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State Fair

by Norita Dittberner-Jax


My father got me the job, selling 99-cent wind-up

toys. Twelve-hour shifts, ten days. Fifteen years old.


Weary children watched me turn the key,

ratcheting the gears until the mechanical chipmunk

sprang down the platform, paws pumping

the acorn up and down until the key unwound

and the acorn froze. Mid-air.


I took up smoking in the bathroom. I did not know

you could break the law so easily, a few coins

in the machine, a low rumble, and out popped the Pall Malls.


After the cigarette, a snow cone from Carl who knew

how to catch every drop of strawberry syrup.

I told him I was eighteen. He said he was starting

medical school, both of us awkward. Not the smooth

movement of machines.


Everyday, we spoke and smiled. I felt good,

lying and breaking the law and all the time

I was doing my job, making children

who didn't get a prize in the ring toss, happy.

Something to take home.


On the last day the barns emptied of prize pigs.

Cows with their miraculous bones

lumbered out. That first boy and I kissed each other

good-bye, a long, slow kiss as the strings of colored lights

went dark.