the illnesses that would kill them. Yet he knew they wouldn't listen, both too set in their ways. But Holly might listen, she might realize the jerk he had been was able to change.

"Why Jason," his mother said surprised. "With the way you rushed out of your room, I thought there must be some kind of emergency."

That was wrong. Jason remembered that evening, sensing something was bothering Holly and taking his time getting ready, not wanting confrontation.

"I was gone before you left?" he asked.

"A good fifteen minutes," his father replied.

Had the Jason he had been ceased to exist? He lowered his head trying to understand what was happening.

"We have to talk," Holly said, standing up. She turned to Jason's parents, "I f you'll excuse me, there are some important things your son and I have to discuss."

"About the wedding?" Jason's mother asked.

A sour look appeared on Holly's face. "Yeah," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

They walked down a narrow driveway leading to a restaurant's rear parking lot. "Look," Jason said, calmly, "The art and photography is fine with me. As for the modeling, I would like to see the results."

Holly seemed embarrassed. "I'm sorry," she said, clearly surprised by his change of heart. "I told you that, but it's only part of the reason I want to call things off."

"What else is there?" he asked, distressed but still calm.

"Our getting married is more for our parents than for either of us. It's easier for you, you're the one expected to follow your dreams, dragging along the little woman."

"What do you want?"

"I don't know," she said, sobbing. "But I know if we get married now, I'll never know until it's too late." It took her nearly a minute to recover. "Don't think I don't love you. I truly do. But why does everything have to happen so fast? Why can't we back away a little and get a little perspective? Why do you need to see so far into the future? Why can't you enjoy what we have now?"

Reasonable, Jason thought; a far different reaction than his younger self would have had. "What do you suggest?"

"I want to do some traveling," she said, tearfully explaining herself. "There are people I want to meet and experiences I want to have. Look, give me a year to figure things out; that's all I'm asking."

"A year?" The realities of the day suddenly came back to Jason. "I'll be right back," he said, walking toward the street. "Go back to where you were sitting. He turned and began running toward the scrambler ride, the scene of the shooting.

The gunman was there, his black leather jacket and leather pants, silent, deliberately watching the intermeshing cars. It would not be another hour before his fateful turn. As Jason approached he wondered if this tragedy could it be avoided?

He saw Jason and put his hand in his pocket. Their eyes met and he began to tremble.

Jason could feel the violence present in his gaze. But he felt more. Perhaps this broken loner was also trying to undo something the only way he knew how. His drug-addled mind could barely grasp his own presence there, a second time traveler was rapidly becoming too much.

He drew the revolver from his pocket, his whole body now shaking.

"I didn't want this," he whimpered. "I wanted to help people."

"Why do this?" Jason asked.

"To change history?" the gunman replied, a brief and uncomfortable glibness in his voice. "No," he spat, shaking his head. "The same reason anyone does something insane. To stop the pain. Only it never does, just makes things worse."

The pistol dropped harmlessly onto a patch of soft dirt as the gunman sank to the ground crying. Two police officers who saw him draw the revolver were immediately there, handcuffing and driving off.

Jason took a deep breath and walked back to the bleachers. He climbed up and sat next to Holly.

"A year from today," he said, smiling, "I'll be waiting right here."

"And until then?" she asked.

He stretched his neck, enjoying the soothing warmth of the slightly faded sun, soon the Street Fair would be bathed in colored lights, the rides an almost psychedelic experience. The music was fine; sweet and sentimental. And Jason was with the woman he loved; and the one he knew loved him. The moment was perfect.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-01-04
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