Carousel, Part 1

(by Somers, 23 April 2000)


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CAROUSEL
***by Somers

***Special Thanks to: Berry and the Lurker
***Song by: The Hollies

PART ONE: RIDING ALONG ON A CAROUSEL




It was nighttime, and the headlights of cars and trucks occasionally swept
past the weathered sign on the side of the secondary roadway, illuminating
the words:


CAROUSEL VARIETY
LOW CIGARETTE PRICES
GOURMET COFFEE
PHONE
PUBLIC RESTROOM


In the parking lot, exhaust from a sparkling red, shiny car puffed into the
night air. It reflected the light from the store's windows, and the
spotlights above the gas pumps created stars in the smooth finish of the
late-model vehicle. It stood empty and waiting, the driver having vacated it
in favor of needs within the building. The word on the back of it said:
"Boxster".

The middle-aged man stood behind the racks of gum, pretending to be carefully
studying the selections of merchandise as he gazed across to watch the woman
behind the counter of the little convenience store. He tried to tuck in his
expanding stomach in the event that she might notice him, and had smoothed
his thin grey hair prior to exiting his vehicle in order to discipline any
irregular stray hairs that may have been misplaced by the wind. Although his
working day had ended, he felt a need to continue to make his best
presentation, especially now, in the presence of this woman whom he found so
desirable.

He placed her age somewhere in her 50's. Her hair was extremely long, nearly
to her waist, and was a tantalizing mixture of blonde, grey and a curious
dark color, possibly hinting about the events of her recent life. The long,
straight and smooth section that adorned her back was the color of sunshine,
and glistened and waved in graceful and easy curves as she moved.
Well-brushed, it showed attention to her appearance and a spirit of pride in
her mature beauty. Up further, on her head, were large streaks of grey which
blended well with the blond hair beneath, but were mixed with darker colors
above that suggested a certain mystery about her age, her real self, and her
destiny. He envisioned a certain blossoming of her maturity and candor in the
pallette of her hair, and its robust texture suggested a lasting strength and
vibrance in her soul.

Her eyes were constantly focused on her work and had a tired, but determined
cast that extended from the penetrating pale blue color past the lightly
darkened lashes and into the fan of light wrinkles that spread from the
corners. She went about her work efficiently and without regard to his
presence, reaching up to stack the cigarette cartons on the shelves, then
bending down once more to remove new ones from the box on the floor. He
enjoyed it when she bent over, displaying the full curves of her hips and
stretching the fabric of her jeans. Her face stayed passive, the nose pointed
into her task prudently while her lips remained slightly parted to indulge
herself with air as she continued the bending and lifting and stacking
movements.

She turned suddenly, having emptied the box, so he rapidly looked back down
to the brightly colored packages of gum and hoped her stocking work would
soon be complete. While she walked to the back to dispose of the empty
cardboard, still possibly oblivious to his presence, he decided that he would
mix some coffee and bring it out to his car, so he stationed himself closer
to the counter behind the bubbling coffee machine and looked at the different
sizes of styrofoam cups to determine which he would fill. He again smoothed
his grey hair, wishing his hairline were not so far above his brow.

The silence of the store was broken by the sound of her cough, a wet cough,
first muffled through the door to the back room, then released abruptly into
the store as she walked out into the light once more. He placed the cup on
the tabletop while listening to the delightfully husky yet very feminine
sound of her vocal chords clearing themselves and he looked over the carafes
of coffee, glancing up occasionally so that he might detect her re-appearance
at the counter.

As the smell of the coffee surged upward and filled him with its awakening
smell, he heard the unmistakable sound of a cigarette lighter flicking. Just
once came the flick, and it caused him to avert his glance from the pouring
of the hot liquid past the silver smoothness of the coffee machine and to the
checkout counter where she stood, holding a yellow flame to her face and now
concentrating on her new task of thoroughly irradiating the end of the long,
white cigarette that she held in her lips.

The lighter clicked shut, but the tip of the cigarette continued to burn
brightly, and her fingers were poised to either side of the filter, as if to
protect it and also to prepare for the next phase of the smoking. He noted
the beauty of the bright red and well-manicured nails, and continued to watch
as she tucked the lighter away beneath the counter while maintaining her
concentration on the orange glow just in front of her face. After several
seconds, the glow began to subside and her fingers closed to grip the
cigarette, then she removed it from her lips and he briefly saw the edge of a
creamy cloud of smoke appear just beyond the tip of the filter in front of
her lips before it all vanished into her partially open mouth.

He again became conscious of the hot coffee he held, and stopped himself
short of overfilling the cup as the sound of a chair scraping the floor
reached his ears. He glanced over to the counter again, and saw that she was
sitting and staring below the counter where a whisp of smoke revealed the
certain presence of an ashtray. He wanted to avert his glance when he noticed
her head tilt upward, but he resisted and was happy to see that she still did
not acknowledge his presence in the store, apparently content with staring up
at the ceiling lights and propelling a long and heavy stream of smoke upward
into the air.

He inspected the types of plastic creamers, casting occasional glances in her
direction while he fumbled absently with the small containers and feigned
indecision. He saw her place a pair of half-glasses upon the bridge of her
nose and begin studying a sheet of paper on the counter while she brought the
long, burning cigarette to her lips once more.

Clutching a creamer in his hand and scratching at it to find the edge of the
foil top, he suddenly stood trance-like while the woman pulled strongly on
her cigarette, the fingers of her hand separating into a wide "V", and her
skin retracting underneath the ridge of her cheekbones. Transfixed, he
watched as her eyes closed and the tip of the cigarette seemed to ignite with
power and grow larger and brighter before it finally dimmed and she removed
it from her lips. It stayed close to her face as she opened her eyes and
continued to nonchalantly read the paper on the countertop while her breath
drew the smoke into her body. Despite the apparently-routine scene, The man
was awed by her style as she lifted her shoulders and then let a thick,
curling cloud of smoke slowly pour from her lips. Her blue storecoat
separated and he could see the curve of her generous breasts underneath a
snugly-fitting black fleece top. The entire time he watched, she continued to
concentrate on the paper in front of her, apparently checking the amounts and
types of shipments that she had just stowed away.

He peeled the creamer and tried to pour it into the cup of hot fluid. To his
disappointment, only a small opening had been created in the top, so he shook
it to release its contents. He looked over at the woman once more, and
watched as she put the cigarette into her mouth and let go of it to use both
of her hands to ruffle the papers on the countertop. While the cigarette
dangled from her lips, he noticed that its glow slowly increased, building up
to higher levels of brightness gradually, and finally reaching a crescendo of
spectacular brilliance until her fingers eventually retrieved it from her
lips. He became unconscious of his own presence in the room, and continued to
stare at her with wide eyes while his fingers squeezed the plastic creamer
and rythmically squirted the fluid into the hot, wet cup beyond. She opened
her mouth and ran her tongue over the corner of her lip in a routine gesture
of tidiness, and a wave of thick smoke began to drift out. He squeezed harder
on the little creamer and crunched the plastic container in his fingers as he
saw the large ball of smoke rapidly disappear into her waiting mouth.

She looked up sternly over her half glasses at the sound, and his head
snapped down to search for the mix sticks. After he began to stir his
beverage and looked upward once more, he saw that her interest had returned
to the papers she was checking, but twin jets of smoke were now flowing down
from her nose and becoming rolling, billowy clouds as they collided with the
paperwork on the counter. The cigarette stayed close to her face, held in the
fingers of her left hand, while her right hand reached up and absently
flipped her long, grey/blonde hair back over her shoulder. He then turned to
find a top for his coffee and thrust it firmly onto the styrofoam cup while
he heard her wet coughing once again.

He took a deep breath and sucked in his gut, then he walked up to the counter
with the best air of dignity that he could muster. As he approached, he saw
her look up, then stand up and take a sharp drag from her cigarette before
reaching under the counter to put it out of sight.

"Anything else, hun ?" she said in a hoarse voice while pressing the buttons
on the machine to register the price of the coffee. She then glanced up over
her half-glasses to wait for a reply.

"Um.. yes.. a pack of Marlboros," he said.

He watched while she reached up quickly and then saw her release a small
cloud of smoke slowly into the air around her. As she placed the cigarettes
on the counter and turned back to the machine, her head turned to the side
and she expelled a large, continuous stream of smoke while she punched the
keypad again. He then saw the last of the exhaled cloud disappear back into
her mouth as she took a breath and told him the total bill.

"Wait.. I think I've got a few pennies.." he offered, then reached into his
pocket while she waited. He glanced upward to look at her blue store jacket
with the red, embroidered letters that read: "Joan".

"Hmmph... maybe the other pocket, then.." he grinned sheepishly to complete
the look of incompetence that he was trying to achieve, then looked up
quickly to see her smiling courteously at him.

"Down here somewhere..." he continued to stall for time while placing his
wallet on the counter, and out of the corner of his eye, he caught her
movement toward the whisp of smoke that rose from under the counter.

"Here they are," he chuckled, fingering the change in his hand, then passing
over the required three pennies. He looked up and saw her staring at him with
one eye closed and that bright, glowing cigarette between opened fingers in
her lips once more. She extended her free hand out so he could drop the
pennies into it while she snapped the cigarette from her lips with the other
hand and bolted the smoke into her lungs with a rapid and deep breath. The
woman dropped the pennies into the drawer and pulled out two bills, one at a
time and passed them into the hand that held her burning cigarette, then she
presented him with this change while turning her head to one side and passing
a rolling cloud of smoke into the air.

"Thank you, have a good night, now!" she said as a matter of routine, and he
stuffed the bills into his pocket while he caught a glimpse of smoke pouring
from her mouth and nose while she spoke.

The engine in the boxster was running strongly as he opened the door and bent
over to place his coffee in the cupholder. He climbed inside and shut the
door, then took the cup and began to break off a section of the lid. To his
delight, he looked up and saw the woman sitting back down in her chair and
taking another drag from her now-short cigarette. He noticed that the light
from the spotlights over the gas pumps illuminated his lap and decided that
he might want to study the map for a while before departing. He reached down
and worked the controls of the electric seat, then set his head back in the
headrest. Knowing that the glare of the store windows obscured much of the
view of the outside, he felt safe and unobtrusive in his comfortable perch.
After taking a sip from his coffee, he looked up and saw the store clerk
exhaling a thick cone of smoke into the air. Apparently done with her
paperwork, she was content to stare off into space and smoke.

He tried to imagine what thoughts might be going through her mind as she sat,
repeatedly pulling on her cigarette and inhaling and exhaling the smoke. Her
face was completely passive, and revealed nothing about what her inner
thoughts might be. He put the cup back into the holder, pulled out the map
and punched a button on the CD changer to get a favorite song. Not
ironically, the song fit the mood and the character of the situation.

"Riding along on a carousel, trying to catch up to you.  Riding along on a
carousel, will I catch up to you?  Horses chasing 'cause they're racing.  So
they ain't so far.

On a carousel, on a carousel."


CONTINUED


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